Sylvania Society

The county of Wayne is separated from the county of Lackawanna by the great Moosic Mountain range, the divide between two noted rivers, the Lackawaxen and the Lackawanna. The former, draining its southeastern slopes to the Delaware, was the ” Lechau-weksink ” of the Indians, meaning “where the roads part,” evidently referring to the parting of the Indian trails at its confluence with the Delaware ; the latter, flowing out to the Susquehanna on its northwestern side, was the “Lechau-hanne,” or “where the streams part,” signifying the forks of two rivers. We ascend the Lackawaxen, finding the – route up the gorge along the canal towpath, once the great water way of the Delaware and Hudson Company for bringing out coal, but now abandoned, as the railway route is cheaper. This canal, opened in 1828, was one hundred and seventeen miles long, and ascended from tidewater on the Hudson at Rondout to four hundred and fifty feet elevation at Port Jervis, and nine hundred and sixty-five feet at Honesdale. Its route throughout is through grand river gorges and the most magnificent scenery.

It was in this beautiful region, just south of the river, that Horace Greeley, in 1842, started what he called the “Sylvania Society,” founded to demon-strate the wisdom of ” the common ownership of property and the equal division of labor,” which Greeley was then advocating by lectures and in his newspaper. Many eminent persons took stock in the society at $25 per share, and the experiment of cooperative farming was begun in a region of rough and rocky Pike County soil, where the amateur farmers also found amusement, for it is recorded that “the stream was alive with trout, and the surrounding bills were equally well provided with the largest and liveliest of rattlesnakes.” They had weekly lectures and dancing parties, the colony at one time numbering three hundred persons, Mr. Greeley, who took the deepest interest, frequently visiting them. The society was a success socially and intellectually, but the labor problem soon caused trouble. A Board of Directors governed the farm and assigned the laborers their work, the principle of equality being observed by changing them from one branch of labor to another day by day. But trouble soon came, for there were too many wayward sons sent out from New York to the colony who never had worked and never intended to, but preferred going fishing. Various of the females also decidedly objected to taking their turns at the washtub. The abundance of rattlesnakes had influence, and one day a venturesome colonist brought in seventeen large rattlers, causing dire consternation. They tanned the skin of one big fellow, and made it into a pair of slippers, which were presented to Mr. Greeley on his next visit. As is usually the case, the colonists had ravenous appetites, and it was impossible to raise enough food crops to feed them, so that food had to be bought, and the capital was thus seriously drawn upon. In 1845 they had a prospect of a generous yield at the harvest, when suddenly, on July 4th, a deadly frost killed all their crops; and this ended the experimental colony. In two days everybody had left the place, and Greeley was almost heartbroken at the failure of his cherished plans. A mortgage on the farm was foreclosed and the land sold to strangers. A Monroe County farmer, who had invested $1800 in the enterprise and lost it, became so angry at the collapse that he went to New York, as he said, “to give Horace Greeley a Monroe County Democrat’s opinion of him.” He found the great editor at work in the Tribune office, and began berating him. Greeley, as soon as a chance was given, asked his visitor how much he had lost by the failure. He replied, “Eighteen hundred dollars ;” when, without further parley, Greeley drew a check for the amount and handed it to him. The farmer was so astonished and impressed by this most unexpected action that he immediately became, as he afterwards stated, “a Greeley Whig,” and remained one all his life.