Elijah Pierson

Elijah Pierson

Birth
Convent Station, Morris County, New Jersey, USA
Death 6 Aug 1834 (aged 47)
Ossining, Westchester County, New York, USA
Burial Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey, USA
Memorial ID 12302309 · View Source
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Religious activist c.1820-1834; alleged murder victim. A successful Manhattan merchant-turned-evangelical missionary, Elijah Pierson became a follower of religious cult leader Robert Matthews, a.k.a. "Matthias the Prophet", who stood trial for his murder in 1834. The renowned Sojourner Truth, a Matthews follower then known as Isabella Van Wagenen, was accused as his accomplice. The highly publicized case, with its revelations of Matthews' violent misogyny, scandalous sexual liaisons, and opulent lifestyle at the cult's commune near Ossining, NY, outraged the nation.
Descended from New England Puritans who’d come to New Jersey in 1666, but not in line to inherit his forbears' farmlands, Elijah Pierson left Morris County to work in Lower Manhattan. There he rose from shipping clerk to business owner while still a young man. Mild-mannered and intensely devout, he found the love of his life in Sarah Stanford, a minister’s daughter whose religious fervor and compassion for the poor resonated with his own. Married on May 25, 1822, their daughter Elizabeth was born on April 14 of the following spring. Despite their wealth, the couple lived austerely, fasting and practicing other forms of self-denial and ministering to the City's materially and morally impoverished in the notorious Five Points slum and at the Bowery Hill mission. When Sarah died of tuberculosis in June 1830, the distraught Pierson believed his prayers would revive her. This miracle failing to occur, he became increasingly delusional. Enthralled by the Messianic claims of Robert Matthews, who visited him in December 1832, by August 1833 he was living at Matthews' commune. Financed by wealthy disciples like Pierson, it numbered some two dozen members, including Van Wagenen/Truth. There the forlorn 47-year-old widower, who had begun to have seizures while still in New York City, continued to decline. He became violently ill after eating a hefty portion of blackberries which had been served to him by Matthews himself. Denied medical treatment, he died after suffering from severe nausea and diarrhea for more than a week. His body was subsequently brought back to Morristown over the cult leader's objections, where an autopsy performed by Pierson's relatives, Drs. Lewis and Nathan Condict, indicated that he had died of arsenic poisoning. This finding was successfully disputed by Matthews’ defense team, resulting in his acquittal---a controversial and unpopular verdict. Van Wagenen/Truth later successfully sued her chief accuser for slander. Elijah Pierson, who was buried among his Morristown kin, was survived by his 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth. She later became the wife of Emilius Sayre, and died at age 73 in 1896. -Bio by Nikita Barlow.


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  • Maintained by: Nikita Barlow
  • Originally Created by: Rich H.
  • Added: 10 Nov 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 12302309
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Elijah Pierson (30 Aug 1786–6 Aug 1834), Find A Grave Memorial no. 12302309, citing First Presbyterian Churchyard, Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by Nikita Barlow (contributor 46508077) .