Observations of Lowell

Observations of Lowell by Patrick Sheriff, 1832




The stage from Newburyport to Lowell was crowded with well-dressed females, unembarrassed in manner, untainted with forwardness or vulgarity, and who evidently had not been accustomed to high life. On our arrival at Lowell, we observed several stages deposit loads of the same sex, which circumstance was accounted for by the extensive cotton-manufactories situated in the immediate neighbourhood. There is a constant succession of females departing from, and arriving at, Lowell; the high wages of those attending the factories attract such as particularly want a sum of money, after obtaining which they return home.

Lowell is the chief seat of cotton manufactures in the United States was formerly a section of the town of Chelmsford, and derives its name from Francis Lowell, who introduced the manufacture of cotton into the States. It is situated at the confluence of the rivers Merrimack and Concord, and has risen into manufacturing importance of late years. The source of its riches and power is the water of the Merrimack, which is conducted to the town by a canal, one mile and a half in length, eight feet deep, and sixty wide, distributed by lateral branches, and again discharged, either into the Merrimack or Concord; the fall being thirty-two feet. Lowell communicates with Boston, from which it is distant twenty-five miles, by a canal, and a railway is now forming.

The manufactures comprehend those of cotton, and woollen of various kinds, gunpowder, ale, &c. The chief manufacturing company is the Merrimack, which, in 1832, employed four hundred males and nine hundred females, with one thousand looms and twenty-six thousand spindles at work.

By the census of Lowell for January, 1828, the total population was 3532, of which 2190 were females. On 12th June, 1830, the population was 6477, whereof 4085 were females.  


The following is the census on 1st June, 1832—

White Males

10 (under)    703 
10 to 20       563 
20 to 30    1,996 
30 to 40       720 
40 to 50       208 
50 to 60         62 
Above 60        27

White Females

10(under)    771 
10 to 20   1,465 
20 to 30   2,735 
30 to 40      638 
40 to 50      238 
50 to 60        83 
Above 60       52

Grand Total: 10,254

The females engaged in manufacturing amount to nearly 5,000, and as we arrived at Lowell on the afternoon of Saturday, we had an opportunity of seeing those connected with some of the largest cotton factories retiring from labour. All were clean, neat, and fashionably attired, with reticules hanging on their arms, and calashes on their heads. They commonly walked arm in arm without displaying levity. Their general appearance and deportment was such that few British gentlemen, in the middle ranks of life, need have been ashamed of leading any one of them to a tea-party. Next day, being Sunday, we saw the young females belonging to the factories going to church in their best attire, when the favourable impressions of the preceding evening were not effaced. They lodge, generally, in boarding-houses, and earn about 8s. 6d. sterling per week, independent of board; serving girls earn about 4s. 3d.

The recent introduction of large manufacturing establishments, thin population, and ample reward of labour, account for the apparent comfort and propriety of the Lowell young women. The Situation of the manufacturing class in Britain is very different: nurtured amidst poverty and vice, they toil in crowded and unwholsome factories from infancy, often disregarded by parents and employers, and attaining maturity ruined in constitution and in morals, with few of the sympathies of humanity.

The factories and dwelling-houses at Lowell are mostly composed of brick, although good building stone is to be had everywhere. The people seem to be influenced by habit in house-building at Lowell; a wooden dwelling-house was being erected where rock, which had been dug from the cellar, was obstructing its progress, and thousands of loads of stones quarried in forming a railway, were lying at not more than one hundred yards distant. Here I saw a stone arch building across a lateral branch of the canal, which was the only bridge of that material I saw--wood generally being used for their construction. Many large sized dwelling-houses and factories were in the progress of erection.

Lowell is connected with the village Belvedere by a bridge over the river Concord, the water of which is also employed in propelling machinery. In Lowell there are seven newspapers published, one of which is a daily paper. There are no less than forty religious and benevolent societies--a magnitude of number, owing, perhaps, to the many religious sects wishing to equal each other in good deeds. This village may be taken as an instance of the giant strides by which the United States are advancing to greatness, and the immeasurable water power nature has lavished on them. The canal supplies more water than the present machinery requires; and, after inspecting the surplus in the canal and rivers, I am of opinion, there is water enough to propel nearly one hundred times the machinery at present employed, and which might employ a population of above a hundred thousand souls.

Britain is said to owe much of her greatness to the supply of coal with which she has been blessed; but however extensive and available it may be, the water power of the United States will excel it in cheapness and magnitude. The price of labour is, and will likely continue, much cheaper in Britain than in the United States, which seems the only circumstance that can ultimately give a superiority to the manufactories of the former. 
The strawberry plant was met with in every direction throughout our excursions, and the fruit was found to be of superior quality on very poor soil on the banks of the Concord. In one instance I removed a plant from the earth, the leaves of which did not cover three-fourths of an inch in diameter, bearing two ripe berries and one unripe. The apple-trees from Boston to Lowell exhibited leafless trunks; and, on inspection, I found the cankerworm which was said to have destroyed them had disappeared.

At Newburyport the noise of toads and land turtles, in the evenings, was deafening. At Lowell we first became acquainted with the call of the bull-frog, which in loudness and expression strongly resembles the note of the English bull.