In early August I wrote Betty to tell her that we were back from our long trip. I told her that, near Memphis, I found the site of Nashoba … as well as the historical marker placed quite a bit away from the site.
Nashoba. A grand adventure (of sorts) that nearly drew Mary into its vortex. Just a quick version of the story here. In September 1827 Mary received a letter from Frances Wright, a young woman (just two years older than Mary, who was just thirty that year) with very liberal views who, having read the works of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, believed that she might perhaps be able to enlist their daughter, Mary Shelley, in her plan to go to America to continue to do something about slavery.
Wright had already been trying one (soon doomed) scheme near Memphis, Tennessee. In 1825, she established a colony she called “Nashoba” (the Chickasaw word for wolf—the name of the river than runs by the site). Her plan was to buy slaves, take them to the colony, train and educate them in labor skills they would need to live independently, then emancipate them when, with their labor, they “earned” their freedom. She had left the colony in 1827 because of illness and returned to England, both to recover and to try to raise more funds for the community, which she left in the (incapable) hands of subordinates.
Mary replied to Wright on September 12, expressing gratitude for Wright’s kind words about Mary Wollstonecraft: The memory of my Mother, Mary wrote, has always been the pride & delight of my life …. She praised Wright, too—You do honour to our species, she wrote, & what perhaps is dearer to me, to the feminine part of it ….
But she politely declined the opportunity to go to the American wilderness (private interests too much opress [sic] me—but invited Wright to come see her before she returned. Which she did. A meeting that apparently went all right: It lasted a week. Mary grew very fond of Frances Wright, who, according to one of her biographers, found her efforts with Mary “disappointing in the end” (Celia Morris, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, 152). Mary Shelley was manifestly not her mother, a notion she was far, far too bright not to realize.
As I reported to Betty, on July 8, 2001, Joyce and I drove to Memphis to visit the Nashoba site (among other things). Here’s what I recorded in my journal that day:
… drove to site of Nashoba, Frances Wright’s failed settlement near Wolf River (now an Agricenter; today—brutally hot—they were having an ice-cream festival that attracted a horde of people); took a few pictures of the site, then drove down to the little Wolf River & walked back a ways in the woods to take some photos; drove then to the official Nashoba marker (near a KFC and 2 other fast-food-chicken places near Memphis); took pictures of it ….