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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
By Katie Yenna
What do you think an “intentional community” means? Well, the name speaks for itself! It is a planned community where people with similar beliefs and values decide to live and work together as a team. These communities usually have a goal for their residents, much like the Nashoba establishment in Tennessee. This Nashoba Community was established in 1825 by Francis Wright, an abolitionist from the United Kingdom. Her intention was to create a “utopian” community for enslaved African Americans in the United States. She was born in Scotland and moved to England after the death of her parents, where she was raised by relatives.
In 1818, Wright and her sister moved to the United States and traveled around the country for several years, learning about American society. She also got to see how the southern states depended on slavery and how it contributed to the overall economy of the United States. From what she saw, Wright began to believe that a slavery-based society could be dissolved. Afterall, slavery had been abolished in her home country of England in 1807 and she felt it could happen here as well. The idea began to take shape in her mind to create a special community for enslaved people to live and work toward freedom. So, where does Tennessee come into this story?
Francis Wright, 1881, daily.jstor.org
Well, during her travels, she met well-known leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, and the Marquis de Lafayette. She told her idea to the Marquis de Lafayette, and he agreed to help her achieve this dream. He introduced her to his good friend, Andrew Jackson, and John Overton, two Tennesseans you may know. They agreed to help Wright find land to start this community. They pointed her in the direction of a plot of land, just outside the growing city of Memphis, Tennessee, around 1825. Wright purchased roughly 2,000 acres of land, that was once Chickasaw territory, and decided to name it “Nashoba,” a Chickasaw word for wolf.
Nashoba, from a German engraving, 1830, Tennessee Encyclopedia
Wright’s idea for this community was to buy enslaved persons from their enslavers, and they would come to live in Nashoba. While there, they would be prepared to live on their own. Eventually, they would also be “resettled” outside of the United States as free peoples. It is important to note that while these enslaved people lived here, they were also expected to “work” for their freedom. They were not granted freedom just because they came to live in Nashoba. Wright believed that more people would give African Americans over to her cause if they worked to pay for their own freedom.
Wright purchased eight enslaved people herself to begin the “experiment.” She hoped that people would see how she brought slaves to Nashoba and other plantation owners would decide to give their slaves to her. Wright was surprised to learn that they did not want to do this, and her community remained small. However, this small group of free Blacks and whites began to organize the land. They cut down trees and built log cabins in which to live. This was extremely hard work and soon sickness, along with disagreements within their group, led to a fast breakdown of the settlement. In 1827, Wright left the United States for Europe in search of new funding to save her community. By the time she made it back, most of the members of her utopia had left. Only a small group of African Americans remained. Their status of whether they were free was still unresolved.
By 1830, the community of Nashoba was completely abandoned. The remaining residents sailed to freedom in Haiti, with the help of the American Colonization Society. Wright finally freed the eight enslaved persons she originally purchased. Today, there is very little evidence to tell us how they adapted to their new home in Haiti. What happened to Wright? Well, she moved on from her “experiment” and filled the rest of her days traveling and being an activist for social change. Over the years, settlements like hers were created but with different goals. Read the “Now You Try It” section to learn more.
Member certificate of the American Colonization Society, 1840, daily.jstor.org.
Katie Yeanna is an Educator with the Tennessee State Museum
Utopian - an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.
Abolitionist - a person who favors the ending of a practice or institution, especially slavery.
Economy - the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.
Enslaver - a person dealing in or owning slaves.
Haiti - a small country in the Caribbean Sea that is located in the western part of the island of Hispaniola.
American Colonization Society - founded in 1816 to encourage and support the migration of free African Americans to Africa.
Activist - a person who campaigns (or fights) to bring about political or social change.
Names To Know:
Thomas Jefferson - third president of the United States, plantation owner, slave owner, considered an American Founding Father and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
Henry Clay - politician who represented Kentucky in the Senate and House of Representatives, he served as the Secretary of State under President John Q. Adams and ran for presidency three times (never won).
Marquis de Lafayette - a French military officer who fought in the American Revolution, he even commanded American troops in several battles.
John Overton - born in 1766, he was a judge at the Superior Court of Tennessee, a political leader and the founder of Memphis.
Where was Francis Wright from originally?
What year did England abolish slavery?
What where some hardships or obstacles that Nashoba face?
When you picture a utopian world today, what do you see? Draw a picture of this perfect world or write out your thoughts on what this world would look like.
If you want to find out more about the push to “resettle” African Americans during Wright’s time and beyond, follow the links below to learn about the American Colonization Society.
Nashoba was not the only “intentional community” to exist in Tennessee, or the United States. While founded for different reasons than Francis Wright’s, our state had several more of these communities. If you would like to learn more about them, check out the links below that talk about places like Rugby and Ruskin.
The Farm: https://www.thefarm.org/
Tennessee State Standards
5.41 Examine the issue of slavery in the three grand divisions and the impact their differences had on Tennessee’s secession from the Union.
TN.27 Discuss the importance of the Nashoba Community and Free Hill as settlements for freed slaves.
AAH.05: Analyze the economic, social, religious, and legal justifications for the establishment and continuation of slavery.
AAH.07: Identify the various ways Africans in the U.S. resisted slavery as well as their ability to buy their freedom.
AAH.09: Assess the development of the abolitionist movement and its impact on slavery and the nation, including the efforts of: · American Colonial Society · Frederick Douglass · Ralph Waldo Emerson · William Lloyd Garrison · Sojourner Truth · Harriet Tubman
"Tennesseans Against Slavery". Tennessee State Museum. Accessed 10/20/2021. http://www.tn4me.org/article.cfm/era_id/0/major_id/21/minor_id/62/a_id/175
"Nashoba". Tennessee Historical Society. Accessed 10/20/2021. https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/nashoba/
""The Happiest Days of My Life" Searching for Utopia in Tennessee". Tennessee State Library and Archives. Accessed 10/20/2021. https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/utopia/index.htm