Cyrus Teed, who would later become the founder of the Koreshan Unity, was eleven and had only completed eighth grade when he dropped out of school to work as an Erie Canal hoggee (mule wrangler/driver) to help support his family.
Since Teed’s parents were Baptist and he was a natural orator, when he was older his friends urged him to study for the ministry. However, Cyrus decided to become a physician. In 1859 he began the study of medicine in Utica, NY with his uncle, Dr. Samuel F. Teed, an allopathic physician. It was not unusual at that time for many doctors to learn their trade by apprenticing with a physician.
By 1860, Teed was married and had a young son, Douglas. In 1862, Teed enrolled in the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York. There, he studied until August 9, 1862 when he enlisted in the Infantry of the 127th New York Volunteers. The following year, by then a Corporal, He may have worked as an assistant physician and surgeon while in the Army, but he could have added this about himself later to make his service (and him) appear more important.
On August 1, 1863, while on the march near Warrenton Junction, Virginia, Corporal Teed suffered severe sunstroke which led to paralysis of his left arm and leg. Army records indicate he was a patient in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia by August 8, 1863, where he spent fifty days.
As a patient, Corporal Teed noticed that wounded soldiers who had a positive outlook on life or strong faith recovered faster. After the war, he received an Honorable (Medical) Discharge from the Army, October 16, 1863. After his discharge, he returned to New York City to complete his medical studies in Eclectic Medicine and graduated in February 1868 at the age of twenty-nine.
In 1869, Teed experienced what he called his “Divine Illumination,” and left his son, Douglas, and wife, Fidelia to develop a religious sect he called Koreshanity. He would eventually select Estero, Florida as the epicenter of his “New Jerusalem.” He would go on to attract many followers to his new religion. What remains of his “New Jerusalem” is now the 200-acre Koreshan State Park.
To learn more about Dr. Teed and other Florida pioneers, take one of Koreshan State Park’s Historic Guided Tours, and pick up a copy of “The Allure of Immortality” by Lyn Millner in the Ranger Station.