From Kook Science

The Wakemanites were a cult group based at New Haven, Connecticut during the mid-1850s that followed Rhoda Sly Wakeman (1786 - 1859), a former Methodist from Fairfield who professed she had been murdered by her husband, raised to Heaven and brought among Jesus Christ and the angels, before being returned to life with the power to raise the dead, heal the sick, etc., in order to prepare the way for the New Kingdom to come at the millennium. The group imprisoned and assaulted Justus Matthews, a member, on 23 December 1855, and he was then killed and beheaded by Sam Sly, Wakeman's brother, the crime resulting in the arrest of the core membership and subsequent institutionalisations on the grounds of insanity.

Press Coverage

  • "Alarming Delusions", The Churchman's Monthly Magazine 3 (3): 164-167, March 1856, 

    It can hardly be necessary to observe that there is a most intimate and inseparable connexion between religion and morality, as facts of daily occurrence prove the truth of this position, to all who have sufficient candor and discernment to note their bearings. When an individual takes the law of God for his guide, and implicitly follows its direction, and permits the motives which it presents, drawn from what is promised to the faithful in this life, and that which is to come, to influence every thought and action, he has a shield to protect him from the assaults of the evil one, and to deliver him from crime in all its ramifications and forms. How different is it with those, who, though they may virtually receive the Bible as the Revealed will of God, depart from its simple teachings, and embrace notions and opinions which are not only not sanctioned by it, but which are clearly and positively condemned. The miserable dupes of superstition and of fanaticism, whatever their profession and pretensions may be, either add to, or take from, the word of God; and thus, abandoning those landmarks and safeguards, which it throws around us to make us a religious and consequently a moral people, do things, and commit crimes, which seem to be beyond the bounds of reasonable possibility. Every age furnishes illustrations to prove the correctness of this, and to show that error and crime, if they do not go hand in hand, cannot be far distant from each other. Not to advert to other facts, we see this in the things which have lately occurred in New-Haven, and its vicinity, in the state of Connecticut, and with which the public have been duly apprised by the secular papers. It is not our intention to notice the awful murders which have been committed, which have sent a thrill of horror to many a breast, and have awakened the most lively sensibilities in the community at large, except so far as may be necessary, examining this subject in a moral and religious aspect, to inquire into the causes which probably led to them, and from which we will discover that there must have been, on the part of their perpetrators, a strange mixture of delusion, fanaticism, and error.

    Rhoda Wakeman, the founder of the Wakemanites, as they are called, was originally, as well as most of her followers, a Methodist, but she now calls herself a prophetess, and makes pretensions and sets up claims, as strange and as blasphemous as can be found on the page of history. She says she was murdered by her husband years ago, went to Heaven, saw Christ and his holy angels, and was by him sent back to earth to redeem mankind, teach the true way to heaven, and usher in the millennium. In all she does she professes to be directed by revelations from above, and pretends, if she should die, the world would be destroyed immediately. She says that her husband, who was a very bad man, had an evil spirit — the power of death, that is, causing her destruction, given to him. That he transmitted it to Eben Gould, he to Amos Hunt, and he again to Mathews, the person lately murdered in New-Haven. Justus Mathews it seems, was only a partial believer in her pretensions, though he was in the habit of meeting with her disciples. She said, as all evil centered in him, possessing especially the power of causing her death, that he was constantly annoying and harassing her. Wonderful to relate, his presence destroyed her happiness, perplexed her mind and convulsed her system, so that she could not be in the same room with him. A meeting was appointed at her house, in New-Haven, on Sunday evening, December 23d, and Mathews being previously invited, attended. His eyes were blind-folded by his own sister, it being believed he enchanted by them. Sometime in the night he was murdered by Samuel Sly, a brother to the prophetess, while she in bed, up stairs, was suffering, if her story can be credited, the most excruciating pains, because "the man of sin," as she called Mathews, was tormenting her. From what can be gathered from the papers, and the testimony before the jury of inquest, Sly had no malice against the murdered man, and as far as can be judged, his object in taking his life, was to prevent him from destroying his sister, the prophetess, and blasting all the benevolent designs, for which she had been sent back to earth, raised from the dead, and blessed with the spirit of prophesy. Sly, it is understood, justifies himself in regard to the awful crime for which he stands charged by saying:— As Mathews had the evil spirit which endangered, and, if he had been permitted to live, would ultimately have destroyed, the life of the prophetess, on which the fate of the world was suspended (for when she dies it will be destroyed,) of two evils it seems desirable to choose the least; remove him, and thus save the world from ruin. Thus we see what some of the opinions of the Wakemanites were, and to what fatal consequences they have led: they have, in the hands of a deluded mortal, or mortals, for there seems to have been a previous understanding as to the course to be adopted to get rid of Mathews, produced a breach of the command, "Thou shalt do no murder;" and a family, consisting of a wife and four small children, have been left destitute, virtually thrown on the cold charities of the world. Even the stick, witchhazel, with which poor Mathews was knocked down, was supposed to be very efficacious for making tea, when mixed with alder bark, to cast out evil spirits.

    It may be mentioned that in a little more than a week after the melancholy event occurred, to which allusion has been made, another person living in the vicinity of New-Haven, related to several of the principal Wakemanites, an attendant at their meetings, and a partial believer in their doctrines, deranged to a certain extent no doubt — seized an axe, and took the lives of two quiet and respectable aged citizens, on the same day, nearly severing their heads from their bodies. The only reason which he has given for that rash act was being afflicted with rheumatism occasionally; something told him, he could not be cured without shedding their blood. It is generally thought, that the murder of Mathews suggested the idea to his mind, and the excitement connected with it dethroned reason, and thus the way was prepared for taking life. From the facts which have been detailed above, we can see how rapid the strides in error are, how soon they may undermine reason, reject the word of God, and the teachings of the Church and her ministering servants, and to what fatal results they may lead. Most of the Wakemanites were once professors of religion, among some of the various classes of Methodists. They depended too much on excitement, mere animal excitement, perhaps substituted it in the place of religion; and, hence they were in a fit state to be carried away by "every wind of doctrine," with but little thought or reflection, and having no one to guide them, they soon perverted and falsified divine truth. Millerism was their first step in error — then followed the annihilation of the wicked — then spiritual tappings — then conversing with the departed — then the claim of being inspired was set up, and finally life has been taken under the impression that necessity demanded it. In our country, for the spiritual welfare of which we tremble, there are thou sands, perhaps tens of thousands, whose course of error has been very similar to the class of persons above named. Once they were in good standing among some of the respectable denominations by which we are surrounded, but in an evil hour they departed from some of the elementary articles of the Christian faith adopted by them, and now having departed far, far indeed from the path in which the humble Christian has been commanded to walk, we find them advocating the most dangerous doctrines, substituting fancy or caprice for the teachings of holy writ, and while assenting to some truths, as palpably denying others which are equally important. We find them among adventists, annihilationists, spiritual rappers, in some instances professing to hold communications with the dead, and things of a kindred nature. They have passed a certain round in error, but in what they will finally settle down, whether they will become the miserable dupes of some designing impostor, who may arise and deceive many, or become infidels, which seems more likely, is more than can be imagined by the closest observer of events. The fact that so many have erred so fatally, who once professed the Christian name, and have thus weakened, and sometimes completely destroyed religious societies which once were strong and prosperous, should lend Churchmen to inquire into the cause or causes of this, and make them careful to avoid the rocks upon which others have fallen. It will not do to depend too much upon excitement. It is to be kept in a proper place and to he rightly controlled. It will not answer, in an age like the present, to give imperfect delineations of the doctrines of God's holy word, and of the essential features of the Church of Christ, but they are to be presented clearly and forcibly, and, if possible, impressions are to be made on the mind by the truth, which error cannot undermine or efface. The times demand an intimate knowledge of the creed, as fixed articles of the believer's faith, the Lord's prayer, the ten commandments, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health. The person who is thus armed "with the whole armour of God," and does his duty faithfully, will be preserved from the false doctrines which are rife in the world. It has been stated in a secular paper, that the Wakemanites are generally very ignorant, not having in their younger days been carefully taught by their parents the fundamental principles of the religion of Christ. From this fact the thoughtful and pious Church man may see how important it is to train up his children in the fear of God, and to store their minds with a knowledge of divine things. If the rising generation is suffered to grow up without moral and intellectual culture, the Church, and, I may add, religion too, must suffer. Let parents do their duties faith fully, and their children will be an honor to them and the community at large. They will sustain the Church of Christ by their influence and prayers and timely support, and after they have finished their work on earth, the influence of their example and labors will be seen in the interest which their children take in fearing God, and keeping his commandments. As a means of gathering the rising generation into the Church, and preserving it from the contaminating influence of sin, and placing it beyond the reach of the many fatal notions which are rife in the world on the subject of religion, how important is it to comply with the inspired injunction, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it!" — Thomas Aquinas

  • "An Awful Tragedy", Bristol, Connecticut: 'In the Olden Time New Cambridge,' Which Includes Forestville, Hartford, Conn.: City Print Co., 1907, p. 132, 

    An awful tragedy occurred in New Haven, on Christmas, 1855, when Justus Matthews, a brother of George William and Henry N. Matthews, who was born in the Matthews home at Indian Heaven, was murdered by a sect of religious fanatics, known as the Wakemanites. It is one of the strangest tales that religious fanaticism is responsible for, showing to what lengths the religious devotee may be tempted to go. Rhoda Wakeman, the leader and founder of the sect, having, it is believed, murdered her husband, came to New Haven from Fairfield, and gathered a small company of believers about her, who accepted her statement that she had died and gone to heaven, where she had been commissioned by Jesus Christ to return to the earth to redeem mankind, or at least all who would listen to her. She professed to have power to kill and to raise the dead, to heal diseases, and to cast out devils. Justus Matthews, his wife and sister, and his sister's husband, all of Hamden, were among those who accepted the "Divine Messenger," as she was called. She professed that Justus had backslidden and had become the man of sin, it is thought because of a debt of three hundred dollars that she owed him, and which he thought should be secured. At any rate she impressed upon the little company the importance of having Justus put out of the way or she would die, and if she died the world would instantly be destroyed. This they firmly believed. Justus was sent for, and persuaded that it was his duty to be killed that the world might be saved. Sam Sly, a half-witted fanatic, did the deed, after Matthews' own sister had tied his hands behind his back, and blindfolded him, "in the fear of the Lord." He was first beaten into insensibility by a club, and then his head was nearly severed from his body by a jackknife. The perpetrators were acquitted on the ground of insanity, but were kept under restraint during the remainder of their lives.