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Mary Appleton Aiken

Connection Threads Newsletter Fall 2002
Mary Appleton Aiken
Gray Fitzsimons, Historian
Lowell National Historical Park

I was born in 1803 near the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  My Father, a clergyman was related to the wealthy merchant Nathan Appleton, who became one of the leading investors in Lowell’s textile mills.  After I married in 1832, my husband John and I moved to Manchester, Vermont, where John taught at a seminary.  While there, he studied law and entered the legal profession.  Through family and professional connections, John received an offer to move to Lowell and become agent of the Tremont Mills.  Our lives changes dramatically in 1834 when we moved from the small Vermont village to the growing factory town of Lowell.  Very quickly I became involved in Lowell’s active social and religious life.  Just after we arrived we witnessed two labor strikes in Lowell, the first in 1834 and the second and larger in fall of 1836.
On October 4, 1836, I wrote to my mother, Elizabeth Appleton:


“You have heard, I suppose, of the turn-out.  Tis a more determined resolute affair than the last. They have resolved themselves into a sort of trade union Society—held their first meeting in the grove at Chapel Hill, their second in the City Hall; both places they made speeches & bound themselves to spare no pains to leave the mills.  I pity some of the poor things who have been persuaded against their better judgment & are without money or credit, & dare not return to their work, for fear of their leaders.” (from the Appleton-Aiken Family Papers at the University of Michigan)

My husband John and the other agents worked out a compromise to rescind the rate increase at the corporation boardinghouses that had sparked the protest and many of the women returned to the mills.  Not long after the strike, John accepted the agent’s position at the Lawrence Mills, though we continued to live in the Tremont Corporation’s agent’s house.  With the help of servants, I raised our family, kept a lively social calendar, and attended to church business at the John Street Congregational Church.  My husband and I were both active in the Temperance Movement and actively followed the growing anti-slavery movement that had aroused the passion of many of our fellow church members.  My sister Jane’s husband, Franklin Pierce, who was a rising Democrat politician in New Hampshire and was elected president of the United States in 1852, has a cordial relationship with John although each remained in opposing political parties.  When John accepted the job in nearby Andover in 1850, we left Lowell and the city’s textile business.  Although we never again lived in the Spindle City, during our eighteen years there, we saw it grow from a factory village to the nation’s most important industrial center.