Social enterprise in Antebellum America: the case of Nashoba (1824-1829)

Academic Article


  • Purpose: This paper examines the case of Nashoba, a Tennessee-based social enterprise founded in 1824 by Scottish immigrant Frances Wright. The Nashoba venture intended to diminish the institution of slavery in the USA through entrepreneurial activity over its five years of operation. Design/methodology/approach: This study methodology entailed mining primary source data from Wright’s letters; communications with her cofounders and contemporaries; and documentations of enterprise operations. The authors examined these data using social enterprise theory with a focus on personal identity and time-laden empirical aspects not captured by traditional methodologies. Findings: The social enterprise concept of a single, self-sustaining model generating more than one denomination of value in a blended form has a deeper history than the literature acknowledges. As an entrepreneur, Wright made strategic decisions in a context of supply-side and demand-side threats to the venture. The social enterprise engaged injustice by going beyond market and state contexts to generate impact in the realms of institutions and non-excludable public goods. Research limitations/implications: This study generates two formal implications for the development of new research questions in social enterprise studies. The first implication addresses the relation between social entrepreneurs and their constituencies. The second implication pertains to the effects of macro-level education, awareness and politics on social enterprise performance and impact. The implications herald new insights in social enterprise, such as the limits of moral conviction and the importance of social disruption. Originality/value: This paper broadens the current understanding of how social enterprises redress unjust and unethical institutions. It also contributes new insights into social enterprise launch and growth based on shared values within communities and coordinated strategic intentions across communities.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Murphy PJ; Smothers J; Novicevic MM; Humphreys JH; Roberts FB; Kornetskyy A
  • Start Page

  • 99
  • End Page

  • 119
  • Volume

  • 24
  • Issue

  • 1