Maclure of New Harmony
Scientist, Progressive Educator, Radical Philanthropist
Publication Year: 2009
Maclure of New Harmony follows the twists and turns of William Maclure's intriguing life. A native Scotsman, Maclure (1763--1840) became a merchant, made a fortune, and retired in his early thirties. Then his life became interesting. Fascinated by the study of geology, Maclure did fieldwork throughout Europe before traveling to the United States, where he completed the first geological survey of his adopted nation and published a detailed, color geological map -- one reason he is known as the Father of American Geology.
Maclure's travels sharpened his convictions about social justice and led him to a life of social radicalism. He founded progressive schools to educate the children of the working classes and, in 1820, he joined forces with Robert Owen to found New Harmony -- the utopian community in Indiana. Ever restless, Maclure later moved to Mexico, where he watched his hopes for the new republic founder.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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While we may lament the past neglect of William Maclure’s contributions in the recounting of the history of American science and education, we can now take comfort in the superb archival work of J. Percy Moore, Arthur Bestor, Josephine M. Elliott, Gerald Lee Gutek, and John S. Doskey, who have all gone a long way in redressing the inattention. ...
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Almost every human being who has walked the face of the earth has come and gone without an identifiable trace. “Numberless infinity of soules” live on in their descendants, leaving no record of themselves as unique individuals, with wondrous experience and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime, who then perished. ...
1 Origins and the Making of a Life
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The Royal Burgh of Ayr, a port near Glasgow and an ancient center of agriculture and commerce, was home to about 4,000 people in the mid-eighteenth century. The town lies in a rolling green region by the sea, the black hills of Arran looming in the distance. Widely known as Robert Burns’s country, the locale is remarkable for its many extraordinary sons ...
2 Philadelphia (1796–1800)
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Maclure came to the United States in 1796, became an American citizen, and settled in Philadelphia, with business interests in Richmond, Virginia. At the time of Maclure’s arrival, Philadelphia was America’s leading city and at the pinnacle of its glory, the second largest English-speaking city in the world, the commercial and financial center, ...
3 Political and Economic Philosophy
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The seeds of Maclure’s radicalism can be traced to his early experience. He seems to have been a privileged but disaffected, unhappy young man who judged the world around him to be flagrantly unjust, and most of his formal education a waste of time. In all probability the ground was prepared by witnessing the suffering of workers in his native Scotland ...
4 European Sojourn (1800–1808)
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At the turn of the nineteenth century, Maclure left Philadelphia for Europe, where he remained until 1808. These were troubled years, when Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, overran Europe, and Britain prepared for an invasion. With all the turmoil, armies and navies dashing back and forth, momentous battles being fought on land and sea, ...
5 The Maclurean Era of American Geology
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Retiring from commerce in his early thirties, Maclure took up geological study and exploration to fill his hours because “it has always appeared to me that the science of geology was one of the simplest and easiest to acquire: the number of names to be learned is small, and the present nomenclature although rather generic ...
6 Introduction of Progressive Education to the United States
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Maclure frequently wrote that the only firm foundation of freedom lay in the “equal division of property and knowledge and power” in which workers have their “proportion of the cake.”1 Despite their overwhelming majority, the workers lacked influence and power even in a democratic state with universal suffrage ...
7 The Grand Tour of Europe (1809–1815)
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Maclure spent the better part of two years in America (1808–1809), during which he launched extensive explorations that enabled him to create his masterwork, Observations on the Geology of the United States of North America.1 With the manuscript ready for publication, he was off again for Europe, where he spent the next six years, ,,,
8 Patron of the Natural Sciences
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It was in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society that Maclure first published his Observations on the Geology of the United States of America. The APS had a national reputation that attested to the vigor of the young nation. The APS was a magnet that drew books, specimens, documents, ...
9 Spanish Years and Return to America
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Maclure’s first encounter with Spain was on a five-month geological expedition in 1808. Spain was occupied by Bonaparte’s forces, while offshore a threatening British navy blockaded the country, a worrisome situation that did not seem to trouble or impede Maclure’s agenda. Crossing the Pyrenees from France, ...
10 Robert Owen, Maclure, and the Utopian Commune
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In the eighteenth century, the unfolding of the scientific spirit and the growing appetite for new knowledge were taken as harbingers of a better world; rational analysis based on sound information would be humanity’s salvation. Sadly, events proved otherwise, for there still remained the vagaries of human nature, moral and intellectual inadequacy, ...
11 Harmonie to New Harmony
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At the time Owen was having difficulties with his Quaker partners in Britain and was beginning to think about a cooperative commune in America, he was approached by an Englishman, Richard Flower, who had settled in Illinois and was a neighbor of a religious commune led by George Rapp. ...
12 A Boatload of Knowledge
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As much as he admired Robert Owen and his goals, William Maclure had hesitated about associating with him, perhaps suspecting that he would be unable to cope with this irresistible force of nature. Although he was devoted to the idea of “equality and common property on Mr. Owen’s principles” ...
13 Education in New Harmony
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Leaving behind the Boatload of Knowledge mired in ice, Robert Owen reached New Harmony in January 1826, almost two weeks ahead of the main body of settlers. His arrival was marked by celebration. Joyful schoolchildren met the prodigy of hope at the edge of town and escorted him to the tavern, ...
14 Trouble in Paradise
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When Owen returned to New Harmony in January 1826, in advance of the Boatload of Knowledge, he looked about and was pleased with what he saw, impressed by the vitality of the settlement. Believing that many of the purported troubles of New Harmony sprang from the fact that its members came from disparate backgrounds, ...
15 Out of the Ashes
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Scarcely half a year after the arrival of the Boatload of Knowledge, the very survival of New Harmony was in doubt. Just when it needed a helpful word, Owen delivered his provocative “Declaration of Mental Independence,” an important Fourth of July oration on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the republic (1826).1 ...
16 Withdrawal to Mexico
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In December 1827, Maclure visited Mexico for the first time, leaving Madame Fretageot in New Harmony in charge of finances, education, and publications—an ominous responsibility indeed. He was accompanied by Thomas Say, who had left his young bride in New Harmony preparing illustrations for his American Conchology. ...
17 Crippling Losses of Madame Fretageot and Thomas Say
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To the casual eye, New Harmony appeared serene, a small town in a charming pastoral setting on the Wabash River, its remarkable inhabitants busying themselves with various crafts, farming, teaching, publishing, and studying nature. But New Harmony’s reputation was tarnished, a failure founded on visionary notions, ...
18 New Harmony Adrift
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Those who survived the storm that had beset New Harmony now lived together without the noxious discord of the recent past. The financial status of the commune, though not without worry, was no longer a source of conflict, nor were philosophic differences the fount of controversy. ...
19 The Working Men’s Institute and the Death of William Maclure
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As early as 1828, the Society for Mutual Instruction, which Maclure had founded, met in one of the larger rooms in a major building in New Harmony. Coupled with the Society was a Mechanics’ Atheneum, located in a nearby building that contained workshops with benches and tools for the training of carpenters, shoemakers, cabinet makers, and metal workers. ...
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A man larger than life, William Maclure was beset by contradictions. While he prided himself on his gruff, almost anti-intellectual pragmatism, he indulged in extravagant dreaming, steeped in the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment in a Romantic age. An endlessly curious and energetic traveler, he lived an uncommonly eventful life. ...
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Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 18 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2009