The Vegetarian and Octagon Settlement Companies
by Russell Hickman
November 1933 (Vol. 2, No. 4), pages 377 to 385
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
THE American frontier has always been a fertile field for experiment in social reform. From the time the "otherwise-minded" enrolled under the standard of Roger Williams in Rhode Island until the disappearance of the frontier toward the close of the nineteenth century, the vacant lands to the westward gave new hopes to those who wished to found a new society. Cheap land was a great boon to those unemployed or not financially prosperous in the East, while those who were merely discontented could always try a "new deal" in the West. In a period of incubation of varicolored social theories the frontier served both as a safety-valve for the East and as a convenient laboratory to put theory into actual practice, qualities which a more established and crystallized society would have lacked.
Vegetarianism dates back as far as the ancient religion of Hindustan, and was advocated by Plato, Plutarch and other writers of classical times. In Great Britain George Cheyne (1671-1743) was one of the earliest pioneers of the movement, publishing his Essay on Regimen in 1740. In 1811 appeared J. F. Newton's Return to Nature, or Defense of Vegetable Regimen, and in 1847 the Vegetarian Society was founded at Manchester. Eduard Baltzer (1818-1887) was an early German pioneer, forming a vegetarian society at Nordhausen in 1868. Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), Charles Lane and Amos Bronson Alcott (17991888) were leaders of the early movement in the United States. In 1889 the Vegetarian Federal Union was formed, an international federation of vegetarian organizations.
Vegetarianism in the United States was one of the many changes proposed in the reform movement of the thirties. Numerous cooperative communities sprang up, inspired largely by a hatred of industrialism, and a determination to return to more simple modes of life. In the movement for reform of the American diet, opposing its over-emphasis on meat and heavy foods, Sylvester Graham was a. leader. In 1830 he was named general agent of the Pennsylvania Temperance Society. He studied human physiology, diet, and
378 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
regimen during a period of lecturing, and in 1830-1831 delivered lectures on these subjects in Philadelphia and New York, and later up and down the Atlantic coast. Graham advocated the use of bread at least twelve hours old, baked from whole wheat unbolted and coarsely ground. He also proposed hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, cold shower baths, vegetables, fresh fruits, rough cereals, pure drinking water, and cheerfulness at meals. Graham believed that all meats are less wholesome for humans than fruits, grain and vegetables, that all condiments except salt should be avoided, and that tea and coffee, as well as alcohol, deserve to be shunned. Emerson dubbed him the "poet of bran bread and pumpkins."  Yet despite all opposition, Graham flour appeared everywhere, and Graham boarding houses and restaurants sprang up. A few years later, the famous transcendentalist and educational reformer, Amos Bronson Alcott, proposed a cooperative vegetarian colony. Alcott was a reformer par excellence, and was constantly in attendance at reform meetings-anti-slavery, vegetarian, and temperance. During the winter of 1843-1844 Alcott, with the cooperation of Henry Wright, Charles Lane and his son William, worked out a plan for Fruitlands, a cooperative vegetarian community. Lane invested his entire savings in a tract near the village of Harvard, Mass., and in June, 1844, the party moved to this location. Their organization was based on strictly vegetarian principles-no flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, milk, cheese or butter. The experiment was so radical that even the labor of horses was dispensed with, and only the "aspiring" vegetables (those growing above ground) were eaten. Unfortunately the crops were carelessly planted, and at harvest time the men left to attend reform meetings. Mrs. Alcott and daughters salvaged what was possible, but by winter the Lanes and Alcotts were the sole remaining members of the community and were on the verge of starvation. In January of the next year the experiment was abandoned. In the later movement in this country Henry S. Clubb (1827-19-?) was a leader. Clubb gave his philosophy a wide currency in his later years, as president of the Vegetarian Society of America (late 19th and early 20th centuries). He regarded vegetarianism as based upon Scriptural authority; the early
HICKMAN: SETTLEMENT COMPANIES 379
Christian church he believed to have been vegetarian, but considered it corrupted by Constantine. Clubb, in particular, favored suburban gardens and the colonization of vegetarians, as well as undenominational schools and colleges, "away from the contamination of flesh, alcohol, and social vices . . . ."
The Vegetarian Kansas Emigration Company was projected by Henry S. Clubb in 1855, to establish a permanent home for vegetarians. It was hoped to bring together vegetarians of common interests and aims; otherwise they, "solitary and alone in their vegetarian practice, might sink into flesh-eating habits." The first meeting of the company was held in New York on May 16, 1855. The joint-stock principle was adopted, with the aim of thereby obtaining the advantages of civilization for the settlers, including agricultural implements and mills. Charles H. DeWolfe, of Philadelphia, gentleman, was made president. At the first meeting forty-seven signed an agreement to emigrate, and twenty-six more indicated that they would probably go, along with relatives and friends. Their individual capital varied, it was reported, from $50 to $10,000. Dr. John McLauren was sent to Kansas to make a favorable location for the colony, and appeared before the company in January, 1856, advocating an octagon settlement near Fort Scott, on the Neosho river. The organization of the company was then completed by the adoption of a constitution, the preamble of which provided:
"WHEREAS, The practice of vegetarian diet is best adapted to the development of the highest and noblest principles of human nature, and the use of the flesh of animals for food tends to the physical, moral, and intellectual injury of mankind, and it is desirable that those person who believe in the vegetarian principle should have every opportunity to live in accordance therewith, and should unite in the formation of a company for the permanent establishment, in some portion of this country, of a home where the slaughter of animals for food shall be prohibited, and where the principle of the vegetarian diet can be fairly and fully tested, so as to demonstrate its advantages, . . ,"
380 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
By establishing a permanent home for vegetarians, it was believed that a program of concerted action could be followed, with a system of direct healing, as well as permitting the practice of the vegetarian principle. Members were required to be of good moral character, not slaveholders, and applications had to be approved by the board of directors.
The officials of the company immediately levied an assessment of ten per cent (50 cents a share), to provide a fund with which to erect a saw mill and gristmill, purchase a stock of provisions, seed grain, tents, utensils, etc. Each member was called on to pay $10 to this fund of the company, the headquarters of which were at No. 308 Broadway, New York. Clubb announced that persons who became members before the end of the month (January, 1856) would be called founders, and would participate in the drawing of lots. The New York Tribune announced that the company then consisted of about fifty families, with capital stock aggregating about $75,000. The shareholders were one-third practical farmers, and two-thirds mechanics and professional men-not a very promising proportion for life on the frontier.
The Vegetarian Kansas Emigration Company was the first to adopt the Octagon plan of settlement, a scheme also formulated by Henry S. Clubb. Membership in the company was limited to vegetarians, and as a result their settlements would be of a restricted nature. No doubt the promoters received applications from many would-be settlers in Kansas who did not agree with this limitation, but who were otherwise in sympathy with the objects of the founders-opposition to slavery,16 and advocacy of a moral life. Thus it would appear that by founding several settlements, vegetarian and nonvegetarian, the chance of success of the colonies and of financial returns to the promoters would be considerably improved.
Whatever their motives, Clubb and his colleagues decided to organize a second company as a complement to the vegetarian or-
HICKMAN: SETTLEMENT COMPANIES 381
ganization, to be known as the Octagon Settlement Company. This company was to avoid the vegetarian limitation, but otherwise was to greatly resemble its sister company. The Octagon company opened its books for subscriptions in February, 1856, and by the end of the month had enough members to start one octagon village of four miles square. It was hoped to form a city equal in size to that of the Vegetarian company, on the Neosho, opposite its predecessor. The officers of the vegetarian organization were also to serve in the Octagon company, Charles H. DeWolfe being named president, Dr. John McLauren, treasurer and pioneer in Kansas, and Henry S. Clubb, secretary. An agent was named for Great Britain (Robert T. Clubb), and another for New York City. The constitution of the company declared the following objects:
"1. To form a union of persons of strict temperance principles, who, in the admission of members, shall have a guaranty that they will be associated with good society, and that their children will be educated under the most favorable circumstances, and trained under good example.
"2. To commence a settlement in Kansas territory, for the pursuit of agriculture and such mechanic arts as may be advantageously introduced.
"3. To promote the enactment of good and righteous laws in that territory, to uphold freedom, and to oppose slavery and oppression in every form." The promoters planned for their model community a "hydropathic establishment, an agricultural college, a scientific institute, a museum of curiosities and mechanic arts, and common schools." The "hydropathic establishment," or water-cure project, occupied a prominent place in the plans of the founders, several of whom belonged to the medical profession. Water-cure societies were then being established in many places; one was organized at Lawrence in March, 1855. They emphasized a. "return to nature," with the avoidance of drugs and patent medicines then so much advertised. The constitution of the Lawrence society provided in its preamble, "that hydropathy, including the hygienic agencies of water, air, light, food, temperature, exercise, sleep, clothing, and the passions in their various modifications, comprises a whole and ample Materia
382 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Medica, capable of producing all the really remedial effects possible in all diseases . . ."
The octagon plan of settlement, adopted by both the Vegetarian and Octagon companies, was a unique feature of the projects. Each octagon-shaped settlement was to be of four square miles, or 2,560 acres. Upon this square a full-sized octagon was to be imposed, whose eight segments were each to be divided into two farms of 102 acres each. Each of the sixteen farms would front upon the central octagon of 208 acres, which was to be used for a common pasture or park, and to be held by the trustees for the equal benefit of the settlers. A communal life would be attained by placing each farm house facing the central octagon, at whose central point an octagon public building would be constructed, to serve as store, meetinghouse, school, and church. Of the four miles originally taken up, the four corners still remaining outside the octagon settlement would be used for woodland or grassland. It was planned to make four of these octagon villages into a "city" of sixteen square miles, with a square of 584 acres in the center, to be devoted to an agricultural college and model farm.
The octagon plan of settlement aimed to give the western settler some of the advantages of the East, with the hope of avoiding the hated isolation of the frontier. Each settler would live in a village, enjoy the aid and protection of his comrades, and attain social and educational advantages not otherwise possible. The literature of the project stressed in particular the increase in property values which would result from this form of settlement. In the hope that the octagon village would become the center of a city, a detailed plan was worked out to subdivide the farms into lots; each was to be divided into eight squares, of twenty lots each, varying in size from the center. Each purchaser of a share in the company would pay a dollar entrance fee, and an initial installment of ten cents upon the five-dollar share, and could take not less than twenty nor more than 240 shares. He was entitled to as many city lots as he took shares. The company would pay $1.25 an acre to the government for its land, and all that it received above this would be
HICKMAN: SETTLEMENT COMPANIES 383
used for provisions, construction of streets, public schools, mills, and stores. Profits from the mills would be divided among the shareholders. The company would also obtain implements and teams for every shareholder, and issue scrip for the use of its settlers.
In emigrating to the Kansas frontier, the Vegetarian and Octagon Settlement Companies acted very much in unison. Doctor McLauren, sent out by the Vegetarian company in the fall of 1855, had already reported a favorable location on the Neosho. He now also acted as treasurer and pioneer of the Octagon company with headquarters at "Octagon City, via Fort Scott." A definite plan of emigration was worked out, the octagon plan of settlement necessitating the arrival of settlers in groups of sixteen, or multiples thereof. Each group was to have a leader and a definite time and place of departure, and a membership properly distributed among the various professions. Both DeWolfe and Clubb were to serve as heads of companies. The Vegetarian (or Octagon) company was given rather wide publicity during the early months of 1856. Late in March of that year a pioneer group, composed of members of both companies, proceeded up the Missouri river, with two more such parties to follow in April.
On the first of May (1856) Clubb reported at length upon the progress of the colony. The site selected was on the western bank of the Neosho river, west of Fort Scott, and six miles south of the present site of Humboldt. A tract of thirty-two square miles had been obtained (eight octagons), including bottom land, prairie and timber. A building was then being erected as a store and company headquarters. From this eight avenues were then being laid out, according to the octagon plan. The eight octagons were then being surveyed. According to Clubb, the emigrants numbered nearly a hundred persons, with twenty head of oxen, five or six horses, and a grist mill. Vegetarian blacksmiths, farmers, and carpenters were on the grounds. After the town of "Neosho City" was laid out,
384 THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
it appears to have enjoyed a transitory boom. Lots bought early in May at premiums amounting to $40 were sold a few days later at premiums amounting to $197.50. Emigrants were then arriving from all directions; a majority came during April, May, and June.
The project thus brilliantly begun ended in complete failure. It appears certain that in order to gain settlers the promoters made rash promises which could not be fulfilled. There was but one plow in the whole establishment, although the officials had promised implements and teams for every shareholder (i. e., settler). Their promise to construct a saw- and grist-mill also did not materialize. One writer blames the promoters for "gross mismanagement," if not something worse. The location of the colony was beset by mosquitoes, and chills and fever attacked the settlers. The "inexhaustible" springs dried up, and the crops that were planted were raided by neighboring Indians. Bitter disappointment and much suffering resulted. As winter neared, all who could leave did so. There was a heavy mortality among the children and older people. By the following spring (1857) hardly a trace of the settlement remained, although the stream along which the companies located is still known as Vegetarian creek.
Among the factors leading to the failure of the colony, the "high-pressure salesmanship" tactics of the promoters appears to rank first. Too many promises of paternalistic aid were made to the settlers. The size of the farms (only 102 acres) may have discouraged the emigrants, but most disappointing of all was the failure to construct mills, and other promised features. The membership numbered many Easterners, who were not prepared for life on the frontier, a significant fact accounting for the abandonment of the colony. The charges, made by many of the settlers, of the dishonesty of the promoters cannot be entirely proved. It appears,
HICKMAN: SETTLEMENT COMPANIES 385
however, that money was collected for the purpose of properly starting the colony, which was not so used. Those who resorted to Clubb for help were disappointed, as he had no money to refund.
The later history of vegetarianism was more successful from the standpoint of colonization. In 1890 Henry S. Clubb, then president of the Vegetarian Society of America, became the editor of Food, Home, and Garden, which in 1900 was united with the Vegetarian Magazine, published by the Vegetarian company at Chicago. Clubb was then very active in promoting vegetarian colonies throughout the country and made personal tours to locate favorable sites. The Vegetarian Magazine and its successor, The Vegetarian and Our Fellow Creatures, published many accounts of such colonies during the first quarter of the twentieth century. In 1920 the place of publication of this magazine itself was moved to one of these colonies, in Idaho.
1. Arthur Meier Schlesinger, in his New Viewpoints in American History (New York 1926), p. 215, appropriately quotes Lowell's essay on Thoreau, "Every possible form of intellectual and physical dyspepsia brought forth its gospel." Even bran had its prophets, and hooks and eyes their champions as a substitute for buttons.
2. Encyclopedia Americana, v. 27 (New York, Chicago, 1923), p. 720.
3. Dictionary of American Biography, v. I (New York, 1928), p. 139.
4. Ibid., v. 7 (New York, 1931), pp. 479-80. Also the Philadelphia Bulletin, quoted in The Vegetarian and Our Fellow Creatures, September, 1902. The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity appeared in the late thirties (David Campbell, editor), and in 1839 Graham published his most ambitious work, Lectures on the Science of Human Life (2 vols., 1858). Horace Greeley was a follower of Graham.
5. Lane wrote A Brief Practical Essay on the Vegetable Diet (1847).
6. Dictionary of American Biography, v. I, pp. 139-140. There is a very good account here of Alcott's many reform theories. Fruitlands never numbered over eleven individuals.
7. The Vegetarian Magazine, November, 1897. Other leaders of the movement, near the turn of the century, include Dr. J. H. Kellogg, of Battle Creek, the elder La Follette, and Clarence Darrow of Chicago. The Seventh Day Adventists have espoused vegetarianism.
8. Ibid., February, 1900, p. 12. Concerning colonization, see below.
9. Henry S. Clubb, in Water-Cure Journal, clipped in the Lawrence Herald of Freedom, April 28, 1855.
10. Life Illustrated of June 2, 1855. Quoted in Herald of Freedom of August 11. In September of that year it was reported that 4,000 shares had been sold. To encourage sales, the first payment was put as low as ten cents, and persons with no capital were advised they could pay for their shares with labor.
11. Frank w. Blackmar, Kansas, A Cyclopedia of State History (two vols., Chicago, 1912), v. 2, p. 842.
12. Ibid., p. 843.
13. Life Illustrated/, clipped in Herald of Freedom, January 19, 1856.
14. New York Daily Tribune, January 21, 1856. A pertinent criticism leveled at Eastern emigrants, including those of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, was their lack of preparation for frontier life, in contrast to those from the Middle West.
15. See below for a description of this plan.
16. There was a large emigration to Kansas from the free states in 1856 despite the period of "troubles," although the movement was far greater in 1857. A number of the groups which came in the spring of 1856 were semimilitary in character, some even being hired to fight for the cause of the South, others the North, as occasion might arise. The writer has found no reason for believing that the two companies here discussed were in this category.
17. The Vegetarian and Octagon Settlement Companies have a history so closely connected that it is at times difficult to distinguish between them. There are other examples of parallel and interlocking companies in the territorial period; the American Settlement Company and the New York Kanzas League is a case in point.
18. Document, The Octagon Settlement Company, Kanzas (N. Y., 1856), p. 3.
19. Ibid., p. 2.
20. Blackmar, Kansas, v. 2, p. 380.
21. Document, The Octagon Settlement Company, Kanzas, p. 4. Each member agreed to abstain from intoxicating liquor. "Maine Law" men were prominent among the Eastern emigrants to Kansas territory.
22. Constitution of Lawrence Hydropathic Hygienic Society, Herald of Freedom, March 31 1855. A water-cure building was to be constructed upon a conveniently situated hill in "Octagon City."
23. Document, The Octagon Settlement Company, Kanzas, pp. 5, 6. The frontispiece has an elaborate illustration.
24. Ibid., p. 6.
25. Actual practice varied from the original plan, a fact which must be borne in mind in considering the later history of the colonies. The technique of townsite promotion on the Western frontier was an art in itself, open to all possessed of a "gift of gab" and a native shrewdness. Capital was not an initial necessity, as it would follow as a matter of course.
26. Document, The Octagon Settlement Company, Kanzas, p. 6. The plan of the New England Emigrant Aid Company was somewhat similar. They also hoped to plant centers of Eastern culture in the wilderness and to profit by a rise in the value of their land holdings, particularly town lots.
27. Ibid., p. 10. A detailed list of emigrants for the first company is given, classified according to profession.
28. Daily Missouri Democrat, March 26 1856. Clipped in "Webb Scrap Books" (Thomas H. Webb, compiler), v. 10, p. 185. This collection contains a vast number of newspaper clippings from all over the country, concerning the first years of Territorial Kansas, and is now in the library of the Kansas Historical Society.
29. Correspondence of Clubb, Herald of Freedom, May 3, 1856. Announcements of new towns were frequent in the territorial papers, and were often highly laudatory, as a means of advertisement. As a matter of fact, lack of capital prevented the settlement from being established on the grand plan propose.
30. Neosho City correspondence of May 12, of the Daily Missouri Republican, May 23, 1856. The St. Louis papers carried much news of the Kansas border. The above appears to be a typical "boom" notice.
31. L. Wallace Duncan, History of Neosho and Wilson Counties, Kansas (Fort Scott, 1902), pp. 37-38. Clubb appears to have abandoned the Kansas experiment precipitately. Yet, after leaving Kansas he became acknowledged as the leader of vegetarianism in America. He was quite young at the time of the Kansas venture.
32. Mrs. Miriam D. Colt, Went to Kansas, (Watertown, 1862), p. 88. June 26th entry: "Several members of our company have suddenly been taken with the chills and fever."
33. Duncan, op. cit., p. 38. The colony was located near the boundary of the New York Indian Reserve and the Osage reservation. Nominally it was not open for settlement. As far as law and order went, this was somewhat of a "no man's land" at this time. The immediate locality was not surveyed until 1857 and 1858. Claim troubles were frequent, and "jayhawking" flourished.
34. Ibid., p. 38. Andreas, in his History of Kansas (Chicago, 1883), comments on page 668 that four settlers remained permanently--Charles Baland, Z. J. Wizner, and Watson and S. J. Stewart. The same author has a brief biography of Samuel J. Stewart on page 675. He served in the Free-State legislature of 1857, and took an active part in the Civil War.
35. Andreas remarks (p. 688) that the two Stewarts were so dissatisfied with the arrangements that they located claims elsewhere.
36. Blackmar, Kansas, v. 2, p. 842.
37. August 11th entry, Colt, Went to Kansas, p. 128: "My husband has been anxious to see Mr. Clubb at his present abiding place, up on Stone creek . . to see if he would refund any of the money that he put into his hands. . Mr. Clubb had no money to refund, but let us have some cornstarch farina s few dates, and a little pearled barley.
It is rumored that H. S. Clubb has resorted to his present abode, that he may make his way quietly out of the territory. We can take advantage of no law o regain our money paid to him for the company.
38. The Vegetarian Magazine, January, 1900, p. 12. Reverend Clubb was then also pastor of the Bible Christian Church, Philadelphia Besides promoting the vegetarian faith, the Vegetarian company also sold various vegetarian products at that time: peanut butter, Kunghphy (a substitute for coffee), Vegetarian soap, Ko Nut (a butter made from cocoa nut oil), Graham flour, etc. Compare the Kellogg and other trade products of to-day. Vegetarianism thus became highly capitalized.
39. Information from various numbers of The Vegetarian Magazine and its successors. Vegetarianism in America was always closely allied with prohibition. Clubb was the author in 1858 of The Maine Liquor Law (New York, 1856), a history of prohibition and its leading advocate, Neal Dow. Clubb also wrote a serial "History of Vegetarianism," 1907. A likeness of Clubb appears in the frontispiece of the Vegetarian Magazine for February, 1900. The John Crerar Library of Chicago has an incomplete file of the Vegetarian Magazine and its successors. The Kansas Historical Society has documents and other information illustrative of the Kansas venture.