The Communistic Societies of the United States
Part 6 out of 8
future attacks. It requires some fortitude and self-denial in the
patient, when he thinks he needs sympathy and nursing, to take criticism
instead; but it is well known that to rouse the will to strong exertion
is more than half a cure. The criticism remedy professes to be
universal, and is recommended for trial to all the afflicted."
The _Circular_ for December, 1863, reports:
"It is a common custom here for every one who may be attacked with any
disorder to apply this remedy by sending for a committee of six or eight
persons, in whose faith and spiritual judgment he has confidence, to
come and criticize him. The result, when administered sincerely, is
almost universally to throw the patient into a sweat, or to bring on a
reaction of his life against disease, breaking it up, and restoring him
soon to usual health. We have seen this result produced without any
other agency except the use of ice, in perhaps twenty cases of sore
throat within a few weeks. We have seen it take effect at an advanced
stage of chronic disease, and raise a person up apparently from death's
door. It seems a somewhat heroic method of treatment when a person is
suffering in body to apply a castigation to the character through the
spiritual or moral part; but this is precisely the thing needed to
cleanse and purify the system from disease. We have tried it, and found
it to be invaluable. To all who have faith in Christ as a physician we
can commend this prescription as a medium for conveying his healing
life. If you are sick, seek for some one to tell you your faults, to
find out your weakest spot in character or conduct; let them put their
finger on the very sore that you would best like to keep hid. Depend
upon it, there is the avenue through which disease gets access to you.
And if the sincerity which points this out and opens it to the light
hurts, and is mortifying for the time being, it is only a sign that the
remedy is applied at the right place and is taking effect."
In a recent number of the _Circular_ (1874) a "criticism of a sick
man" is reported in full. It is too long to give here; but I quote a few
of the remarks, to show the style of attack in such cases. The report
opens with this statement:
"[L. has been quite prostrate for months with some kind of spinal
affection, complicated with chills and fever. In presenting himself for
criticism, he was invited, as the subject generally is, to open his own
case. He said he was under a spirit of depression and discouragement,
particularly about his health. He thought he should be better off if he
did not know so much about his disease. Dr. Pope had pronounced it
"I think that L. is troubled with false imaginations, and that he has
inherited this tendency. His father was subject to the hypo--always a
prey to imaginations. I question whether the root of L.'s whole
difficulty does not lie in his imagination. I don't doubt but that he
feels what he thinks he does, but imagination has terrible power to make
us feel. Christ can cast down imaginations, and every high thing that
exalteth itself against the knowledge of God."
"He talks a great deal about his symptoms. If he would talk on the side
of faith, I think he would be a well man right off. He is as well as any
body when he _is_ well, and there is no reason why he should not be
well all the time. He is a very valuable member of the community, and I
don't like to see him lie on his back so much.
"M.--I have thought that his knowledge of physiology, as he uses it, is
really a hindrance to him: he knows too much about his case.
"C.--I thought I had the heart disease when I was about nineteen years
of age. My heart would beat so when I went up stairs that I had to sit
down at the top. I remember that I said to my aunt one day I was sure
that I had got that disease, because my heart had such times of beating.
'O la!' she answered,' I guess you would not live long if it did not
"N. [probably Mr. Noyes]--I have good reason to believe that a great
many diseases which doctors pronounce incurable are so so far as their
powers are concerned, and yet can be cured by exorcism. Doctors do not
believe in possession by the devil, and of course have no means of
curing diseases of that nature. They accordingly pronounce some diseases
incurable. Yet these diseases are not incurable by persons who
understand the nature of them, and that they are spiritual obsessions. I
do not care what the doctors say about L.'s back. It is very likely
incurable so far as they know, and yet it may be very easily curable to
any body who knows about the doctrine of the possession of the devil.
There is a range of science beyond the routine of the doctors which we
must take into the account in all this dealing with disease. Just look
at the case of Harriet Hall, and see what incurable diseases she had.
Two doctors certified that she ought to be dead twenty years ago, and
here she is alive and waiting on her father. Those doctors are dead, and
she is trotting around.
"E.--I have been associated a good deal with L. in business and now in
this sickness. I have studied his case some. His attitude toward disease
is very much like his attitude in business. When he has been well and
able to do his best, he has been in the past an autocrat in our
businesses. If he said a thing would not go, or would go, his dictum was
always accepted. He has a good deal of pride in having what he predicts
turn out to be true. I have sometimes thought that he was willing to
have things break down in order to demonstrate his infallibility as an
oracle. He shows the same trait in regard to disease. If he has a
symptom, and makes up his mind that he is going to have a certain
disease, he notifies his friends of it, and seems bound to have his
prophecy come true any way.
"N.--He would rather have a good chill, I suppose, than have his
prediction prove false.
"E.--I think he really knows but very little about his case. He lost his
health, and took up the study of medicine to find out what ailed him. It
may seem paradoxical, but I think that he is suffering for want of work;
his brain is suffering for want of some healthy action. If he would use
his brain about something for only half an hour a day, he would find
himself improving right along.
"A.--I remember L. had the reputation of being an ingenious boy; but he
used to seem old even then--he had the rheumatism or some such
complaint. In thinking about him, it seems to me that the instinct of
his life is to find a soft place in the world: he is hunting up cushions
and soft things to surround himself with. His bent is rather scientific
than religious. A man that is an oracle surrounds himself with something
soft in having people defer to him. I must say I think he is too
oracular about disease, considering the amount of study he has given to
the science of medicine. He went into the study of medicine in a sort of
self-coddling way, to find out what the matter was with himself. I have
realized that it is not good for a man in this world to hunt for a soft
And so on. Mr. Noyes closed the session with this remark:
"N.--Christ's words, 'Because I live ye shall live also,' may be thrust
in the face of all incurable diseases. There is no answer to that. No
incurable disease can stand against it."
I do not know whether L. recovered or not.
On Sunday evening, about half-past six o'clock, there was a gathering in
the large hall to hear some pieces of music from the orchestra. After
half an hour's intermission, the people again assembled, this time for a
longer session. A considerable number of round tables were scattered
about the large hall; on these were lamps; and around them sat most of
the women, old and young, with sewing or knitting, with which they
busied themselves during the meeting. Others sat on benches and chairs,
irregularly ranged about.
After the singing of a hymn, a man rose and read the report of the
business meeting held that morning, the appointment of some committees,
and so on; and this was then put to vote and accepted, having elicited
no discussion, and very little interest apparently. Next a man, who sat
near Mr. Noyes in the middle of the room, read some extracts from
newspapers, which had been marked and sent in to him by different
members for that purpose. Some of these were mere drolleries, and raised
laughter. Others concerned practical matters.
To this reading, which was brief, followed a discussion of the power of
healing disease by prayer. It was asserted to be "necessary to regard
Christ as powerful to-day over diseases of the body as well as of the
spirit." When several had spoken very briefly upon this subject, and the
conversation was evidently closed, a considerable number of the people
concurred in what had been said by short ejaculations, as "I confess the
power of Christ in my heart;" "I confess the power of healing;" "I
confess to a tender conscience;" "I confess Christ;" "I confess a love
for all good people," and so on.
Next a hymn was sung relating to community life, which I copy here as a
"Let us sing, brothers, sing,
In the Eden of heart-love--
Where the fruits of life spring,
And no death e'er can part love;
Where the pure currents flow
From all gushing hearts together,
And the wedding of the Lamb
Is the feast of joy forever.
Let us sing, brothers, sing.
"We have built us a dome
On our beautiful plantation,
And we all have one home,
And one family relation;
We have battled with the wiles
Of the dark world of Mammon,
And returned with its spoils
To the home of our dear ones.
Let us sing, brothers, sing.
"When the rude winds of wrath
Idly rave round our dwelling,
And the slanderer's breath
Like a simoon was swelling,
Then so merrily we sung,
As the storm blustered o'er us,
Till the very heavens rung
With our hearts' joyful chorus.
Let us go, brothers, go.
"So love's sunshine begun:
Now the spirit-flowers are blooming,
And the feeling that we're one
All our hearts is perfuming;
Toward one home we have all
Set our faces together,
Where true love doth dwell
In peace and joy forever.
Let us sing, brothers, sing."
This was presently followed by another song peculiar to the Oneida
people. A man sang, looking at a woman near him:
"I love you, O my sister,
But the love of God is better;
Yes, the love of God is better--
O the love of God is best."
To this she replied:
"I love you, O my brother,
But the love of God is better;
Yes, the love of God is better--
O the love of God is best."
Then came the chorus, in which a number of voices joined:
"Yes, the love of God is better,
O the love of God is better;
Yes, the love of God is best."
Soon after the meeting broke up; but there was more singing, later, in
the private parlors, which I did not attend. Thus ended Sunday at the
Oneida Community; and with this picture of their daily life I may
conclude my account of these people.
THE AURORA AND BETHEL COMMUNES.
Twenty-nine miles south of Portland, on the Oregon and California
Railroad, lies the village of Aurora, more commonly known along the road
as "Dutchtown." As you approach it on the train, you will notice on an
eminence to the left a large wooden church; in the deep ravine which is
spanned by a railroad-bridge, a saw-mill; and, scattered irregularly
over the neighboring country, a number of houses, most of them differing
from usual village dwellings in the United States, mainly because of
their uncommon size, and the entire absence of ornament. They are three
stories high, sometimes nearly a hundred feet deep, and look like
Opposite the railroad station, upon elevated ground, stands one of these
houses, which is called the hotel, and is an excellent, clean country
inn, famous all over Oregon for good living. When I mentioned to an
acquaintance in Portland my purpose to spend some days at Aurora, he
replied, "Oh, yes--Dutchtown; you'll feed better there than any where
else in the state;" and on further inquiry I found that I might expect
to see there also the best orchards in Oregon, the most ingenious
expedients for drying fruits, and an excellent system of agriculture.
Beyond these practical points, and the further statement that "these
Dutch are a queer people," information about them is not general among
Oregonians. The inn, or "hotel," however, at Aurora, is used as a summer
resort by residents of Portland; the Aurora band is employed at
festivities in Portland; the pleasure-grounds of the community are
opened to Sunday-school and other picnics from the city in summer and
fall; and at the State Agricultural Fair, held at Salem, the Aurora
Community controls and manages the restaurant, and owns the buildings in
which food is prepared and sold. In these ways it comes into direct
communication with the outside world.
I found the hotel a plainly furnished but scrupulously neat and clean
house, at which I was received with very little ceremony. Nor did any
one volunteer to guide me about or give me information concerning the
society: curiosity does not seem to be a vice of the place. A note of
introduction to that member of the society who acts as its purchasing
agent, with which fortunately I was provided, secured me his attention
after I had found him. He was just then at work as a carpenter, putting
up a small house for a newly married couple.
The Aurora Commune is an offshoot of a society formed upon the same
principles in Bethel, Shelby County, Missouri. Dr. Keil, the President
of Aurora, was the founder of Bethel, and still rules both communities.
He removed from Missouri to Oregon because he imagined that there would
be a larger field for his efforts in a new state; and also, I imagine,
because of an innate restlessness of disposition.
Dr. Keil is a Prussian, born in 1811; and was a man-milliner in Germany.
He became a mystic, and he seems to have dealt also in magnetism, and
used this as a curative agent for diseases. After living for some time
in New York, he came to Pittsburgh, where he gave himself out as a
physician, and showed, it is said, some knowledge of botany. He
professed also to be the owner of a mysterious volume, written with
human blood, and containing receipts for medicines which enabled him, as
he professed, to cure various diseases. Presently he became a Methodist,
and thereupon burned this book with certain awe-inspiring formalities.
He seems to have been a fanatic in religious matters, for he soon left
the Methodists to form a sect of his own; and it is related that he
gathered a number of Germans about him, to whom he gave himself out as a
being to be worshiped, and later as one of the two witnesses in the Book
of Revelation; and in this capacity he gave public notice that on a
certain day, after a fast of forty days, he would be slain in the
presence of his followers.
While he was thus engaged in forming a following for himself among the
ignorant and simple-minded Germans, the rogue who called himself Count
Leon came over and joined Rapp's colony at Economy; and when Leon, after
quarreling with Rapp and removing to Phillipsburg, ran away from there
to Louisiana, Keil managed to secure some of Leon's people as his
adherents, and thereupon began to plan a communistic settlement,
somewhat upon the plan of Rapp's, but with the celibate principle left
out. In the year 1844, his followers, among whom were by good luck some
of the seceders from Economy, began a settlement in accordance with
these plans in Missouri. They were all either Germans or "Pennsylvania
Dutch," and people of limited means. It is probable that Keil had
nothing, for he appears for some years previously to have followed no
regular business or profession. They removed to Bethel, a point
forty-eight miles from Hannibal, in Missouri, and thirty-six miles from
Quincy; and began in very humble style. Not all the colonists came out
at once. He took with him at first two families and a number of young
people. These broke ground in the new settlement, and others followed as
they sold their property at home.
Shelby County, Missouri, was then a new country. The colonists took up
four sections, or two thousand five hundred and sixty acres of land, to
which they added from time to time until they possessed four thousand
acres. Upon a part of this estate they gradually established a
distillery, grist-mill, sawmill, carding machinery, a woolen-mill, and
all the mechanical trades needed by the farmers in their neighborhood,
and thus they made a town. As soon as they were able they set up a
general store, and a post-office was of course established by the
government. Among their first buildings was a church; for Dr. Keil was
their spiritual as well as temporal head.
At Bethel they prospered; and there four hundred of these Communists
still live. I shall give an account of them later.
Keil's ideas grew with the increasing wealth of the people; and his
unrestful spirit longed for a new and broader field of labor. He
imagined that on the Pacific coast he might found a larger communistic
society upon a broader domain; and he did not find it difficult to
persuade his people that the attempt ought to be made.
In 1855, accordingly, Dr. Keil set out with ten or twelve families,
eighty persons in all, across the plains, carrying along household
utensils and some cattle. A few families started later, and crossed the
Isthmus; and all gathered at Shoalwater Bay, north of the mouth of the
Columbia River, and in Washington Territory. There a few families
belonging to Aurora still live, managing farms of the community; but in
June, 1856, the main body of the society removed to Aurora, and began
there, with tedious and severe labor, a clearing among the firs.
The upper part of the Willamette Valley is a broad, open plain, easy to
till, and inviting to the farmer. Dr. Keil and his companions avoided
this plain: they chose to settle in a region pretty densely grown over
with timber. I asked him why he did so. He replied that, meaning to
establish a sawmill, they wished to use the trees cut down in clearing
the land to make into lumber for houses and fences. There was at that
time no railroad, and lumber in the open prairie was expensive. "The end
proved that we were right," said he; "for, though we had hard work at
first, and got ahead slowly, we were soon able to buy out the prairie
farmers, who had got into debt and were shiftless, while we prudent
Germans were building our place." He added a characteristic story of
their early days--that when they first settled at Aurora, having no
fruit of their own, he used to buy summer apples for his people from the
nearest farmers for a dollar a bushel. These were eaten in the families;
but he taught them to save the apple-parings, and make them into
vinegar, which he then sold to the wives of his American farming
neighbors at a dollar and a half per gallon.
In order to make intelligible the means as well as the ways of their
success, I must here explain what are the social principles to which
they agree, and in accordance with which they have worked since 1844.
They are remarkable chiefly for their simplicity. Dr. Keil teaches, and
they hold that--
1st. All government should be parental, to imitate, as they say, the
parental government of God.
2d. That therefore societies should be formed upon the model of the
family, having all interests and all property absolutely in common; all
the members laboring faithfully for the general welfare and support, and
drawing the means of living from the general treasury.
3d. That, however, neither religion nor the harmony of nature teaches
community in any thing further than property and labor. Hence the family
life is strictly maintained; and the Aurora Communists marry and are
given in marriage, and raise and train children precisely as do their
neighbors the Pike farmers. They reject absolutely all sexual
irregularities, and inculcate marriage and support the family relation
as religious duties, as the outside world does. Each family has its own
house, or separate apartments in one of the large buildings.
4th. Dr. Keil, who is not only their president, but also their preacher,
holds the fundamental truth of Christianity to be, "Love one another,"
and interprets this in so broad and literal a sense as requires a
community of goods and effects. His sermons are exhortations and
illustrations of this principle, and warnings against "selfishness" and
praise of self-sacrifice. Service is held in a very commodious and
well-built church twice a month, and after the Lutheran style: opening
with singing, prayer, and reading of the Scriptures; after which the
president preaches from a chosen text.
To me he spoke with some vehemence against sects and creeds as
anti-Christian. Sunday is usually a day of recreation and quiet
amusement, with music and visiting among the people.
5th. The children of the community are sent to school, there being at
Aurora a common or free school, in which an old man, a member of the
society, who bears a remarkable resemblance to the late Horace Greeley,
is teacher. The school is supported as other free schools of the state
are; but it is open all the year round, which is not the case generally
with country schools. They aim to teach only the rudimentary studies--
reading, writing, and arithmetic.
6th. The system of government is as simple as possible. Dr. Keil, the
founder, is president of the community, and autocrat. He has for his
advisers four of the older members, who are selected by himself. In the
management of affairs he consults these, whose opinions, I imagine,
usually agree with his. When any vitally important change or experiment
is contemplated, the matter is discussed by the whole community, and
nothing is done then without a general assent.
7th. Every man is expected to labor for the general good, but there are
no established hours of work, nor is any one compelled to labor at any
8th. Plain living and rigid economy are inculcated as duties from each
to the whole; and to labor regularly, and to waste nothing, are
important parts of the "whole duty of man."
9th. Each workshop has its foreman, who comes, it would seem, by natural
selection. That is to say, here, as elsewhere, the fittest man comes to
the front. But it is a principle of their polity that men shall not be
confined to one kind of labor. If brickmakers are needed, and shoemakers
are not busy, the shoe shop is closed, and the shoemakers go out and
make brick. During the spring and summer months a large proportion of
the people are engaged in the cultivation of crops. After harvest these
are drawn into the town, and find winter employment in the saw-mill and
the different shops. It is to accommodate these temporary sojourners
that the large houses are built. Here they have apartments allotted to
them, and the young people board with the different families, the young
girls being employed chiefly in household duties.
These are the extremely simple principles and practical rules which
guide the Aurora Community. Their further application I will show in
detail hereafter. I wish first to show the dollar-and-cent results.
Coming to Aurora in 1856, they have held together, with some outside
gains, and some additions from the Bethel Society, until there are now
nearly four hundred people in the settlement, who own about eighteen
thousand acres of land, scattered over several counties. They have
established a sawmill, a tan-yard, and cabinet-maker's, blacksmith's,
wagon-maker's, tailor's, shoemaker's, carpenter's, and tin shops. Also a
grist-mill, carding machinery, some looms for weaving wool; drying
houses for fruit; and there is a supply store for the community, a drug
store kept by the doctor of the society, and a general country store, at
which the neighboring farmers, not Communists, deal for cash.
They have besides the most extensive orchards in the state, in which are
apples, pears of all kinds, plums, prunes, which do admirably here, and
all the commoner large and small fruits. There is also a large vegetable
garden, for the use of those who have none at their houses. The orchards
are in fine order, and were laden with fruit when I saw them in June,
1873. Near the orchard is a large, neatly kept house, in which the
people gather during the fruit-harvest to prepare it for market, and to
pare that which is to be dried. Beyond the orchard is a public ground of
a dozen acres, for Sunday assemblies; and here, too, are houses for
eating and dancing, with a kitchen and bake-ovens commodious enough to
cook a meal for the whole settlement, or for a large picnic party.
Thus far they have brought their affairs in seventeen years, without any
peculiar religious belief, any interference with the marriage or family
relation, without a peculiar dress, or any other habit to mark them as
Separatists, or "Come-outers," to use a New England phrase. It must be
admitted also that they have achieved thus much without long or
exhausting or enforced labor.
Their living is extremely plain. The houses and apartments are without
carpets; the women wear calico on Sunday as well as during the week, and
the sun-bonnet is their head-covering. The men wear ready-made clothing
of no particular style. Cleanliness is, so far as I saw, a conspicuous
virtue of the society. Dr. Keil, the president, was the only person with
whom I came in contact who was not very neat. He is a snuff-taker; and
he walked over the orchard with me in an untidy pair of carpet slippers.
They appear to be people of few ceremonies. On a Sunday I attended a
wedding; the marriage took place in the school-house, and was witnessed
by a small congregation of young people, friends of the bride and groom.
The young girls came to the wedding in clean calico dresses and
sun-bonnets; and I noticed that even the bride wore only a very plain
woolen dress, with a bit of bright ribbon around her neck. The ceremony
was performed by the schoolmaster, who is also a justice of the peace;
when it was over, the company quietly and somewhat shyly walked up to
congratulate the newly married, some of the young women kissing the
bride. Then there was an immediate adjournment to the house of the
bride's father, a mile off in the country. I was hospitably invited to
go to the feast; and found a small log cabin, with kitchen and bedroom
below, and a loft above, standing near a deep ravine, and with a neat
garden and small orchard back of it.
In front a bower had been formed of the boughs of evergreens, beneath
which were two or three tables, which were presently spread with a plain
but wholesome and bountiful feast, to which the strangers present and
the older people were first invited to sit down, the younger ones
waiting on the table, and with laughter and joking taking their places
afterward. Meantime the village band played; after dinner we all walked
into the garden, and in a pretty little summer-house discussed orchards,
bees, and other country living, and by and by returned to the village.
The young people were to have some dancing, and altogether it was a very
pretty, rather quiet country wedding. It struck me that the young women
were undersized, and did not look robust or strong; there were no rosy
cheeks, and there was a very subdued air upon all the congregation. The
poor little bride looked pale and scared; but the bridegroom, a stout
young fellow, looked proud and happy, as was proper. Dr. Keil was not
present, but drove out in a very plain country wagon as the weddingers
entered the schoolroom.
The community occasionally employs outside laborers; and when a man or
woman applies to join the society, he or she is at first employed at
wages, and at some trade. "We will employ and pay you as long as we need
your labor," the council says in such a case; "if after a while you are
thoroughly satisfied that this is the best life, and if we approve of
you, we will take you in." It is not necessary that the new-comer should
bring money with him; but if he has means, he is required to put them
into the common treasury, for he _must_ believe that "all selfish
accumulation is wrong, contrary to God's law and to natural laws."
Occasionally, I was told, they have had as members idle or drunken men.
Such are admonished of their wrong courses; and if they are
incorrigible, they always, I was assured, leave the place. "An idler or
dissolute person has not the sympathies of our people; he has no
connection with the industries of the society; as he does not work, he
can hardly be so brazen as to ask for supplies. The practical result is
that presently he disappears from among us."
"Do you have no disagreements from envy or jealousy among you," I asked
Dr. Keil; who replied, "Very seldom now; the people have been too long
and too thoroughly trained; they are too well satisfied of the wisdom of
our plan of life; they are practiced in self-sacrifice, and know that
selfishness is evil and the source of unhappiness. In the early days we
used sometimes to have trouble. Thus a man would say, 'I brought money
into the society, and this other man brought none; why should he have as
much as I;' but my reply was, 'Here is your money--take it; it is not
necessary; but while you remain, remember that you are no better than
he.' Again, another might say, 'My labor brings one thousand dollars a
year to the society, _his_ only two hundred and fifty;' but my
answer was, 'Thank God that he made you so much abler, stronger, to help
your brother; but take care lest your poorer brother do not some day have
to help you, when you are crippled, or ill, or disabled.'"
The children who have in these years, since 1844, grown up in the
community generally remain. I spoke with a number of men who had thus
passed all but their earliest years in the society, and who were
content. Men sometimes return, repentant, after leaving the society.
"The boys and girls know that they can leave at any time; there is no
compulsion upon any one; hence no one cares to go. But they generally
see that this is the best place. We are as prosperous and as happy as
any one; we have here all we need."
As all work for the common good, so all are supplied from the common
stores. I asked the purchasing agent about the book-keeping of the
place; he replied, "As there is no trading, few accounts are needed.
Much of what we raise is consumed on the place, and of what the people
use no account is kept. Thus, if a family needs flour, it goes freely to
the mill and gets what it requires. If butter, it goes to the store in
the same way. We need only to keep account of what we sell of our own
products, and of what we buy from abroad, and these accounts check each
other. When we make money, we invest it in land." Further, I was told
that tea, coffee, and sugar are roughly allowanced to each family.
Each family has either a house, or apartments in one of the large
houses. Each has a garden patch, and keeps chickens; and every year a
number of pigs are set apart for each household, according to its
number. These are fed with the leavings of the table, and are fattened
and killed in the winter, and salted down. Fresh beef is not commonly
used. If any one needs vegetables, he can get them in the large garden.
There seemed to be an abundance of good plain food every where.
Originally, and until 1872, all the property stood in Dr. Keil's name;
but in that year he, finding himself growing old, and urged too, I
imagine, by some of the leading men, made a division of the whole
estate, and gave a title-deed to each head of a family of a suitable
piece of property--to a farmer a farm, to a carpenter a house and shop,
and so on. If there was any heart-burning over this division, I could
not hear of it; and it appears to have made no difference in the conduct
of the society, which labors on as before for the common welfare.
I asked, "What, then, if you have divided all the property, will you do
for the young people as they grow up?"
Dr. Keil replied, "Dear me!--in the beginning we had nothing, now we
have a good deal: where did it all come from? We earned and saved it.
Very well; we are working just the same--we shall go on earning money
and laying it by for those who are growing up; we shall have enough for
all." I give below some further details, which I elicited from Dr. Keil,
preferring to give them in the form of questions and answers:
_Question_. I have noticed that when young girls grow up they
usually manifest a taste for ribbons and finery. How do you manage with
_Answer_. Well, they get what they want. They have only to ask at
the supply store; only if they go too far--if it amounts to vanity--they
are admonished that they are not acting according to the principles of
love and temperance; they are putting undue expense on the society; they
are making themselves different from their neighbors. It is not necessary
to say this, however, for our people are now all trained in sound
principles, and there is but little need for admonition.
_Q_. But suppose such a warning as you speak of were not taken?
_A_. Well, then they have leave to go into the world. If they want
to be like the world, that is the place for them. And don't you see that
if they are so headstrong and full of vanity they would not stay with us
anyhow? They would not feel at home with us.
_Q_. Suppose one of your young men has the curiosity to see the
world, as young men often have?
_A_. We give him money; he has only to ask the council. We say to
"You want to live in the world; well, you must earn your own living
there; here is money, however, for your journey." And we give him
according to his character and worth in the society.
_Q_. Suppose a young man wanted to go to college?
_A_. If any one of our people wanted to train himself in some
practical knowledge or skill for the service of the community, and if he
were a proper person in stability of character and capacity, we would
send him, and support him while he was learning. This we have repeatedly
done. In such cases our experience is that when such young men return to
us they bring back, not only all the money we have advanced for their
support, but generally more besides. Suppose, for instance, one wanted to
learn how to dye woolens; we would give him sufficient means to learn his
calling thoroughly. But he would probably soon be receiving wages; and,
as our people are economical, he would lay aside from his wages most
likely more even than we had advanced him; and this he would be proud to
bring into the common treasury on his return. [Dr. Keil gave me several
instances of such conduct; and then proceeded, with a contemptuous air.]
But if a young man wants to study languages, he may do so here, as much
as he likes--no one will object; but if he wanted to go to college for
that--well, we don't labor here to support persons in such undertakings,
which have no bearing on the general welfare of the society.
In fact there is little room for poetry or for the imagination in the
life of Aurora. What is not directly useful is sternly left out. There
are no carpets, even in Dr. Keil's house; no sofas or easy chairs, but
hard wooden settles; an immense kitchen, in which women were laboring,
with short gowns tucked up; a big common room, where apparently the
Doctor lives with the dozen unmarried old men who form part of his
household; a wide hall full of provision safes, flour-bins, barrels,
etc.; but no books, except a Bible and hymn-book, and a few medical
works; no pictures--nothing to please the taste; no pretty outlook, for
the house lies somewhat low down. Such was the house of the founder and
president of the community; and the other houses were neither better nor
much worse. There is evidently plenty of scrubbing in-doors, plenty of
plain cooking, plenty of every thing that is absolutely necessary to
support life--and nothing superfluous.
When I remarked upon this to some of the men, and urged them to lay out
the village in a somewhat picturesque style, to which the ground would
readily lend itself, and explained that a cottage might be plain and yet
not ugly, the reply invariably came: "We have all that is necessary now;
by and by, if we are able and want them, we may have luxuries." "For the
present," said one, "we have duties to do: we must support our widows,
our orphans, our old people who can no longer produce. No man is allowed
to want here amongst us; we all work for the helpless." It was a droll
illustration of their devotion to the useful, to find in the borders of
the garden, where flowers had been planted, these flowers alternating
with lettuce, radishes, and other small vegetables.
Dr. Keil is a short, burly man, with blue eyes, whitish hair, and white
beard. I took him to be a Swiss from his appearance, but his
language--he spoke German with me--showed him to be a Prussian. He
seemed excitable and somewhat suspicious; gave no tokens whatever of
having studied any book but the Bible, and that only as it helped him to
enforce his own philosophy. He was very quick to turn every thought
toward the one subject of community life; took his illustrations mostly
from the New Testament; and evidently laid much stress on the parental
character of God. As he discussed, his eyes lighted up with a somewhat
fierce fire; and I thought I could perceive a fanatic, certainly a
person of a very determined, imperious will, united to a narrow creed.
As to that creed: He said it was desirable and needful so to arrange our
lives as to bring them into harmony with natural laws and with God's
laws; that we must all trust in Him for strength and wisdom; that we all
needed his protection--and as he thus spoke we turned suddenly into a
little enclosure where I saw an uncommon sight, five graves close
together, as sometimes children's are made; but these were evidently the
graves of grown persons. "Here," he said, "lie my children--all I had,
five; they all died after they were men and women, between the ages of
eighteen and twenty-one. One after the other I laid them here. It was
hard to bear; but now I can thank God for that too. He gave them, and I
thanked him; he took them, and now I can thank him too." Then, after a
minute's silence, he turned upon me with somber eyes and said: "To bear
all that comes upon us in silence, in quiet, without noise, or outcry,
or excitement, or useless repining--that is to be a man, and that we can
do only with God's help."
As we walked along through the vegetable garden and vineyard, I saw some
elderly women hoeing the vines and clearing the ground of weeds. I must
not forget to say that the culture of their orchards, vineyards, and
gardens is thorough and admirable. Dr. Keil said, nodding to the women,
"They like this work; it is their choice to spend the afternoon thus. If
I should tell them to go and put on fine clothes and lounge around, they
would be very much aggrieved."
The members are all Germans or Pennsylvanians. They are of several
Protestant sects; and there is even one Jew, but no Roman Catholics.
The band played on Sunday evening for an hour or more, but did not
attract many people. Boys were playing ball in the street at the same
time. Some _bought_ tobacco; which led me to ask again about the use
money. The question was not in any case satisfactorily answered; but I
have reason to believe that a little selfish earning of private spending
money is winked at. For instance, the man whose daughter's wedding I
attended kept a few hives of bees; and in answer to a question I was
told he did not turn their honey into the general treasury; what he did
not consume he was allowed to sell. "In such ways we get a little finery
for our daughters," said one. Again, when apples are very abundant, and
a sufficient supply has been dried for market, the remainder of the crop
is divided among the householders, with the understanding that they may
eat or sell them as they prefer.
There is an air of untidiness about the streets of the settlement which
is unpleasing. There is a piece of water, which might easily be made
very pretty, but it is allowed to turn into a quagmire. But few of the
door-yards are neatly kept. The village seems to have been laid out at
haphazard. Moreover, their stock is of poor breeds; the pigs especially
being wretched razor-backed creatures.
As to the people--there can be no doubt that they are happy and
contented. In a country where labor is scarce and highly paid, and where
the rewards of patient industry in any calling are sure and large, it is
not to be supposed that such a society as Aurora would have held
together nineteen years if its members were not in every way satisfied
with their plan of life, and with the results they have attained under
What puzzled me was to find a considerable number of people in the
United States satisfied with so little. What they have secured is
neighbors, sufficient food probably of a better kind than is enjoyed by
the ordinary Oregon farmer, and a distinct and certain provision for
their old age, or for helplessness. The last seemed, in all their minds,
a source of great comfort. Pecuniarily their success has not been
brilliant, for if the property were sold out and the money divided, the
eighty or ninety families would not receive more than three thousand or
thirty-five hundred dollars each; and a farmer in Oregon must have been
a very unfortunate man, who, coming here nineteen years ago with
nothing, should not be worth more than this sum now, if he had labored
as steadily and industriously, and lived as economically as the Aurora
It is probable, however, that in the minds of most of them, the value of
united action, the value to each of the example of the others, and the
security against absolute poverty and helplessness in the first years of
hard struggle, as well as the comfort of social ties, has counted for a
Nor ought I to forget the moral advantages, which appear to me immense
and not to be underrated. Since the foundation of the colony, it has not
had a criminal among its numbers; it has sent no man to jail; it has not
had a lawsuit, neither among the members nor with outside people; it has
not an insane person, nor one blind or deaf and dumb; nor has there been
any case of deformity. It has no poor; and the support of its own
helpless persons is a part of its plan.
This means that the Aurora community has not once in nineteen years of
its existence used the courts, the jails, or the asylums of the state;
that it has contributed nothing to the criminal or the pauper parts of
This result in a newly settled state, and among a rude society, will
appear not less remarkable when I add that the community has no library;
that its members, so far as I could see, lack even the most common and
moderate literary culture, aspiring to nothing further than the ability
to read, write, and cipher; that from the president down it is
absolutely without intellectual life. Moreover, it has very few
amusements. Dancing is very little practiced; there is so little social
life that there is not even a hall for public meetings in the village;
apple-parings and occasional picnics in the summer, the playing of a
band, a sermon twice a month, and visiting among the families, are the
chief, indeed the only excitements in their monotonous lives. With all
this there is singularly little merely animal enjoyment among them: they
do not drink liquor; the majority, I was told, do not even smoke
tobacco; there is no gayety among the people. Doubtless the winter,
which brings them all together in the village, leads to some amusements;
but I could hear of nothing set, or looked forward to, or elaborately
planned. "The women talk, more or less," said one man to me, when I
asked if there were never disagreements and family jars; "but we have
learned to bear that, and it makes no trouble."
It seemed to me that I saw in the faces and forms of the people the
results of this too monotonous existence. The young women are mostly
pale, flat-chested, and somewhat thin. The young men look good-natured,
but aimless. The older women and men are slow in their movements,
placid, very quiet, and apparently satisfied with their lives.
I suppose the lack of smart dress and finery among the young people on
Sunday, and at the wedding, gave a somewhat monotonous and dreary
impression of the assemblage. This was probably strengthened in my mind
by the fact that the somewhat shabby appearance of the people was only
of a piece with the shabby and neglected look of their village, so that
the whole conveyed an impression of carelessness and decay. Nineteen
years of steady labor ought to have brought them, I could not but think,
a little further: ought to have given them tastefully ornamented
grounds, pretty houses, a public bath, a library and assembly-room, and
neat Sunday clothing. It appeared to me that the stern repression of the
whole intellectual side of life by their leader had borne this evil
fruit. But it may be that the people themselves were to blame: they are
Germans of a low class, and "Pennsylvania Dutch"--people, too often, who
do not aim high. Then, too, it must be admitted that farm-life in Oregon
is not, in general, above the plane of Aurora. Dutchtown is an Oregonian
paradise; and the Aurora people are commonly said to "have every thing
very nice about them."
Moreover, I could see that such a community must, unless it has for its
head a person of strong intellectual life, advance more slowly and with
greater difficulty than its members might, if they were living in the
great world and thrown upon their individual resources.
Economically, I think there is no doubt that in the clearing up of their
land, and the establishment of orchards and other productive industries,
these Communists had a decided and important advantage over farmers
undertaking similar enterprises with the help of laborers to whom they
must have paid wages. For, though the wages of a day-laborer nowhere
yield much more than his support and that of his family, they yield this
in an uneconomical manner, a part of the sum earned being dropped on the
way to middlemen, and a part going for whisky, sprees, blue Mondays, and
illness arising out of bad situation, improper food, etc. The Aurora
colonists labored without money wages; they could economize to the last
possible degree in order to tide over a difficult place; they at all
times measured their outlay by their means on hand; and I do not doubt
that they made Aurora, with its orchards and other valuable
improvements, for half what it would have cost by individual effort.
Nor can it be safely asserted that there is no higher future for Aurora.
Dr. Keil cannot carry them further--but he is sixty-four years old; if,
when he dies, the presidency should fall into the hands of a person who,
with tact enough to keep the people together, should have also
intellectual culture enough to desire to lift them up to a higher plane
of living, I can see nothing to prevent his success. The difficulty is
that Dr. Keil's system produces no such man. Moses was brought up at
Pharaoh's court, and not among the Israelites whom he liberated, and who
made his whole life miserable for him.
Bethel is, of course, the older community; I describe it here after
Aurora, because my visit to it was made after I had seen the Oregon
community, and also because here is shown to what Aurora tends. The two
societies are still one, having their efforts in common; and I was told
that if the people at Bethel could sell their property, they would all
remove to Oregon.
The Bethel Community now owns about four thousand acres of good land,
exclusive of a tract of thirteen hundred acres at Nineveh, in the
neighboring county of Adair, where six families of the community live,
who are engaged chiefly in farming, having, however, also an old
saw-mill and a tannery, and a shoemaker's and a blacksmith's shop. These
families were removed thither twenty-five years ago, because it was
thought the land there had a valuable water-power.
Bethel has now above two hundred members, and about twenty-five
families. There are fifty children in the school, I was told.
They have a saw-mill and grist-mill, a tannery, a few looms, a general
store, and a drug-store, and shops for carpenters, blacksmiths, coopers,
tinners, tailors, shoemakers, and hatters, all on a small scale, but
sufficient to supply not only themselves but the neighboring farmers.
They had formerly a distillery, but that and a woolen factory were
burned down a few years ago. They mean to rebuild the last.
All the people are Germans, and I found here many relatives of persons I
had met at Aurora.
[Illustration: THE BETHEL COMMUNE, MISSOURI.]
The town has much the same characteristic features as Aurora, except
that it has not the exceptionally large and factory-like dwellings. It
has one main street, poorly kept, and in parts even without a sidewalk;
cattle and pigs were straying about it, too, and altogether it did not
look very prosperous. But the brick dwellings which lined the street
were substantially built, and the saw and grist mill which lies at the
lower end is a well-constructed building of brick. Half-way up the main
street was a drug-store, large enough I should have said to accommodate
with purges and cathartics a town of twenty-five hundred inhabitants;
and on a cross-street was another. Besides the chief store, I was
surprised to see two other smaller shops; and still more surprised to be
told that they belonged to and were kept by persons who had left the
community, but who remained here in its midst. Of these I shall have
something to say by and by.
At the head of the street stands the tavern or hotel, kept in the German
or Pennsylvania Dutch way--with a bed in the large common room, and
meals served in the kitchen. The German cooking was substantial and
good. To the right of the hotel, at some distance, stands the church,
placed in the middle of a young grove of trees planted much too thickly
ever to prosper. The church has a floor of large red tiles; a narrow
pulpit at one end; a place railed off at the other end, where the band
plays on high festivals, and two doors for the entrance of the sexes,
who sit on separate sides of the house. From the tower I had a view of
the greater part of the community's territory, which lies finely, and is
evidently a well-selected and valuable tract of land.
As in Aurora, they have preaching here every other Sunday, and no
week-day meetings or assemblages of any kind. They told me, however,
that they have a Sunday-school for the children, where they are
instructed in the Bible.
The preacher and head of this society is a Mr. Giese, appointed by Dr.
Keil; he keeps also the drug-store, where I was sorry to see liquor sold
to laboring men and others, but in a very quiet way.
The Bethel Society has six trustees, chosen by the members, but holding
office during good behavior. As in Aurora, no business report is made to
the society. Giese is cashier and book-keeper, and the trustees examine
his accounts once a year.
The real estate in Bethel is held upon a very extraordinary tenure. It
appears that--the settlement having begun in 1844--by 1847 there were
in the society some dissatisfied persons, who clamored for a partition
of the property. Dr. Keil thereupon determined to divide it, and to each
member or householder a certain part was made over as his own. Out of
the gains of the community in the three years was reserved sufficient to
support the aged and infirm, and I believe the mills were also kept as
part of the common stock. Thereupon some dissatisfied persons sold their
shares and went off. The remainder lived on in common, and without
changing their relations. To each person a deed was given of his share;
but those who remained in the society were told--so the matter was
explained to me by two of the trustees--not to put their deeds on
record; and later a deed of the whole property of the community,
including the individual holdings, was made out in the name of the
president, Mr. Giese. I did not see this document, but presume, of
course, that it gave him a title only in trust for all.
"Why did you partition the property?" I asked, curiously; and was
answered, "In order to let every one be absolutely free, and to see who
were inclined to a selfish life, and who for the community or unselfish
life." Moreover, I was assured that any one who wished might at any time
put his deed on record, and its validity would be acknowledged.
Now among the persons who left the society, six families were allowed to
retain their property, and of these several at this day live in the
midst of the village. One is a mechanic, who pursues his trade for
wages; and two others keep small shops. This appeared to me a really
extraordinary instance of liberality or carelessness; but no one of the
community seemed to think it strange. There are also one or two farmers,
not members; with one of these, a young man, I rode into Shelbina. He
told me that he had grown up in the society; that he had gone into the
army, where he served during the war; and when he returned he had got
tired of community life. He had also got some business notions into his
head, and thought the community affairs were too loosely managed. The
members, he thought, had not sufficient knowledge of business; in which
I agreed with him. But his house stood at the end of the village, and
the relations between him and his former associates were at least so far
amicable that one of the trustees took me to him to engage my passage to
the railroad station.
The society was strongest before Dr. Keil went to Oregon; he drew away,
between 1854 and 1863, about four hundred of the six hundred and fifty
persons who were gathered in Bethel in 1855; and among these were, it
seems, a large number of young men who did not want to serve in the war,
the society being non-resistants, and slipped off to Oregon to avoid the
draft. There are no accessions from outside, or at any rate so few as to
count for nothing. But, on the other hand, they assured me that they
keep most of their young people.
When one of the younger generation--for whom no property has been set
apart--wishes to leave, a sum of money is given. While I was there a
young girl was about to sever her connection with the society, and she
received, besides her clothing, twenty-five dollars in money. If she had
been older she would have received more, on the ground that she would
have earned more by her labor, beyond the cost to the society of her
care from childhood.
Some years ago they were subjected to a troublesome lawsuit, brought by
a seceding member to recover both wages and the property of his parents.
Thereupon, for the first time, they drew up a Constitution, which all
signed, and which binds them to claim no wages.
Clothing is served to all the members alike from a common store. As to
food: as at Aurora, each family receives pigs enough for meat, and cows
enough for milk and butter; and adjoining each house is a garden of from
a quarter to half an acre, in which the women work to raise vegetables
for the home supply--the men helping at odd hours. But it is plainly
understood that each may, and indeed is expected to raise a surplus of
chickens, eggs, vegetables, fruits, etc., which is sold at the store for
such luxuries as coffee, sugar, and articles of food brought from a
distance. The calves are raised for the community. I found that one
member was a silversmith and photographer; and all that he sold to his
fellow-members of course they paid for with the surplus products of
their small holdings. Flour and meal they take from the mill as they
please, and no account is kept of it.
The trustees are also foremen, and lay out the work. The people rise
with the sun, and have three meals a day. Before every house, neatly
piled up in the street, I noticed large supplies of fire-wood, sawed and
split. They hire a few laborers to cut wood for them; it is then drawn
into town and to each man's door by the community teams; and thereupon
each family is expected to saw and split its own supplies. In fact, they
make a general effort, and with singing and much merriment the
wood-piles are properly prepared. This certainly is a convenience which
the backwood farmer's wife is often without; but the untidy look of a
great wood-pile before each house vexed my eyes.
The older men complained to me that the emigration to Oregon of so many
of their young people had crippled them; and, indeed, I saw many signs
of neglect--buildings in want of repair, and a lack of tidiness. But
still they appear to be making money; for they have recently rebuilt
their grist-mill, and have also within a few years paid off a debt of
between three and four thousand dollars.
[Illustration: Church at Bethel, Missouri]
The religious belief of the Bethel Communists is, of course, the same
with their Aurora brethren. They venerate Dr. Keil as the wisest of
mankind, and abhor all ceremonies and sects. I was told that they
celebrate the Lord's Supper at irregular intervals, and then by a
regular supper, held either in the church or in a private house.
The people, like those of Aurora, are simple Germans of the lower class,
and they live comfortably after their fashion. They have no library, and
read few books except the Bible. They have never printed any thing. In
many of the houses I noticed two beds in one room, and that the
principal sitting-room of the family. Dr. Giese, the president, has
living with him most of the young men who are without family connections
in the society. There are usually no carpets in the houses. But every
thing is clean; the beds are neat; and it is only out of doors that
litter is to be found.
The people have but little ingenuity; there is a lack of labor-saving
devices; indeed, the only thing of the kind I saw was a wash-house,
through which the hot water from the boiler of the mill is led; but the
house itself was badly arranged and comfortless. The young people have a
band of music, but no other amusement that I could hear of. Tobacco they
use freely, and strong drink is allowed; but they have no drunkards.
As their future is secure, the people marry young, and this probably
does much to bind them to the place. No restriction is placed upon
marriage, except that if one marries out of the community, he must leave
The extraordinary feature of the Bethel and Aurora communities is the
looseness of the bond which keeps the people together. They might break
up at any time; but they have remained in community for thirty years.
Their religious belief is extremely simple, and yet it seems to suffice
to hold them. They have not had among them any good business-men, yet
they have managed to make a reasonably fair business success; for
though, as I remarked concerning Aurora, almost any farmer industrious
and economical as they are would have been pecuniarily better off after
so many years, still these people, but for their determination to have
their goods in common, would for the most part to-day have been
In weighing results, one should not forget the character of those who
have achieved them; and considering what these people are, it cannot be
denied that they have lived better in community than they would have
lived by individual effort.
Etienne Cabet had a pretty dream; this dream took hold of his mind, and
he spent sixteen years of his life in trying to turn it into real life.
One cannot help respecting the handful of men and women who, in the
wilderness of Iowa, have for more than twenty years faithfully
endeavored to work out the problem of Communism according to the system
he left them; but Cabet's own writings persuade me that he was little
more than a vain dreamer, without the grim patience and steadfast
unselfishness which must rule the nature of one who wishes to found a
successful communistic society.
Cabet was born at Dijon, in France, in 1788. He was educated for the
bar, but became a politician and writer. He was a leader of the
Carbonari; was a member of the French Legislature; wrote a history of
the French Revolution of July; established a newspaper; was condemned to
two years' imprisonment for an article in it, but evaded his sentence by
flying to London; in 1839 returned to France, and published a history of
the French Revolution in four volumes; and the next year issued a book
somewhat famous in its day--the voyage to Icaria. In this romance he
described a communistic Utopia, whose terms he had dreamed out; and he
began at once to try to realize his dream. He framed a constitution for
an actual Icaria; sought for means and members to establish it; selected
Texas as its field of operations, and early in 1848 actually persuaded a
number of persons to set sail for the Red River country.
Sixty-nine persons formed the advance guard of his Utopia. They were
attacked by yellow fever, and suffered greatly; and by the time next
year when Cabet arrived at New Orleans with a second band, the first was
already disorganized. He heard, on his arrival, that the Mormons had
been driven from Nauvoo, in Illinois, leaving their town deserted; and
in May, 1850, he established his followers there.
They bought at Nauvoo houses sufficient to accommodate them, but very
little land, renting such farms as they needed. They lived there on a
communal system, and ate in a great dining-room. But Cabet, I have been
told, did not intend to form his colony permanently there, but regarded
Nauvoo only as a rendezvous for those who should join the community,
intending to draft them thence to the real settlements, which he wished
to found in Iowa.
If Cabet had been a leader of the right temper, he might, I believe,
have succeeded; for he appears to have secured the only element
indispensable to success--a large number of followers. He had at Nauvoo
at one time not less than fifteen hundred people. With so many members,
a wise leader with business skill ought to be able to accomplish very
much in a single year; in ten years his commune, if he could keep it
together, ought to be wealthy.
The Icarians labored and planted with success at Nauvoo; they
established trades of different kinds, as well as manufactures; and
Cabet set up a printing-office, and issued a number of books and
pamphlets in French and German, intended to attract attention to the
community. Among these, a pamphlet of twelve pages, entitled, "Wenn ich
$500,000 haette" ("If I had half a million dollars"), which bears date
Nauvoo, 1854, gives in some detail his plans and desires. It is a
statement of what he could and would achieve for a commune if some one
would start him with a capital of half a million; and the fact that four
years after he came to Nauvoo he should still have spent his time in
such an impracticable dream, shows, I think, that he was not a fit
leader for the enterprise. For nothing appears to me more certain than
that a communistic society, to be successful, needs above all things to
have the training, mental and physical, which comes out of a life of
privation, spent in the patient accumulation of property by the labors
of the members.
Moreover, in Cabet's first paragraph he shows contempt for one of the
vital principles of a communistic society. "If I had five hundred
thousand dollars," he writes, "this would open to us an immense credit,
and in this way vastly increase our means." But it is absolutely certain
that debt is the bane of such societies; and the remnant of Icarians who
have so tenaciously and bravely held together in Iowa would be the first
to confess this, for they suffered hardships for years because of debt.
If he had half a million, Cabet goes on to say, he would be able to
establish his commune upon a broad and generous scale; and he draws a
pretty picture of dwellings supplied with gas and hot and cold water; of
factories fitted up on the largest scale; of fertile farms under the
best culture; of schools, high and elementary; of theatres, and other
places of amusement; of elegantly kept pleasure-grounds, and so on. Alas
for the dreams of a dreamer! I turned over the leaves of his pamphlet
while wandering through the muddy lanes of the present Icaria, on one
chilly Sunday in March, with a keen sense of pain at the contrast
between the comfort and elegance he so glowingly described and the
dreary poverty of the life which a few determined men and women have
there chosen to follow, for the sake of principles which they hold both
true and valuable.
I have heard that Cabet developed at Nauvoo a dictatorial spirit, and
that this produced in time a split in the society. The leader and his
adherents went off to St. Louis, where he died in 1856. Meantime some of
the members were already settled in Iowa, and those who remained at
Nauvoo after Cabet's desertion or flight dispersed; the property was
sold, and the Illinois colony came to an end. The greater part of the
members went off, more or less disappointed. Between fifty and sixty
settled upon the Iowa estate, and here began life, very poor and with a
debt of twenty thousand dollars in some way fixed upon their land.
Their narrow means allowed them to build at first only the meanest mud
hovels. They thought themselves prosperous when they were able to build
log-cabins, though these were so wretched that comfort must have been
unknown among them for years. They were obliged to raise all that they
consumed; and they lived, and indeed still live, in the narrowest way.
The Icarian Commune lies about four miles from Corning, a station on the
Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, in Iowa. They began here with
four thousand acres of land, pretty well selected, and twenty thousand
dollars of debt. After some years of struggle they gave up the land to
their creditors, with the condition that they might redeem one half of
it within a certain stipulated time. This they were able to do by hard
work and pinching economy; and they own at present one thousand nine
hundred and thirty-six acres, part of which is in timber, and valuable
on that account.
There are in all sixty-five members, and eleven families. The families
are not large, for there are twenty children and only twenty-three
voters in the community.
They possess a saw-mill and grist-mill, built out of their savings
within five years, and now a source of income. They cultivate three
hundred and fifty acres of land, and have one hundred and twenty head of
cattle, five hundred head of sheep, two hundred and fifty hogs, and
thirty horses. Until within three years the settlement contained only
log-cabins, and these very small, and not commodiously arranged. Since
then they have got entirely out of debt, and have begun to build frame
houses. The most conspicuous of these is a two-story building, sixty by
twenty-four feet in dimensions, which contains the common dining-room,
kitchen, a provision cellar, and up stairs a room for a library, and
apartments for a family. In the spring of 1874 they had nearly a dozen
frame houses, which included the dining-hall, a wash-house, dairy, and
school-house. All the dwellings are small and very cheaply built. They
have small shops for carpentry, blacksmithing, wagon-making, and
shoemaking; and they make, as far as possible, all they use.
Most of the people are French, and this is the language mainly spoken,
though I found that German was also understood. Besides the French,
there are among the members one American, one Swiss, a Swede, and a
Spaniard, and two Germans. The children look remarkably healthy, and on
Sunday were dressed with great taste. The living is still of the
plainest. In the common dining-hall they assemble in groups at the
tables, which were without a cloth, and they drink out of tin cups, and
pour their water from tin cans. "It is very plain," said one to me; "but
we are independent--no man's servants--and we are content."
They sell about two thousand five hundred pounds of wool each year, and
a certain number of cattle and hogs; and these, with the earnings of
their mills, are the sources of their income.
Their number does not increase, though four or five years ago they were
reduced to thirty members; but since then seven who went off have
returned. I should say that they had passed over the hardest times, and
that a moderate degree of prosperity is possible to them now; but they
have waited long for it. I judge that they had but poor skill in
management and no business talent; but certainly they had abundant
courage and determination.
They live under a somewhat elaborate constitution, made for them by
Cabet, which lays down with great care the equality and brotherhood of
mankind, and the duty of holding all things in common; abolishes
servitude and service (or servants); commands marriage, under penalties;
provides for education; and requires that the majority shall rule. In
practice they elect a president once a year, who is the executive
officer, but whose powers are strictly limited to carrying out the
commands of the society. "He could not even sell a bushel of corn
without instructions," said one to me. Every Saturday evening they hold
a meeting of all the adults, women as well as men, for the discussion of
business and other affairs. Officers are chosen at every meeting to
preside and keep the records; the president may present subjects for
discussion; and women may speak, but have no vote. The conclusions of
the meeting are to rule the president during the next week. All accounts
are made up monthly, and presented to the society for discussion and
criticism. Besides the president, there are four directors--of
agriculture, clothing, general industry, and building. These carry on
the necessary work, and direct the other members. They buy at wholesale
twice a year, and just before these purchases are made each member in
public meeting makes his or her wants known. Luxury is prohibited in the
constitution, but they have not been much tempted in that direction so
far. They use tobacco, however.
They have no religious observances. Sunday is a day of rest from labor,
when the young men go out with guns, and the society sometimes has
theatrical representations, or music, or some kind of amusement. The
principle is to let each one do as he pleases.
They employ two or three hired men to chop wood and labor on the farm.
They have a school for the children, the president being teacher.
The people are opposed to what is called a "unitary home," and prefer to
have a separate dwelling for each family.
The children are kept in school until they are sixteen; and the people
lamented their poverty, which prevented them from providing better
education for them.
Members are received by a three-fourths' majority.
This is Icaria. It is the least prosperous of all the communities I have
visited; and I could not help feeling pity, if not for the men, yet for
the women and children of the settlement, who have lived through all the
penury and hardship of these many years. A gentleman who knew of my
visit there writes me: "Please deal gently and cautiously with Icaria.
The man who sees only the chaotic village and the wooden shoes, and only
chronicles those, will commit a serious error. In that village are
buried fortunes, noble hopes, and the aspirations of good and great men
like Cabet. Fertilized by these deaths, a great and beneficent growth
yet awaits Icaria. It has an eventful and extremely interesting history,
but its future is destined to be still more interesting. It, and it
alone, represents in America a great idea--rational democratic
I am far from belittling the effort of the men of Icaria. They have
shown, as I have said, astonishing courage and perseverance. They have
proved their faith in the communistic idea by labors and sufferings
which seem to me pitiful. In fact, communism is their religion. But
their long siege at fortune's door only shows how important, and indeed
indispensable to the success of such an effort, it is to have an able
leader, and to give to him almost unlimited power and absolute
THE BISHOP HILL COMMUNE.
I have determined to give a brief account of the Swedish colony at
Bishop Hill, in Henry County, Illinois, because, though it has now
ceased to exist as a communistic society, its story yields some
instructive lessons in the creation and maintenance of such
associations. These Swedes began in abject poverty, and in the course of
a few years built up a prosperous town and settlement. They rashly went
into debt: debt brought lawsuits and disputes into the society, and all
three broke it up.
The people of Bishop Hill came from the region of Helsingland, in
Sweden. In their own country they were Pietists, and Separatists from
the State Church, mostly farmers, scattered over a considerable
district, but united by their peculiar doctrines, and by the efforts of
their preachers. I am told that they came into existence as a sect about
1830; in 1843 their chief preacher was a man of some energy, Eric Janson
by name; and he taught them the duty of living after the manner of the
Primitive Christian Church, inculcating humble and prayerful lives,
equality of conditions, and community of property.
Their refusal to attend church, and to submit themselves to its
ordinances, excited the attention of the government, which, probably
also alarmed at the phrase "community of goods," began to persecute them
with fines and imprisonment. Police officers were sent to break up their
congregations; they imagined themselves threatened with confiscation;
and in 1845 they sent one of their number, Olaf Olson, to the United
States, to see if they could not here find land on which to live in
peace and freedom. Olson's inquiries led him to Illinois; he selected
Henry County as a favorable situation; and in 1846, on his report, the
people determined to emigrate in a body, the few wealthy agreeing to pay
the expenses of the poor. They say that when they were ready to embark,
they were refused permission to leave their country, and Jonas Olson,
one of their leaders, had to go to the king, who, on his prayer, finally
allowed them to depart.
The first ship-load left Galfa in the summer of 1846, and arrived at
Bishop Hill in October of that year. Others followed, until by the
summer of 1848 they had eight hundred people on this spot--which they
named from an eminence in their own country.
They appear to have spent most of their means in the emigration, for
they were able during the first year to buy only forty acres of land,
and for eighteen months they lived in extreme poverty--in holes in the
ground, and under sheds built against hillsides; and ground their corn
for bread in hand-mills, often laboring at this task by turns all night,
to provide meal for the next day. A tent made of linen cloth was their
church during this time; and they worked the land of neighboring farmers
on shares to gain a subsistence. Living on the prairie, fever and ague
attacked them and added to their wretchedness.
By 1848 they had acquired two hundred acres of land, but were $1800 in
debt, which they had borrowed to keep them from starving; but in this
year they built a brick church, and they now worked a good deal of land
on shares. In 1849 they began to build a very long brick house, still
standing, which served them as kitchen and dining-hall. In the same year
Jonas Olson, a preacher, took eight young men, and with the consent of
the society went to California to dig gold for the common interest. He
returned after a year, unsuccessful.
In 1850 Eric Janson, their leader, was shot in the Henry County
court-house, while attending a trial in which a young man, not a member
of the community, claimed his wife, a girl who was a member, and whom he
wished to take away. I do not know the merits of the case, nor is it
important here. During this year Olaf Janson returned from Sweden with
several thousand dollars which he had been sent to collect--being debts
due some of the members; and this money, which enabled them to buy land,
appears to have given them their first fair start.
At this time, though they were still poor, they had built a number of
brick dwellings, had set up shops for carpentry, blacksmithing,
wagon-making, etc.; were raising flax, selling the seed, and making the
fiber into linen, some of which they sold; and they had a few cattle,
and a worn-out saw-mill. They had set up a school, even while they lived
"in the caves," and now hired an American teacher.
In 1853 they got an act of incorporation from the Illinois Legislature,
which enabled them to hold land and transact business as an association,
and in the name of trustees; until that time all they owned was held in
the name of individual members. In the same year they made a contract to
raise, during two years, seven hundred acres of broom-corn, for which
they received in cash on delivery fifty dollars a ton. As yet they had
no railroad, and had to haul their corn fifty miles. At this time, too,
they began to improve their breeds of cattle; paid high prices for one
or two short-horn bulls, and were soon famous in their region for the
excellence of their stock. They also made wagons for the neighboring
farmers, and established a grist-mill.
In 1854-5 they took a contract to grade a part of the Chicago,
Burlington, and Quincy Railroad line, and to build some bridges; and as
they were able to put a considerable body of their young men upon this
work, it brought them in a good deal of money. They now began to erect
brick dwellings, a town-hall, and a large hotel, where they for a while
did a good business. They made excellent brick, and all their houses are
very solidly built, plain, but of pleasing exteriors. The most
remarkable one is the long dining-hall and kitchen, with a bakery and
brewery adjoining. In the upper story of this building a considerable
number of families lived; in the lower story all the people--to the
number of a thousand at one time--ate three times a day.
They were now prospering. In 1859 they owned ten thousand acres of land,
and had it all neatly fenced and in excellent order. They had the finest
cattle in the state; and their shops and mills earned money from the
The families lived separately, but all ate together. They received their
clothing supplies at a common storehouse as they needed them, and
labored under the direction of foremen. Their business organization was
always loose. They had no president or single head. A body of trustees
transacted business, and made reports to the society, not regularly, but
at irregular intervals. There seems, too, to have been a speculative
spirit among them, for while in 1859 they owned ten thousand acres of
land and a town, which must have been worth at least three hundred
thousand dollars, as the land was all fenced and improved, and the town
was uncommonly well built, [Footnote: Between four and five hundred
thousand dollars was their own valuation; and in 1860 a report given in
one of the briefs of a lawsuit gives their assets at $864,000, and their
debts at less than $100,000.] they owed at that time, or in 1860,
between eighty and one hundred thousand dollars.
Their religions life was very simple. They had no paid preacher, but
expected their leaders to labor during the week with the rest. On Sunday
they had two services in the church--at ten in the morning, and between
six and seven in the evening. At these, after singing and prayer, the
preacher read the Bible, and commented on what he read. On every
week-day evening, unless the weather was bad, they held a similar
meeting, which lasted an hour and a half. They had no library, and
encouraged no reading except in the Bible, teaching that the most
important matter for every man was to get a thorough understanding of
the commandments of God. They had for a little while a newspaper, and
they printed at the neighboring town of Galva, which was their business
centre, an edition of their hymn-book. [Footnote: "Nagra Sanger, samt
Boener. Foerfatade af Erik Janson. Foerenade Staterna, Galva, Ills. S.
Cronsioe, 1857."] They discouraged amusements, as tending to
worldliness; and though they appear to have lived happily and without
disputes, about 1859 they discovered that their young people, who had
grown up in the society, were discontented, found the community life
dull, did not care for the religious views of the society, and were
ready to break up the organization.
When this discontent arose, the looseness of the organization was fatal.
With a more compact and energetic administration, either the
dissatisfied elements would have been eliminated quietly, or the causes
of dissatisfaction, mainly, as far as I could understand, the dullness
of the life and the lack of amusements, would have been removed. But
with a loose organization there appears to have been, what is not
unnatural, rigidity of discipline. There was no power any where to make
changes. "The discontented ones wanted a change, but no change was
possible: it was often discussed." The young people persuaded some of
the older ones to be of their mind, and thus two parties were formed;
and after many meetings, in which I imagine there were sometimes bitter
words, it was determined in the spring of 1860 to divide the property,
the Olson party, as it was called, including two thirds of the
membership, determining with their share to continue the community,
while the Janson party determined on individual effort.
Hereupon two thirds of the real and personal property was set apart for
the Olson party, but for a whole year the two parties lived together at
Bishop Hill. In 1861 the Janson party divided their share among the
families composing it; and in the same year the disorganization
proceeded another step. The Olson party fell into three divisions. In
1862, finally, all the property was divided, and the commune ceased to
In 1860 a receiver had been appointed. In 1861 Olaf Janson was appointed
attorney in fact. This became necessary, because, besides the property,
there were debts; and when the trustees were removed and a receiver was
appointed, the question necessarily came up how the debts should be met.
The division of the property was made by a committee of the society, who
took a complete inventory, including even the smallest household
articles; and at the time there seems to have been no complaint of
unfairness. The whole was divided into shares, of which each man
received one, and women and children fractional shares. A part of the
property was set off, sufficient, as it was then believed, to pay off
the indebtedness; but it proved insufficient, and finally each farm
given to a member in the partition was saddled with a share of
indebtedness; and as there was poor management after the disorganization
began, and as the debt constantly increased by the non-payment of
interest, there are now, thirteen years after the final partition, heavy
lawsuits still pending in the courts against the colony and its
In 1861 the community raised a company of soldiers for the Union army,
furnishing both privates and officers. These fought through the war, and
one of the younger members after the war was, for meritorious conduct
and promising intellect, taken as a scholar at West Point, where he was
graduated with honor.
At present Bishop Hill is slowly falling into decay. The houses are
still mostly inhabited; there are several shops and stores; but the
larger buildings are out of repair; and business has centred at Galva,
five or six miles distant. Most of the former communists live happily on
their small farms. A Methodist church has been built in the village, and
has some attendants, but a good many of the older members have adopted
the Adventist or Millerite faith, which appears to revive after every
failure of prediction, especially in the West, where people seem to look
forward with a quite singular pleasure to the fiery end of all things.
On the whole, it is a melancholy story. It shows both what can be
achieved by combined industry, and what trifles can destroy such an
organization as a communistic society. It shows the extreme importance
of a central authority, wisely administered but also implicitly obeyed;
able therefore to yield, as well as to act, promptly. The history of
these Bishop Hill Communists also shows the necessity of great caution
in all financial affairs in a commune, which ought to avoid debt like
the plague, and to live financially as though it might break up at any
Not only were debt and the speculative spirit out of which debt arose
the causes of the colony's failure, but they have brought great trouble
on the people since. Had there been no debt, the commune could have
divided its property among the members at any time, without loss or
trouble; and I suspect that the possibility of such an immediate
division might have induced the people to keep together.
At any rate, the story of Bishop Hill shows how important it would be to
a community agreeing to labor and produce in common for a limited time
to keep free from debt.
THE CEDAR VALE COMMUNITY.
At Cedar Vale, in Howard County, Kansas, a communistic society has been
founded, which, though its small numbers might make it insignificant, is
remarkable by reason of the nationality of some of its members.
It was begun three years ago, and the purpose of its projectors was "to
achieve both communism and individual freedom, or to lead persons of all
kinds of opinions to labor together for their common welfare. If there
was to be any law, it should be only for the regulation of industry or
hours of work." I quote this from the letter of a gentleman who is
familiar with this society, and who has been kind enough to send me its
constitution, and to give me the following particulars: "It is now three
years since the founders of the society settled in this domain, coming
here entirely destitute, and building first as a residence a covered
burrow in a hillside. Two of them had left affluence and position in
Russia, and subjected themselves to this poverty for the sake of their
principles. Of course they suffered here from fever, from insufficient
food, and cold, and were not able to make much improvement on the place.
The practical condition now, though insignificant from the common point
of view, compared with what has been, is very satisfactory. There are at
least comfortable shelter and enough to eat, and this year sufficient
land will be fenced and planted to leave a surplus.
"The propaganda has been made among two essentially differing classes of
socialists--the Russian Materialists and the American Spiritualists.
Both these classes are represented in the community, and thus far seem
to live in harmony. There are here a 'hygienic doctor' and a 'reformed
clergyman,' both Spiritualists, and a Russian sculptor of considerable
fame, a Russian astronomer, and a very pretty and devoted and
wonderfully industrious Russian woman."
The printed statement made by the community I copy here, as a sufficient
account of its numbers and possessions in April, 1874:
"The PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY is located near Cedar Vale, Howard County,
Kansas, has three hundred and twenty acres of choice prairie land, with
abundance of stock, water, and with all advantages for successful
farming, stock and fruit raising.
"The nearest railroad station is Independence, Montgomery County,
Kansas, fifty miles east from the place.
"The community was established in January, 1871. It is out of debt now,
and has a fair prospect for success in the future.
"The business of the community consists chiefly in farming.
"Number of members: four males; three females; one child. Persons on
probation: two males; one female; one child.
"Improvements: frame house; stable; forty acres under fence; four acres
of orchard and vines.
"Live stock and implements: four horses; four oxen; three cows and
"The co-operation of earnest communists is wanted for the better
realization of a true home based on Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
"No fee is required from those who visit the community, but their work
for the community is regarded as equivalent to their current expenses.
"The principles and organization of the community can be seen from the
"_Whereas_, we believe that man is not only an individual having
rights as such, but also owing social duties to others, and that strict
justice requires us to help each other, and that our highest happiness
and development can only be attained by a union and co-operation of
interests and efforts; _Therefore_, we pledge ourselves to live
"'For the cause that lacks assistance,
For the wrong that needs resistance,
For the future in the distance,
And the good that we can do.'
"And we, whose names are annexed, hereby organize ourselves under the
name of the PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY, and agree to devote our labor and
means, to the full extent of our ability, to carry out the following:
"SEC. 1.--The community shall be considered as a family. The members
shall unite in their labor and business, hold their property in common
for the use of all, and dwell together in a unitary home."
"SEC. 2.--Each member shall be free to hold whatever opinions his
conscience may dictate; and the community shall make no restriction or
regulation interfering with the freedom of any, except when his actions
conflict with the rights of others."
"SEC. 3.--All shall be alike responsible for the strict observance of
this constitution. Equal rights and privileges shall be accorded to all
members; but the community may temporarily withhold from a member the
right to vote by the unanimous consent of the rest."
"SEC. 1.--All matters concerning the welfare of the community shall be
decided by the members at their meetings, which shall be of the
following kinds: (1) Daily business meetings for the decision of daily
work; (2) Weekly meetings for the discussion of business questions, and
for remarks on the general interests and welfare of the community."
"SEC. 2.--All decisions, except as herein otherwise provided for, shall
be by a majority of three fourths of all the members."
"SEC. 3.--Debts may be contracted, or credit given, only by the
unanimous vote of the community."
"SEC. 4.--The officers of the community shall consist of a president,
secretary, treasurer, and managers. They shall be elected at the end of
each year, and enter on the duties of their offices on the first of
January following, being subject to removal at any time."
"SEC. 5.--The president shall preside at all meetings, shall see that
the decisions of the community are carried out, and make temporary
arrangements for the business of the day when necessary."
"SEC. 6.--The secretary shall record the proceedings of all the meetings
of the community, attend to all its correspondence, and preserve all the
valuable documents thereof."
"SEC. 7.--The treasurer shall hold the fund of the community, and keep
an accurate account of all money received or expended; but no money
shall be paid out except as appropriated by the community. He shall make
a report at each business meeting."
"SEC. 8.--The managers shall control the different departments to which
they are elected, decide all details of business, if not previously
acted upon by the community, and make reports at each business meeting."
"SEC. 1.--Any person, after having lived in the community, and having
become thoroughly acquainted with its members and the community life,
may become a member by subscribing to this constitution; provided he is
accepted by the unanimous vote of the community."
"SEC. 2.--All property which members may have, or may receive from any
source or at any time, shall be given to the community without
reservation or return."
"SEC. 3.--The members shall be furnished with food, clothing, and
lodging, care and attention in sickness, misfortune, infancy, or old
age, and the means and opportunity for a complete integral education,
and for such other necessary requirements as the community can afford;
and these benefits shall be guaranteed by the whole resources of the
"SEC. 4.--A withdrawing member shall not bring any claim against the
community on account of any labor, services, or property given thereto;
but his current expenses and the advantages of the community life shall
be considered as an equivalent therefore. He shall be allowed to take
from the common property only what may be decided upon by the community
at the time of withdrawal."
"SEC. 5.--Children of the members, or those which may be adopted by the
community, shall be considered as members thereof; they shall have equal
rights as herein specified, except voting, to which privilege they shall
be admitted when the community by unanimous consent shall think best,
and after signing their names to this constitution."
"Any amendments, additions to, or interpretations of this constitution
may be made at any time by unanimous vote of the community."
THE SOCIAL FREEDOM COMMUNITY.
This is a communistic society, established in the beginning of the year
1874 in Chesterfield County, Virginia. It has as "full members" two
women, one man, and three boys, with four women and five men as
"probationary members." They have a farm of three hundred and
thirty-three acres, unencumbered with debt, and with a water-power on
it; and are attempting general farming, the raising of medicinal herbs,
sawing lumber and staves, coopering, and the grinding of grain. The
members are all Americans.
They hold, the secretary writes me, to "unity of interests, and
political, religious, and social freedom; and believe that every
individual should have absolute control of herself or himself, and that,
so long as they respect the same freedom in others, no one has a right
to infringe on that individuality."
The secretary further writes: "We have no constitution or bylaws; ignore
the idea of man's total depravity; and believe that all who are actuated
by a love of truth and a desire to progress (and we will knowingly
accept no others), can be better governed by love and moral suasion than
by any arbitrary laws. Our government consists in free criticism. We
have a unitary home."
COLONIES WHICH ARE NOT COMMUNISTIC.
I have noticed that not unfrequently Vineland, in New Jersey, and
Anaheim, in California, are classed with Communistic Societies. They are
nothing of the kind; and only one of the two--Anaheim, namely--was in
the beginning even co-operative.
As, however, both these settlements were founded under peculiar
circumstances, and as both show what can be achieved in a short time by
men of narrow means, acting more or less in concert for certain
purposes, I have determined to give here a brief history of the two
Anaheim, the oldest of these two "colonies," lies in Los Angeles County,
in Southern California, about thirty miles from the town of Los Angeles,
and ten or twelve miles from the ocean, upon a fertile and well-watered
plain. In its settlement it was strictly a co-operative enterprise.
In 1857 several Germans in San Francisco proposed to certain of their
countrymen to purchase by a united effort a tract of land in the
southern part of the state, cause it to be subdivided into small farms,
and procure these to be fenced, planted with grape-vines and trees, and
otherwise prepared for the settlement of the owners. After some
deliberation, fifty men set their names to an agreement to buy eleven
hundred and sixty-five acres of land, at two dollars per acre; securing
water-rights for irrigation with the purchase, because in that region
the dry summers necessitate artificial watering.
The originator of the enterprise, Mr. Hansen, of Los Angeles, a German
lawyer and civil engineer, a man of culture, was appointed by his
associates to select and secure the land; and eventually he became the
manager of the whole enterprise, up to the point where it lost its
co-operative features and the members took possession of their farms.
The Anaheim associates consisted in the main of mechanics, and they had
not a farmer among them. They were all Germans. There were several
carpenters, a gunsmith, an engraver, three watch-makers, four
blacksmiths, a brewer, a teacher, a shoemaker, a miller, a hatter, a
hotel-keeper, a bookbinder, four or five musicians, a poet (of course),
several merchants, and some teamsters. It was a very heterogeneous
assembly; they had but one thing in common: they were all, with one or
two exceptions, poor. Very few had more than a few dollars saved; most
of them had neither cash nor credit enough to buy even a twenty-acre
farm; and none of them were in circumstances which promised them more
than a decent living.
The plan of the society was to buy the land, and thereupon to cause it
to be subdivided and improved as I have said by monthly contributions
from the members, who were meantime to go on with their usual
employments in San Francisco. It was agreed to divide the eleven hundred
and sixty-five acres into fifty twenty-acre tracts, and fifty village
lots, the village to stand in the centre of the purchase. Fourteen lots
were also set aside for school-houses and other public buildings.
With the first contribution the land was bought. The fifty associates
had to pay about fifty dollars each for this purpose. This done, they
appointed Mr. Hansen their agent to make the projected improvements; and
they, it may be supposed, worked a little more steadily and lived a
little more frugally in San Francisco. He employed Spaniards and Indians
as laborers; and what he did was to dig a ditch seven miles long to lead
water out of the Santa Anna River, with four hundred and fifty miles of
subsidiary ditches and twenty-five miles of feeders to lead the water
over every twenty-acre lot. This done, he planted on every farm eight
acres of grapes and some fruit-trees; and on the whole place over five
miles of outside willow fencing and thirty-five miles of inside fencing.
Willows grow rapidly in that region, and make a very close fence,
yielding also fire-wood sufficient for the farmer's use.
All this had to be done gradually, so that the payments for labor should
not exceed the monthly contributions of the associates, for they had no
credit to use in the beginning, and contracted no debts.
When the planting was done, the superintendent cultivated and pruned the
grape-vines and trees, and took care of the place; and it was only when
the vines were old enough to bear, and thus to yield an income at once,
that the proprietors took possession.
At the end of three years the whole of this labor had been performed and
paid for; the vines were ready to bear a crop, and the division of lots
took place. Each shareholder had at this time paid in all twelve hundred
dollars; a few, I have been told, fell behind somewhat, but were helped
by some of their associates who were in better circumstances. If we
suppose that most of the members had no money laid by at the beginning
of the enterprise, it would appear that during three years they saved,
over and above their living, somewhat less than eight dollars a week--a
considerable sum, but easily possible at that time in California to a
good and steady mechanic.
It was inevitable that some of the small farms should be more valuable
than others; and there was naturally a difference, too, in the village
lots. To make the division fairly, all the places were viewed, and a
schedule was made of them, on which each was assessed at a certain
price, varying from six hundred to fourteen hundred dollars, according
to its situation, the excellence of its fruit, etc. They were then
distributed by a kind of lottery, with the condition that if the farm
drawn was valued in the schedule over twelve hundred dollars, he who
drew it should pay into the general treasury the surplus; if it was
valued at less, he who drew it received from the common fund a sum which
h, added to the value of his farm, equaled twelve hundred dollars. Thus
A, who drew a fourteen-hundred-dollar lot, paid two hundred dollars; B,
who drew a six-hundred-dollar lot, received six hundred dollars
additional in cash.
The property was by this time in such a state of improvement that money
could readily be borrowed on the security of these small farms.
Moreover, when the drawing was completed, there was a sale of the
effects of the company--horses, tools, etc.; and on closing all the
accounts and balancing the books, it was found that there remained a sum
of money in the general treasury sufficient to give each of the fifty
shareholders a hundred dollars in cash as a final dividend.
When this was done, the co-operative feature of the enterprise
disappeared. The members, each in his own good time, settled on their
farms. Lumber was bought at wholesale, and they began to build their
houses. Fifty families make a little town in any of our Western States,
sufficiently important to attract traders. The village lots at once
acquired a value, and some were sold to shopkeepers. A school was
quickly established; mechanics of different kinds came down to Anaheim
to work for wages; and the colonists in fact gathered about them at once
many conveniences which, if they had settled singly, they could not have
commanded for some years.
They were still poor, however. But few of them were able even to build
the slight house needed in that climate without running into debt. For
borrowed money they had to pay from two to three per cent, per month
interest. Moreover, none of them were farmers; and they had to learn to
cultivate, prune, and take care of their vines, to make wine, and to
make a vegetable garden. They had from the first to raise and sell
enough for their own support, and to pay at least the heavy interest on
their debts. It resulted that for some years longer they had a struggle
with a burden of debt, and had to live with great economy. But the
people told me that they had always enough to eat, a good school for
their children, and the immense satisfaction of being their own
employers. "We had music and dancing in those days; and, though we were
very poor, I look back to those times as the happiest in all our lives,"
said one man to me.
And they gradually got out of debt. Not one failed. The sheriff has
never sold out any one in Anaheim; and only one of the original settlers
had left the place when I saw it in 1872. They have no destitute people.
Their vineyards give them an annual _clear_ income of from two
hundred and fifty to one thousand dollars over and above their living
expenses; their children have enjoyed the advantages of a social life and
a fairly good school. And, finally, the property which originally cost
them an average of one thousand and eighty dollars for each, is now worth
from five to ten thousand dollars. They live well, and feel themselves as
independent as though they were millionaires.
Now this was an enterprise which any company of prudent mechanics, with
a steadfast purpose, might easily imitate. The founders of Anaheim were
not picked men. I have been told that they were not without jealousies
and suspicions of each other and of their manager, which made his life
often uncomfortable, and threatened the life of the undertaking. They
had grumblers, fault-finders, and wiseacres in their company, as
probably there will be among any company of fifty men; and I have heard
that Mr. Hansen, who was their able and honest manager, declared that he
would rather starve than conduct another such enterprise.
They were extremely fortunate to have for their manager an honest,
patient, and sufficiently able man; and such a leader is indeed the
corner-stone of an undertaking of this kind. Granted a man sufficiently
wise and honest, in whom his associates can have confidence, and there
needs only moderate patience, perseverance, and economy, in the body of
the company, to achieve success. Nor could I help noticing, when I was
at Anaheim, that the experience and training which men gain in carrying
to success--no matter through what struggles of poverty, self-denial,
and debt--such an enterprise, has an admirable effect on their
characters. The men of Anaheim were originally a very common class of
mechanics; they have stepped up to a higher plane of life--they are
masters of their own lives. This result--namely, the training of
families in the hardier virtues, their elevation to a higher moral as
well as physical standard--is certainly not to be overlooked by any
Vineland was not a co-operative enterprise. It is the land-speculation
of a long-headed, kind-hearted man, who believed that he could form a
settlement profitable and advantageous to many people, and with
pecuniary benefit to himself. Until the year 1861, the southern part of
New Jersey contained a large region known as "the Barrens," and very
sparsely settled with a rude and unthrifty population. The light soil
was supposed to be unfit for profitable agriculture; and the country for
miles was covered with scrub pine and small oak timber, used chiefly for
charcoal, and as fuel for some glass factories at Millville and
Glassborough. Much of this land was owned in large tracts, and brought
in but a small revenue. When the West Jersey Railroad, connecting Cape
May with Philadelphia, was completed, it ran through many miles of these
"Barrens," and some of the owners, tired of a property which in their
hands had little value, were ready to sell out.
Charles K. Landis had conceived the idea of forming a colony, upon
certain plans which he had matured in his own mind. His attention was
attracted to this region, and after examining the soil and the general
character of the region, he bought sixteen thousand acres in one parcel.
To this he added, soon after, another purchase of fourteen thousand
acres, making thirty thousand in all. He has bought lately (in 1874)
twenty-three thousand acres more.
The country is a rolling plain, densely overgrown with small wood, with
one or two streams running through it; with water obtainable at from
fifteen to thirty feet every where, and perfectly healthy. Mr. Landis
took possession in August, 1861, and at once began to develop the land
according to his own ideas. He laid out, first, the town site of
Vineland, in the centre of the tract; next had the adjacent plain
surveyed, and laid out into tracts of ten, twenty, and fifty acres; laid
out and opened roads, so as to make these small parcels accessible; and
then he began to advertise for settlers.
His offer was to sell the land, lying within thirty-four miles of
Philadelphia by railroad, in tracts of from ten to forty or sixty acres,
at twenty-five dollars per acre, guaranteeing a clear title, and giving
reasonable credit, but requiring the purchasers to make certain
improvements within a year after buying. These consisted of a
house--which need not be costly--the clearing of some acres of ground,
and the planting of shade-trees along the road-side, and sowing a strip
of this road-side with some kind of grass. It was also stipulated that
if the owner, in after-years, neglected his road-side adornment, it
should be kept in order by the town at his cost.
Mr. Landis had procured the passage of a law prohibiting the straying of
cattle within the limits of the township in which his estate lay; and
consequently the new settlers were not obliged to build fences. This was
an immense saving to the people, who came in mostly with small means.
Vineland has to-day between eleven thousand and twelve thousand people;
it has about one hundred and eighty miles of roads; and it is probable
that the "no fence" regulation, as it is called, has saved the
inhabitants at least a million and a half of dollars.
He prevented in the beginning, with the most solicitous care, the
establishment of bar-rooms or dram-shops on the tract; the Legislature
gave permission to the people of the township, by an annual vote, to
decide whether the sale of liquor at retail should be allowed or
forbidden, and they have constantly forbidden it, to their immense
He endeavored as soon as possible to establish factories in the village,
and succeeded so well in this that there has long been a local market
for a part of the products of the place.
He founded and encouraged library, horticultural, and other societies,
helped in the building of churches, and paid particular attention to
obtaining for the people facilities for marketing their products
In all these concerns he sought the advantage of the settlers on his
lands, knowing that their prosperity would make him also prosperous.
But one other part of his plan appears to me to have been of
extraordinary importance, though usually it is not mentioned in
descriptions of Vineland. Mr. Landis established the price of his own
uncultivated lands at twenty-five dollars per acre. At that price he
sold to the first settler; and that price he did not increase for many
years. Any one could, within two or three years, buy wild land on the
Vineland tract at twenty-five dollars per acre. This means that he did
not speculate upon the improvements of the settlers. He gave to them the
advantage of their labors. It resulted that many poor men bought,
cleared, and planted places in Vineland on purpose to sell them, certain
that they could, if they wished, buy more land at the same price of
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