HENRY STEPHENS CLUBB, 1827-1922, was a pioneer vegetarian from England who emigrated to the United States, where he became an abolitionist journalist, state senator, the leader of a small Swedenborgian sect and the president of the Vegetarian Society in America. His biography is a fascinating journey from provincial England, through utopian communitarian experiments to the abolitionist and temperance worlds of ante and post bellum America.
He was brought up a Swedenborgian in the town of Colchester in the county of Suffolk, the son of Stephen Clubb. His parents had briefly been vegetarian, but it was when he was a young man and a clerk at Colchester Post Office, still living with his parents, that he heard through a commercial traveller from London, called William Ward, of the 'Concordium'. This was a community based at Ham Common, Richmond, Surrey (and near Hampton Court Palace), which was experimenting with an alternative lifestyle encompassing reformed education, gender relations, labour, clothing and diet. The community was influenced by American transcendentalism and having received and feted Bronson Alcott on a visit to England, renamed itself 'Alcott House'. Clubb joined the community in 1842 after being interviewed by the community's leader, William Oldham. His journey to London to join the community was his first to the capital, and the first by train.
He stayed in London after the demise of the community, becoming skilled in Pitman's shorthand which had been promoted by progressives such as the Concordists, as an aid to the 'new age'. He worked as a shorthand teacher before becoming the secretary to James Simpson, the wealthy leader of the early English vegetarian movement. Simpson had made his acquaintance when a letter by Clubb was published in the movement's first organ, the Vegetarian Advocate. Simpson was a fanatical worker in the cause, and his excessive work-load and the unhealthy form of 'food reform' he persuaded Clubb to follow made his secretary ill for a time. Simpson had been a vegetarian from birth as his parents were members of small Manchester and Salford based vegetarian church, an offshoot of Swedenborgianism called 'Cowherdites' after the founder, William Cowherd, (or Bible Christians; though not to be confused with another, Methodist, Bible sect). Clubb became a Bible Christian in 1850. Around this time, he was also a 'local secretary' for the Vegetarian Society in Salford.
At the same time, Clubb and his family were involved in a shorthand and vegetarian colony in Stratford St Mary (1848-c1851), near Colchester. A brother, Robert T. Clubb, who had become a vegetarian in 1839, was the local Vegetarian Society secretary here in 1849. Their father, under their influence, returned to vegetarianism at the age of seventy two. The 'vegetarian home' established here was designed to further regional temperance and vegetarianism, and incorporated a mutual improvement society run on phonetic principles with eighty eight members. Mutual improvement was said to be the 'leading feature' of the Suffolk colony, which was meant to combine cultivation of the land with 'artistic, literary or mechanical pursuits'. The temperance club included nine vegetarian-teetotallers and five non-vegetarians. Its activities were covered in The Phonetic Journal (October 1850). In 1850 there were two public vegetarian dinners and a public meeting at the village, with William Ward present. Clubb's sister Sarah Anne was also involved in the colony, a keen phoneticist and vegetarian story for children, published by Isaac Pitman (Good influence. A Tale for the Young, who are willing to seek the stepping stone to health, intelligence and happiness...).
Clubb emigrated to the United States c. 1853, and settled first at New York, where he became a journalist. He was to make his name as an abolitionist journalist. (His reputation was really made by articles for Frank Pierce's Democratic Washington Union during the controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill.) This led to his attempt to establish a new vegetarian colony on the banks of the Neosho River in Kansas; he apparently became quite enthusiastic about Kansas while writing about the Kansas-Nebraska bill, as a result of attending Congress. Back in England, the Preston Guardian reported that several English vegetarians had contacted R.T. Clubb, then a bookseller at Kirkdale in Liverpoool, who was acting as 'corresponding secretary' of a New York-based company of colonists, said to be some two hundred persons in fifty five families, who were planning to establish this vegetarian settlement. The Octagon Settlement echoes the high ideals and ambitions of the Concordium in Richmond, Surrey, with its aspirations for moral, intellectual and physical elevation. Yet though some of the participants were members of the Vegetarian Society, the scheme was not sanctioned by the British or American vegetarian societies. Simpson seems to have been unhappy about such colonies as an escape from the world: 'most of us are needed here, in the busy stirring scenes of life,' he wrote. He was right to be cautious.
Benn Pitman, brother of the shorthand inventor, and by this period resident in Cincinnati, gave a phonographic account of the project, as did the Manchester Examiner and Times. By September 1856, as British vegetarians were informed, some eighty members were established on the ground The colony was pledged to reject pigs, slavery and slave-holding, alcohol, tobacco and flesh-eating, and in accordance with such elevated principles, no oaths were to be uttered by the pioneers. An associated 'Octagon Settlement Company', in contrast to this Vegetarian Company, was merely pledged to temperance. The Kansas World of Freedom reported seven Englishmen and three ladies, one Scotsman and lady as part of the company.
British interest in, or knowledge of, the project appears to have tailed off, at any rate there were no reports after November 1856. For more information on the fate of the project we have to turn to the account of the Bloomer-wearing Miriam Colt's fascinating book, Went to Kansas, Being a thrilling account of an ill-fated expedition to that fairy Land, and its sad results (Watertown, 1862), a catalogue of disappointments and bereavements.
Clubb's role was central. He acted as the Secretary of the Company, and was accompanied by his new wife. Their shelter was an 'old Indian wigwam and tenting', which also acted as the church for the company, who were mostly 'presbyterian'. Clubb read the sermons. Mrs. Clubb is mentioned on a few occasions by Colt, as the near-victim of a large rattlesnake, and cooking a meal when the Colts visited to see if some of the money they had invested in the project could be refunded. Clubb was apparently ailing in the background, as many of the colonists were, although Colt's account suggests malingering:
"It is rumoured that H. S. Clubb has resorted to his present abode, that he may make his way quietly out of the Territory. We can take advantage of no law to regain our money paid to him for the company."
Whatever the truth behind this rumour, the colony collapsed, and the contrast between the reality and ideal was made clear in Colt's published account, where the prospectus, reprinted in the appendix, outlines the plans to establish a Hydropathic Establishment, an Agricultural College, a Scientific Institute, a Museum of Curiosities and Mechanic Arts, and Schools.
This disaster did not end Clubb's career. He became an employee and 'intimate friend' of Horace Greeley, (and passed on valuable information on the American pioneer of food reform, Sylvester Graham, to the London vegetarian and temperance publisher William Horsell, via Greeley when the American visited Britain). He then worked for Charles Dana's radical abolitonist Tribune. His letters on slavers, published by the New York Tribune, were said to have endangered his life in the South. Other friends in this period included the reformers Gerrit Smith and Joshua R. Geddings.
During the Civil War, Clubb fought for the North, and survived a bullet wound. Two of his children died during the Vickburg siege.
After the Civil War, Clubb went to Michigan, where he founded the Clarion newspaper, and became well-known as editor and publisher in New Haven. From 1871 he was a member of the State legislature as senator. Five years later he became the minister of the Bible Christian congregation at Philadelphia, an offshoot of the English sect which had been founded by emigrants in the early years of the century. The meeting house in Philadelphia, a building of 'cut stone' in Park Avenue, below Berk Street, still survived in 1900, though with a dwindling membership of forty.
Clubb had a more public role, as the president of the American Vegetarian Society, and edited its journal, Food, Home and Garden. Clubb, as a veteran of the Ham Common community and early British vegetarianism, kept in communication with the British vegetarian movement through letters and addresses, and the contribution of historical notes. In 1901 he briefly returned to England and visited Salford. In 1907 he announced his intention to write the history of vegetarianism, to begin in the March number of the Chicago Vegetarian Magazine. Proving, by his own longevity, the virtue of a vegetarian diet, he lived to be niney-five.
Essential sources for a biography of Clubb are his reminscences of the Concordium published in the London Herald of Health in 1906, his letter in response to articles on the Concordium in the local London paper The Surrey Comet, 1905-6, and the record of his activity in the British vegetarian press. See also the Detroit Journal interview, reprinted in the London Vegetarian, 1895 (the tile of this research note is taken from the Detroit Journal interview). There is a footnote biography in J.M. Twigg's unpublished London School of Economic Ph.D. on the vegetarian movement in Britain c.1847-1982 (1982), and references in J.E.M. Latham's impressive new study of James Pierrepont Greaves, the 'Sacred Socialist'.
Some discussion of Clubb and the Kansas colony is to be found in Gerald Carson, Cornflake Crusade (I only have the London publication date, 1959), chapter 2. Carson's work covers the American vegetarian movement, in particular F.W. Kellogg. You can access a text of this work via Ancetsry-com, by typing in Henry Stephen Clubb and Michigan. Carson writes (p.21) 'The whole wild scheme was dauncy'... There is a prospectus published by the famous phrenologists, Fowler and Wells, (1856) in the Library of Congress. It also has coverage (reference in Carson) in Stewart Holbrook, 'The Yankee Exodus', NY, 1950.
The Octagon colony is recorded in the reminscences of Miriam D. Colt, and Charles Stewart. It has also featured in two articles in the Kansas Historical Quarterly: R. Hickman's 'The Vegetarian and Octagon Settlement Companies' (November 1933) and J. G. Cambone, 'Kansas- A vegetarian utopia: the Letters of John Milton Hadley, 1855-6' (1972).Read more:
Miriam Davis Colt's book, Went to Kansas
Watson Stewart's Memoirs
Kansas Historical Quarterly articles are being transcribed; please click here
to see if these have been added
About the Author: James Gregory is a full-time doctoral candidate at the Department of History, the University of Southampton in England. A graduate of Pembroke College, the University of Oxford, and Pembroke College, the University of Cambridge; he is researching the personnel and wider connections of the British vegetarian movement in the Nineteenth Century, having been awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Board scholarship in 1999.