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THE BRITISH IN IOWA

PART II: BRITISH INVASION OF NORTHWESTERN IOWA

Chapter XIV
IOWA ENGLISHMEN AND THE RUGBY COLONY

About the time that the Close brothers founded the English settlement in Plymouth County, Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, helped found Rugby in eastern Tennessee. There, upon lands tilled by slaves before the Civil War, rose small farmsteads in the hands of graduates from the famous English public school of Rugby; there, as in Iowa, the younger sons of the English gentry apprenticed themselves to the earlier holders of land until they in their turn acquired land and became "the gentlemen farmers of the future. " The Rugby colony thus resembled the Le Mars settlement, at least in its plan.

Hughes roused some opposition among his countrymen: why did he not show his patriotism by going to Canada, and why did he prefer the South to Iowa or other western States? Canada, he answered, was too far from England, and besides it had long winters and no variety of occupations. And as for the American West, "droughts, flies, difficulties of drainage, and from five to six months' enforced idleness, so far as agriculture is concerned, had to be considered." (194)

The Tennessee experiment was eagerly watched by the English of Le Mars. Early in the year 1881 they heard that the colonists had been cheated, that their land was worthless, and that their community would be transplanted to Minnesota. (195) A few months later came the tidings of the death of Philip Nairn (once a member of the Le Mars colony) and of the raging of a typhoid epidemic at Rugby. When the collapse of the colony was announced in February, 1882, its boys were urged to come to Le Mars "bag and baggage"; but at the end of the year Rugby (196) still occupied its place on the map, with a population of two hundred, "the majority of whom spend their time in hunting and playing billiards." As owners of nearly 30,000 acres of land, the English settlers of Tennessee were reputed to be cultivating only fifty acres; and shortly afterward they mortgaged their tract to the extent of 20,000. "What a vivid contrast", remarks a Le Mars editor, "Rugby presents to our own rushing, pushing, thriving, bustling Plymouth Colony!" The pitiful condition of things in that region in 1883 caused the same writer to pen the following excellent editorial on "Our Penniless Young Gentlemen":

     An anxious inquiry has lately been raised in some of the more thoughtful of journals in England as to what was to become of the large class there of penniless young gentlemen: the younger sons of the gentry, well-built, well-educated, clever young fellows whose fathers' moderate income goes to the elder son and as dower to the daughters. The outlook in England is so utterly bare for these lads that the only alternative now suggested is between trade and a regiment of which the privates shall be the sons of gentlemen. The objection made to the latter course is the life of enforced idleness in an inferior position and to the first the social degradation. The experiment of Rugby, in Tennessee, as we all know was some people's safety-valve for this social difficulty, and the sons of the gentry came to it in large numbers, to play tennis and to drink and lounge in the Tabard Inn. The place is now left to a few hard-working, uneducated men who will succeed in the end. But the penniless young gentry are no better off than before.
     The result among the young Englishmen who have flocked to northwestern Iowa stands out in striking contrast to that of those who mustered at Rugby. They belonged to the same class, brought with them similar habits and like expectations, and were counterparts of the young gentlemen who settled in Tennessee. Among them was an inconsiderable quota of dissipated and lalh-de-dah young fellows, some of whom have paid the penalty of their weakness, though most of them have profited by the rugged experiences which all who will live in this region must pass through. We have now a flourishing English colony in this region, composed of intelligent industrious young men. They have acquired a taste for business and enjoy themselves as much as any Hawkeye can, in developing a farm or driving a bargain. We have room enough in the all-absorbing West for all the gritty young fellows in England who are ambitious to live to some purpose. They will find ample scope for their energies on these undeveloped prairies, but they must know that the price of success is - attention to business.

An English writer a few years later gave his estimate of the results of the emigration of "young gentlemen" and alleged that upon the whole England might well feel proud of them. That many bemoaned their lot and returned home, cursing the country and every one connected with it and minimising their own share in the failure to succeed; that many brought disgrace, and ridicule to themselves and their country was not surprising when one considered the variety of material that of necessity made up the exodus; but the fact remained "that the gently nurtured of this nation cheerfully undertake and show a fair measure of success in a career which would appal the equivalent class in any other country in the world." (197)

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194 See Thomas Hughes's article in Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIII, pp. 310-315.

195 The Lemars Sentinel, February 17, 1881.
In the Brooklyn Eagle, April 16, 1881, appeared the following news item:

"A veteran emigrant in the person of Mrs. Hughes, mother of Thomas Hughes, is on her way to her son's colony at Rugby, East Tennessee. She proposes to vindicate her faith in his success by becoming a member of it. At the age of 83 and over, she starts out to make a home in a new country and among strangers, and her motive is not necessity, but affection. She believes in her son, and having devoted so much of her life to him she crowns it with a last act that is all the more beautiful because it is performed at such a cost. To the old, home ties and local attachments are intensely strong, and this lady cannot be unlike her kind in this respect. She comes to live alone, away from her son, in order that what he is trying to do will not fail if her presence will prevent it. It is pleasant to know that she has been offered a special car to take her by easy stages to her new home, and that every attention is to be paid her on her arrival."

Mr. Adair Colpoys, who first became interested in the Le Mars Colony through the Close pamphlet which was sent to him in Australia, also visited the Rugby Colony. The present writer called upon him at Le Mars in the summer of 1921 and learned that the site of the Tennessee Colony was poor timber land, stony and partially cleared, with titles in bad condition.

196 The Lemars Sentinel kept Englishmen at Le Mars in touch with the Tennessee experiment. See issues for August 25, September 1, 1881, February 9, December 28, 1882, March 8, 27, 1883.

197 See the article in Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. LXII, p. 193.

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