The first famed Anglo-American advocate of Utopian Socialism, Robert Owen began his rise to wealth as a textile manufacturer in England and Scotland, marrying the daughter of Scottish merchant David Dale, who came to share Owen's passion for improving the condition of factory workers through education, and eventually established Socialistic communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Dale's other daughter married James Haldane Stewart, a prominent British clergyman who was born in Boston but educated in England. His wife, Owen's sister-in-law, wrote this letter.
In 1824, when his daughter Jane – recipient of this letter – was 18, Owen sailed for America and invested much of his fortune in establishing a "cooperative" Utopian community at New Harmony, Indiana, the preliminary model for his utopian ideas. When the Socialistic "experiment" failed after a few years, despite attracting more than a thousand residents, Owen returned to England to continue his work. But the town of New Harmony remained, as did many of the resident scientists, educators and artists, and in 1833, after her mother had died in Scotland, Jane Dale Owen and her brothers settled there. And it was there in 1835, two years before she received this letter, that Jane married Robert Henry Fauntleroy, a civil engineer from Virginia who partnered with his brothers-in-law in a castro-bean enterprise at New Harmony. Fauntleroy went on to become an officer in the U.S. Coast Survey while, in his absence, Jane, after giving birth to three children, became the school mistress of New Harmony, establishing a small academy for young ladies which put into practice some of her father's ideas of educational reform.
Jane received this long letter from her aunt in the earlier years of her marriage, much of it concerns family and domestic news about the relatives she had left behind in England, but there are some significant lines concerning what had become of her father.
Her aunt hoped Jane was "as truly happy in the marriage state as we are", and lamented that "it is so very long since I have heard or read of you… I have not had a letter from you for more than a year and I have been daily expecting to receive a letter in answer to a very long one which I wrote to you giving a full and particular account of your dear Father's visit to us at … the Sea Side…I have not had the pleasure of seeing him since that time, although he fully expected then to return to Liverpool to stay some time and we were anticipating the pleasure of seeing him. He went then first to Manchester where I heard from him and … he after that went to Scotland where he remained much longer than he intended when first he went there and he wrote to me and I heard of him from very many old friends. Mary Campbell wrote a very full account of him and so did Ellen Grindlay who writes very frequently to me … Grindlay was delighted to see him and he to see her … During our visit in Ireland I had a Manchester Newspaper from your dear Father which had a printed letter in it from Robt to your Father in which he gave particulars of himself and said that his wife Mary Jane remained at New Harmony to attend upon you, his sister at your Confinement and now this is the last account we have heard of you or any of you since May and I have only heard that your Father is in Paris and I am quite surprised that I have not heard from him as he has never been so long of writing to me …"
In the travels described in this letter, Owen, no longer a wealthy capitalist, having sunk much of his personal fortune in New Harmony, "remained the head of a vigorous propaganda effort to promote industrial equality, free education for children, and adequate living conditions in factory towns. In addition, he delivered lectures in Europe and published a weekly newspaper to gain support for his ideas."
Years later, after she was prematurely widowed in 1849, Jane Dale Owen Fauntleroy went to Europe to see her 82 year-old father who still looked back fondly, after nearly three decades, on the birth of his New Harmony utopia. She and her children remained on the Continent for a time, while her brother, Robert Dale Owen was US envoy to the Kingdom of Naples, but then she returned to New Harmony before her own death the year the American Civil War began.
Letters by both Owen's sister-in-law and his daughter are rare. The New Harmony papers at Indiana University have only one letter written by Mary Stewart (to Jane's brother) and one other written by Jane herself. (Inventory #: 30795)