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A more perfect union: Utopian communities in Tennessee

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Matthew A.
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  1. Introduction.
    1. Tennessee - a crossroads of different ideas and people.
  2. The history of utopian visions.
    1. 1736 arival of the German - Christian Pribe.
    2. British and the activities of Pribe.
    3. Priber and Great Tellico.
  3. Tennessee's next two utopian experiments.
    1. Thomas Hughes founding a community in northern Morgan County called 'Rugby'.
    2. Reality - unkind to Hughes' vision.
    3. Wayland's plan.
  4. Conclusion.

Tennessee has long been regarded by historians as a crossroads of different ideas and people, its unique geographic position separating it from being overly dominated by established traditions for much of its history. It is this unique situation that makes Tennessee a favored home for idealists wishing to realize their vision for a perfect society. These utopian communities have had a great impact on the state as a whole; their creation serving as a barometer of the social forces that shaped the times their founders lived in, while their collapse gives us insight into the sad, flawed nature of human beings. The history of these utopian visions begins even before a State of Tennessee even existed. In 1736, the German, Christian Priber, arrived in the town of Great Tellico, deep in the heart of Overhill Cherokee territory.

[...] Hughes was impractical as a leader and sympathetic to a fault, placing too much faith in his fellow man. (Egerton 1997, 55) Human nature, as well as conflicting visions of what Rugby should be, became the community's downfall. (Egerton 1997, 58) Even stranger was the story of Ruskin, a socialist commune founded in 1893 by Julius Wayland. Wayland blended Marxist theory and Christian tradition with American democracy, riding the wave of Populism to found his cooperative commonwealth. (Bakker and Butler 2002, Wayland set up shop near Nashville with his popular newspaper, The Coming Nation, shortly after an agent of his had purchased a plot of land in the area. [...]


[...] In 1880, a British author and reformer named Thomas Hughes founded a community in northern Morgan County called (Egerton 1997, 39) What makes Hughes's utopia so curious is the fact that, by and large, it has more to do with English society than the culture of Tennessee. Hughes was concerned about the situation of what were called ?second sons? in England the second-born of gentry who would lose out on the bulk of the family inheritance to the first-born. These second sons would be forbidden to seek out a job that would reflect badly on their families, and had to depend on a meager inheritance just to survive. [...]


[...] Like Great Tellico before it, Nashoba's culture was highly liberal, with communistic beliefs concerning property, and after Wright visited Robert Owen's New Harmony colony in Indiana a frowning upon of formal religion and marriage. Strangely, the locals initially reacted with indifference towards the colony, not the anger that many would expect. (Egerton 1997, 22) Internal conflict would eventually tear apart Nashoba, though, particularly while Wright was away in Europe trying to secure funds for her experiment, as well as receive treatment for what some believe was a bout of malaria. [...]

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