Brook Farm - History - Beginnings


Ripley and his wife Sophia formed a joint stock company in 1841 along with 10 other initial investors. He sold shares of the company $500 apiece with a promise of five percent of the profits to each investor. Shareholders were also allowed a single vote in decision-making and several held director positions. The Ripleys chose to begin their experiment at a dairy farm owned by Charles and Maria Mayo Ellis in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, near the home of Theodore Parker. They began raising money, including holding a meeting at Peabody's bookshop to raise $10,000 for the farm's initial purchase. The site was eventually purchased on October 11, 1841, for $10,500. though participants had begun moving in as early as April. The 170-acre (0.69 km2) farm about eight miles (13 km) from Boston was described in a pamphlet as a "place of great natural beauty, combining a convenient nearness to the city with a degree of retirement and freedom from unfavorable influences unusual even in the country". The purchase also covered a neighboring Keith farm, approximately 22 acres (89,000 m2), "consisting altogether of a farm with dwelling house, barn, and outbuildings thereon situated".

The first major public notice of the community was published in August 1841. "The Community at West Roxbury, Mass." was likely written by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. Though they began with 10 investors, eventually some 32 people would become Brook Farmers. Writer and editor Margaret Fuller was invited to Brook Farm and, though she never officially joined the community, she was a frequent visitor, often spending New Year's Eve there. Ripley received many applications to join the community, especially from people who had little money or those in poor health, but full-fledged membership was granted only to individuals who could afford the $500 share of the joint stock company.

One of the initial founders of Brook Farm was author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne did not particularly agree with the ideals of the experiment, hoping only that it would help him raise enough money to begin his life with his wife-to-be Sophia Peabody. She considered moving there as well and even visited in May 1841, though Hawthorne sent her away. Ripley was aware of Hawthorne's motivations, and tried to convince him to get involved more fully by appointing him as one of four trustees, specifically overseeing "Direction of Finance". After requesting his initial investment be returned, Hawthorne officially resigned from Brook Farm on October 17, 1842. He wrote of his displeasure with the community: "even my Custom House experience was not such a thraldom and weariness; my mind and heart were freer.....Thank God, my soul is not utterly buried under a dung-heap."

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