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Sketch of Nashoba, from Domestic Manners of the Americans, 1832

Nashoba Commune, an experimental project of Fanny Wright initiated in 1825 to educate and emancipate slaves, was located in a 2,000 acre (8 km²) woodland on the side of present-day Germantown, Tennessee, a Memphis suburb, along the Wolf River. It was a small-scale test of her full compensation emancipation plan in which no slaveholders would lose money for emancipating slaves. Instead, Wright proposed, through a system of unified labor, the slaves bought their freedom and then were transported to the emancipation settlements of Liberia and Haiti.[1]

Contents

Purpose

The purpose of the commune was to create a demonstration of her emancipation plan to create a place to educate slaves and prepare them for freedom and colonization in Haiti or Liberia.[2] Wright was largely influenced by Robert Owen and his utopian community, New Harmony, Indiana. Nashoba outlasted New Harmony, however. Nashoba lasted for about three years.

Wright first voiced her plan of emancipation in an article called “A Plan for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States, without Danger of Loss to the Citizens of the South,” which she published in the New Harmony Gazette in October 1825.[3] Wright believed that if she could provide a way of emancipation without financial loss, the slaveholders of the South would gladly utilize it. Indeed, she felt that these slaveholders were “anxious to manumit their people, but apprehensive of throwing them unprepared into the world.”[4] Wright imagined that if her experimental community was successful, it would be applied throughout the nation.

Wright set out to raise money and recruit people for her new settlement. One of the first recruits was Englishman George Flower and his family, who had founded another settlement in Albion, Illinois.[5] However, Wright could not find sufficient monetary support and ended up using a good portion of her own fortune to buy land and slaves.[6] She called it "Nashoba," the Chickasaw word for "wolf."[7]

Nashoba is remembered as an egalitarian and interracial community when in reality, it was neither.[8] Wright was a champion of emancipation,[9] but the slaves of Nashoba were still her property until they could buy themselves out.[10] In “Revisiting Nashoba,” Gail Bederman says, “Nashoba’s continued commitment to colonization and fully compensated emancipation meant that its slaves remained both subordinates and, most fundamentally, property.”[11]

When the compensated emancipation plan failed to produce results, Wright turned Nashoba into the idea of a utopian community. The white members of the community became the trustees and were responsible for administering the property and making the decisions.[12] The slaves could never become trustees.

Wright left Nashoba in 1827 for Europe in order to recover from malaria. During her absence, the trustees were left in charge, but by Wright’s return in 1828, Nashoba had collapsed. Even at its largest, Nashoba only had 20 members.[13]

Nashoba is described briefly in Frances Trollope's 1832 book Domestic Manners of the Americans. Trollope, an English intellectual and writer critical of American society, visited Nashoba with Wright and concluded that the residents lacked sufficient provisions and luxuries.

Demise

The interim management of Nashoba did not take Wright's benevolent approach to living in Nashoba. The trustees instigated the notion of free love within the commune and thus it became interracial, but still far from egalitarian.[14] Rumors spread of inter-racial marriage and the Commune fell into financial difficulty, eventually leading to its ruin in 1828.

Before Nashoba failed, Wright was on a ship back to America where she penned “Explanatory Notes Respecting the Nature and Objects of the Institution of Nashoba, and of the Principles upon which it is Founded.” In this, she elaborated on a notion of Nashoba as a truly interracial and egalitarian utopia.[15] The plan outlined in “Explanatory Notes” was never put into effect, however, because Nashoba had already failed when Wright made it back to America. Eventually, Wright chartered a ship and took the remaining slaves of Nashoba to Haiti where she emancipated them.[16]

Contemporary

Despite the failure of Nashoba, it provided a real-life example of utopian theory. Wright had progressive ideas of liberty and equality for her time, but the burden of leadership and financial hardship proved too much for the community. Nashoba lives on in name at Twin Oaks Community, a contemporary intentional community of 100 members in Virginia. All Twin Oaks' buildings are named after communities that no longer exist, and "Nashoba" is the name of the residence built specifically for older members.

See also

References

  1. ^ Bederman, Gail. “Revisiting Nashoba: Slavery, Utopia, and Frances Wright in America, 1818-1826.” American Literary History. 2005. 438-459.
  2. ^ Ibid.
  3. ^ Stowitzky, Renee M. “Searching for Freedom through Utopia: Revisiting Frances Wright’s Nashoba.” Honors Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 2004.
  4. ^ Quoted in Stowitzky, op. cit., 38.
  5. ^ Stowitzky, op. cit.
  6. ^ Bederman, op. cit.
  7. ^ "Nashoba" Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Holloway, Mark. Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America 1680-1880. New York: Library, 1951, 114.
  10. ^ Bederman, op. cit.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1972, 247.
  14. ^ Bederman, op. cit.
  15. ^ Ibid.
  16. ^ Ibid.

External links

Coordinates: 35°08′47″N 89°50′42″W / 35.1465°N 89.8449°W / 35.1465; -89.8449








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