The Icarians

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Time Frame: 1855-1898

A group of French people came to Iowa in 1857. They started a utopian community.
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Transcript

I am a child of a community where all the residents are united. The voice and the song are the fortune of the people of the land. The citizens living together like brothers are equal. All the boundaries are down in bundles. My community is not imaginary, it’s on earth and we go there by boat to America to the province of Iowa. It’s called Icaria.

In 1840 the people of Paris, France, were reading with excitement a book by Etienne Cabet entitled Travels in Icarie. The book told of an imaginary land of Icaria where all were happy, all were truly equal. In 1847 the French public heard Cabet’s call “Let us go to Icarie.” Believers of the idea of Icarie gathered together and made ready to sail for America where they would be free to live as they wished. The dream of Icarie was on the road to becoming a reality.

The road led Cabet and his followers through many hardships. First to a community in Texas, which failed. Then to Nauvoo, Illinois. Here many colony members began to disagree with some of Cabet’s policies. A spilt occurred: one group, with Cabet as their leader, moved to St. Louis. But Cabet himself died shortly after the move and the St. Louis colony failed in 1864.

In 1857 the other group, about 40 members, crossed the Mississippi and headed west to form still another colony Icaria, near Corning, Iowa. It seemed they had found the ideal home, the lonely Iowa prairie isolated them from the outside world and afforded them productive farmland. Here they began to live according to the principles of Icarie. There were few personal possessions, almost everything, including property, was owned by the community as a whole. They were unusual among Iowa’s pioneers in that most of them were highly educated and interested in political philosophy. There was even a large library located in the community. There were no church services held at the colony. The Icariens tried to live their ideals everyday, rather than preach them once a week. The beginning years of the colony were a struggle, but eventually Icaria began to prosper. Outsiders were hired to keep the colony farms at full production.

In the 1870s the younger Icarians began to question the old Icarien principles. The older Icarians were becoming too old to work the fields; the burden fell on the young Icarians. Many of them just didn’t like farm work and they resented working beside hired men, who were paid for their labors. For these and other reasons, the community split into two different groups. As the older members died off and the younger members took on new established life styles, the colony came to an end near the turn of the century.

 


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