Indiana
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Building Jerusalem in America: William Ashton and a Trans-Atlantic Utopia

III. Indiana and the Manchester Social Community Company

"Green and pleasant land"

 The members of the MSCC who emigrated to Indiana found living conditions on the frontier primitive.  Although their journey was marked by "fine Romantic scenery" according to Ashton's journal of the voyage, they found that even reaching their proposed place of settlement posed challenges.  The emigrants negotiated a network of canals and half-built railways, at times camping in the woods "like Gibses."  The immersion into the wilderness was such that one member wrote wryly in a letter from May 10, 1835, "one would think in one respect [Ashton] would be sick of the woods."  But the Company's focus on securing land for its establishment did not waver.  In 1834, Ashton and several other members bought land in 40 acre tracts to be used in common by the Company.

Land title

Land title to the Company's land in Indiana.  Ashton and fellow emigrant William Kerr bought land to be held in common by the Company.  This land title is to Ashton's land and was executed nearly a year after the land was purchased (in 1834.)  The "Andrew Jackson" signature in the lower right hand corner is likely original.

English members were eager to hear every detail about the land bought for the Company.  In a letter from August 1834, the secretary of the British branch, one E. Emerson, sent inquiries about the land: "we want to know if it is heavily timbered – how far the trees are asunder - if composed of hardwood – if far from a navigable river or main road – if there is any springs in it or streams running through it and if any portion consists of natural Prairie – we shall be glad to have a description of your log-houses and your present domestic economy – Brother Ashton will perhaps give us a rough draft or birds eye view of your new purchase."  The letter also speculates on the agricultural arrangements of the American branch of the MSCC, suggesting the planting of wheat in the fall and maize and potatoes in the spring.  The map at right is likely the requested "birds eye view" of the land, probably drawn by William Ashton.

Map of new settlement

Map of the Company's settlement. This map may have been drawn by Ashton.  The different quadrants are marked by the name of the person who bought the land for the Company.  The sections labeled "Vacant land for sale" in the lower part of the map are perhaps meant to suggest the availability of the land for expansion by the MSCC.

The British branch of the MSCC also asked which British plants the settlers would like sent to them, offering to post "English garden seeds potato seedlings slips of rose-currant or gooseberry trees packed airtight in moist soil."  Inquiries about the present state of the land served a purpose beyond curiosity about their investment.  The British branch of the Company was also interested in figuring out to what degree the new land could be colonized by British plants, in addition to its colonization by British settlers.  Their utopian vision depended on making the American countryside resemble a British pastoral, complete with British gooseberry trees and rose-currant bushes.

Verso, map of new settlement

Verso, map of the Company's settlement.  The way in which the paper was turned several times to write messages in different directions is a common feature of letters sent by both branches of the Company across the Atlantic.  The upside-down writing on this page warns those in England to be careful which new members they accept: those who wish to emigrate must be prepared for hard work.