The Germantown Museum

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In Times Past………..
By Andy Pouncey

Frances Wright – Part III

Fighting gossip and criticism, waning support, and poor health, Frances Wright was no longer willing or able to struggle for the project. She went to New Harmony, Indiana, to work with Robert Dale Owen, the son of the founder of New Harmony.

She came to believe that the clergy were trying to hinder women from becoming educated. In 1828, Frances began her anti-clerical lectures to much controversy. She spoke on the abolition of slavery and on how religion was systematically repressing people from reaching their potential. Frances believed that after everyone became educated, they would have to see that slavery and the inequality of women were wrong. 

Her plan had been to have five years of preparation prior to emancipation, followed by the establishment of a colony of Nashoba-trained men and women in Africa. The reality was that five years after she came to Memphis, she was putting 13 former slaves and their 18 children on a flatboat for New Orleans. Frances then chartered a vessel named the “John Quincy Adams”, sailing to Haiti in January of 1830 with the Nashoba slaves.

The newly freed former residents of Nashoba were placed under President Boyer’s supervision on one of his estates, rent free, and supplied with tools and provisions. If they proved themselves worthy by becoming productive citizens, the former slaves were to be given land grants, enabling them to work their own land for the first time.

By 1830, Frances had climaxed a lecture career by her activities in the “Fanny Wright” political party, which actually elected a candidate to the New York Legislature. 

She also announced her engagement to William S. Phiquepal D’Arusmont. Camilla died as a result of the trip to Haiti and Frances took solace in the arms of D’Arusmont, becoming pregnant. Faced with the way a child born out of marriage would be treated, she married D’Arusment and hid from public view, returning to England in 1830. 

Later, on a business trip to America, Frances Wright broke her hip in a fall in Cincinnati and died there in 1852. So great was Frances’ national recognition as a public figure, through her political and oratorical activities, even William Cullen Bryant wrote an ode to her while he was editor of the Evening Post. 

The heir to Frances property in Ohio and Tennessee was her daughter, Frances Sylva D’Arusmont, born 1832. Sylvia had come to America and being alone, lived in the family of Dr. Eugene DeLagertrie (or Guthrie) in Cincinnati. For convenience in handling her property, she deeded the Nashoba lands to Dr. Guthrie, who in turn contracted to furnish her a $5,000 annuity from them. To affect this he leased Nashoba to a tenant for a share of the profits.

After a time, Dr. Guthrie’s wife went to France to visit her family. When she had been gone some time there came the report of her death. Dr. Guthrie and Sylva were married in 1865 in New Jersey and had three children. 

Sylva and her husband went to Europe - she to attend to property in Scotland, he to mend his health. While Sylva was in France, the Shelby County property stood idle, and lawyers raised questions about her title. Eventually, Shelby County Court canceled the unpaid taxes from 1861 to 1883, and the way was cleared for sales. She learned that the tenant at Nashoba had become the owner. Claiming breach of contract and many thousand dollars damage, he had asked the courts to sell the lands, and this had been done. Then he had taken them over from the buyer. 

Sylva sued to have the court’s decree set aside, and in one of the most interesting and intricate cases on chancery records here, won back her heritage in 1878.

While there they also learned that the first Madame Guthrie was still alive. Dr. Guthrie’s health became worse, and he and Sylva went to Italy hoping that the climate would help. He died there.

The lands passed to her two sons, William and Kenneth Sylvan, who became ministers in New York City. They sold the property to Thomas Payne, grandfather of Postmaster Frances Hudson. He covered the original logs with weather boarding as well as the dogtrot. 

Mr. and Mrs. L.B. Lary bought the property in 1947 and remodeled the building, all but the foundation. The home then faced Riverdale rather than Poplar Pike. On February 9, 1979, the house still owned by Mrs. Lary burned. The house was located in what is known today as Nashoba Plantation, just west of the development’s entrance off Riverdale Road. 

Son Kenneth had two children, Kenneth and Sylvia Camilla D’Arusmont. And Sylvia was the mother of the great, great granddaughter of Frances Wright, Susan Guthrie Chang Saridakis, who contacted me and inspired these articles on Frances Wright. 

apouncey@ci.germantown.tn.us

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