A view of Koreshan State Historic Site
Cyrus Reed Teed, the founder of the Koreshan religion, was born on October 18, 1839 near Trout Creek, Delaware County, New York. He was the second son born into a family of eight children. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to New Hartford, New York onto the land of his grandfather, Oliver Tuttle. At the age of eleven, Cyrus quit school and went to work on the Eire Canal. As Teed grew up, he was surrounded by religious revivalism. In fact, Upper New York State was so saturated with new religious movements, it became known as the “Burned-Over District.”
On April 13, 1859, he married his second cousin, Fidelia M. Rowe of Merideth, New York. Delia, as she was called, was the daughter of William and Polly Maria Tuttle Rowe. His family urged him to become a Baptist minister like his grandfather Oliver Tuttle, but Cyrus chose to follow another relative’s path and began studying medicine with his uncle, Dr. Samuel F. Teed, a twenty-five year old physician, in Utica, New York. As a young doctor, Teed was drawn to unconventional experiments, such as alchemy, and others involving dangerously high levels of electricity. On February 21, 1860, a son, Douglas Arthur Teed, was born to Cyrus and Delia. Cyrus moved his family to New York City in 1862, living in Brooklyn and continuing his medical studies.
Once the Civil War erupted he enlisted in Company F, 127th New York Infantry of the New York volunteers as a corporal on August 9, 1862 at the age of twenty-two. On April 12, 1863, he was assigned to Brigade Headquarters. While on march near Warrenton Junction, Virginia on August 1, 1863, he suffered sunstroke. This led to paralysis of his left arm and leg. He was assigned to the General Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia where he was treated for sixty-one days until his release in October. He was granted a discharge from the army and returned to New York City to complete his medical studies at the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York, graduating in February of 1868.
Following his graduation, he returned to Utica and rejoined his uncle’s medical business. Below their office, they hung a sign in foot high letters which said, "He who deals out poison, deals out death." They were referring to prescription drugs, which they never recommended. A very busy pharmacy, the Watford Drug Store, a half block away, shows no record of the Teeds ever writing a prescription. However, below the doctors' office was a tavern, and, reportedly, people found this reference to “dealing poison” very humorous.
By 1869, he had moved just outside of Utica to a town named Deerfield. Next to his home he set up a laboratory. It was in autumn of that year that Cyrus had what he later referred to as his "Illumination". During an experiment he was badly shocked and passed out. During his period of unconsciousness, Cyrus described the messenger as:
"Gracefully pendant from the head, and falling in golden tresses of profusely luxuriant growth over her shoulders, her hair added to the adornment of her personal attractiveness. Supported by the shoulders and falling into a long train was a gold and purple colored robe. Her feet rested upon a silvery crescent; in her hand, and resting upon this crescent, was Mercury's Caduceus..."
Inspired once he awoke, Teed vowed to apply his scientific knowledge to "redeem humanity." In 1891, Teed took on the pseudonym “Koresh,” Hebrew for Cyrus, from the book of Isaiah 44:28, which states, “I am the Lord . . . who says of Cyrus, ‘he is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose.’” This was the basis upon which Teed formed the tenets of “Koreshan Universology.” Teed's ideas, called Koreshanity caught on with others. Koreshanity preached cellular cosmogony, alchemy, reincarnation, immortality, celibacy, communism, and a few other unique ideas. Cellular Cosmology refers to the idea that the Earth was enclosed and we live on the inside of a sphere. According to this theory, human beings live on the inside of the planet, not the outside. Gravity thus does not exist, and humans are held in place due to centrifugal force. The sun is a giant battery-operated contraption, and the stars mere refractions of its light.The Koreshan God had a male-female aspect. Koreshan prayers were directed to a Mother-Father God.
As you see above, Koreshan beliefs were quite foreign to a majority of Americans at that time. While some folks were very intrigued and joined the group, others found them so bizarre that the Koreshans were forced out of many areas that they tried to live and preach in. Check this page next week to learn about the development of the Koreshan Unity before their arrival in Florida.