The Alphadelphia Association

Pioneer Collections, Volume 5
By Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan

Lansing Mich
W. S. George & Co. State Printers & Binders
1884


THE ALPHADELPHIA ASSOCIATION.

ITS HISTORY IN COMSTOCK, KALAMAZOO COUNTY

BY A. D. P. VAN BUREN.

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 efforts 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 Fourierism in America. From these, which essentially are one, .communists, Alphadelphians, and the late cociperationists, 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 the Primitive Expounder at Ann Arbor, 56 persons from the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, Genesce, Jackson, Eaton, Calhoun, and Kalamazoo, assembled in the school-house at the head of Clark’s lake in Columbia, Jackson county. 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 also appointed to view three places designated by the convention as suitable for a domain. The convention then adjourned to meet at Bellevue, Eaton county, on the 3d 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 a 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 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, nine rods wide and five feet deep in the middle, flowing at the rate of about four miles per hour; and with eight 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 place where the mansion and the manufactories will stand;” on a beautiful plain descending gradually toward the river, a plain 50 to 60 rods wide, skirted on the south by a range of hillocks about twenty feet high and running parallel with the river. Beyond these, some 10 or .’l0 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 cf elm, black walnut, soft maple, some cherry and especially hard maple in 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 stones 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, but its extent is not yet found out. The Michigan Central railroad will run l| miles north of the proposed site of the mansion. They found no cause for fever here; there were only two 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 bottom land along the river, and about 3,000 acres of it have been tendered to our association as stock to be appraised at the cash value. Nine hundred acres of this land has been cultivated and nearly all the rest has 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, of Norville, Jackson county; directors, G. S. Avery and Alanson Meech, Bellevue; Harvey Keith, Wm. Earl, and Dr. Ezra Stetson, Galesburg; Wm. Grant, Sandstone; Amos Picket, Anson Delamatter, and C. W. Vining, Columbia, Jackson county; 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 county. 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, December 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 imbided 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 Burrlike persuasiveness he soon won his way into the confidence, 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 hearers. 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 the 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 strife, nor hate, nor envy knew.”

From the first appearance of this disciple of Fourier among them, the settlers were unusually interested in his 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 Prof. 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, E. M. Clapp, Harvey Keith, David Ford, Joseph Flanders, Dr. Ezra Stetson, Wm. 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 Fourierites 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 conditions and surroundings were such as to foster a feeling of brotherhood. They helped each other not only at raisings, but in clearing off their kinds, 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 success of his labors, as one of the committee on location, in Comstock. Jt is as follows:

“Galesburgh, 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 place 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.” Further on he quotes David Ford as saying; “No man must oppose a project so fraught with principles calculated to promote the bes^ interests of mankind.”

Under such favorable auspices the work of founding an association in Comstock was soon effected. 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 sections 25 and 26. The first meeting on the domain was held in the house of Harvey Keith, at 8 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 Whitccmb, 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 f.rst 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 house 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 two 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. Blakesly, the printer. Miss M. Hanchett 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 Wetherbec, 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. BlakesLy and C. W. Sawyer. The paper was called the Alphadelphia Tocsin. Mr. Thornton also published here the Primitive Expounder, which he had formerly published at Ann Arbor. This was a staunch Universalist journal. Most of the leaders of this movement wore 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 furthermore 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 21 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 18, 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 fifty dollars a share, Alphadelphianism was then ready to drive its teama-field and turn its first furrow. Then tl»e 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 Held 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 fniits 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, was $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 had brought 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 on 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 pair of hose at 2s 6el 0.63

One spool stand at Is 6d 19

Two spools of thread Us 3d 03

The last entry is—

ALPHADELPHIA.

1848. April 30. David Ford, Dr.

To use of Rogers’ farm and pasturage $40.00

The last family on the domain was Hannibal A. Taylor’s; when the county purchased the property in the spring of 1848, Mr. Taylor delivered it over to. the purchasers as a “county house and farm.” Dr. H. R. Schetterly, the guiding genius of the association, left with his family (just before Mr. Taylor did) and went to an institution of like character, called the “La Grange Phalanx,” in Indiana. From La Grange he went to another society of the game nature in Wisconsin, called the. “Wisconsin Phalanx.” From Wisconsin. he came to Michigan to take charge of the government light-house at Grand Traverse. Here he was some few years ago, and this is the last trace we have of Dr. H. R. Schetterly, the founder of the Alphadelphia association, in 1844, in Comstock, Kalamazoo county, Michigan. Most of the information contained in this history, I have received from C. L. Keith and Hannibal A. Taylor (old Alphadelphians) and from the books and papers of the association which they have in their possession.

That this system lacked the elements of success is as clear now to the minds of the old members as that effect follows cause. In trying to get information from some of the old pupils in this Alphadelphia school, they would shake their heads and reply, “Better let that be, we don’t tell tales out of school.” Others would say, “We can’t tell you anything about it. When we left we banished every memory of the old domain from our minds and have not wished to recall them.” Another would answer: “Too many large families, poor and hungry, who could do no work, or were incapable of supporting themselves, got among us and were a continual expense—a hole in the meal bag from first to last, to the association.” The incompatibility of such a system with Yankee ambition, independence, and individual enterprise ever has caused and ever will cause its failure.

We have space for but few incidents. “Uncle” Lyman Tubbs was regarded as the patriarchal Abraham, of the brotherhood. Wise in council, clear in his views, able in speech, he was of great value to the organization. And if in denouncing chicanery, he called it “tri-kany,” or in telling them they were passing through a crisis, he said through a “cri-pus,” he conveyed all the full sense and meaning of the words if he did not pronounce them according to the Websterian style. At one time the brotherhood lived a good while on buckwheat cakes. This gave the poet, Bradford, an occasion to court his muse. Here is a verse that still lingered in the mind of an old member:

“And If perchance a luckless wight
Should from his dinner bilk.
His supper then was sure to be
Cold buckwheat cakes and milk.”

The school teacher, James Allen Knight, was passionately fond of taking down “the fiddle and the bow,” and regaling his leisure hours with the sweet Cremonan strains that he knew how to make from the sensitive strings. Hut into the adjoining room of his friend Avery, the Shaker, these strains did not come in such sweet measure. What was pleasure to the fiddler was becoming torture to him who was compelled to listen to the fiddling. We give a verse of a poem that appeared in the Tocsin at this time, entitled

THE FIDDLER’S LAMENT.

“Oh Allen, oh Allen, how you do torture me,
Surely you’ll kill me dead as a stone;
All the while sawing, and rasping, and scraping me,
Surely you’ll scrape all the flesh from my bones.”

It is no discredit to any of the Alphadelphia association that they belonged to it and helped to carry out its contemplated reforms. Their object was the noble and beneficent one of aiding their brothers in other parts of the country to

“Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in the good for all mankind.”

Leave A Comment

Recent Comments