Finally, after weeks of hiding in the brush around town, Joseph Dylkes made a semi-public reappearance at the home of one of his followers. While he was naturally suspicious of any strangers, he grew confident enough to arrange for more meetings and his band of followers slowly began to grow again as Dylkes made more recruits. Finally, towards the end of October, 1828, heannounced that the time had come to establish his new kingdom on Earth. But, given the persecution he and his followers had already faced, he decided that some important changes needed to be made.
First of all, he decided to move his followers to Philadelphia which he felt would be a much more receptive location and far away from the mob that was still hunting for him. He also decided to appoint "apostles" to travel with him to Philadephia and assist him in his holy quest. Robert McCormick was formally named Dylkes' "Paul" while Michael Brill (who owned the house where they were meeting) was renamed "Silas" and a third man was appointed "Peter." These were the men who would travel with him while a fourth man, John Brill, was placed in charge of the "little flock" that would stay behind in Salesville.
During his absence, the remaining followers were to continue their prayer meetings and continue facing east while they prayed (since that was the direction Dylkes would be traveling). Soon, he promised, he and his apostles would return to bring them all to the glorious new city he would build in Philadelphia. In describing this new Jerusalem, Dylkes outdid himself with the vision he presented to his followers: "Its light would eclipse the splendor of the sun," he said. "The temples thereof and the residences of the faithful would be built of diamonds excelling the twinkling beauty of the stars. Its walls were to be of solid gold and its gates silver. The streets were to be covered with green velvet, richer in luster and fabric than mortal eye could behold." He went on to describe how the faithful "would ride in chariots of crimson drawn by jet black horses that need no drivers...the air of the city would be redolent with the aroma of shrub and flower, while ten thousand instruments, attuned to the symphony of heaven, would fill the courts, streets, temples, residences, and gardens with music ineffably sweet." Exactly how the poverty-stricken Dylkes would accomplish all of this was left up to the imagination of his listeners (who had long since learned not to ask awkward questions).
With this final sermon, Dylkes and his three apostles set out for Philadelphia. Having no money, they traveled on foot the entire way and managed to scrounge whatever food and shelter they could find. Still, they made it as far as a few miles outside the city when they came to a forked road and Dylkes decided to go down one road with only his faithful Peter (Davis) while the other two took the other fork. His final instructions to Robert McCormick and Michael Brill before leaving them were: "Faithful apostles, it is now necessary for us to separate for a time. Paul (McCormick) and Silas (Brill) will take the south road of this fork, I and Peter will pursue the north. We meet again where the light of heaven shall shine within the city for there will be the new Jerusalem begin to expand to fill the earth."
While McCormick and Brill reached the city after a while, they were troubled to see no sign of the light Dylkes had promised. Even after searching all through Philadephia, couldn't find Dylkes or the other man, Davis, and eventually walked to Baltimore where they found the funds they needed to travel back home. Even after they made their report to the rest of Dylkes' followers, nothing really changed for the faithful community that had stayed behind in Salesville. Everyone, including McCormick and Brill, continued to believe in Dylkes and his eventual return to them. Finally, after seven years, the man Dylkes called "Peter", a.k.a. Reverend Davis, returned to Salesville. After arranging to give a sermon in the Temple, Davis announced that he had personally seen Dylkes ascend to Heaven and that he would soon return to establish his new Jerusalem. He also denounced all other religions, including Christianity which he called "a hotchpotch of Judaism and heathenism." After this amazing sermon, he left town and was never seen again. Neither was Joseph Dylkes.
As the years passed, the "Dylkites" (which is what the rest of the town called them) continued to live and worship as they always had. Nobody seemed inclined to take Dylkes' place as head of the community and they simply met privately with no attempt at spreading their peculiar faith. Since there were no new converts, the community slowly dwindled as the believers died off. With no real legacy left behind, Dylkes might have been forgotten completely had it not been for William Dean Howells who published a fictionalized account about this peculiar religion in 1916. Titled, "The Leatherwood God", the book generated a flurry of interest, mainly because of Howell's solid reputation in American literature, though it isn't considered to be one of his best known works.
And, that was it really. Though he promised to found a kingdom that would last forever, Dylkes' religious legacy didn't even last more than a few decades once he disappeared. Was he a huckster all along or did he genuinely believe in his own divinity? If so, he likely didn't last long in Philadephia before being packed off to the local lunatic asylum, the likely fate of any would-be messiah in more jaded cities. Whatever his ultimate fate, he can still be viewed as an object lesson in the dangers of excessive belief and the need for healthy skepticism when dealing with incredible claims. Perhaps now, in an era of religious and paranormal claims being made ever more frequently, the case of the Leatherwood God deserves to be much more widely known.