A Worker's Cooperative on the Great Plains
Publication Year: 2013
In 1869 six London families arrived in Nemaha County, Kansas, as the first colonists of the Workingmen’s Cooperative Colony, later fancifully renamed Llewellyn Castle by a local writer. These early colonists were all members of Britain’s National Reform League, founded by noted Chartist leader James Bronterre O’Brien. As working-class radicals they were determined to find an alternative to the grinding poverty that exploitative liberal capitalism had inflicted on England’s laboring poor. Located on 680 acres in northeastern Kansas, this collectivist colony jointly owned all the land and its natural resources, with individuals leasing small sections to work. The money from these leases was intended for public works and the healthcare and education of colony members.
The colony floundered after just a few years and collapsed in 1874, but its mission and founding ideas lived on in Kansas. Many former colonists became prominent political activists in the 1890s, and the colony’s ideals of national fiscal policy reform and state ownership of land were carried over into the Kansas Populist movement.
Based on archival research throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, this history of an English collectivist colony in America’s Great Plains highlights the connections between British and American reform movements and their contexts.
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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List of Maps
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The Workingmen’s Cooperative Colony — also known as Llewellyn Castle — was an obscure communal utopia that played a role in American history far greater than its size would suggest. It was an underfunded, struggling operation through its brief existence, and today its faded memory has been swept away along with so much other ephemeral detritus ...
Introduction: Llewellyn Castle
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John T. Bristow was born on December 31, 1861, north of Nashville, Tennessee, in the town of Clarksville. As the American Civil War ended in 1865, Bristow’s parents, William and Martha, migrated west to northeastern Kansas to escape the hardships of Reconstruction. ...
1. The Sorrow of the Land: Bronterre O’Brien and the National Reform League
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James Bronterre O’Brien was the inspirational figure behind the Mutual Land, Emigration and Cooperative Colonization Company and an iconic role model for those who emigrated to Kansas in his name. Although dead and buried four years before the company was founded, Bronterre O’Brien’s formidable shadow acted as the driving force behind its membership. ...
2. High Moral Chivalry: The Mutual Land, Emigration, and Cooperative Colonization Company
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For many working-class radicals, particularly those who had labored in the field of political equity and social justice as long as members of the National Reform League (NRL) had, the reform legislation of 1867 was deeply frustrating. The O’Brienite members of the NRL were resolute in the belief that Bronterre O’Brien’s philosophy held the key to economic prosperity and social happiness, ...
3. An Honest Social State: The Workingmen’s Cooperative Colony
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Most O’Brienites shared John Stowell’s conviction that the colony he had helped establish in Kansas was to form the nucleus of a grand experiment that would radically alter the form of land tenure in the United States and, ultimately, the world. While a few skeptics in the group were apprehensive about ignoring O’Brien’s admonitions against emigration, ...
4. Moral Intoxication: Frederick Wilson
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Settlers arriving in Kansas during the early 1870s envisioned that rain would follow the plow. The reward for their agricultural labors would come through the transformation of the Great Plains country into a temperate, forested environment more akin to that with which they were accustomed. ...
5. Hold Up the Lamp of Hope: John Radford
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As the new year of 1875 dawned on the Workingmen’s Cooperative Colony in Kansas, only two people held on to the vain hope that it could yet recover. One, Frederick Wilson, was leading the directors of the Mutual Land, Emigration, and Cooperative Colonization Company in London and had gambled a significant amount of his own money on the project. ...
Conclusion: The O’Brienites
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When evaluating the O’Brienites and the Workingmen’s Cooperative Colony in Kansas as a social movement, the entire process of group development must be considered. From mobilization under O’Brien and the National Reform League during the Chartist era, through the institutional development of the Kansas colony, ...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013