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Bolton Hall (activist)

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Bolton Hall (activist)

Bolton Hall

Bolton Hall (1854–1938) was an American lawyer, author, and back-to-the-land movement in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.[1]


Hall was active on behalf of various progressive movements. He was an admirer of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French politician, philosopher and socialist, of Benjamin R. Tucker, editor and publisher of the individualist anarchist periodical Liberty, and Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, pacifist and Christian anarchist.[2] He was opposed to Marxism and agreed with classical liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer, who called it "the coming slavery."[3]

Hall was an early leader of the Central Labor Union because he submitted a motion to oppose opening a Spanish-American War inasmuch as the latter country had agreed to arbitration in the Havana, Cuba, sinking of the battleship Maine. The motion lost by a small margin.[4]

Before 1908 he established the Vacant Lot Gardening Association in New York City, which grew to "about 200 members" who "conducted a number of experiments in and near New York during its existence." One of them included the use of thirty acres of land on Bronxdale Avenue, near White Plains Road, "which the Astor estate had allowed us to use and on which a number of families had been living." Afterward, the association used property on Dyckman Street near Prescott Avenue, not for cultivation, but for the establishment of a tent city. The difficulty in getting free land for "vacant lot gardening" led Hall to establish the Little Land League, whose idea was to buy property no more than 90 minutes from New York for a training school, "and the people who have proved capable there we shall put on their feet as farmers on a larger piece of land further away." In 1909 he made a trip to Europe to study vacant-lot gardening.[5]

In 1910 he deeded some 68 acres of land to establish the egalitarian community of Free Acres in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, under which the residents pay only a single tax on land values to the community, which, in turn, pays a lump sum to the city. Improvements such as buildings were not to be taxed, but only the value of the land.[6][7]

On June 5, 1916, he was arrested along with Ida Rauh on a misdemeanor charge of distributing pamphlets on birth control at a public meeting in Manhattan's Union Square on May 20 of that year.[8]

He was a disciple of [1]

Personal life

Hall was born in Ireland on August 5, 1854, the son of the Rev. John Hall, who later became pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Because he was a teenager when the family came to the United States in 1868, he continued to speak English with an Irish accent.[3] In 1875 he was graduated from Princeton University (where he rowed crew),[3] and he received his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1881. He and Susie Hurlbut Scott were married in 1884[9] and they had a son, John Hoyt Hall, who died at 14 in 1911, [10]and one daughter, Lois, who later married Gerard P. Herrick.[1]

Around 1886, Hall was a member of the export firm of McCarty and Hall, which failed that year. He filed for bankruptcy, but withdrew the action after settling with creditors.[11]

It was reported after the death of the elder Hall in 1898 that the minister had disinherited Bolton "because of the latter's friendly attitude to labor and his friendship for Henry George and his belief in the single tax." Bolton Hall denied the report.[11][Note 1]

He died on December 10, 1938, at the age of 85 while visiting [1]


After providing for his wife and daughter, Hall bequeathed his residuary estate and $2,000 to the Bolton Hall in Tujunga, California — a structure that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.[13]:38


Cover of a 1908 book by Bolton Hall

Hall was the author of:[14]

  • Sir Evelyn's Charge; or, a Child's Influence (1887)
  • Who Pays Your Taxes? (1892)
  • Even as You and I (1897 or 1900)
  • The Iron Ore Trust (1899)
  • Things as They Are (1899 or 1909)
  • The Game of Life (1902)
  • Free America (1904)
  • Three Acres and Liberty (1907)
  • A Little Land and a Living (1908)
  • Money Making in Free America (1909)
  • Life and Love and Peace (1909)
  • The Garden Yard (1911)
  • What Tolstoy Taught (1911)
  • The Gift of Sleep (1911)
  • The Mastery of Grief (1913)
  • Thrift (1916)
  • The Psychology of Sleep (1917)
  • The Halo of Grief (1919)
  • The New Thrift (1923)
  • The Living Bible — The Whole Bible in Its Fewest Words (1928)


  1. ^ Published details of John Hall's will state that (upon the death of his wife) his children were to receive equal shares of the estate apart from Bolton who was only to receive the interest from his share. (The Sun; October 25, 1898)


  1. ^ a b c d December 11, 1938New York Times,"Bolton Hall, 84, Single Taxer, Dies," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  2. ^ Rebecca Kneale Gould, At Home In Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America. University of California Press, 2006 (pp. 173–6). ISBN 0-520-24142-8
  3. ^ a b c d e (undated), cited in The School for Cooperative Individualism websiteThe FreemanFrederic Cyrus Leubuscher, "Bolton Hall,"
  4. ^ April 18, 1898New York Times,"Workmen Discuss War," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  5. ^ August 24, 1909New York Times,"Helping the Poor Back to the Land," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  6. ^ , October 11, 1998The New York TimesJerry Cheslow, "If You're Thinking of Living In / Berkeley Heights, N.J.; Quiet Streets Near River and Mountain",
  7. ^ February 10, 1991New York Times,Jay Romano, "Free Acres Journal; a Haven Where Residents Own the Houses but Not the Land," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  8. ^ June 6, 1916New York Times,"Arrest Bolton Hall and Mrs. Eastman," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  9. ^ NYT Feb 27, 1884
  10. ^ NYT, October 11, 1911
  11. ^ a b August 18, 1899New York Times,"Bolton Hall Settles," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  12. ^ February 7, 1939New York Times,"Aids Henry George Study," Access to this link requires a subscription to the newspaper or its website.
  13. ^ Marlene A. Hitt, Sunland and Tujunga: From Village to City, Arcadia Publishing (2002). ISBN 978-0-7385-2377-4.
  14. ^ Open Library website

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