Frances Wright (1795-1852) was a British
author and reformer whose account of her visit to America in 1818-20, Views
of Society and Manners in America (1821), was among the most celebrated
of nineteenth-century travel memoirs. In it she writes candidly about
the slave trade and the state of the negro in America. Lafayette
greatly admired the book and invited her to visit him at LaGrange.
A great friendship developed between the two during her visit in 1821,
in fact, they became such close and constant companions that it dismayed
Lafayette’s family and caused public speculation about a romantic liaison
between the widowed Lafayette and the twenty-six year old Wright.
Hoping to squelch such rumors, Wright suggested that Lafayette adopt her
as his daughter. This was not acceptable to Lafayette’s family, but
they did agree to allow Wright and her sister Camilla to accompany Lafayette
on his Farewell Tour of America in 1824. Lafayette was particularly
eager for Thomas Jefferson to receive the Wright sisters along with him
when he visited Monticello during the tour. Jefferson extended the
invitation and spent many hours discussing important issues--slavery included--with
||Frances Wright and
Wright's emancipation experiment unfolded
on a two thousand acre tract of mosquito infested wilderness in Tennessee,
near Memphis, which she purchased in 1825. The plan was for resident
slaves to earn their freedom through labor, while being educated.
From the very beginning the experiment was fraught with difficulties—laborious
work, punishing climate, and illness. Added to these problems was
a growing public hostility to Wright’s published principles that deplored
“the servitude of matrimony” and advocated the “amalgamation of the races.”
Lafayette, a trustee of the enterprise, tried to help Wright by reassuring
supporters. However, it was not enough. Faced with failure,
Wright chartered a brig in January 1830 and took the entire population
of Nashoba (thirteen adults and eighteen children) to Haiti and freedom.
From Matthew Rhea's
1832 map of Tennessee
|As Lafayette's entourage continued
further into the Southern states, Wright found it increasingly difficult
to stomach the constant praise of Lafayette as the "Champion of Liberty"
by slaveholders. Resolving to try her own experiment at freeing slaves,
she left the tour and made a visit to New Harmony, Indiana, to study Robert
Owen's utopian community.
Wright'sViews of Society and Manners in America
Wright to William Lee, September 12, 1825