Frances Wright

... and Historic Nashoba

 

 

Frances Wright was a lecturer, writer, free-thinker, feminist, abolitionist, and social reformer - all in one life time.  As an abolitionist, she was the first American woman to speak publicly against slavery.  As a writer she has 5 books and numerous articles to her credit, as well as being the originator of a magazine "The Free Enquirer".    As a feminist, she is credited with being the first woman to wear pants.  And her lectures were always "sold out" - not because she was popular, but because she was the "Red Harlot of Infidelity" and newspapers loved to use "Fanny Wrightism" as a phrase for all things progressive and loathsome.  All this would mean nothing had she not actually acted against slavery and found a commune with her own money,  in an area near Germantown.  She named the commune "Nashoba".

 

 


Click on small photos to see an enlargement


 

 

 

 

Frances "Fanny" Wright was born in Dundee, Scotland February 1795.  Her father James Wright, was a wealthy linen manufacturer and political radical with proper connections.  Both parents died before Fanny's third birthday.  She and younger sister Camilla lived with relatives in England until they were 16 and then lived with an uncle in Scotland.   A younger brother lived with other relatives and died young.    Before her 18th birthday, the now wealthy Fanny had published a book and by 1818 she had written a play which was  produced in New York. She and Camilla attended the opening in New York and then toured the US for two years. 

 

Dundee, Scotland

Dundee, Scotland

The Wright Tartan

Frances Wright

London - 1800s

NYC - 1800s

  
 

During trips up the Mississippi River Fanny experienced slavery for the first time and developed an aversion to it.  In 1821 Frances was invited to Paris by Marquee Lafayette after he read some of her writings.  When Lafayette went to America in 1824, Fanny and Camilla were invited to go along.  They were with him when he was entertained at the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Fanny discussed her ideas for ending slavery by buying slaves, without loss to their owners, followed by life in a colony, where they would be educated to be self-supporting and prepared for freedom. 

 

Paris - 1800s

 

 

 

 

New Harmony Community

 

In 1824-25, during their visit to the US with Lafayette, Fanny and her sister visited Robert Owen's "New Harmony Colony" on the Wabash River in southwest Indiana.  Owens was trying to establish a Utopian society and believed that people were happier with communal living.  During this visit Fanny decided that she would definitely establish her own colony as an experiment to end slavery.  She also became a US citizen in 1825.

Owen's design "New Harmony"

 

New Harmony buildings

Marker

Robert Owen

New Harmony cemetery

Lafayette

   
 

 

 
   

 

Nashoba Community

Fanny believed slaves would work harder for their freedom than they would for a master.  In her colony, slaves would be emancipated and anyone welcomed who was willing to work for the common good.  She envisioned a self-sustaining multi-racial community composed of slaves, free blacks and whites.  Frances Wright was 29 years old when Nashoba broke ground.  In its first year about 100 acres were cleared and primitive log structures were built to provide shelter.

Nashoba today

 

Nashoba location

Nashoba

Wolf River

Nashoba Drawing

Marker

 

 


Wright recruited people and attempted to raise funds for Nashoba.  She was a master in recruitment, but a total failure in raising funds.  So she ended up using her own fortune to buy land and slaves.  But the blessings Fanny received from well known names in England, France and the US  were astonishing.  Old friend Lafayette suggested she contact Andrew Jackson in Tennesse about the land.    Of course Jackson recommended land in Tennessee, - the new Chickasaw purchase - 15 miles east of Memphis.

A. Jackson  

J. Bentham

Jefferson

Lafayette John Mill M. Shelley F. Trollope Whitman

Winchester

 

 

In late October 1825, Frances rode horseback around the land Jackson recommended inspecting the Wolf River near the site of what is now Germantown.  She bought 320 acres for $480 and later negotiated for more - a total of 1,940 acres.  She described it as "2000 acres of good and pleasant woodland, by a good and lovely stream".  She named the settlement NASHOBA, the word the Chickasaw used for Wolf River.  Fanny then went to Nashville and bought eleven slaves including five men - Willis, Jacob, Gradison, Redick, and Henry - 3 women - Nelly, Peggy, and Kitty, and three of their children.

 

Fanny - Horse


Three men played important roles at Nashoba:  Richeson Whitby, a Quaker from the Indiana New Harmony community; James Richardson, a Scotsman who lived in Memphis; and George Flower, an emancipationist. 
None of them had experience in farming or in carpentry.  In abolitionist newspapers Fanny pleaded for stonemasons, carpenters, and teachers.   No one ever responded or answered the call.

 

Nashoba

Camilla

Geo Flowers

Robt Owen

Robt Dale Owen

Richeson Whitby

Jas Richardson


In the Nashoba community, to earn freedom, slaves were expected to perform enough labor to reimburse the plantation for their purchase price plus 6% interest and their food and clothing costs.  While they worked, they also learned a trade and how to read, to figure, and to write.  Their children all were to receive a full education.

   

Frances was inexperienced in frontier life and at first the life agreed with her.  She slept in open log cabins, endured extremes of heat and cold and never felt better in her life.  But the land was hard to work, and was often flooded.    In 1826, Fanny deeded the property to a group of trustees under a deed of trust .  The trustees were Lafayette, William McClure, Robert Owen, Robert Dale Owen,  C. D. Colden, Richeson Whitby, Robert Jennings, George Flowers, Camilla Wright, and James Richardson.  Robert Flower didn't like this change and left the community.  During a visit to the New Harmony Colony, Fanny found that it had fallen into "one against the other".  Everyone was angry.  Robert Dale Owen decided to leave New Harmony and join Frances at Nashoba. 

Pioneer life...  
 
The physical work at Nashoba eventually broke Fanny's  health. She became seriously ill with malaria and was encouraged to go to the climate of Ohio.   In 1827 with Camilla, Richeson Whitby and James Richardson  left in charge, Fanny and Owen went to Ohio for her health and eventually to Europe to recruit additional help for her Nashoba experiment.

While Frances was away, Camilla and Whitby fell in love and married.  They left the leadership tasks to James Richardson.  With him, the Nashoba Experiment moved from its original course  to disaster.  While "the bosses" were away, James Richardson published shocking details of his life at Nashoba in a abolitionist newspaper.  In one incident Richardson whipped a slave women in the presence of Camilla.  He encouraged interracial sex, free love - even inter-racial marriage and admitted to be living outside wedlock with a free black woman.    From this point on, it was all downhill for Nashoba.

Inter-racial  
 

 

  

 

Frances Trollope and "Domestic Manners of the Americans"

Meanwhile, Fanny was recruiting Europeans and the English travel writer Frances Trollope answered the call.  Trollope was lively and well-educated, but not as radical as Wright.  She agreed to accompany Fanny to America in 1827.  Her real motive was that a few years in America would give her time to escape her English creditors.  During this period Trollope was quite critical of American society for its lack of polish and thought manners in Memphis were particularly atrocious.  At Nashoba she was appalled by her primitive room  and the poor quality of food and put all her unfavorable opinions in a book: "Domestic Manners of the Americans".  Of course it angered many in the US.  But Americans had  the last laugh because the English word "trollop" began to refer to Frances Trollope.

 

Frances Trollope

Trollope "Domestic Manners..." Book 1 Quotes Book 2         Book 3
 

  

   
 

On her return to Nashoba with Frances Trollope in January 1828, Fannie found a ruin.  Unable to do the physical work, she again  left Nashoba with Dale Owen for New Harmony to edit the New Harmony Gazette.  And She took to the lecture platform in a big way.  Dubbed "The Great Red Harlot" for her personal life, Fanny developed her own dress code for women - a dress cut below the knee and men's pants or "pantaloons" under this.  She was the first women to wear men's pants.  Other feminists adopted the style later.  Her enemies said she would turn the world into "one giant brothel".  Her admirers said she was a "bold apostle of liberation and equality".

Fanny in Pants

At Nashoba, Camilla's husband Richeson had become very ill and he and Camilla moved to Ohio.  He died shortly afterwards.   Still fighting gossip, her poor health, as well as rhe scandal from which the commune couldn't recover, Fanny was forced to abandon the Nashoba community.  In 1829 she and Dale Owen moved to New York where  they published a radical newspaper called the Free Enquirer.  She also purchased a Baptist church and renamed it Hall of Science - a perfect place to deliver and publish her lectures.  Here she continued to call for improvements in the status of women, including equal education, suffrage,  and equal rights.    By 1836 Dale Owen had moved on to politics, eventually serving as a U. S. Congressman who was instrumental in the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

 

Robt Dale Owen

Free Enguirer 1836 NY Herald

Robt Dale Owen

Owen Sermon Hall of Science Wright Lectures

Owen Lectures

 

 

                                        
 

 

In 1830 Fanny returned to the abandoned Nashoba and freed the Commune's slaves, chartered the vessel John Adams and arranged for the slaves transport to Haiti.  She accompanied them on the journey.  In Haiti they could live their lives as free men and women.  If they became productive citizens, the former slaves were to be given land grants.  On this journey was William P. D'Arusmont, a self-styled "doctor" who never practiced.  Fanny must have been charmed by him during the voyage because she became pregnant with his child.   She, D'Arusmont, and Camilla sailed to France, where Camilla died a short time later.  After her daughter Silva was born, Fanny married D'Arusmont and became a recluse for the next 5 years.  It was a loveless marriage and he soon gained control of her remaining fortune.  The two were soon divorced.

W. D'Arusmont  

Fanny returned to the US in 1835 and settled in Cincinnati and was again on the lecture platform, seeking to give women a larger role in health and medicine.  But now she was too notorious to resume a public career.  The rest of her life is relatively calm.  By 1838 Fanny suffered from health problems and spent her last years at the residence of her daughter, who had now moved to Ohio. 

There are no recorded pro or con reactions to Fanny's Nashoba experiment in any black published books or newspapers. 

Frances Wright  
 

 

 

 

Frances Wright Books ...

Her first book was written before she turned 18 and her last in 1836.  They're all still in print.

 

Frances Wright

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3 Book4 Book 5 Book 6 Book 7
      
 

 

 

 

Frances Wright Quotes

A good way to get to know Frances Wright is to read a summary of her quotes ...

Frances Wright

 

Frances Wright Quotes ...

  

Frances Wright Quotes ...

 
 

 

Frances Wright and the U. S. Newspapers



Fanny was the one they loved to hate.  And she was good "copy".  There were almost daily "Fanny articles" in newspapers around the country - or at least a mention of her name.  And they certainly didn't refrain from exaggerating the truth or spreading outright lies about her.  References to Fanny, as well as articles, continued for over 25 years after her death.  Today she is almost forgotten.

   

DC Herald 1836

NY Herald 1837

Cincinnati 1843

NY Herald 1845

Memphis Daily 1874

Public Ledger 1876

 

 




Frances Wright died in 1852 in Cincinnati, Ohio from complications after a fall on an icy staircase. 
She is buried at the Cincinnati Spring Grove Cemetery.  Practically every newspaper in the country published an obituary.  Her legacy is Nashoba, but while she lived, it was nothing more than a mosquito infested swamp.  The native Indians used it for hunting only - never as a place to live.
 

 

Fanny's Grave

 



The heir to Frances' property in Tennessee was her daughter Sylva D'Arusmont who tranformed Nashoba into a private estate, settled there and raised a family.  She married William E. Guthrie, from an old family in Scotland and they had two sons who became ministers in New York City.   Sylva had become a Christian and a conservative and in 1874, testified AGAINST woman's suffrage before a congressional Committee. 

 

Nashoba For Sale

 

Obit Obit Obit Obit Silva - child Sylva - Adult

Kenneth - son

     



Over time, Nashoba had developed into a  modest plantation with various tenants who each made changes.  The Nashoba lands passed to Sylva's sons, William and Kenneth after her death.  They sold the property to Thomas Payne.  He sold the property to L. B. Lary in 1947.  In 1979 the main house at the plantation burned.

 

 

 
                             
 
 
 
 

Credits

 

The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.  In the past, we have found that many photographers volunteer to have their works included on these pages and we'll  also do that if you contact us with a photo that fits a particular page. 

 

The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  you'll have to contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of email addresses for anyone who contacts us).

 

 
 
 

 Please visit the website that sponsors this page

Historic Memphis Website