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Robert Mathews (1788-c 1841) was an American carpenter, businessman, and claimed American prophet in and around New York during the 1830s.
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His aliases included Robert Matthias, Jesus Matthias, Matthias the Prophet, and Joshua the Jewish Minister. On numerous occasions, Robert Matthews named himself ‘the spirit of truth, and a high priest after the order of Melchisedeck.’  
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Matthews contacted three wealthy businessmen who helped finance his desire to build a New Jerusalem, which he called the Kingdom, located at Mount Zion Sing Sing, and Third Street New York City. Prophet Matthias and his disciples eventually endured adultery, fornication, bankruptcy, and false accusations of food poisoning leading to murder. Eventually, Matthews was arrested in Albany, imprisoned in New York City, then after a court case was found not guilty due to Mr. Benjamin Folger dropping all the charges against Robert Matthews (Prophet Matthias) 
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Robert Matthews did not record his doctrines, ideas, or history, however, he is remembered for his many outrageous adventures, and activities. His involvement with Sojourner-Truth and Joseph Smith the founder of the Latter Day Saint Church, along with his involvement with the higher echelons of New York Society have secured his place in American history.
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Matthews was born in the farming village of Cambridge, in Washington County, New York, and was raised an Anti-Burgher Presbyterian.
In 1795 both of his parents died, leaving him along with his four brothers and five sisters to the care of kin and neighbors.
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In 1802 at the age of fourteen Robert’s surrogate parents Mr. & Mrs. John Maxwell; wanted to send him into the world as an apprentice cordwainer. In 1804 at the age of 16, he apprenticed himself to Mr. Edward Cooke, a neighbor and carpenter by trade.Once asked as to why he became a carpenter, Robert responded by saying that it was the ‘only calling that been adopted by a supreme being.’ 
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Whilst working as a carpenter, and with the passing of his ‘uncle Robert Thompson;’ Robert Matthews ‘obtained property, and then went into business as a storekeeper,’ in his birth village of Cambridge.
Edit Item 9. Robert Matthews and Margaret Wright became acquainted in the village of Cambridge. In 1805 after a separation of two years Robert and Margaret resumed their courtship after which he obtained consent to the union of marriage from her parents; who were also in the mercantile business. Robert and Margaret Wright were married in 1813, Margaret said: ‘by the Rev Hamilton, the pastor of a Church in Nassau Street; after which, myself and my brother returned with him to Cambridge.’
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In the year of 1814, Robert and Margaret decide to build a large extension onto their small country mercantile store. During 1815 ‘the building expansion was disastrous, the funding dried up, and the business failed. Finding themselves destitute and with his dreams of business shattered: Robert and his family travel to Manhattan New York City where at 38 years of age, he is working as a carpenter for Mr. Burroughts of Canal Street. Among his workmates, Robert Matthews has acquired the name of ‘Jumping Jesus’ due to his disposition of being quiet one moment: then without warning flying into a rage of anger, pushing his opinions on religion, and his understandings of its doctrine, onto his co-workers.   
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In the month of June 1830, Robert is working as a carpenter while attempting to preach around the city of Albany. At home, he informed his long-suffering wife that ‘The spirit was showing him wonderful things, and that there was a destroying angel soon to come and sweep off all the inhabitants of this country.’ The details of the pending destruction of Albany were according to Robert; to be connected with a flood, which would spread ‘from the north and the west, and that it would run rapidly through Washington and State Streets, sweeping all before it; but that we (his family) should escape.’
Tuesday 15th June, after attending church in the afternoon, then having a major disagreement with his wife Margaret, Robert Matthews and his sons James and John leave the family home. For days Robert and his sons wandered in the wilderness of the woodlands in the northeast portion of Albany. Eventually, the Mayor of the city Mr. John Townsend interceded due to real concerns for the safety of the children. There are two versions of the ensuing events. In the first general release, we have Robert and the children walking in the woods living in a wooden hut and eating roots and berries. We can safely call this the urban legend version. In other reports, we have a different story; with Robert and his children walking the 40-mile trail from Albany to Argyle from Tuesday 15th June to Sunday 20th June 1830. Approximately five months after abandoning his wife, Matthias returns to Albany then sets off wandering and preaching through western New York.  
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We are now in the year of 1832: and Matthias is 55 years of age, living in New York City near the Five Points.
Interestingly Matthews succeeded in convincing three wealthy merchants named Sylvester Mills, Benjamin Folger, and Elijah Pierson to support his vision of Zion and the New Jerusalem.
Surprisingly Sylvester H Mills ‘was sent to the Bloomingdale Asylum, quite out of his mind,’ while Prophet Matthias is ‘sent to the lunatic hospital, at Bellevue’ as he was judged to be both an ‘imposter and a vagabond,’ as reported in the Nantucket Inquirer.
Incredibly Elijah Pierson and Benjamin Folger supported their Prophet Matthias with money and the deeds to two houses. Elijah eventually lost his life under unusual circumstances, after eating blackberries.
Surprisingly Benjamin Folger gave his wife Ann Folger, to Prophet Matthias in exchange for the young inexperienced Isabella (Mathews) Laisdell, who was the daughter of Matthews (Prophet Matthias.)    
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Benjamin and Ann Folger re-unite after the death of Elijah Pierson. Prophet Matthias and Sojourner-Truth leave New York and visit Albany where Matthias is arrested and incarcerated for murder and obtaining money under false pretenses.
In November 1834 the Judge after serious deliberation determined to suspend the prisoners trial for the offense of obtaining money under false pretenses, and delivered him to the authorities in Westchester County, to be tried for the alleged murder of Mr. Pierson.’
At Westchester County Court Judge Ruggles said. ‘There was not sufficient evidence of the allegations that the deceased had come to his death from the culpable negligence of the prisoner, and therefore the jury could not find a verdict of guilty.’
Surprisingly all the charges are rescinded by Benjamin Folger, resulting in the acquittal of Matthews (Prophet Matthias)
Matthews was found guilty of whipping his daughter, however, at the trial, she wrote a letter stating that she ‘respectfully pray the court to enter a null prosequi therein accordingly.’ Isabella Laisdell.’
The charge of assault is unusual as Isabella (Matthews) Laisdell did not bring the charge against her father. The charge was ‘pressed by Mr. Laisdell,’ Isabella’s husband.
No official charges were placed against Sojourner-Truth, however, her name was implicated, which resulted in her winning compensation against Benjamin Folger in a separate court action to the sum of $125.00.
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Tuesday 18th August 1835: Upon his release from prison, Matthias wants to start rebuilding his life. His bank account is depleted by fees associated with his defense. Additionally, cash funds and other such items have been given back into the Folger estate: and he is now traveling with just the clothes on his back. In this desperate situation, Matthias decides to call upon Mr. Western the district attorney who had successfully defended him in court. After a successful meeting, Mr. Western gave Prophet Matthias $3.00 to help him in his time of need.
Walking away from what can only be considered a Christian or humanitarian encounter with Mr. Western: Matthias is determined to find Sojourner-Truth, and his wife, Margaret Matthews. After their happy reunion Matthias and Sojourner-Truth decide to visit with Margaret; the legal wife of Matthias. Arriving at their destination, Margaret is not pleased to hear that Matthias wants to talk with her. We are informed via the Tarboro Press that. ‘Matthias then went to his wife and children. She would not receive him; she would not live with him, she utterly refused to have anything to do with him. Matthias bore it patiently, after which he stretched out his left hand put it on the head of one of his boys and ejaculated a blessing.’ The communication between Matthias and Margaret did not last for more than a few moments, and Sojourner-Truth was present during its duration. Almost as if she desired more contact, Margaret wrote down in her written statement, that she might have had more conversation with Matthias if Sojourner-Truth was not with him! In this monumental day for Matthias: he has received kindness from Sojourner-Truth, and Mr. Western. After a short conversation with his legal wife, Matthias turned his back on Margaret for the last time; they would never talk or see each other again, it was over, the love had died, and Margaret, not Matthias was in the driving seat. She had the power, and the ability to stand her ground against Matthias a domineering, narcissistic husband and Prophet. In Margaret’s opinion, ‘there is no alteration apparently, and his countenance and his eyes have the same expressions of insanity.’
Wednesday 19th August 1835. We know this day started off early for Matthias as he was: ‘escorted to the Jersey City ferry this morning by the officers, probably with a view of getting him out of the city. While attempting to leave Jersey City a ‘crowed immediately assembled for the purpose of assaulting him, after which he then succeeded in getting into a car which started in a few minutes, and thus preventing any mischief.’ Walking around Newark looking for his brother, Matthias started talking to Mr. Gould who was a curious, intelligent member of the community. Eventually, the news of Matthias’ arrival in Newark has stirred the community into action: the crowds have increased to a mob, and they like the mob a few hours earlier in Jersey City: are out for the blood or head of Matthias. The news has traveled fast; Matthias has only been in Newark for just over one hour!
By Wednesday afternoon Matthias was back in New York walking the Broadway. According to the summary of news, he was ‘as usual full of his extravagances.
From Newark, and New York he retreated into the country and took his journey towards Lancaster in Pennsylvania. on Saturday 12th September 1835 we next find him pretending to be ‘influenced in his travels by the Holy Spirit.’ The indications are that Matthias believes that the Holy Spirit, is leading him ‘towards Pittsburgh.’ On his travels, he is communicating openly as the reports are indicating his characteristics.
On the 9th November 1835 while introducing himself as “Joshua the Jewish minister,” Matthews (Matthias) finds himself knocking at the door of Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Geauga Co. Ohio. This monumental day is the start of a three-day meeting that climaxes into the Clash of the Prophets as each man denounces each other as satanic!
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During the conversation, Matthews told Smith that Joshua is his priestly name. Additionally, they talked about the resurrection, stating that he (Matthews) is a literal descendant of Matthias the Apostle that was chosen in the place of Judas!
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Unfortunately for these two American prophets, there was no happy ending! Like most events in the lives of both prophets: the newspapers reported part of the story when they said: ‘Matthias the Prophet was at Kirkland Ohio and had not joined the Mormons.
After three days of discussions, and one congregational meeting held at Smith’s home where Matthews addressed the assembled Mormons, the two claimed American Prophets denounced each other as Satanic. Smith said that “my God told me that your God is the Devil.”
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Matthews traveled extensively after his New York adventures.
1. Baltimore in 1836.
2. Cincinnati in 1837.
3. Manchester August 1837.
4. Virginia October 1837.
There are false reports concerning the death of Matthews, We have two more reports to share. These written reports epitomize the life of Robert Matthews’ alias Prophet Matthias.
Report one dated 7th August 1841. ‘Death of Matthias—it is stated by the Highland Messenger that Matthias, the imposter, died in North Carolina in July 1840. His age was about 60 years. He was probably the most stupid creature who ever set up for a prophet.’
Report two on the very same day 7th August 1841. ‘Not Dead—The Prophet Matthias is not dead. The editor of the Albany Atlas saw him a few days since beard and all on board one of the steamers.’
As controversial in death as in life!
The general unsupported understanding is that he died in Iowa Territory.
This article incorporates text from publications available in the public domain.
1. Matthias by his Wife 1835
2. Narrative of Isabella (Mr. G. Vale 1786-1866) (Edited by Oliver Gilbert. with the appendix by Theodore D. Weed. 1850.
3. The Progress of Fanaticism. 1835
4. Additionally, this article contains information from newspapers, diaries, court documents, and private letters which are in the public domain between the years of 1800 and 1860.
5. William L.Clements Library, letters of Margaret Matthews, as dated 4th April to 6th July 1835.
6. William L.Stone appendix. 1835.
7. Harvard College Library: Treasures of Harvard College. Narrative part one and two.
8. William L. Clements Library University of Michigan. Matthias Papers April 1834- 11th June 1835. Ref: P3.
9. Fanaticism Its source and Influence. 1835.
Matthias and Smith Clash Of The Prophets. ISBN-13: 978-1973177449. ISBN-10: 1973177447
Matthias and Smith e-book from this web-site, Amazon and Barns & Noble.
All information is presented from original source materials. Every statement or part of the story of Rober Matthews is presented from statements, papers, court documents, testimonials, and diaries between the years of 1800 to 1845.
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