Thursday, February 14, 2008


Voyage in Icaria

Thumbing through a book on maps last night I stumbled upon an odd bit of Texas history. And as someone who one taught Texas history, it came as something of a surprise that I'd never heard of it before.
In 1848 French immigrants established the Icarian colony at a Texas location that is as yet unverified, although some sources place it near the site of present-day Justin and fifteen miles north of Fort Worth. The first cabin and sheds may have been constructed near the confluence of Denton and Oliver creeks. The colonists held claim to 10,240 acres platted in checkerboard fashion. Little information is available on the community itself. Icaria never became a viable, permanent settlement, and no more than seventy inhabitants participated in the communal experiment at any given time. The colony survived less than a year. From beginning to end, the project was characterized by poor planning, opposition within the Icarian movement, inadequate financing, deception at several levels, debilitating physical hardships, and human tragedy.

The French socialist Étienne Cabetqv organized the Icarian experiment in Texas. In 1839 he published a novel, Voyage en Icarie, which set forth his concepts of utopian communalism. A centralized state that provided complete freedom and material wealth characterized Cabet's fictional paradise. In Icaria everyone would share abundant wealth on an equal basis, and all private property and capital would be abolished. Cabet's ideas became so popular that he soon found himself at the head of one of the most influential socialist movements in France in the tumultuous decade of the 1840s. From May 1847 until February 1848, Cabet concentrated his efforts on establishing a communal experiment in Texas. Deviating from his fictional utopia of Icarie, he organized the commune as an investment adventure that required an original contribution of 600 francs for each participant and gave Cabet dictatorial powers. He called for 10,000 to 20,000 immigrants and predicted that the venture would ultimately attract a million participants. Subsequently, he negotiated a contract with the Peters Land Company for what was announced to the public as a million acres of land in Texas.
There's more on the Icarian commune here, and even more at the National Icarian Heritage site, but long story short, it didn't end well. But a French novelist creating a utopian commune in the wilds of north Texas, less than an hour's drive from where I grew up? Who knew?

(And if you don't think that this is going to turn up in a story, sooner or later, you might think again.)

One of my co-workers lives in Justin. Do you have the name/author of the book? :)
It's on page 230 of Remarkable Maps: 100 Examples of How Cartography Defined, Changes and Stole the World, edited by John O.E. Clark. It's been remaindered and it on sale for cheap at Half Price Books, which is where I found it the other day.
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