Historical Markers
Sylvania Colony Historical Marker
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Sylvania Colony

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
Junction US 6 & PA 434 Northwest of Milford

Dedication Date:
June 1, 1948

Behind the Marker

The 1830s was a decade of turmoil for many Americans. The nation's rapidly growing market and industrial economies, already disrupting traditional modes of exchange, were struck by a severe, if short-lived recession. Growing hostilities between the North and South created political turmoil, and American cities were plagued by poverty, vice, and crime.

The research for religious solutions to the nation's problems drew many to evangelical Christian movements. Seekers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean also began to search out more modern ways to improve and reform the world.
Head and shoulders, facing left.
American utopian socialist Albert Brisbane, circa 1839.

The publication of Albert Brisbane's The Social Destiny of Man in 1840 encouraged some Americans to experiment with secular utopias based on the communitarian principles of French socialist Charles Fourier. Brisbane warned his readers not to confound Fourierite phalanxes, as these socialist communities were called, with the "monotonous and monastic trails" of the Shakers, Rappites, and other religious communitarians who had preceded him. Organized upon rational principles, and a scientific understanding of human nature and society, socialist phalanxes promised to reshape the world through the development of cooperative, self-sufficient, non-coercive communities.

Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, became so enthralled with Brisbane's program that he published a magazine edited by Brisbane and in March, 1842, gave him a front-page column in the Tribune to trumpet the advantages of "Attractive Industry," "Compound Economics," "Democracy of Association," the "Equilibrium of Passions," and other principles of "a true organization of society." By owning property communally, pooling resources, and eliminating the social and economic distinctions that Brisbane understood to be at the root of social problems, phalanx members hoped to abolish pauperism, ignorance, and the resulting vices. Inspired by the writings of Brisbane and Fourier, Greeley came to believe that the genial influences of Affection, Opportunity, Instruction, and Hope the phalanx promised to cultivate would effect a moral transformation among its members.
Image of Greeley in the woods holding an axe over his shoulder.
Horace Greeley, 1869

In 1841, "warm friends" from New York City and Albany banded together to form The Sylvania Association, a joint stock company whose members invested their labor, capital, and talent "for the melioration of the condition of man and his moral and intellectual elevation." Greeley joined on as treasurer and promoted the venture in the pages of the Tribune. In April 1842, the Sylvania Association put down $1,000 towards the purchase of more than thirty two thousand acres at the mouth of the Lackawaxon Creek in Pike County, Pennsylvania. Here they would build the United States' first Fourierite phalanx.

The subscribers had high hopes that Sylvania would enable them "to realize the vast economies, intellectual advantages, and social enjoyments resulting from Fourier's system." To do so, the stockholders adopted principles laid out by Brisbane, including voting rights for women, and constructed a common dwelling with a dining hall serving seven meals a day. The phalanx intended to focus on agriculture, but members would be free to work when and where they chose. Goods produced by the community would be divided equally to provide basic subsistence among community members; the remainder would be divided among the stockholders. Believing that the innate goodness of human nature once freed from repressive authority would express itself among all people, they agreed that the Association could not regulate dress, hire a minister of religion, exclude alcohol, or suppress any form of amusement.

So it was with high hopes that forty men set out the first week in May to prepare the property for those who were to follow. The hopes, however, did not last long, for the skills and labor needed to transform the rocky, wooded landscape into a socialist utopia quickly proved beyond the volunteers' abilities. Where Fourier called for members to live in a palatial communal phalanstery, the 136 residents of Sylvania, including 51 children, crowded into three, two-story houses and the top floor of the barn.

Some residents worked hard clearing and fencing more than 1,000 acres, building a large frame house, carpenter shop, and wagon house, repairing a dam and sawmill, and making other improvements on the property. But the "ungrateful soil and uncongenial climate" - the Pike County property had been chosen by a landscape painter, cooper, and homeopathic doctor, none of whom knew much about farming - was not fit for agriculture and the fall harvests of buckwheat yielded no more seed than they had planted.

Supplies provided by the Association were distributed unequally, slackers ate their fill while dumping the burden of heavy labor on others, some parents gave their children to the community to raise while others insisted on remaining in traditional family units, and in less than three years Sylvania was no more.

Within three years the Association had sunk close to $14,000 into the venture. Having made a significant financial investment in the venture, Horace Greeley held the deed to the Association property. He sold the property in 1851 and subsequently made little mention of the failed experiment.

In the 1840s and 1850s Americans established more than forty Fourierist phalanxes in the United States, seven of which were located in Pennsylvania. Although none lasted more than a few years, they marked the nation's first great flowering of secular experiments in communitarian living.
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