La Reunion Community

This Day in Texas (Austin American, Austin, Texas, June 16, 1950)”

June 16 – “On this day in 1855 some 200 immigrants arrived to swell the population of the newly established colony of La Reunion on the west bank of the Trinity River, near present-day Dallas.

La Reunion had been founded by Victor Prosper Considerant, a wealthy Frenchman who was an ardent disciple of the outstanding 19th century Socialist, Charles Marie Fourier. The town was carefully built, rows of small houses around a small square. The government was like that of democratic Athens, by general assembly, and the only punishment ever imposed was banishment from the colony.

One of the first activities of the colony was to found a school of vocal music, and the strains of their songs floated across the river to where a grimmer breed of men and women was pursuing the rituals of everyday existence. In time, the La Reunion colonists joined them., for their lands had been poorly chosen, the farmers were unenthusiastic and the terrain was poorly drained. By 1856 the colonists were drifting away.

The Frenchmen never had sought to prevent their daughters from marrying American settlers across the river and the settlement was completely absorbed within a generation.”

La Reunion was a utopian community set up by Victor P. Considerant. Considerant was born to a wealthy family in Salins-les-Bains, France in 1808. He graduated from the École Polytechnique in 1828 after which he is said to have worked as a musician and served in the French Army. As noted in the above quoted article, he was a follower of Charles Marie Fourier (1772-1837) and supported Fourier’s philosophy by writing in support of them and editing the writings of others.

Fourier believed that society needed to be reconstructed based on cooperative industry with agriculture being the principal industry. Individuals had the right to pursue other occupations. Society was to be divided into groups of 1,600 people called phalanxes and the groups would work for the common good. Private property did not have to be abolished.

One of Considerant’s publications was called “Democracy Manifesto” which laid out his socialistic beliefs and goals. Considerant was also associated with a movement against Napoléon Bonaparte and was obliged to leave France for Belgium in 1849. He began to hear of cheap land that was available to be acquired in America. Together with other followers, he came to the United States around 1853. He and others conceived of the idea of establishing a utopian colony in the southwestern part of America and specifically in Texas.

Considerant promoted his concepts and ideas in a book called Au Texas which was published in 1854. He and an associate, Albert Brisbane, led a group that came overland from Ohio to Texas in the early 1850s. While in the area that would become Dallas County, he became attracted by the chalky cliffs west of the small Dallas community and just across the Trinity River. After this exploratory trip, Considerant returned to Europe to try and secure financing for a colony to be located in North Texas. He was able to secure funding with stock and loans.

In the fall of 1854, Considerant sent representatives to purchase land. Colonists were recruited to join the group from various European countries, primarily France, Switzerland and Belgium. They entered Texas primarily via the gulf coast and transported their belongings to North Texas in carts. When they arrived, they set about building homes and other structures. They arrived in what would become Dallas County in April, 1855.

Cattle were purchased, crops were sown, various shops were opened and life began in La Reunion. The initial euphoria of their new surroundings lasted for some time, but the colony itself was only in existence for about two years and was dissolved in 1857 to 1858.

Various reasons are offered for its failure. Most often cited are that the location, though physically attractive, was not suitable for agriculture. Similarly, the colonists were also not well versed in farming and cultivation and could not raise enough food to support themselves. Their timing was not ideal and the weather did not cooperate. A drought was followed by a blizzard. Gradually the inhabitants drifted away, although some remained in the area, raised their families, died and were buried in Dallas County. Some have given the opinion that once the colonists began to interact with the other local residents, some of them saw the appeal and possible advantages of a capitalistic system.

At its peak, La Reunion inhabitants may have numbered about 350 individuals. Considerant later relocated to San Antonio where he resided until after the Civil War. He eventually returned to France around 1869 where he remained until his death in 1893. Nothing remains of the structures of the community today, but photos can be found that were taken of the last buildings before they either collapsed or were demolished.

Sources:

Foster, Jim, “La Reunion Remembered,” 2005. Mr. Foster’s website, La Reunion Remembered.

Rejebian, Ermance V., “La Reunion: The French Colony in Dallas County.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1940): 472–78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30241815.

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