The Alphadelphia Association

The following article was supplied by Nancy Benton and transcribed by me.

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THE ALPHADELPHIA ASSOCIATION

From a History of Kalamazoo Co., MI by Everts and Abbott, published 1880. Graciously supplied by Nancy Benton

“History of Alphadelphia.–The theory of holding property in common was advanced by Pythagoras, and was fully advocated and given to the world by the great Plato in his ‘Republic.’ The idea of man’s living in common with his fellows is essentially primitive. It is certain that man early sought, not only the ‘elixir of life’ and the ‘philosopher’s stone,’ but the ‘golden mean of life’ where labor bestowed her rewards on the true principle of merit, and health, virtue, honor, and happiness followed in her train. The earliest efforts of industry have been to eliminate the evils that beset her path, and to get rid of the ruinous effects of competition, that evil genius of society, by the substitution of a healthy emulation, that labor should ever be honored, and that wealth or capital which she creates should ever be subservient to her. Philosophers have ever striven to find the mode of life that would endow man with the most health and happiness; the poet has sung:

“He that holds fast the golden mean,
And lives contentedly between
The little and the great,
Feels not the wants that pinch the poor,
Nor plagues that haunt the rich man’s door,
Embittering all his state.’

“From Abraham on the plains of Mamre to the shepherds tending the flocks among the Judean hills, long before ‘they hung their harps on the willows and sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept,’ all through those periods of history we find a tendency to pastoral communism. Coming down to the middle ages, we find the monks occasionally trying communistic life. And, reaching our own time, we shall have Louis Blanc, Saint-Simon, and Charles Fourier in France, Robert Owen in Scotland,and his son, Robert Dale, in America, giving to the world the theory and practice of what is commonly known as Socialism in Germany, Communism in France, and Fourierismin America. Among these, which essentially are one, are the Alphadelphians and the late co-operationists, with various other theories and theorists.

“Origin of Alphadelphia Association in Comstock.–On the 14th day of December, 1843, pursuant to a call for a convention published in a Primitive Expounder at Ann Arbor, 56 persons from the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, Genesee, Jackson, Eaton, Calhoun, and Kalamazoo, assembled in the school-house at the head of Clarke’s Lake, in Columbia, Jackson Co. The object of the convention was to organize and found a domestic and industrial institution. These 56 men, after a laborious session of three days, each session extending from morning to midnight, adopted the outline of a constitution, which was referred to a committee of three, composed of Dr. H. R. SCHETTERLY, James BILLINGS and Franklin PIERCE, for revision and amendment. A committee, consisting of Dr. H. R. SCHETTERLY, John CURTIS, and Wm. GRANT, was appointed to view three places designated by the convention as suitable for a domain. The convention then adjourned to meet at Bellevue, Eaton Co., on the 3rd day of January 1844, when they would receive the reports of said committee on location, and revise, perfect, and adopt their constitution. The committee on location went forth, like those men of old, ‘to spy out the land,’ to select a goodly region suitable for domain. The adjourned convention met on the day appointed, and, after listening to the reports of the committee on location, they chose the southeast quarter of section 23, in the township of Comstock, county of Kalamazoo, as a permanent home, whose advantages the committee set forth in the following terms:

“‘The Kalamazoo River is a large and beautiful stream, 9 rods wide and 5 feet deep in the middle, flowing at the rate of about four miles per hour, and with 8 feet fall, which can be obtained without flowing any land worth mentioning; by digging a race one mile and a half in length, it will propel 100 run of stone in the dryest season. The digging is easy, and may be nearly all done with scrapers and teams.’ They then speak of ‘the places where the mansion and the manufactories will stand, on a beautiful plain, descending gradually towards the river,–a plain 50 to 60 rods wide, skirted on the south by a range of hillocks about 20 feet high, and running parallel with the river. Beyond these, some 10 or 30 rods,is a gentle, undulating plain, extending south, east and west for miles, and being covered with the most thrifty timber your committee ever beheld, consisting of whitewood, black, white and blue ash, white and red oak, two kinds of beech and two of elm, black walnut, soft maple, some cherry and especially hard maple in a large quantity and the best quality. There is a spring, pouring out a barrel of water per minute, one-half a mile from where the mansion and manufactories will stand.’ They say cobble-stone for buildings and dams are plenty on the domain, and sand and clay for making brick in abundance. Iron ore is known to exist on the domain, butits extent is not yet found out. The Michigan Central Railroad will run one and a half miles north of the proposed site of the mansion. They found no cause for fever here; there were only 2 out of 150, in seven years, who died of fever. The soil of the domain is exceedingly fertile and of great variety, consisting of prairie, oak-opening, timbered-and-bottomland along the river, and about 3000 acres of it have been tendered to our association as stock to be appraised at the cash value. Nine hundred acres of this land have been cultivated, and nearly all the rest have been offered in exchange for other improved lands owned by members living at a distance.

“The convention there perfected, engrossed and adopted their constitution, which was signed by 51 members, nearly all fathers of families, and respectable and thrifty farmers, mechanics, and manufacturers. This number might easily have been doubled in Bellevue and vicinity, but the convention thought proper to restrict the membership for the present to those who had taken an active part in the enterprise. The following is a list of the officers elected at this Bellevue convention: President: Dr. H. R. SCHETTERLY, of Ann Arbor; Vice-President, A DARROW, of Bellevue; Secretary, E. S. CAMP, of MARSHALL; Treasurer, John CURTIS, Norville, Jackson Co.; Directors, G. S. AVERY and Alanson MEECH, Bellevue; Harvey KEITH, Wm. EARL, and Dr. Ezra STETSON, Galesburg; Wm. GRANT, sandstone; Amos POCKET, Anson DELAMARTER, and C. W. VINING, Columbia, Jackson Co.; Charles MASON and H. B. TEED, Battle Creek.

“We pass on in our history, and find the next scene laid in the township of Comstock, Kalamazoo, Co. The beginning of the history here consisted of the visit of the committee on location, of whom we have spoken. At that time the pioneers of this part of the county had enlarged their clearings into good farms. They were getting out of the woods, and began to enjoy the fruits of their hard toil in making their improvements. It was at this time, Dec. 23, 1843, that this committee came among them. Dr. H. R. SCHETTERLY was the controlling spirit of this party, as well as of the association. He was a German, and had imbibed the views of Charles Fourier. He was a small, slender man, with dark hair and eyes and complexion; was a man of talent, and an enthusiast on his special theme of Fourierism. With a Burr-like persuasiveness he soon won his way into the confidences, the homes, and the hearts of the old pioneers of Comstock. In the public meetings he held here, he pictured to their imaginations a life as picturesque as a Cooper could draw;–a life of Arcadian healthfulness and enjoyment; of Spartan fidelity and frugality; a life in whose calendar the selfish ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ would not exist, for all would be absorbed in the more humane and harmonious ‘ours’. He was an able and effective speaker, and could use the philosophy, the learning, and logic of Fourier and Owen with most convincing effect upon his bearers. We can imagine the glowing picture he drew of the pastoral and happy life there was in store for his adherents in their future mansion-home on the banks of the beautiful Kalamazoo. Here, surrounded by his wife and dear ones, the pioneer would realize the truth of the poet:

“‘Here, on this fertile, fair domain,
Unvexed with all the cares of gain,
In summer’s heat and winter’s cold,
He fed his flock and penned his fold;
His hours in cheerful labor flew,
Nor strike, nor hate, nor envy knew.’

“From the first appearances of this disciple of Fourier among them the settlers were unusually interested in this new theory of living; and before he had been here three days many of them were enthusiastic Fourierites and anxious to join the association. Viewing the matter in the sober, calm reflection of to-day, we would as soon think of trying to cheat old Professor Playfair by inserting passages of a ‘Fourth-of-July oration’ into the demonstration of a proposition of Euclid as that this little black-haired German Socialist should make Fourierites of such sturdy old pioneers as Lyman TUBBS, Amos WILSON, Harvey KEITH, David FORD, Joseph FLANDERS, Dr. Ezra STETSON, William EARL, Roswell RANSOM, James NOYES, Hannibal TAYLOR, C. L. KEITH, P. H. WHITFORD, and scores of other early settlers, who, like them, were noted for their practical hard sense and shrewd discernment of men and things. But the truth is, the Fourierite came among them just at the right time, for the common hardships and suffering, which all alike had passed through, had established a genuine brotherhood among the old settlers. Their property, although not held in common, caused no envy and created no distinctions. Their condition and surroundings were such as to foster a feeling of brotherhood. They helped each other not only at raisings, but in clearing off their lands, in husking their corn, and through all troubles and over all difficulties. Wherever their aid or kindness could be of any avail, it was cheerfully given. If they were not all poor alike, there was no wealthy class, no special strife or rivalry, but they lived together, in the same community, as harmonious and happy as if they were members of one family; so that when Dr. SCHETTERLY came here to found his domestic and industrial association, which was now called Alphadelphia, he found many of the settlers, if not altogether, almost, Alphadelphians to begin with; and hence his work here was comparatively easy in his school of reform. As evidence of this, we quote the first part of the report of Dr. SCHETTERLY concerning the process of his labors, as one of the committee on location, in Comstock. It is as follows:

“‘Galesburg, Kalamazoo Co., Dec. 27, 1843
“‘TO THE FOURIER CONVENTION TO BE HELD AT BELLEVUE: Your committee arrived here on Saturday evening the 23d ult., and rejoice to say that an ardor now exists among the people in this phase for entering into association which never can be cooled until their wishes shall have been realized. Two meetings have been held, of three hours’ duration each, by your committee, and attended by crowded audiences, and more information is still solicited.’ Farther on he quotes David FORD as saying: ‘No man must oppose a project so fraught with principles calculated to promote the best interests of mankind.’

“Under such favorable auspices, the work of founding an association in Comstock was soon affected. It was first intended to build the mansion on the south side of the river. But the other side was afterwards selected for this purpose. The domain was intended to include the southeast quarter of the township of Comstock. The first year of the organization the association had possession of nearly all of section 23, the west half of 24, and a large part of the north halves of 25 and 26. The first meeting on the domain was held in the house of Harvey KEITH, at eight o’clock A.M., March 21, 1844. The directors were Spencer MITCHELL, Anson DELAMATTER, John CURTIS, H. G. PIERCE, John WHITE, Henry H. READING, James WEEKS, Wm. S. MEAD, Albert WHITCOMB, H. R. SCHETTERLY, David FORD and Benjamin WRIGHT. The name of the association was to be Alphadelphia, or First Brotherhood; its officers, a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and twelve directors. At this first meeting the above directors chose for president Anson DELAMATTER, secretary Henry H. READING, and the association went to work. I cannot find the treasurer’s name, nor the vice-president’s. The meetings were held in the houses of the resident members until the mansion was built.

“The Comstock members lived in their own houses, and those who came from abroad were accommodated with such homes as they could get, until a long shanty was built on the north side of the river, which was occupied as a general ‘tabernacle’ by the new members until the mansion was erected, in the fall of 1844. This building was originally some 20 by 200 feet and 2 stories high.

“The first school was taught by James Allen KNIGHT in a log building on the south side of the river. The pupils lived on the other side of the stream, and crossed it in a boat used for that purpose. Afterwards, Mr. AVERY, the Shaker, taught school on the north side, and was succeeded by Miss Nancy A.TUTTLE who married Levi S. BLAKESLEY, the printer. Miss M. HACHETT also taught school there. They had no lawyer; they settled their difficulties by arbitration, and saved money and much trouble. Philander H. BOWMAN of Jackson, was the physician; James HOXIE, of Bellevue, was the leading carpenter; Leonard LUSCOMB was the tailor; G. O. BALL and John WETHERBEE, the shoemakers; Nelson TUBBS, the blacksmith; and C. L. KEITH the wagon-maker. The editors were Dr. SCHETTERLY and Rev. Richard THORNTON; the printers, Levi S. BLACKESLEY and C. W. SAWYER. The paper was called the Alphadelphia Tocsin. Mr. THORNTON also published the Primitive Expounder, which he had formerly published at Ann Arbor. This was a staunch Universalist journal. Most of the leaders of this movement were Universalists, and the preaching at Alphadelphia was mostly from ministers of that denomination, Revs. R. THORNTON, J. BILLINGS, and E. WHEELER officiating in that capacity generally. They also had preaching from ministers of other denominations. Their constitution says, ‘The religious and political opinions of the members are to be unmolested and inviolate; and no member shall be compelled to support, in any way, any religious worship.’ It further more provides for ‘the support of all resident members whose stock is insufficient to support them, in case of sickness or any other cause.’

“The constitution was explicit and ample on the subject of education, general health, and moral reforms. Any person of good moral character, of twenty-one years of age, could be admitted to membership by a two-thirds vote of the members present, provided he had six months’ provision for the future, or the means to furnish it. They were to reward operatives in proportion to the labor or skill bestowed, and they were to equalize the labor and skill of males and females. The latter could become members at the age of eighteen, by the requisite vote of the members.

“The organization having been thoroughly effected, the mansion built, the property, both personal and real, of every member, having been appraised by competent judges appointed for that purpose, and the amounts entered upon the books of the association as credit to each member for so much stock, at $50 a share, Alphadelphianism was then ready to drive its team afield and turn its first furrow. Then the busy hive of Alphadelphians could go forth to work, each in his or her special vocation; some as farmers, some as housewives, others as doctors, teachers, editors, and printers; some as mechanics, teamsters, tailors, brickmakers, men-of-all-work, till all the professions, trades, callings, talents, skill, and labor of the association that could be made available was turned into its proper field of usefulness. This was the great object for which the organization was effected, to live and work together in harmony, and enjoy the benefits of each other’s society and the fruits of their own labor, like a united happy family. How far they succeeded in accomplishing this their four years’ trial, that ended in a total failure, plainly tells.

“From the old census-list taken by C. L. Keith, in May 1845, I find the number of male and female residents on the domain to be 188. There must have been at this time, counting resident and non-resident members, over 300 in all. The total value of the association’s real estate, as appraised March 9, 1846, by Lyman TUBBS and E. M. CLAPP, of the general council, wasa $43, 897.21. The first death on the domain was that of the son of S. W. VINTON, in 1844. The first marriage was in October, 1845, when Rev. Asa BUSHNELL made one for life our old pioneer friend P. H. WHITFORD and Miss Emeline A. T. WHEELOCK. The Alphadelphia poet, C. H. BRADFORD, sonnetized the happy pair in the columns of the Primitive Expounder, where you will find a poem, on the occasion of their marriage, called the ‘Socialist’s Bride.’ We have heard Mr. WHITFORD remark that he ‘went into the association with a yoke of oxen, and came out with a wife and a buggy.’ We don’t know how valuable the buggy was, but every one of his old friends will say that he left the Alphadelphia domain with a great prize–his estimable wife.

“A large number put their farms into the association; others put in various kinds of property; James NOYES put in his saw-mill, which was valuable in furnishing lumber to the society. That some of them lost much of what they put in; and that others sacrificed a great deal to get their farms back, or in taking ‘what they could get’ as an equivalent for the property they hadbought there; and that some lost all they put in; and that some went away richer than they came,–I believe one and all of these to be true.

“From their first meeting of the domain, March 21, 1844, till the last entry on the journal of the association, April 30, 1848, the presidents were Anson DELAMATTER, Benjamin WRIGHT, Harvey KEITH, Lyman TUBBS and James NOYES. The first entry on the day-book is–

“ALPHADELPHIA
“1844,July 23. Sold to H. G. Pierce.
Two pairs of hose at 2s 6d……….0.63
One spool-stand at 1s. 6d……….. .19
Two spools of thread at 0s. 3d………. . 03

“The last entry is–

“ALPHADELPHIA
“1848, April 30. David Ford, Dr.
To use of Roger’s farm and pasturage……….$40.00

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