Hood County Texas Genealogical Society





Man's historical search for a better life on earth may be raced from the time of Plato to the twentieth century. In 1516, Sir Thomas Moore's famous book contributed a name for the ideal.1 In theory, the name "utopia" implied a solution to the social imbalances that resulted in discontent for the majority of a society of people. The U.S., with its democratic political system, provided a fertile soil for the renewal of this dream. In the 1830's and 1840's, the utopian trend of thought gained new emphasis. Some utopian plans have been religiously inspired while others outlined specific social and economic reforms with no sectarian limitations. However, some projects instigated by unscrupulous promoters were specifically designed to bilk the gullible.2

One of the most famous attempts to establish a utopia began in September 1836, when a group, later named "The "Transcendental Club," was organized. Some of the most learned, artistic individuals in and around the Boston and Concord area were members of this informal discussion group. They were mostly young people, college trained and "of high ideals in intellectual achievement, religious and social life."3 All agreed that there were many evils to be remedied, but there were as many varied ideas about a solution to those evils as there were individual members.

Despite their differences, the transcendental philosophy was an opening wedge that tended to divide and break down the strict Calvinistic theology of that time. From the humanitarian spirit that ensued, there developed the idea of greater freedom from social stresses. The institution of slavery and the economic aspect of exploitation in trade and commerce were prime factors of discontent in some sections of the country.4

Dr. William Ellery Channing, addressing the emerging group of clergymen in the early 1830's, underscored the emerging social awareness of that time. "The Great Awakener" emphasized the dignity of each human no matter how unfortunate his circumstances. One of his "dearest ideas," which he confided to George Ripley, was to bring together a group of cultivated, thoughtful people. Ripley, a Unitarian minister, envisioned the ideal community as one where labor and culture should be united.5 Subsequently, Ripley's plan was implemented and Brook Farm became one of the best known utopian experiments in America.

In the spring of 1841, a location for the proposed community was chosen. Situated adjacent to a large loop in the Charles River near West Rosbury, Brook Farm was a distance of about eight or nine miles from Boston.6 From the men of the Transcendental Club, only Nathaniel Hawthorne and John S. Dwight joined Ripley at the farm. Although Emerson talked favorably of the experiment, he declined to join when asked to do so.7

The initial financial arrangements for the project were accomplished by Ripley. When the new inhabitants arrived at the place, it was a "milk farm." There were about twenty members of the first group to arrive. To help sustain themselves, they sold their surplus milk in Boston. Soon a school was put into operation for boarding students as well as for the children of the resident families. This combined effort provided some revenue for the community.8

Listed in the Articles of Agreement, the primary goal of the association was "to substitute a system of brotherly cooperation for one of selfish competition." Comforts as well as necessities were to be provided for the members at actual cost. No religious test was ever to be required of any member.9 As the weather moderated, crops of vegetables, fruits and hay were planted to help support the community.10

The passage of time was marked by increasing concern for Brook Farm residents. Unable to attain the financial success it desired, the community began reorganization efforts. This stage of development began about two years after the initial attempt. Albert Brisbane, an interpreter of the Fourier philosophy, was especially attracted to the idea of industry made attractive by organized labor.11 Brisbane urged Ripley to introduce the phalanx system at the farm. Although Ripley favored a cooperative association rather than a community of property, the Brook Farm Association did adopt one of Fourier's ideas.12 A large outlay of capital and labor in the construction of "Phalanstry" had been provided by the Association. However, before it could be completed, the three story building containing fourteen apartments was destroyed by fire. An article in The Harbinger, a periodical published at the Farm, described the catastrophe.13

The tragic loss of the Phalanstry was fatal to the noble experiment. Strict adherence to the Association's principle against receiving any persons who would increase the expense more than the revenue of the establishment proved insufficient to save the community from bankruptcy.14 The inhabitants were encouraged to leave gradually and establish themselves in the outside world. The Association that had aimed for the highest perfections of man came to a close.15

Historians have questioned the rationale for the establishment of Brook Farm. Some believed that the recession of the 1830's had a significant impact upon the course of events. It is true that economic pressures were keenly felt by some of the membership. For the leader of the Association, however, it was not an escape from intolerable circumstances, but a personal sacrifice. Ripley left a comfortable position at the Purchase Street Church in Boston where he had served as minister for fifteen years. Ripley's discouragement with the project was revealed in a letter to Emerson dated November 9, 1840. He was uncertain that the time had come "for fulfillment of a high hope," or whether the work belonged "to a future generation."16 Hawthorne expressed a similar sentiment in a passage from Blithedale Romance. He reflected that "more and more I feel we struck upon what ought to be a truth. Posterity may dig it up and profit by it."17

The failure of Brook Farm signaled a decline in the utopian search in America. By the late 1840's, the idealistic goals of the transcendentalists were put aside to wait for a more opportune time to be implemented. Other expressions of transcendental thought surfaced periodically. Therefore, it is not surprising to find elements of this movement in the socio-economic organization of Kristenstad. The value of intellectual companionship, the human dignity of manual labor, and the necessity for self-reliance were all traceable in the 1920's - 1930's experiment.18 However, the collectivist leaning of the Transcendental Club was modified by capitalism in the Hood County colonization plan.



Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (New York: Random House, 1951), p. 62.


Vernon Louis Parrington, Jr., American Dreams (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1964), p. 4.


John Thomas Codman, Brook Farm (Boston: Arena Publishing Company, 1894), p. 2.




Edith Roelker Curtis, A Season in Utopia (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961), p. 22.


Georgiana Bruce Kirby, Years of Experience (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1887), p. 93.


Codman, Brook Farm, pp. 8-9.


Ibid., pp. 9-10.


Ibid., pp. 11-13.


Lindsey Swift, Brook Farm (New York: Corinth Books, Inc., 1961), p. 40.


Codman, Brook Farm, pp. 25-26.


Ibid., p. 147.


Henry W. Sams, ed., Autobiography of Brook Farm (New Jersey: Prentiss Hall, Inc., 1958), pp. 170-71.


Codman, Brook Farm, p. 286.


Nathaniel Hawthorne, American Note-Books, Vol. 9, p. 226, quoted in Codman, Brook Farm, p. 21.


Sams, Autobiography of Brook Farm, p. 8.


Codman, Brook Farm, p. 21.


William Flind Thraal and Addison Hibbard, A Handbook to Literature (New York: The Odyssey Press, Incl., 1960), pp. 492-93.


Harvey Wish, Society and Though in Early America (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1964), pp. 459-60.

Copyright 1978 by Vaudrene R. Smith Hunt. Written permission granted to the Hood County Genealogical Society for reproduction to its Internet web site.

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