Samuel P. Orth.

Our Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making online

. (page 5 of 14)
Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 5 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

competition of the greater world. At last even an alien brew
supplanted the good local beer. When the railroad tapped the village,
and it was incorporated (1884) and assumed an official worldliness
with its mayor and councilmen, it lost its isolation, summer visitors
flocked in, and a "calaboose" was needed for the benefit of the

The third generation was now grown. A number of dissatisfied members
had left. Many of the children never joined the society but found work
elsewhere. A great deal of the work had to be done by hired help.
Under the leadership of the younger element it was decided in 1898 to
abandon communism. Appraisers and surveyors were set to work to parcel
out the property. Each of the 136 members received a cash dividend, a
home in the village, and a plot of land. The average value of each
share, which was in the neighborhood of $1500, was not a large return
for three generations of communistic experimentation. But these had
been, after all, years of moderate competence and quiet contentment,
and if they took their toll in the coin of hope, as their song set
forth, then these simple Württembergers were fully paid.

The Inspirationists were a sect that made many converts in Germany,
Holland, and Switzerland in the eighteenth century. They believed in
direct revelations from God through chosen "instruments." In 1817, a
new leader appeared among them in the person of Christian Metz, a man
of great personal charm, worldly shrewdness, and spiritual fervor.
Allied with him was Barbara Heynemann, a simple maid without
education, who learned to read the Scriptures after she was
twenty-three years of age. Endowed with the peculiar gift of
"translation," she was cherished by the sect as an instrument of God
for revealing His will.

To this pair came an inspiration to lead their harassed followers to
America. In 1842 they purchased the Seneca Indian Reservation near
Buffalo, New York. They called their new home Ebenezer, and in 1843
they organized the Ebenezer Society, under a constitution which
pledged them to communism. Over eight hundred peasants and artisans
joined the colony, and their industry soon had created a cluster of
five villages with mills, workshops, schools, and dwellings. But they
were continually annoyed by the Indians from whom they had purchased
the site and were distracted by the rapidly growing city of Buffalo,
which was only five miles away!

This threat of worldliness brought a revelation that they must seek
greater seclusion. A large tract on the Iowa River was purchased, and
to this new site the population was gradually transferred. There they
built Amana. Within a radius of six miles, five subsidiary villages
sprang up, each one laid out like a German _dorf_, with its cluster of
shops and mills, and the cottages scattered informally on the main
road. When the railway tapped the neighborhood, the community in
self-defense purchased the town that contained the railway station. So
when the good Christian Metz died in 1867, at the age of seventy-two,
his pious followers, thanks to his sagacity, were possessed of some
twenty-six thousand acres of rich Iowa land and seven thriving
villages, comfortably housing about 1400 of the faithful. Barbara
Heynemann died in 1883, and since her death no "instrument" has been
found to disclose the will of God. But many ponderous tomes of
"revelations" have survived and these are faithfully read and their
naïve personal directions and inhibitions are still generally obeyed.
The Bible, however, remains the main guide of these people, and they
follow its instructions with childish literalism. Until quite recently
they clung to the simple dress and the austere life of their earlier
years. The solidarity of the community has been maintained with rare
skill. The "Great Council of the Brethren" upon whom is laid the
burden of directing all the affairs, has avoided government by mass
meeting, discouraged irresponsible talk and criticism, and, as an
aristocracy of elders, has shrewdly controlled the material and
spiritual life of the community.

The society has received many new members. There have been accessions
from Zoar and Economy and one or two Americans have joined. The "Great
Council," in its desire to maintain the homogeneity of the group,
rejects the large number of applications for membership received every
year. Over sixty per cent of the young people who have left the
community to try the world have come back to "colony trousers" or
"colony skirts," symbols of the complete submergence of the

Celibacy has been encouraged but never enjoined, and the young people
are permitted to marry, if the Spirit gives its sanction, the Elders
their consent, and if the man has reached the age of twenty-four
years. The two sexes are rigidly separated in school, in church, at
work, and in the communal dining rooms. Each family lives in a house,
but there are communal kitchens, where meals are served to groups of
twenty or more. Every member receives an annual cash bonus varying
from $25 to $75 and a pass book to record his credits at the "store."
The work is doled out among the members, who take pride in the quality
rather than in the quantity of their product. All forms of amusement
are forbidden; music, which flourished in other German communities, is
suppressed; and even reading for pleasure or information was until
recently under the ban.

The only symbols of gayety in the villages are the flowers, and these
are everywhere in lavish abundance, softening the austere lines of the
plain and unpainted houses. No architect has been allowed to show his
skill, no artist his genius, in the shaping of this rigorous life. But
its industries flourish. Amana calico and Amana woolens are known in
many markets. The livestock is of the finest breeds; the products of
the fields and orchards are the choicest. But the modern visitor
wonders how long this prosperity will be able to maintain that
isolation which alone insured the communal solidarity. Already store
clothes are being worn, photographs are seen on the walls, "worldly"
furniture is being used, libraries, those openers of closed minds, are
in every schoolhouse, and newspapers and magazines are "allowed."

The experiences of Eric Janson and his devotees whom he led out of
Sweden to Bishop Hill Colony, in Illinois, are replete with dramatic
and tragic details. Janson was a rugged Swedish peasant, whose
eloquence and gift of second sight made him the prophet of the
Devotionalists, a sect that attempted to reëstablish the simplicity of
the primitive church among the Lutherans of Scandinavia. Driven from
pillar to post by the relentless hatred of the Established Church,
they sought refuge in America, where Janson planned a theocratic
socialistic community. Its communism was based entirely upon religious
convictions, for neither Janson nor any of his illiterate followers
had heard of the politico-economic systems of French reformers. Over
one thousand young and vigorous peasants followed him to America. The
first contingent of four hundred arrived in 1846 and spent their first
winter in untold miseries and privations, with barely sufficient food,
but with enough spiritual fervor to kindle two religious services a
day and three on Sunday. Attacking the vast prairies with their
primitive implements, harvesting grain with the sickle and grinding it
by hand when their water power gave out, sheltering themselves in
tents and caves, enduring agues and fevers, hunger and cold, the
majority still remained loyal to the leader whose eloquence fired them
with a sustaining hope. Thrift, unremitting toil, the wonderful
fertility of the prairie, the high price of wheat, flax, and broom
corn, were bound to bring prosperity. In 1848 they built a huge brick
dormitory and dining hall, a great frame church, and a number of
smaller dwellings. Improved housing at once told on the general
health, though in the next year a scourge of cholera, introduced by
some newcomer, claimed 143 members.

In the meantime John Root, an adventurer from Stockholm, who had
served in the American army, arrived at the colony and soon fell in
love with the cousin of Eric Janson. The prophet gave his consent to
the marriage on condition that, if at any time Root wished to leave
the colony, his wife should be permitted to remain if she desired. A
written agreement acknowledged Root's consent to these conditions. He
soon tired of a life for which he had not the remotest liking, and,
failing to entice his wife away with him, he kidnaped her and forcibly
detained her in Chicago, whence she was rescued by a valiant band of
the colonists. In retaliation the irate husband organized a mob of
frontiers folk to drive out the fanatics as they had a short time
before driven out Brigham Young and his Mormons. But the neighbors of
the colonists, having learned their sterling worth, came to the
rescue. Root then began legal proceedings against Janson. In May,
1850, while in court the renegade deliberately shot and killed the
prophet. The community in despair awaited three days the return to
life of the man whom they looked upon as a representative of Christ
sent to earth to rebuild the Tabernacle.

Janson had been a very poor manager, however, and the colony was in
debt. In order quickly to obtain money, he had sent Jonas Olsen, the
ablest and strongest of his followers, to California to seek gold to
wipe out the debt. Upon hearing of the tragedy, Olsen hastened back to
Bishop Hill and was soon in charge of affairs. In 1853 he obtained for
the colony a charter of incorporation which vested the entire
management of the property in seven trustees. These men, under the
by-laws adopted, became also the spiritual mentors, and the colonists,
unacquainted with democratic usages in government, submitted willingly
to the leadership of this oligarchy. A new era of great material
prosperity now set in. The village was rebuilt. The great house was
enlarged so that all the inhabitants could be accommodated in its
vast communal dining room. Trees were planted along the streets. Shops
and mills were erected, and a hotel became the means of introducing
strangers to the community.

Meanwhile Olsen was growing more and more arbitrary and, after a
bitter controversy, he imposed celibacy upon the members. This was the
beginning of the end. One of the trustees, Olaf Jansen, a good-natured
peasant who could not keep his accounts but who had a peasant's
sagacity for a bargain, wormed his way into financial control. He
wanted to make the colony rich, but he led it to the verge of
bankruptcy. He became a speculator and promoter. Stories of his
shortcomings were whispered about and in 1860 the peasant colony
revolted and deposed Olaf from office. He then had himself appointed
receiver to wind up the corporation's affairs, and in the following
year the communal property was distributed. Every member, male and
female, thirty-five years of age received a full share which
"consisted of 22 acres of land, one timber lot of nearly 2 acres, one
town lot, and an equal part of all barns, houses, cattle, hogs, sheep
or other domestic animals and all farming implements and household
utensils." Those under thirty-five received according to their age.
Had these shares been unencumbered, this would have represented a fair
return for their labor. But Olaf had made no half-way business of his
financial ambitions, and the former members who now were melting
peacefully and rather contentedly into the general American life found
themselves saddled with his obligations. The "colony case" became
famous among Illinois lawyers and dragged through twelve years of
litigation. Thus the glowing fraternal communism of poor Janson ended
in the drab discord of an American lawsuit.

In 1862 the followers of Jacob Hutter, a Mennonite martyr who was
burned at the stake in Innsbruck in the sixteenth century, founded the
Old Elmspring Community on the James River in South Dakota. During the
Thirty Years' War these saintly Quaker-like German folk had found
refuge in Moravia, whence they had been driven into Hungary, later
into Rumania, and then into Russia. As their objection to military
service brought them into conflict with the Czar's government, they
finally determined to migrate to America. In 1874 they had all reached
South Dakota, where they now live in five small communities. Scarcely
four hundred all told, they cling to their ancient ambition to keep
themselves "unspotted from the world," and so have evolved a
self-sustaining communal life, characterized by great simplicity of
dress, of speech, and of living. They speak German and refrain
entirely from voting and from other political activity. They are
farmers and practise only those handicrafts which are necessary to
their own communal welfare.

While most of these German sectarian communities had only a slight
economic effect upon the United States, their influence upon
immigration has been extensive. In the early part of the last century,
it was difficult to obtain authentic news concerning America in the
remote hamlets of Europe. All sorts of vague and grotesque notions
about this country were afloat. Every member of these communities,
when he wrote to those left behind, became a living witness of the
golden opportunities offered in the new land. And, unquestionably, a
considerable share of the great German influx in the middle of the
nineteenth century can be traced to the dissemination of knowledge by
this means. Mikkelsen says of the Jansonists that their "letters home
concerning the new country paved the way for that mighty tide of
Swedish immigration which in a few years began to roll in upon
Illinois and the Northwest."

The Shakers are the oldest and the largest communistic sect to find a
congenial home in America. The cult originated in Manchester, England,
with Ann Lee, a "Shaking Quaker" who never learned to read or write
but depended upon revelation for doctrine and guidance. "By a direct
revelation," says the Shaker Compendium, she was "instructed to come
to America." Obedient to the vision, she sailed from Liverpool in the
summer of 1774, accompanied by six men and two women, among whom were
her husband, a brother, and a niece. This little flock settled in the
forests near Albany, New York. Abandoned by her husband, the
prophetess went from place to place, proclaiming her peculiar
doctrines. Soon she became known as "Mother Ann" and was reputed to
have supernatural powers. At the time of her death in 1784 she had
numerous followers in western New England and eastern New York.

In 1787 they founded their first Shaker community at Mount Lebanon.
Within a few years other societies were organized in New York,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut. On the wave of
the great religious revival at the beginning of the nineteenth
century their doctrines were carried west. The cult achieved its
highest prosperity in the decade following 1830, when it numbered
eighteen societies and about six thousand members.

In shrewd and capable hands, the sect soon had both an elaborate
system of theology based upon the teachings of Mother Ann and also an
effective organization. The communal life, ordaining celibacy, based
on industry, and constructed in the strictest economy, achieved
material prosperity and evidently brought spiritual consolation to
those who committed themselves to its isolation. Although originating
in England, the sect is confined wholly to America and has from the
first recruited its membership almost wholly from native Americans.

Another of these social experiments was the Oneida Community and its
several ephemeral branches. Though it was of American origin and the
members were almost wholly American, it deserves passing mention. The
founder, John Humphrey Noyes, a graduate of Dartmouth and a Yale
divinity student, conceived a system of communal life which should
make it possible for the individual to live without sin. This
perfectionism, he believed, necessitated the abolition of private
property through communism, the abolition of sickness through complete
coöperation of the individual with God, and the abolition of the
family through a "scientific" coöperation of the sexes. The Oneida
Community was financially very prosperous. Its "stirpiculture,"
Noyes's high-sounding synonym for free love, brought it, however, into
violent conflict with public opinion, and in 1879 "complex marriages"
gave way to monogamous families. In the following year the communistic
holding of property gave way to a joint stock company, under whose
skillful management the prosperity of the community continues today.

The American Utopias based upon an assumed economic altruism were much
more numerous than those founded primarily upon religion but, as they
were recruited almost wholly from Americans, they need engage our
attention only briefly. There were two groups of economic communistic
experiments, similar in their general characteristics but differing in
their origin. One took its inspiration directly from Robert Owen, the
distinguished philanthropist and successful cotton manufacturer of
Scotland; the other from Fourier, the noted French social

In 1825 Robert Owen purchased New Harmony, Rapp's village in Indiana
and its thirty thousand appurtenant acres. When Owen came to America
he was already famous. Great throngs flocked to hear this practical
man utter the most visionary sentiments. At Washington, for instance,
he lectured to an auditory that included great senators and famous
representatives, members of the Supreme Court and of the Cabinet,
President Monroe and Adams, the President-elect. He displayed to his
eager hearers the plans and specifications of the new human order, his
glorified apartment house with all the external paraphernalia of
selective human perfection drawn to scale.

For a brief period New Harmony was the communistic capital of the
world. It was discussed everywhere and became, says its chronicler,
"the rendezvous of the enlightened and progressive people from all
over the United States and northern Europe." It achieved a sort of
motley cosmopolitanism. A "Boat Load of Knowledge" carried from
Pittsburgh the most distinguished group of scientists that had
hitherto been brought together in America. It included William
Maclure, a Scotchman who came to America, at the age of thirty-three,
ambitious to make a geological survey of the country and whose
learning and energy soon earned him the title of "Father of American
Geology"; Thomas Say, "the Father of American Zoölogy"; Charles
Alexander Lesueur, a distinguished naturalist from the _Jardin des
Plantes_ of Paris; Constantine S. Rafinesque, a scientific nomad whose
studies of fishes took him everywhere and whose restless spirit
forbade him remaining long anywhere; Gerard Troost, a Dutch scientist
who later did pioneer work in western geology; Joseph Neef, a
well-known Pestalozzian educator, together with two French experts in
that system; and Owen's four brilliant sons. A few artists and
musicians and all sorts of reformers, including Fanny Wright, an
ardent and very advanced suffragette, joined these scientists in the
new Eden. Owen had issued a universal invitation to the "industrious
and well disposed," but his project offered also the lure of a free
meal ticket for the improvident and the glitter of novelty for the

"I am come to this country," Owen said in his opening words at New
Harmony, "to introduce an entire new state of society, to change it
from the ignorant, selfish system to an enlightened social system,
which shall gradually unite all interests into one, and remove all
causes for contests between individuals."[19] But the germs of
dissolution were already present in the extreme individuality of the
members of this new society. Here was no homogeneous horde of docile
German peasants waiting to be commanded. What Father Rapp could do,
Owen could not. The sifting process had begun too late. Seven
different constitutions issued in rapid succession attempted in vain
to discover a common bond of action. In less than two years Owen's
money was gone, and nine hundred or more disillusioned persons
rejoined the more individualistic world. Many of them subsequently
achieved distinction in professional and public callings. Owen's
widely advertised experiment was fecund, however, and produced some
eleven other short-lived communistic attempts, of which the most noted
were at Franklin, Haverstraw, and Coxsackie in New York, Yellow
Springs and Kendal in Ohio, and Forestville and Macluria in Indiana.

Fourierism found its principal apostle in this country in Arthur
Brisbane, whose _Social Destiny of Man_, published in 1840, brought to
America the French philosopher's naïve, social regimen of reducing
the world of men to simple units called phalanxes, whose barrack-like
routine should insure plenty, equality, and happiness. Horace Greeley,
with characteristic, erratic eagerness, pounced upon the new gospel,
and Brisbane obtained at once a wide circle of sympathetic readers
through the _Tribune_. Thirty-four phalanxes were organized in a short
time, most of them with an incredible lack of foresight. They usually
lasted until the first payment on the mortgage was due, though a few
weathered the buffetings of fortune for several years. Brook Farm in
Massachusetts and the Wisconsin phalanx each endured six years, and
the North American phalanx at Red Bank, New Jersey, lasted thirteen

Icaria is a romantic sequel to the Owen and Fourier colonies. It
antedated Brisbane's revival of Fourierism, was encouraged by Owenism,
survived both, and formed a living link between the utopianism of the
early nineteenth century and the utilitarian socialism of the
twentieth. Étienne Cabet was one of those interesting Frenchmen whose
fertile minds and instinct for rapid action made France during the
nineteenth century kaleidoscopic with social and political events.
Though educated for the bar, Cabet devoted himself to social and
political reform. As a young man he was a director in that powerful
secret order, the Carbonari, and was elected to the French chamber of
deputies, but his violent attitude toward the Government was such that
in 1834 he was obliged to flee to London to escape imprisonment. Here,
unmolested, he devoted himself for five years to social and historical
research. He returned to France in 1839 and in the following year
published his _Voyage en Icarie_, a book that at once took its place
by the side of Sir Thomas More's _Utopia_. Cabet pictured in his
volume an ideal society where plenty should be a substitute for
poverty and equality a remedy for class egoism. So great was the
cogency of his writing that Icaria became more than a mere vision to
hundreds of thousands in those years of social ferment and democratic
aspirations. From a hundred sources the demand arose to translate the
book into action. Cabet thereupon framed a constitution and sought the
means of founding a real Icaria. After consulting Robert Owen, he
unfortunately fell into the clutches of some Cincinnati land
speculators and chose a site for his colony in the northeastern part
of Texas. When the announcement was made in his paper, _Le Populaire_,
the responses were so numerous that Cabet believed that "more than a
million coöperators" were eager for the experiment.

In February, 1848, sixty-nine young men, all carefully selected
volunteers, were sent forth from Havre as the vanguard of the
contemplated exodus. But the movement was halted by the turn of great
events. Twenty days after the young men sailed, the French Republic
was proclaimed, and in the fervor and distraction of this immediate
political victory the new and distant Utopia seemed to thousands less
alluring than it had been before. The group of young volunteers,
however, reached America. After heart-rending disillusionment in the
swamps and forests of Louisiana and on the raw prairies of Texas, they
made their way back to New Orleans in time to meet Cabet and four
hundred Icarians, who arrived early in 1849. The Gallic instinct for
factional differences soon began to assert itself in repeated division
and subdivision on the part of the idealists. One-half withdrew at New
Orleans to work out their individual salvation. The remainder followed
Cabet to the deserted Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois, where vacant
houses offered immediate shelter and where they enjoyed an interval of
prosperity. The French genius for music, for theatricals, and for

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 5 of 14)