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

V. Dissension and Dissolution

"O clouds unfold!"

Although the records from this period are somewhat unclear, it appears that in 1835 some members of the American branch of the Company decided to pursue their own way.  William Kerr, who had bought a tract of land for the Company, seems to have decided to farm it himself.  Ashton offered to buy more land on bond, but the British branch of the MSCC was reluctant to endorse this endeavor.  Every meeting of the British branch seems to have included the same question: a roll-call vote of whether the members would persist in supporting the American company, and at what monetary level. Although the principal members continued in their optimistic assessment of American prospects, a strain was evident among the general membership.  In late February 1836, Whiteley Ashton was forced to write his brother that "the company is now totally broken up."  Whiteley gave instructions for disposing of the property.

The Company's demise was made more definite by the appearance of another "community company" in Manchester in the fall of 1836.  The new company "talk[s] of trying the experiment in England," Whiteley wrote to William Ashton.  This would perhaps prevent the distance-related difficulties which ultimately caused the MSCC's failure, but would also mean a different emphasis in goals.  Instead of trying to recreate a past vision of England abroad, the new company would attempt to restore a lost pastoral paradise in England itself.  In so doing, they would meet Blake's exhortation at the end of "The New Jerusalem":

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green and pleasant land.
Americana

Sketch of Americana, William Ashton.  Ashton's unfinished sketch includes, in addition to such conventional emblems of America as flags and Lady Liberty, agricultural motifs like a sheaf of wheat, vines, a bale of cotton (bound in chains, perhaps in a remark on its connection to slavery), and a barrel of tobacco.  Agricultural implements are featured as well, including a scythe, rake, and pitchfork.  The sketch embodies both what the MSCC hoped for in its American venture - a pastoral paradise - and the ultimately incomplete nature of their efforts.