Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

THE "PILGRIMS"

TIMOTHY FLINT

[Nothing was too strange to be found on the river, as witness this description of the "wretched remains of a singular class of enthusiasts, known in this country by the name of the 'Pilgrims!'" Other travelers at this time (ca. 1820) reported seeing this remnant of fanatics but none so vividly as Timothy Flint did in his Recollections of the Last Ten Years in the Valley of the Mississippi (Boston, 1826), 275-80.]

Before I left the country, I crossed the river to view the wretched remains of that singular class of enthusiasts, known in this country by the name of the "Pilgrims." This whole region, it is true, wears an aspect of irreligion; but we must not thence infer, that we do not often see the semblance and the counterfeit of religion. There is no country where bigotry and enthusiasm are seen in forms of more glaring absurdity, and, at the same time, of more arrogant assumption. There were, I think, six persons of them left, the "prophet," so called, and his wife, and another woman, and perhaps three children. They were sick and poor; and the rags with which they were originally habited to excite attention, and to be in keeping with their name and assumption, were now retained from necessity. The "prophet" was too sick to impart much information, and the others seemed reluctant to do it. But from the wife of the prophet I gleaned the information which follows, of their origin, progress, and end. I have collated her information with the most authentic notices of them, which I obtained at every stage on the Mississippi where they were seen, and where they stopped.

It seems that the fermenting principle of the society began to operate in Lower Canada. A few religious people began to talk about the deadness and the unworthiness of all churches, as bod

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