Copyright
Samuel P. Orth.

Our Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making online

. (page 4 of 14)
Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 4 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


But the economic struggle continued, for the black man, even if
politically emasculated and socially isolated, had somehow to earn a
living. In their first reaction of anger and chagrin, some of the
whites here and there made attempts to reduce freedmen to their former
servitude, but their efforts were effectually checked by the Fifteenth
Amendment. An ingenious peonage, however, was created by means of the
criminal law. Strict statutes were passed by States on guardianship,
vagrancy, and petty crimes. It was not difficult to bring charges
under these statutes, and the heavy penalties attached, together with
the wide discretion permitted to judge and jury, made it easy to
subject the culprit to virtual serfdom for a term of years. He would
be leased to some contractor, who would pay for his keep and would
profit by his toil. Whatever justification there may have been for
these statutes, the convict lease system soon fell into disrepute, and
it has been generally abandoned.

It was upon the land that the freedman naturally sought his economic
salvation. He was experienced in cotton growing. But he had neither
acres nor capital. These he had to find and turn to his own uses ere
he could really be economically free. So he began as a farm laborer,
passed through various stages of tenantry, and finally graduated into
land ownership. One finds today examples of every stage of this
evolution.[13] There is first the farm laborer, receiving at the end
of the year a fixed wage. He is often supplied with house and garden
and usually with food and clothing. There are many variations of this
labor contract. The "cropper" is barely a step advanced above the
laborer, for he, too, furnishes nothing but labor, while the landlord
supplies house, tools, live stock, and seed. His wage, however, is
paid not in cash but in a stipulated share of the crop. From this
share he must pay for the supplies received and interest thereon. This
method, however, has proved to be a mutually unsatisfactory
arrangement and is usually limited to hard pressed owners of poor
land.

The larger number of the negro farmers are tenants on shares or
metayers. They work the land on their own responsibility, and this
degree of independence appeals to them. They pay a stipulated portion
of the crop as rent. If they possess some capital and the rental is
fair, this arrangement proves satisfactory. But as very few negro
metayers possess the needed capital, they resort to a system of
crop-lienage under which a local retail merchant advances the
necessary supplies and obtains a mortgage on the prospective crop.
Many negro farmers, however, have achieved the independence of cash
renters, assuming complete control of their crops and the disposition
of their time. And finally, 241,000 negro farmers are landowners.[14]
By 1910 nearly 900,000 negroes had achieved some degree of rural
economic stability.

The negro has not been so fortunate in his attempts to make a place
for himself in the industrial world. The drift to the cities began
soon after emancipation. During the first decade, the dissatisfaction
with the landlordism which then prevailed, seconded by the demand for
unskilled labor in the rapidly growing cities, drew the negroes from
the land in such considerable numbers that the landowners were induced
to make more liberal terms to keep the laborers on their farms. While
there has been a large increase in the number of negroes engaged in
agriculture, there has at the same time been a very marked current
from the smaller communities to the new industrial cities of the South
and to some of the manufacturing centers of the North. In recent years
there have been wholesale importations of negro laborers into many
Northern cities and towns, sometimes as strike breakers but more
frequently to supply the urgent demand for unskilled labor. Many of
the smaller manufacturing towns of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Illinois, and Indiana are accumulating a negro population.

Very few of these industrial negroes, however, are skilled workers.
They toil rather as ordinary day laborers, porters, stevedores,
teamsters, and domestics. There has been a great deal written of the
decline of the negro artisan. Walter F. Willcox, the eminent
statistician, after a careful study of the facts concludes that
economically "the negro as a race is losing ground, is being confined
more and more to the inferior and less remunerative occupations, and
is not sharing proportionately to his numbers in the prosperity of the
country as a whole or of the section in which he mainly lives."

It appears, therefore, that the pathway of emancipation has not led
the negro out of the ranks of humble toil and into racial equality. In
order to equip him more effectively for a place in the world,
industrial schools have been established, among which the most noted
is the Tuskegee Institute. Its founder, Booker T. Washington, advised
his fellow negroes to yield quietly to the political and social
distinctions raised against them and to perfect themselves in
handicrafts and the mechanic arts, in the faith that civil rights
would ultimately follow economic power and recognized industrial
capacity. His teaching received the almost unanimous approval of both
North and South. But opinion among his own people was divided, and in
1905 the "Niagara Movement" was launched, followed five years later by
the organizing of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People. This organization advised a more aggressive attitude
towards race distinctions, outspokenly advocated race equality,
demanded the negro's rights, and maintained a restless propaganda.
These champions of the race possibilities of the negro point to the
material advance made since slavery; to the 500,000 houses and the
221,000 farms owned by them; their 22,000 small retail businesses and
their 40 banks; to the 40,000 churches with nearly 4,000,000 members;
to the 200 colleges and secondary schools maintained for negroes and
largely supported by them; to their 100 old people's homes, 30
hospitals, 300 periodicals; to the 6000 physicians, dentists, and
nurses; the 30,000 teachers, the 18,000 clergymen. They point to the
beacon lights of their genius: Frederick Douglass, statesman; J.C.
Price, orator; Booker T. Washington, educator; W.E.B. DuBois, scholar;
Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet; Charles W. Chestnutt, novelist. And they
compare this record of 50 years' achievement with the preceding 245
years of slavery.

This, however, is only one side of the shield. There is another side,
nowhere better illustrated, perhaps, than in the neglected negro
gardens of the South. Near every negro hut is a garden patch large
enough to supply the family with vegetables for the entire year, but
it usually is neglected. "If they have any garden at all," says a
negro critic from Tuskegee, "it is apt to be choked with weeds and
other noxious growths. With every advantage of soil and climate and
with a steady market if they live near any city or large town, few of
the colored farmers get any benefit from this, one of the most
profitable of all industries." In marked contrast to these wild and
unkempt patches are the gardens of the Italians who have recently
invaded portions of the South and whose garden patches are almost
miraculously productive. And this invasion brings a real threat to the
future of the negro. His happy-go-lucky ways, his easy philosophy of
life, the remarkable ease with which he severs home ties and shifts
from place to place, his indifference to property obligations - these
negative defects in his character may easily lead to his economic doom
if the vigorous peasantry of Italy and other lands are brought into
competition with him.


FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 7: _History of the United States_, vol. I, p. 116.]

[Footnote 8: _Captain Canot: or Twenty Years in a Slaver_, by Brantz
Mayer. p. 94 ff.]

[Footnote 9: _The Negro in Africa and America_, p. 113.]

[Footnote 10: Coman, _Industrial History of the United States_, p.
238. Bogart gives the figures as 1,976,000 bales in 1840, and
4,675,000 bales in 1860. _Economic History of the United States_, p.
256.]

[Footnote 11: See _The Anti-Slavery Crusade_, by Jesse Macy (in _The
Chronicles of America_), Chapter VIII.]

[Footnote 12: See _The Sequel of Appomattox_, by Walter L. Fleming (in
_The Chronicles of America_), Chapter IV.]

[Footnote 13: See _The New South_ by Holland Thompson (in _The
Chronicles of America_), Chapters IV and VII.]

[Footnote 14: _Negroes in the United States_, Census Bulletin No. 129,
p. 37.]




CHAPTER IV

UTOPIAS IN AMERICA


America has long been a gigantic Utopia. To every immigrant since the
founding of Jamestown this coast has gleamed upon the horizon as a
Promised Land. America, too, has provided convenient plots of ground,
as laboratories for all sorts of vagaries, where, unhampered by
restrictions and unannoyed by inquisitive neighbors, enthusiastic
dreamers could attempt to reconstruct society. Whenever an eccentric
in Europe conceived a social panacea no matter how absurd, he said,
"Let's go to America and try it out." There were so many of these
enterprises that their exact number is unknown. Many of them perished
in so brief a time that no friendly chronicler has even saved their
names from oblivion. But others lived, some for a year, some for a
decade, and few for more than a generation. They are of interest today
not only because they brought a considerable number of foreigners to
America, but also because in their history may be observed many of the
principles of communism, or socialism, at work under favorable
conditions. While the theory of Marxian socialism differs in certain
details from these communistic experiments, the foreign-made nostrums
so brazenly proclaimed today wherever malcontents are gathered
together is in essence nothing new in America. Communism was tried and
found wanting by the Pilgrim Fathers; since then it has been tried and
found wanting over and over again. Some of the communistic colonies,
it will appear, waxed fat out of the resources of their lands; but, in
the end, even those which were most fortunate and successful withered
away, and their remnants were absorbed by the great competitive life
that surrounded them.

There were two general types of these communities, the sectarian and
the economic. Frequently they combined a peculiar religious belief
with the economic practice of having everything in common. The
sectarians professed to be neither proselyters nor propagandists but
religious devotees, accepting communism as a physical advantage as
well as a spiritual balm, and seeking in seclusion and quiet merely to
save their own souls.

The majority of the religious communists came from Germany - the home,
also, of Marxian socialism in later years - where persecution was the
lot of innumerable little sects which budded after the Reformation.
They came usually as whole colonies, bringing both leaders and
membership with them.[15] Probably the earliest to arrive in America
were the Labadists, who denied the doctrine of original sin, discarded
the Sabbath, and held strict views of marriage. In 1684, under the
leadership of Peter Sluyter or Schluter (an assumed name, his original
name being Vorstmann), some of these Labadists settled on the Bohemia
River in Delaware. They were sent out from the mother colony in West
Friesland to select a site for the entire body, but it does not appear
that any others migrated, for within fifteen years the American
colony was reduced to eight men. Sluyter evidently had considerable
business capacity, for he became a wealthy tobacco planter and slave
trader.

In 1693 Johann Jacob Zimmermann, a distinguished mathematician and
astronomer and the founder of an order of mystics called Pietists,
started for America, to await the coming of the millennium, which his
calculations placed in the autumn of 1694. But the fate of common
mortals overtook the unfortunate leader and he died just as he was
ready to sail from Rotterdam. About forty members of his brotherhood
settled in the forests on the heights near Germantown, Pennsylvania,
and, under the guidance of Johann Kelpius, achieved a unique influence
over the German peasantry in that vicinity. The members of the
brotherhood made themselves useful as teachers and in various
handicrafts. They were especially in demand among the superstitious
for their skill in casting horoscopes, using divining rods, and
carving potent amulets. Their mysterious astronomical tower on the
heights of the Wissahickon was the Mecca of the curious and the
distressed. To the gentle Kelpius was ascribed the power of healing,
but he was himself the victim of consumption. The brotherhood did not
long survive his death in 1708 or 1709. Their astrological
instruments may be seen in the collections of the Pennsylvania
Philosophical Society.

The first group of Dunkards (a name derived from their method of
baptism, _eintunken_, to immerse) settled in Pennsylvania in 1719. A
few years later they were joined by Conrad Beissel (Beizel or Peysel).
This man had come to America to unite with the Pietist group in
Germantown, but, as Kelpius was dead and his followers dispersed he
joined the Dunkards. His desires for a monastic life drove him into
solitary meditation - tradition says he took shelter in a cave - where
he came to the conviction that the seventh day of the week should be
observed as the day of rest. This conclusion led to friction with the
Dunkards; and as a result, with three men and two women, Beissel
founded in 1728 on the Cocalico River, the cloister of Ephrata. From
this arose the first communistic Eden successfully established in
America and one of the few to survive to the present century. Though
in 1900 the community numbered only seventeen members, in its prime
while Beissel was yet alive it sheltered three hundred, owned a
prosperous paper mill, a grist mill, an oil mill, a fulling mill, a
printing press, a schoolhouse, dwellings for the married members, and
large dormitories for the celibates. The meeting-house was built
entirely without metal, following literally the precedent of Solomon,
who built his temple "so that there was neither hammer nor ax nor any
tool of iron heard in the house while it was building." Wooden pegs
took the place of nails, and the laths were fastened laboriously into
grooves. Averse to riches, Beissel's people refused gifts from William
Penn, King George III, and other prominent personages. The pious
Beissel was a very capable leader, with a passion for music and an
ardor for simplicity. He instituted among the unmarried members of the
community a celibate order embracing both sexes, and he reduced the
communal life of both the religious and secular members to a routine
of piety and labor. The society was known, even in England, for the
excellence of its paper, for the good workmanship of its printing
press, and especially for the quality of its music, which was composed
largely by Beissel. His chorals were among the first composed and sung
in America. His school, too, was of such quality that it drew pupils
from Baltimore and Philadelphia. After his death in 1786, in his
seventy-second year, his successor tried for twenty-eight years to
maintain the discipline and distinction of the order. It was
eventually deemed prudent to incorporate the society under the laws of
the State and to entrust its management to a board of trustees, and
the cloistered life of the community became a memory.

A community patterned after Ephrata was founded in 1800 by Peter
Lehman at Snow Hill, in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. It consisted of
some forty German men and women living in cloisters but relieving the
monotony of their toil and the rigor of their piety with music. As in
Ephrata, there was a twofold membership, the consecrated and the
secular. The entire community, however, vanished after the death of
its founder.

When Beissel's Ephrata was in its heyday, the Moravians, under the
patronage of Count Zinzendorf of Saxony, established in 1741 a
community on the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, named Bethlehem in
token of their humility. The colony provided living and working
quarters for both the married and unmarried members. After about
twenty years of experimenting, the communistic regimen was abandoned.
Bethlehem, however, continued to thrive, and its schools and its music
became widely known.

The story of the Harmonists, one of the most successful of all the
communistic colonies is even more interesting. The founder, Johann
Georg Rapp, had been a weaver and vine gardener in the little village
of Iptingen in Württemberg. He drew upon himself and his followers the
displeasure of the Church by teaching that religion was a personal
matter between the individual and his God; that the Bible, not the
pronouncements of the clergy, should be the guide to the true faith,
and that the ordinances of the Church were not necessarily the
ordinances of God. The petty persecutions which these doctrines
brought upon him and his fellow separatists turned them towards
liberal America. In 1803 Rapp and some of his companions crossed the
sea and selected as a site for their colony five thousand acres of
land in Butler County, Pennsylvania. There they built the new town of
Harmony, to which came about six hundred persons, all told. On
February 15, 1805 they organized the Harmony Society and signed a
solemn agreement to merge all their possessions in one common lot.[16]
Among them were a few persons of education and property, but most of
them were sturdy, thrifty mechanics and peasants, who, under the
skillful direction of Father Rapp, soon transformed the forest into a
thriving community. After a soul stirring revival in 1807, they
adopted celibacy. Those who were married did not separate but lived
together in solemn self-restraint, "treating each other as brother and
sister in Christ."[17] Their belief that the second coming of the Lord
was imminent no doubt strengthened their resolution. At this time,
also, the men all agreed to forego the use of tobacco - no small
sacrifice on the part of hard-working laborers.

The region, however, was unfavorable to the growth of the grape, which
was the favorite Württemberg crop. In 1814 the society accordingly
sold the communal property for $100,000 and removed to a site on the
Wabash River, in Indiana, where, under the magic of their industry,
the beautiful village of New Harmony arose in one year, and where many
of their sturdy buildings still remain a testimony to their honest
craftsmanship. Unfortunately, however, two pests appeared which they
had not foreseen. Harassed by malaria and meddlesome neighbors,
Father Rapp a third time sought a new Canaan. In 1825 he sold the
entire site to Robert Owen, the British philanthropic socialist, and
the Harmonists moved back to Pennsylvania. They built their third and
last home on the Ohio, about twenty miles from Pittsburgh, and called
it Economy in prophetic token of the wealth which their industry and
shrewdness would soon bring in.

The chaste and simple beauty of this village was due to the skill and
good taste of Friedrich Reichert Rapp, an architect and stone cutter,
the adopted son of Father Rapp. The fine proportions of the plain
buildings, with their vines festooned between the upper and lower
windows, the quaint and charming gardens, the tantalizing labyrinth
where visitors lost themselves in an attempt to reach the Summer
House - these were all of his creation. Friedrich Rapp was also a poet,
an artist, and a musician. He gathered a worthy collection of
paintings and a museum of Indian relics and objects of natural
history. He composed many of the fine hymns which impress every
visitor to Economy. He was likewise an energetic and skillful business
man and represented the colony in its external affairs until his death
in 1834. He was elected a member of the convention that framed the
first constitution of Indiana, and later he was made a member of the
legislature. Father Rapp, who possessed rare talents as an organizer,
controlled the internal affairs of the colony. Those who left the
community because unwilling to abide its discipline often pronounced
their leader a narrow autocrat. But there can be no doubt that eminent
good sense and gentleness tempered his judgments. He personally led
the community in industry, in prayers, and in faith, until 1847, when
death removed him. A council of nine elders elected by the members was
then charged with the spiritual guidance of the community, and two
trustees were appointed to administer its business affairs.

Economy was a German community where German was spoken and German
customs were maintained, although every one also spoke English. As
there were but few accessions to the community and from time to time
there were defections and withdrawals, the membership steadily
declined[18]; but while the community was dwindling in membership it
was rapidly increasing in wealth. Oil and coal were found on some of
its lands; the products of its mills and looms, of its wine presses
and distilleries, were widely and favorably known; and its outside
investments, chiefly in manufactories and railroads, yielded even
greater returns. These outside interests, indeed, became in time the
sole support of the community for, as the membership fell away, the
local industries had to be shut down. Then it was that communistic
methods of doing business became inadequate and the colony ran into
difficulties. An expert accountant in 1892 disclosed the debts of the
community to be about one and a half million dollars. But the outside
industrial enterprises in which the community had invested were sound;
and the vast debt was paid. The society remained solvent, with a huge
surplus, though out of prosperity not of its own making. When the
lands at Economy were eventually sold, about eight acres were reserved
to the few survivors of the society, including the Great House of
Father Rapp and its attractive garden, with the use of the church and
dwellings, so that they might spend their last days in the peaceful
surroundings that had brought them prosperity and happiness.

Lead me, Father, out of harm
To the quiet Zoar farm
If it be Thy will.

So sang another group of simple German separatists, of whom some three
hundred came to America from Württemberg in 1817, under the leadership
of Joseph Bimeler (Bäumeler) and built the village of Zoar in
Tuscarawas County, Ohio. They acquired five thousand acres of land and
signed articles of association in April, 1819, turning all their
individual property and all their future earnings into a common fund
to be managed by an elected board of directors. The community provided
its members with their daily necessities and two suits of clothes a
year. The members were assigned to various trades which absorbed all
their time and left them very little strength for amusement or
reading. Their one recreation was singing. The society was bound to
celibacy until the marriage of Bimeler to his housekeeper; thereafter
marriage was permitted but not encouraged.

In 1832 the society was incorporated under the laws of Ohio, and until
its dissolution it was managed as a corporation. A few Germans joined
the society. No American ever requested admission. Joseph Bimeler was
elected Agent General and thereby became the chosen as well as the
natural leader of the community. Like other patriarchs of that epoch
who led their following into the wilderness, he was a man of some
education and many gifts. He was the spiritual mentor; but his piety,
which was sincere and simple, did not rob him of the shrewdness
necessary to material success. His followers were loyally devoted to
him. They built for him the largest house in the community, a fine
colonial manor house, where he dwelt in comparative luxury and reigned
as their "King." When he died in 1853 he had seen the prosperity of
his colony reach its zenith. It remained small. Scarcely more than
three hundred members ever dwelt in the village which, in spite of its
profusion of vines and flowers, lacked the informal quaintness and
originality of Rapp's Economy. The Tuscarawas River furnished power
for their flour mill, whose products were widely sought. There was
also a woolen mill, a planing mill, a foundry, and a machine shop. The
beer made by the community was famous all the country round, and for a
time its pottery and tile works turned out interesting and quaint
products. But one by one these small industries succumbed to the


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 4 of 14)