Posts Tagged ‘Icaria’

Icaria: A Lost Paradise

November 21, 2011

Image from Gustave Doré Illustrations to Paradise Lost on the Artsy Craftsy website

A LOST PARADISE.

A COMMUNITY IN IOWA WHERE NOTHING IS MODERN.

It Is the Forlorn Remnant of What Years Ago Promised to Be an Ideal Co-operative Settlement — Their Old Fashioned Dress and Queer Ways.

Metropolitan Magazine: Tucked away in the southwest corner of Iowa, remote from the good and evil influence of civilization, the surged and clatter of affairs unheeded because unknown, lives a collection of humans as peculiar in manner and custom as the ancient Phoenicians, as egotistic as Caesar. These people are white in color with the fire of Gaelic ancestors in their blood and the timidity of hermits in their breasts. They think old-fashionedly; they reason with the limping logic of children; they garb in long discarded styles, and they are hugely self-satisfied. They are a small but curious company and their hearthstones are in a town they are pleased to call Icaria.

If you were to scan a hundred maps you might not find the habitant of these latter-day ancients, so securely imbedded in the amber of the progressive west-world, so stubbornly reserved, amusing and so interesting. Within the borders of America there is no community more beautifully out of touch with the times, none so little in sympathy with the world at large as these isolated Icarians. Theirs is a romantic history, and this is the best chapter of it and the least familiar.

Founded on an ideal system of communism, the government of Icaria grew prosperously, waxed dangerous, and finally died of natural causes. The place and people, once well-to-do, are today existing, but profoundly asleep. A desolate dozen of wooden houses cluster around a large wooden structure, like frightened sheep huddled around the legs of a shepherd, some rudely built sheds and barns, a trembling hay rick or two and several anything but picturesque cattle yards — and there you have the bare frame of what was once the seat and cradle of a great social and political movement which numbered its adherents by the thousands, a quarter of a century back. It is a melancholy settlement in the wilderness, is this present day Icaria.

Born in the fanciful brain of one Etienne Cabet, a Frenchman, with something of the adventurer and something of the martyr in his make-up, Icaria was planned to be a communistic Utopia, the new world center of social and political perfection with improvements upon Sir Thomas More’s pretty fiction. As a place of dwelling, Icaria was to be irresistible; as a matter of fact, it proved a humbug. Cabet had a bit of talent as a writer and some success at home as a politician, but he also had a bad habit of day-dreaming and gave himself over to the idea that men and women could live perfect lives on cut-and-dried rules of conduct, if properly formulated and forcibly insisted upon. Cabet squandered sixteen years of his life in an endeavor to realize and perpetuate his dream, and found some others who believed in his airy projects. To know the truth of the Icarian movement and to understand its genesis and its transient success, it is needful to know something about the man back of it.

To this end, then, let it be known that Etienne Cabet came into the world at Dijon, France, in 1788. His school days over, he plunged into law and from his legal tomes, learned how to avoid punishment for the sins of state and society. From law to lawlessness he found was an easy transition. He became a leader of the Carbonari, got his name noised about as social fire-brand, and one day found himself a member of the French legislature. For a time he was content to remain respectable, but in an evil hour he took to his quills and ink pot and wrote a substantial history of the French revolution which students still read and praise. Finally he shamelessly established a newspaper. He was the original “yellow” journalist, it would seem, for after a few issues of his paper were put forth he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for printing a libelous article, and, with characteristic yellow journal enterprise, he evaded the penalty by escaping to England. He returned to France in 1839, and a year later he published his famous book, called “A Voyage Into Icaria.”

A Famous Book.

As for the book, the general plan and literary form were unquestionably inspired by More’s “Utopia.” But Cabet depreciated any allusion to the similarity of the two books, and declared himself a very practical person with no sympathy for the theorists and chimerical dreamers. To his lasting credit be it recorded, he had some gift for organization. To this quality of mind there were added in the personality of Cabet a cheerful disposition and a stubborn will. His “Voyage” is written in the form of a romance, undisguisedly fiction, and purports to be the diary of a young and adventurous English lord, to whose ears had come the news of an ideal community in a remote part of earth and known as Icaria. This place is minutely described as offering to its inhabitants a life perfect to the point of impossibility. His tender lordship sets out upon the quest of this remarkable country, and his journey, which terminates successfully, gives the narrative its title. After writing this volume, Cabet, in all seriousness, framed a constitution for the government or a real Icaria, and having raised ,by various means, sufficient money for his enterprise, shipped from Harve in the fore part of 1848, a company of sixty-nine persons, bound for the Red river country in Texas. Every soil of the land was hot for the establishment of Cabet’s “new terrestrial paradise.” Icaria the First Cabet remained behind. The ship Rome bore the Icarian prisoners across seas to New Orleans. Approaching this city on the 27th of March, 1848, they were surprised by the booming of many cannon on shore. But the salute was not, as the advance guards of perfection believed, intended as an honorary greeting for them; it was given by the Frenchmen of the Crescent City in celebration of the downfall of Louis Philippe and the establishment of the second republic of France.

Within a few months of their settlement in the Red river country, yellow fever broke out in the camp of Cabet’s disciples. Plague-stricken, penniless, their fervor in the social scheme they had fed upon waning to indifference, they suffered in body and mind as only men fever-racked and drunk of disappointment can suffer. Early in 1849 Cabet left France, with short funds and drooping spirits, to join his American colony. Arriving in New Orleans, he learned that his advance guard had already disorganized. He learned, too, that the Mormons, whose stronghold was in Nauvoo, Ill., had been driving from that place and had left behind them all that makes a small city habitable — tilled lands, comfortable houses, paved streets and other benefits of civilization. Cabet and his later recruits turned their steps toward Nauvoo, and there established themselves in May, 1850. Had the Icarians been a religious body they might have believed that their new home site was providentially prepared for them. Here was the foundation for an ideal community ready for them — homes awaiting occupancy, lands well cultivated with crops begging to be gathered. It was like a fairy story come true. Joseph Smith and his fellow Mormon followers had taken possession of Nauvoo in 1840, and in less than five years had turned the place from an obscure hamlet into one of the most prosperous towns of Illinois, Chicago at this time had but 4,500 inhabitants, while the number of Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo was 15,000. Fortune assuredly had smiled on the enterprise of Etienne Cabet and his people, and they were not slow to seize their golden opportunity. Icaria indeed was a realization, so far as establishment was concerned. The Cabetites lived to a mode of government all their own; they ate their meals in one great common dining hall; they lived in accord with the communal system — absolute equality, free love, free thought, free speech.

Despite the prosperity which fell to the delightful Icarians while at Nauvoo, Cabet and his leaders seemed to look upon the place as a rendezvous for later converts to their cause, it was to the higher Cabetites a simple way station on the road to the real Icaria, as yet undetermined. The evident intention of Cabet at this time was to draft recruits from the most devout of his Nauvoo followers for final settlement in a part of Iowa he had secretly prospected. The truth known, Cabet feared from the first day of his Nauvoo settlement to be driven from the spot as his predecessors, the Mormons, had been driven. With the passing of the days the numbers of the Icarians were largely augmented by immigrants of a more susceptible nature just out of France. At one time there were more than 5,000 Icarians enthusiasts in the colony. Had Cabet possessed greater business capacity than was given him, had he been more provisioned and thoughtful as a leader his power would have spread in time over the length and breadth of the state in which he was ensconsed. The Icarians proved themselves an industrious body of men and women; they tilled unceasingly, wrought at trades of various sorts, and Cabet himself set up a printing shop and published a number of books and pamphlets in French and German.

One of these pamphlets — now a literary curiousity much sought after by bibliophiles — numbered twelve pages and bore the title, “If I Had Half a Million Dollars.” It is dated at Nauvoo, 1854 and presents Cabet’s new plans and aspirations. With a fine flow of phrases he tells how with the possession of half a million dollars he would establish his commune upon a broad and generous scale. He drew some pretty word pictures of comfortable homesteads equipped with every modern convenience; of fertile farms and flourishing factories; of well arranged educational institutions, theaters, play grounds. His vision was charming, but none the less a vision, for no one came forward to proffer the needful half million. The forlorn, poverty-pinched patch of earth which marks the present day Icaria presents a dreamy, bitter contrast to the glowing description put forth by its founder of what might have been.

Image from John Martin’s Paradise Lost mezzotints on the Spaightwood Galleries website

It is a matter of history that Cabet displayed a spirit of dictatorial arrogance after a few years’ residence in Nauvoo, was finally the cause of much dissension in the society, the end being a scene of open hostility to their chief on the part of a majority of his erst-while adherents and the sudden flight of Cabet with a few sympathizers to St. Louis. The arch-Icarian, fanciful and enthusiastic to the end, died in the latter place on November 8, 1856, at the age of 69.

Meanwhile a company of Icarians betook themselves to the southwest of Iowa and the place indicated by Cabet in this last writings. The few sullen and rebellious spirits who were left in Nauvoo after the departure first of Cabet and then of his dissenters, went back to France, their illusions fled and their idol shattered. The property of the Icarians in and near Nauvoo was equally divided and sold as quickly as might be, and the one-time prosperous settlement in Illinois passed into history, much to the relief of those who lived in neighboring towns. About sixty persons settled in the Iowa tract of land and started in anew, loaded down with debt and dispirited by the ugly future. At first these martyrs to a phantom lived perforce in low mud hovels, and when they could afford to build themselves homes of logs and boards they were proud of their comparative prosperity. They lived little better than their lean cattle; they were past-masters in economy. All counted, there are sixty-five persons and eleven families in the present settlement of Icaria. About 350 acres are under cultivation but the colony has in its own right some 1,963 acres. A saw mill, a grist mill, a school house and several small stores and shops comprise what may be lightly termed the public institutions of Icaria. Six years ago the last of the original log cabins gave way to the newest frame structure. The exact location of the Icarian commune is four miles from Corning, a station on the Burlington & Missouri River railroad in Iowa.

For the most part the Icarians are French. German is known to a few of the more scholarly. The communists indulge themselves in no religious observances, though Sunday is a day of rest from toil, and with the younger element of the community is given over to amusements of various kinds. It is the maxim of each Icarian that he or she must seek pleasure, without interference in his or her own peculiar way. Marriage in now compulsory, and the family maintained in its integrity. The children are sent to the commune’s own school until they reach the age of 16. The Icarian constitution is decidedly complex and stands as it was elaborated by Cabet. Their code of ethics demands perfect equality for all. They will tolerate no kind of servitude or servants. Preponderance of opinion rules in all their forms. A president is elected in the commune every year. His powers go no further than compliance with the desires and orders of the settlement. One a week — on Saturday evenings — a meeting is held when the affairs of the community are discussed by both men and women. Besides the president, there are four directors, appointed every month. These are designated as the director of agriculture, director of general industry, director of building and director of clothing.

Such in brief is the story of the rise and fall of Icaria. In the history of remarkable communistic colonies it deserves a place apart from its fellows.

Davenport Weekly Leader (Davenport, Iowa) Oct 26, 1900

Icaria: Another Failed Utopia

November 14, 2011

Image from America and the Utopian Dream – Yale University

The Icarian Community.

(Chas. Gray in Annals of Iowa.)

Doubtless comparatively few citizens of Iowa are aware that within its borders, in the county of Adams, about seven years ago, expired the last dying embers of a communistic movement which at one time was probably the greatest socialistic enterprise the world has ever seen, numbering its enthusiastic admirers and supporters by the thousands. I refer to the French colony, established about three miles east of Corning, in about 1858, under the name of “Icarian Community.” At no period of its life in America did Icaria boast so large a membership as many other socialistic communities which have at various times existed in the new world; indeed the zenith of its prosperity seems to have been reached before the Icarians departed from France with the intention of establishing a colony in America, in February, 1848.

Image of Etienne Cabet is from the le bibliomane moderne blog.

Etienne Cabet, founder of Icaria, was conspicuously identified with the revolutionary movements in France during the early portion of the last century. In 1840, after his return to Paris from political exile in England, he published his “Voyage en Icarie,” similar to More’s “Utopia,” in which an imaginary traveler discovers an ideal community based on the socialistic tenets which form the greater part of the foundation of all communistic doctrines. The French people, on account of the then recent political upheavals, seem to have been in just the right mood to accept Cabet’s ideas as promulgated in the “Voyage en Icarie,” and soon many thousands were enrolled under his banner, with the avowed intention of establishing a community in the new world where the precepts of Icaria might be put into practice. To this end a large grant of land was secured in the then newly admitted state of Texas, and in February, 1848, sixty-nine enthusiasts, constituting what its members proudly termed the “advance guard,” set out from Havre, France, for America. On arriving at their destination, near the present site of Dallas, Texas, they were disappointed in finding that the land grant, instead of being one large tract as they desired and had expected, consisted of portions of sections scattered over a large area. This fact, combined with their utter lack of knowledge of agriculture, as exemplified in western ranch life, and the further fact that they were stricken with an epidemic of malarial fever, determined them to give up their present site for a colony in Texas and seek other and more congenial quarters.

Nauvoo, Illinois, having just been deserted by the Mormons, was the most promising field, and the remnant of the Texas colony, joined by a second party from the main body of Icarians in France, in all about 250 or 300 persons, settled in the former stronghold evacuated by the disciples of Joseph Smith. This was in 1849. Cabet himself was with the colonists, having arrived with one of the later contingents from France. Nauvoo, however, was only a temporary camping ground, for soon a large tract “of land was secured in Adams county, Iowa, whither a portion of the colonists came later. During the sojourn in Nauvoo the membership was increased to about 500 and the financial fortunes of the Icarians seem to have been recuperated for a time at least, until dissensions arose which led to a separation of the two factions engaged in the controversy. The trouble seems to have arisen chiefly from Cabet’s desire to arrogate too much dictatorial authority to himself. As a result of this disruption Cabet, at the head of the minority party, went to St. Louis, Mo., where he died a few days after their arrival there. His followers, something less than 200 in number, sought employment, established themselves in a colony based upon communistic theories, and led a precarious existence for about five years, when the experiment was wholly abandoned. This branch was known as the Cheltenham wing of Icaria, so named from the estate upon which they settled near St. Louis.

The misunderstanding at Nauvoo which led to the separation of the two factions, and also the death of Cabet, doubtless had much to do with the loss of enthusiasm on the part of the great mass of his disciples in France, who were anxiously awaiting the selection of a permanent abiding place for Icarians when they would join the commune. Evidently the cold, hard facts of existence could not be harmonized with the Utopian dream of the founder. At any rate, no more recruits came to America from France.

In 1860 the major faction remaining in Nauvoo, consisting of something more than 225 persons, removed to Adams county, Iowa, settling upon the land previously acquired there, and incorporating under the laws of the State as an agricultural society. The community owned a tract of 3,000 acres, but the same was heavily mortgaged, and at that time a suitable market for farm products was a long distance from Icaria. Corning constituted the local trading point. However, by cultivating the sheep-raising industry and taking advantage of the excessively high price of wool during the civil war, together with a surrender of more than half their land, the Icarians finally succeeded in getting out of debt.

Here, then, in Iowa, really began the permanent work-aday life of these communistic enthusiasts. A large edifice was erected which served as an assembly room for the Icarians and also as a dining hall. Here were held all the public gatherings of whatever nature, and they were not a few. An amateur theatrical was often produced, and not infrequently a social ball enlivened the tedium of their existence. Outsiders were frequently invited to attend these social gatherings. Surrounding the assembly hall were the residences of the members, who preserved the family relation sacred. Everything in the community was held in common, and all funds went into a common treasury. A president had general supervision over the affairs of the society in its relation to the outside world, while the duties and assignments of members were made by a board of directors; thus, one attended to making the purchases of food, another of clothing, another directed the labor of the members, etc. Matters of more than ordinary import were discussed in the general assembly, where a majority vote decided the action to be taken. Except in particular instances, women were excluded from the privileges of the ballot, and the usual age restrictions were placed upon the men. So far as I have been able to learn there never was occasion for complaint because of any member failing to fulfill his duties along the lines of manual labor. The peculiar zeal or enthusiasm of the members seems to have been such that each regarded his own portion of the work in building up the community as a sacred duty—a labor of love and sacrifice for the well-being of others, and all entered into the spirit of this idea with commendable zeal, to the extent that the assets of Icaria at one time*reached the sum of $00,000 or $70,000. While a majority were employed in agricultural pursuits, yet other vocations were represented in the community, each member having the right to exercise his preference in the matter of occupation so long as the interests of the colony were subserved and the daily requirements were met. A tailor looked after the wearing apparel of Icarians, and a shoemaker performed a similar office in his line. A flouring mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop and other industries were fostered. The importation of Percheron horses at one time furnished no mean source of revenue to the Icarians, who were among the first to recognize the demand for imported stock in the agricultural country where they were located. The journalistic field was filled by the publication of various periodicals during the life of the colony. The ‘”Revue Icarienne” was an exceptionally well edited journal, and for many years had a wide circulation in France among the devotees of Cabet. In the houses that constituted the homes of these Frenchmen were not a few men of superior intelligence who had had the advantages of education, and the library of the community contained something more than 2,000 volumes of the best literature. The remnant of this fine library is now in possession of Tabor college, in Fremont county, Iowa.

Revue Icarienne newspaper image from the Western Illinois University website

Necessarily, in a community founded upon such principles as those of Icaria, where each individual enjoyed the same privileges as the other, the matter of dress and other expenditures was placed upon a sensible basis. Plain, but serviceable clothing was worn; good, wholesome food was served, and the right sort of literature was placed in the hands of its members. In matters of religion each individual might exercise his own ideas. Sunday was observed in the usual orthodox way and a moral atmosphere permeated the colony, though no religious dogmas in any way entered into the tenets of Icaria. In this particular Icaria occupied a field peculiarly apart from most socialistic experiments, the very foundations of which are usually certain religious theories. A portion of the time when the adjoining country was sparsely settled, Icaria furnished its own schools. While in a sense exclusive, in its dealings with the outside world the community always exercised tact and judgment, commanding and receiving the respect of all. Its members participated in the political movements of the country, and at the time of the civil war, if I am correctly informed, every male member qualified to enlist was enrolled in the Union army, where they made enviable records as soldiers. Mr. E. F. Bettannier, the last president of the colony and still a resident of this county, has always been an active Republican; and, indeed, such has been the political affiliation of every one of the Icarians—a rather peculiar fact. As the accumulation of wealth could not operate for the aggrandizement of the individual, there was small ambition among the members to build up great riches, and a reasonable degree of prosperity seemed to be very satisfactory to all concerned, though their early experience had impressed upon them the importance of keeping out of debt.

So long as the older members, who had together borne the hardships and privations of the early efforts of the community, were in control, matters ran along with little friction in the Iowa community. However, when the younger generation arrived at the age where their voices should be heard in the councils, various little dissensions arose, which culminated in 1877 in a split between the younger members and the old. After various unsuccessful efforts to settle the difficulties, an agreement was at last entered into whereby the old party secured possession of the eastern portion of the domain, and the younger party remained at the old site of the colony. An equitable and satisfactory division of land and effects was arrived at, and the old party proceeded to establish themselves in the new location under the name of New Icaria. The young people continued their organization in Iowa until 1883, when the few remaining (several of its members having withdrawn) went to Cloverdale, Cal., where had already gone several ex-Icarians. In California a new society was formed under the name of “Icaria Speranza,” which existed for several years and then disintegrated.

The veterans of the old party, however, secured a new charter under the name of New Icaria and began anew the labors of establishing themselves. At that time (1883) their membership consisted of just thirty-nine persons, I am informed by credible authority. The organization continued very much on the old lines until 1895, when the membership had become so depleted that it was thought best to disband. Accordingly on February 16th of that year E. F. Bettannier, the last president of the society, was appointed receiver of Icaria and its affairs were adjusted as quickly as possible. An amicable division of the property was arranged and in 1901 the receiver made final report to the court and was discharged. At the time of dissolution there were twenty-one members in the community, with sufficient property to place all in fairly comfortable circumstances.

Thus ended one of the great world movements along the line of socialistic reform—an experiment which has so often been launched, and which has as frequently arrived at the same end as Icaria. In some respects this community was radically different from any other of which I have any knowledge, notably in having no religious ideals to unify its membership; but it did not escape the common fate of all communistic settlements. However, it is not my purpose to theorize in this article, but briefly to give the history of one of the unique undertakings which for a time flourished within the borders of our commonwealth.

The requisites for admission into Icaria were an abiding faith in the communistic idea, and the turning over of all one’s real and personal property to the society, for which no compensation was made and which could not be reclaimed, according to the constitution. A member’s time and services were always at the disposal of the community, and he received no pecuniary reward therefor. An absence of three days without consent from the proper authorities rendered a member liable to censure or expulsion. Offenses against the society were punished by public reprimand. In aggravated cases the offender might be deprived of the privileges of membership. Propositions of names for admission must be made when three-fourths of the voting members were present, and a nine-tenths vote was necessary to elect. Novitiates were received on probation of three to six months. Withdrawals could be made on giving fifteen days’ notice of such intention, and expulsions required a nine-tenths vote of all the members entitled to franchise. The expulsion of a member included his wife and minor children, the latter being at all times subject to the will of a majority during the membership of their parents in the community. The president, secretary, treasurer, and board of directors were elected in February of each year, on the anniversary of the sailing of the first Icarians from France to America.

In concluding, it may not be amiss to mention some of the notable persons who have at one time or another been identified with Icaria. Alcander Longley, founder of the Mutual Aid community at Glen-Allen, Mo., was a member some time in the early 60’s. He was identified with no less than nine different communistic settlements and edited a newspaper called the “Communist” at various times and places during his checkered career. Prof. A. A. Marchand, several times president of Icaria and an able editor of  “Revue Icarienne,” was a talented member whose sterling qualities were much admired in Corning. He was one of the first of the vanguard to leave France, and was also a member at the time of the dissolution of the colony, after which he removed to Florida. A. Picquenard, a member of the society at Nauvoo, became celebrated as an architect. Our own state house and the capitol building of Illinois are monuments to his genius. Don Ignatius Montaldo was a friend and companion of Garibaldi and Chateaubriand, the distinguished French author and statesman. Hearing of the Cabet movement, he joined the colony at Nauvoo. After several years he left, but later rejoined in Iowa, where he died. His eldest brother was judge of the supreme court in Spain. Another brother, who was crippled in the Union army, was at one time professor of Spanish in the Naval academy at Annapolis, Md. Antoine von Gnuvain was a descendant of a French nobleman wlio had been decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honor. Mr. Gauvain was educated in Berlin. He edited a newspaper in New York for a time and then joined the Icarians. Ho enjoyed the distinction of being one of the best educated men in Iowa, for a number of years giving private instruction in Greek, Latin, German and French to pupils who eagerly sought his tutelage. E. F. Bettannier, last president and receiver of the colony, has for many years been a conspicuous citizen of Adams county, identified with many of her progressive movements. The satisfactory adjustment of such large interests in closing up the affairs of the community proves him a man of superior business ability. To him the writer is indebted for practically all the facts herein contained, for which acknowledgment is hereby made.

Corning, Iowa, May, 1903.

Adams County Free Press (Corning, Iowa) Jul 22, 1903

*****

For a brief rundown on the Icaria history and colonies:

THE STORY OF ICARIA
Compiled by Mabel Schweers
in Reflections of Icaria
Vo. 7, No 1, Spring 2004
pages 6-10

*****

Previously posted – A similar failed communal experiment: Ruskin Colony: Socialism Fails Everytime it’s Tried