Elijah Pierson was born in Morristown, NJ and was also raised in a Presbyterian household. He found work in Manhattan and opened a retail business at age 34. Around this time, he became a leader of the evangelical group The Female Missionary Society for the Poor of New York and Its Vicinity. While working there he met Sarah Stanford, the daughter of a Baptist minister. The two got involved in the practice of retrenchment, which involved cutting back almost all spending involving non-necessities.
After being rejected for a street preaching license, Pierson left the Baptist Church and founded a new church in the Five Points neighborhood in Manhattan. His wife fell ill and when she died Pierson attempted to resuscitate her using divine power. After this, most of his congregation left the church.
Down on his luck, Pierson received a visit from Matthias. He told him he was wrong to pray to Jesus and he should pray to the Father instead. That day he claimed Jesus spoke to him. It was at this point where he decided to become a disciple of Prophet Matthias and took the name “Elijah the Tishbite”.
Many of his followers were wealthy men who spoiled him with the luxuries which they denied themselves for years. Benjamin and Ann Folger, two of Pierson’s friends from the retrenchment ministry, moved 30 miles north to Ossining and bought 30 acres of land. Matthias saw this as a perfect place to found his “kingdom” of Mount Zion. Each member of his congregation was assigned a job based on their inner “spirits”. However, Matthias eventually used his spiritual understanding to assign sexual partners. He declared himself the “Father” of Mount Zion and made Ann Folger the “Mother”, declaring her marriage to Benjamin was invalid because their spirits were incompatible.
Benjamin Folger was sent to Albany to bring Matthias’ children from a former marriage to Mount Zion. When he returned he informed Matthias that he slept with his daughter, Isabella Laisdel, who was married. Rather than punishing Folger, Matthias’ response was beat to severely beat Isabella. He then decided Folger and Isabella were “match spirits” and they must be married. After her husband’s objections, the Kingdom of Mount Zion became involved in a series of legal battles.
Around this time Pierson fell ill. When his health began to fail Matthias refused to allow him to seek medical care. He claimed Pierson was possessed by “devils” and could only be cured by prayer. After eating blackberries for dinner Pierson began convulsing. Matthias ordered his disciples to leave him alone in his bed and only allowed them to pray to be cured. The next morning, he was dead. After an autopsy doctors claimed he was poisoned. Within a few hours this medical tragedy became a murder mystery.