United States and American History: 1841

About the history of the United States in 1841, George Ripley founds Brook Farm, William Henry Harrison becomes president and dies, Tyler takes over and rejects a national bank.


--First wagon train arrived in California.

--"Rock oil," skimmed from Pennsylvania streams, was used in patent medicines.

--George Ripley, a bespectacled Unitarian clergyman, and his wife, Sophia, founded the Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education. This was an anticapitalist, cooperative community, situated on 192 acres in West Roxbury, Mass., and its purpose was "to substitute brotherly cooperation for selfish competition; to prevent anxiety in men by competent supplying in them of necessary wants."

Twenty-four shares of membership stock were sold at $500 a share. Male members, wearing smocks, labored 60 hours a week at farming. Female members, wearing shortened skirts, toiled at housework and teaching. Destined to become the most prominent member of the short-lived commune was 37-year-old Nathaniel Hawthorne, who produced The Scarlet Letter in 1850. Hawthorne quit after one year; Brook Farm gave up after 5 years. Emerson praised the experiment as utopian. Thoreau disagreed, stating, "I'd rather keep bachelor's hall in hell than go to board in heaven if that place is heaven."

Apr. 4 President William Henry Harrison died after a mere 30 days in office.

Apr. 10 Horace Greeley established the New York Tribune with a $1,000 backing. Greeley differed from his contemporary publishers in that he believed that advertisements and police reports disgraced newspapers.

June 12 An act calling for a fiscal bank of the U.S. was introduced in the Senate. It was later passed by both Houses, but was vetoed by President Tyler. Tyler's entire Cabinet, with the exception of Secretary of State Daniel Webster, resigned in protest over the veto.

June 27 Five shipwrecked Japanese were rescued by an American vessel. Four were put ashore at Honolulu but one boy, Manjiro Nakahma, was not. He later became the 1st Japanese immigrant in the U.S. Nakahma eventually returned to Japan where he was interpreter for Matthew Perry in 1854.

Aug. 9 Steamship Erie burned on Lake Erie, killing 175.

Sept. Alfred Niger, a black barber and abolitionist from Providence, was nominated as treasurer of the Rhode Island Suffrage Association, a group of disenfranchised workmen. Niger's nomination was defeated but the association found itself with an added issue. Debate raged over confining the voting in the convention to the whites. A lawyer, Thomas Dorr, and a grocer, Benjamin Arnold, supported black suffrage, but the issue was defeated by a 46-18 vote.

Dorr became the leader in the rebellion against the Rhode Island constitution, which was actually the Royal Charter of 1663. This outdated charter, which allowed suffrage only to property owners and their oldest sons, disenfranchised half the white male population at that time.

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