We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
OR
Vision of a Utopian Texas: Robert Owen's Colonization Scheme

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 116, Number 4, April 2013
pp. 342-356 | 10.1353/swh.2013.0040

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Vision of a Utopian Texas:
Robert Owen's Colonization Scheme

Click for larger view
View full resolution

British utopian socialist Robert Owen (1771-1858).

© National Portrait Gallery, London.

[End Page 342]

The efforts toward the colonization of Texas in the 1820s attracted a motley collection of adventurers and speculators, each with his own plan to found a successful colony. Most of these efforts would fail, and the results of the Texas Revolution would open an entirely new chapter in the history of the region. Regardless, no proposal towards colonization in Texas was quite like the one offered by arguably the most visionary applicant in the period: Robert Owen.

Owen, a successful Welsh industrialist, was renowned in literate circles as a social and educational reformer. A prolific writer, Owen had written extensively on the reformation of society based on principles that rejected the supernatural (i.e. organized religions) and promoted new enlightened principles of human relations that broke from past models of human organization. Chief among these ideals was his belief that people were a product of their environment and that an improved environment could adjust behavior for the better.1 This belief was greatly at odds with the prevailing view at the time that negative character traits were innate. In order to improve a person's character, Owen advocated an emphasis [End Page 343] on education and paid special attention to the educational development of children.2 He believed that reordering society toward a more communitarian-based model constituted a key step toward improving society. If some of these ideas appear familiar, it is because Owen's utopian socialism was a major influence on such thinkers as Etienne Cabet and Karl Marx.3

By the 1820s, Owen had established contacts with significant political figures both in Great Britain and the United States. By the middle of the decade, he had succeeded in establishing a community of equality in southwestern Indiana, New Harmony, which was designed to implement reforms that would eliminate poverty and promote a popular education. While the history of that colony would be fraught with difficulties, Owen was not easily frustrated in his efforts. He deduced that without "prior moral training of the citizens for life under totally new conditions," his efforts at successfully developing his ideal society would fail.4 Two years after the founding of New Harmony, he began to contemplate the creation of another colony based along similar lines, but upon which he could avoid the mistakes of the past.5

Owen's interest in Texas developed after he was approached in the summer of 1828 by Benjamin Rush Milam. Milam, who represented his land grant interest with British-born Mexican General Arthur Goodall Wavell, was visiting London in the hopes of attracting investors and colonists for Texas. Two years earlier, Milam had attempted to contact Owen at New Harmony in an effort to sell portions of his land grant. Owen had failed to acknowledge Milam's overtures, but that did not deter the empresario from seeking a second audience.6 It is not entirely clear if other speculators had approached Owen about colonizing Texas, although one biographer, Lloyd Jones, indicated that he was approached by several South American ministers regarding utopian settlements.7 Regardless, Owen was only interested in Texas, and he assented to the possibility of establishing a colony only under the condition that it would be established under the principles he advocated.8 [End Page 344]

Owen stated that after he secured the assent of the land agents, he proceeded to communicate with the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the United States ambassador to Great Britain in order to ascertain if either government objected to his mission. He similarly communicated with Ambassador Vicente Rocafuerte of Mexico, who advised Owen to draw up and transmit a proposal to the Mexican government that would explain his objectives. In the meantime, Rocafuerte provided letters of introduction to various dignitaries throughout the rest of Latin America.9 The fact that Rocafuerte provided these letters would indicate that Owen may not have specified where he wanted to place this new colony upon his initial visit with the ambassador.

The proposal was...