The Leatherwood God
Religious imposters have flourished in almost every portion of the historic period. Such an imposter was Joseph C. Dylkes whose advent, teaching and unhallowed pretensions form one of the most interesting and curious episodes in the history of the Ohio Valley. About the middle of August 1828, a camp meeting was held on the lands of one Casper Overley, two and a half miles northwest of the Salesville Temple, in the immediate vicinity of the M. E. chapel called Miller's Meeting House (Leatherwood Church). This meeting was held by the United Brethren Church and began on Wed and was to continue until Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, Rev. John Crum addressed a large congregation at the service - some persons having come from over twenty miles away. He was in the middle of his sermon, when a tremendous voice shouted "Salvation" and followed instantly by a strange sound, likened by all who heart it to the snort of a horse.
The minister and the congregation were taken by surprise and all eyes turned to see what had happened. There in the midst of the congregation was a stranger, of odd appearance. No one had seem him come into the congregation and his manner of dress and personal appearance heightened the astonishment of the people. He was about 5'8" tall with black eyes and jet-black hair, which was long and glossy and thrown back from his low forehead and hung in a mass over his shoulders. He was dressed in a black broadcloth suit, frock coat, white cravat and wore a yellow beaver hat, and appeared to be between the ages of 45 and 50. When we reflect that this was the day of linsey-wool hats, hunting shirts and buckskins and that there was not another male in the congregation in a broadcloth coat, we see at once how these considerations complicated the question of how he got into the congregations unnoticed.
When the congregation was dismissed, many sought the acquaintance of Dylkes. He was invited home to supper by Mr. Pulley. He stayed with the Pulleys for several days, and also visited in the community. He attended various religious meetings and sometimes led the services. He seemed to be a master of the Bible, quoting any portion of it necessary for the illustration of his subject. He began to declare himself to be a celestial being, bearing in his person a heavenly mission. He told certain members of the community that he had come into the camp meeting in his spiritual body; and then took on his corporeal body. He finally made the assertion that he was the Messiah come to set up the millennium and establish a kingdom that should never end. He also claimed that he would never die and all who believed on him would never die, and that no one could harm him or touch a single hair of his head.
Conspicuous among the number led astray by Dylkes were Michael Brill, John Brill and Robert McCormick. Michael and John were brothers and Robert was a son-in-law of John Brill. The Brills had come to Guernsey County from Loudon Co., Va. Michael Brill's family at that time consisted of several daughters and one son. John Brill was his younger brother; and he had another brother, George Brill Sr who was not taken in by Dylkes and his claims.
The delusion of Dylkes spread with a rapidity scarcely ever equaled in the history of religious fanaticism. Family was set against family; parent against child; husband against wife; neighbor against neighbor, dividing and conquering until the whole church membership of the community were overwhelmed by it, except George Brill Sr and James Foreacre. James Foreacre was a son-in-law of John Brill and lived on the John Brill farm.
Christopher Brill, son of George Brill also believed in Dylkes and he went to live with his uncle Michael Brill, and tried on numerous occasions to convert his father and his brother, George Brill Jr. who was a minister of the United Brethren Church. He was unable to convert them and they were unable to sway him away from his belief in Dylkes.
James Foreacre, son-in-law of John Brill and brother-in-law of Robert McCormick was deeply mortified by their course of action, and was determined to see if Dylkes could not be frightened from the vicinity. Several weeks passed before Dylkes and some of his "little flock" gathered at McCormick's and James Foreacre, hearing of the meeting, got his brother John to go with him to McCormicks to help arrest Dylkes. Another man, Mr. Gifford, whose daughter Mary was also a believer of Dylkes, also was bent on exposing Dylkes in order to save his daughter from this folly. Mr. Gifford and several other men set out on the same evening as the Foreacre part to perform the same task - discrediting Dylkes.
The Foreacres went into the meeting first and tried to get Dylkes but were driven out by the "little flock." John Foreacre then cut a club and said, "I'll have Dylkes or die in the attempt." The Gifford part had arrived by this time, and they entered by one door, and the Foreacres returned again through another. The little flock was taken by surprise. Christopher Brill took up a 3-legged stool and got ready to throw it, when he thought, "Why should I fight for a God?" Dylkes tried to hide in the corner, but Gifford seized him and tore out a considerable lock of his hair to carry to his daughter, Mary to show her that Dylkes claims were unfounded. Dylkes was carried before Squire James Frame, to be charged, but Frame informed the party that he had no law by which to try a god. Then they took him to Washington, where Squire Omstot agreed with Squire Frame that there was no violation of any law, and that in "this country, every man has a right to worship what God he pleases." Dylkes finally escaped from the Foreacre party and hidout in a wooded area on the lands of William St. Clair who also was one of his believers. This was near the land of Michael Brill and between these two men, Dylkes was given food and comfort and able to remain in hiding. Dylkes told those followers who remained with him that he was going to Philadelphia to establish a "New Jerusalem." Michael Brill, Robert McCormick and Rev. Davis agreed to accompany Dylkes to Philadelphia but the party split up before reaching Philadelphia and the Brills never located Mr. Dylkes. Finally footsore and without money, Michael Brill and Robert McCormick made their way to Baltimore where they pledged their tobacco crop for money sufficient to go home by stage. Michael Brill died still believing in Dylkes, dressing much as Dylkes did. Robt McCormick also died still believing in Dylkes.