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Lowell History: Visitor Observations 1827-1913

Observations of Lowell by Archibald Prentice, 1848



Gloucester, Cape Anne, July 22, 1848 
We left Hartford on Monday last, travelling to Boston on a very well constructed railway, passing through a country neither fertile nor beautiful, except along the banks of the Connecticut river, where the soil is comparatively rich and the trees luxuriant. We spent the afternoon of Monday and the whole of Tuesday in Peninsulate Boston--the Venice of New England; but the weather being intolerably hot, we resolved to proceed to Lowell on Wednesday morning, distance twenty-six miles, by one of the numerous railways which branch out from the capital of Massachusetts. I found this new manufacturing town a much larger and more important place than I had anticipated. A description written half a dozen years ago is now out of date, so rapid has been the progress. In 1822 the population was only 200; in 1825 it had increased to 2,500; in 1836, to 18,000; and it is now 33,000! From the statistics now lying before me, in this sea side retreat, I am enabled to give an account of the extent of its principal manufactures, and the number of persons employed in each. 
The general rate of increased production during the last twelve years is indicated by the increase at three of the principal factories.

The Merrimack Company, in 1836, had 35,704 spindles, used 2,288,000 pounds of cotton, and produced 9,568,000 yards of cloth. In 1848 it has 68,000 spindles, uses 4,100,000 pounds of cotton, and produces 18,000,000 yards of cloth.

The Lawrence Company, in 1836, had 31,000 spindles, used 3,328,000 pounds of cotton, and produced 10,400,000 yards of cloth. In 1848 it has 45,000 spindles, uses 5,000,000 pounds of cotton, and produces 13,500,000 yards of cloth.

The Massachusetts Company, established in 1840, has now 45,700 spindles, uses 7,800,000 pounds of cotton, and produces 25,000,000 yards of (drillings) cloth. 
In addition to the mills belonging to the large companies enumerated, are a number of small factories, saw mills, planing machines, and other works necessary to the construction and maintenance of manufacturing establishments, producing to the amount of a million of dollars, or more than £200,000 annually. 
The operatives, 13,000 in number, employed in the twelve larger establishments, have strict rules to follow. The following are the regulations to be observed by all persons employed in the factories of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company:--

The overseers are to be always in their rooms at the starting of the mill, and not absent unnecessarily during working hours. They are to see that all those employed in their rooms are in their places in due season, and keep a correct account of their time and work. They may grant leave of absence to those employed under them, when they have spare hands to supply their places, and not otherwise, except in cases of absolute necessity.

All persons in the employ of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company are to observe the regulations of the room where they are employed. They are not to be absent from their work without the consent of the overseer, except in cases of sickness, and then they are to send him word of the cause of their absence. They are to board in one of the houses of the company, and give information at the counting-room where they board, when they begin, or whenever they change their boarding place; and are to observe the regulations of their boarding-house.

Those intending to leave the employment of the company, are to give at least two weeks' notice thereof to their overseer.

All persons entering into the employment of the company, are considered as engaged for twelve months, and those who leave sooner, or do not comply with all these regulations, will not be entitled to a regular discharge.

The company will not employ any one who is habitually absent from public worship on the Sabbath, or known to be guilty of immorality.

A physician will attend once in every month at the counting room, to vaccinate all who need it, free of expense.

Any one who shall take from the mills or the yard, any yarn, cloth, or other article, belonging to the company, will be considered guilty of stealing, and be liable to prosecution.

Payments will be made monthly, including board and wages. The accounts will be made up to the last Saturday but one in every month, and paid in the course of the following week.

These regulations are considered part of the contract, with which all persons entering into the employment of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company engage to comply. 
John Avery, Agent. 
The females, after their labour is over in the factories, are not removed from the superintendence of the manager. The following are the regulations for the boarding-houses of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company:--

The tenants of the boarding-houses are not to board, or permit any part of their houses to be occupied by any person except those in the employ of the company, without special permission.

They will be considered answerable for any improper conduct in their houses, and are not to permit their boarders to have company at unreasonable hours.

The doors must be closed at ten o'clock in the evening, and no person admitted after that time, without some reasonable excuse.

The keepers of the boarding-houses must give an account of the number, names, and employment of their boarders when required, and report the names of such as are guilty of any improper conduct, or are not in the regular habit of attending public worship.

The buildings, and yards about them, must be kept clean and in good order; and if they are injured, otherwise than from ordinary use, all necessary repairs will be made, and charged to the occupant.

The sidewalks, also, in front of the houses, must be kept clean, and free from snow, which must be removed from them immediately after it has ceased falling; if neglected, it will be removed by the company at the expense of the tenant.

It is desirable that the families of those who live in the houses, as well as the boarders, who have not had the kinepox, should be vaccinated, which will be done at the expense of the company, for such as wish it.

Some suitable chamber in the house must be reserved, and appropriated for the use of the sick, so that others may not be under the necessity of sleeping in the same room. 
John Avery, Agent.

The hours of attendance at the mills are thirteen and a half; an hour and a half is allowed for meals, making the actual working time twelve hours. From what cause has the large amount of manufactures in this new town arisen, and how have the proprietory companies attained the power to dictate such regulations in a country where labour is so scarce?

The establishment of manufactures is mainly to be attributed to the English Corn Law, the operation of which gave rise to a general desire throughout the states that a home market for agricultural produce should be created. The more immediate impulse was given by the war of 1813, occasioned by our impolitic Orders in Council, and our rigorous enforcement of the right of search. "The interrupted commerce and high prices," says Mr. Miles in his Lowell As It Is, "which attended the last war with England, turned the attention of monied  
men, in various parts of this country; to manufactures." There was a prospect not only of great profit, but of great popularity, to those who would contribute to make the United States less dependent on England for textile fabrics, and the erection of a cotton mill came to be regarded as an act of the most exalted patriotism. 
Profit and popularity combined offered the strongest motive for speculation. Your acute American has always a sharp eye for the discovery of an available water privilege. The shores of the Merrimack river were covered with forest trees, and it was found that the falls of Pawtucket offered a serious obstruction to the floating of timber down to Newburyport, at the mouth of the river. A company was established in 1792 which formed a canal a mile and a half in length, having four locks, to accomplish the descent of thirty-two feet. The speculation, however, was. not a profitable one, for in 1804 another canal was completed which connected the Merrimack with Boston harbour, and much of the timber which had previously been sent down to Newburyport found its way to Boston, where there was more ship-building. After the impulse given to home manufactures in 1813, several small factories had been erected on the banks of the canal, but it was not for some years that its full value as a water privilege was discovered. The success of the Waltham Mills, commenced in 1814 and in 1820 employing more than four hundred hands, gave encouragement to greater undertakings. Mr. White relates that in the latter year Mr. Paul Moody had charge of the Waltham Mills, and a friend of his, Mr. Ezra Worthen, a former partner in business, was connected with the manufacturing establishment at Amesbury. From his childhood Mr. Worthen had been acquainted with the neighbourhood of the Pawtucket Falls; and when the profitableness of the manufacturing business led to inquiries for water power, the immense advantage which this place held out soon struck his eye. While on a visit to Waltham, he expressed a wish to Mr. Patrick T. Jackson, one of the principal directors of the company there, that they would set up works in some new place, and give him employment in conducting them. Mr. Jackson replied, that they would willingly do this, if he would find a good water power. Immediately Mr. Worthen named the Pawtucket Falls; and with a piece of chalk drew a map of the river and canal on the floor. The rude sketch was enough to give Mr. Jackson a favourable impression, and he requested Mr. Moody to visit, with Worthen, the place which the latter had described. It was not long before they explored the whole neighbourhood, tracing the course of the canal, surveying the adjoining land and shores, and satisfying themselves that the place afforded great facilities for building up a large manufacturing town. Soon after the reception of their highly favourable report, the directors of the Waltham Company resolved to procure this eligible site. 
Land was purchased to the extent of four hundred acres, the whole stock of the canal company was bought, the Merrimack Manufacturing Company was incorporated, and operations were vigorously commenced, the first of which was to enlarge the canal to sixty feet in width and eight in depth. In November, 1823, the first cloth was produced by the Merrimack Company. Additional joint-stock manufacturing companies were formed, and additional water power became necessary. A new and large canal has been constructed during the last two years, at an expense of upwards of £100,000, which renders a great portion of the river available. Its water section is 1500 square feet, being generally 100 feet wide and 15 feet deep; in places the width is narrower, but the depth has been increased so as to still have the same section, the depth being at the river 20 feet. A covered canal, or under ground aqueduct, is now in the course of construction, from the New or Northern  
Canal to the Merrimack Canal, to distribute the advantages of the new supply, and to maintain the level in the other feeders. Owing to these late improvements, the available fall at the mills may be reckoned at 33 feet; the flow of the river in its lowest stages is 1700 cubic feet per second, and since this is used but 13 hours out of the 24, and the pond made by the dam is of sufficient capacity to retain the water, the supply during working hours is 3,140 cubic feet per second; of this water and fall from 80 to 90 per cent. is made effective by the use of the turbines constructed by Boyden. As the result from the above data, we have the available and effective power on the jact-shaft, the equivalent of 10,000 horse power. To make constant, and to increase the power of the river during the dry months, the large lakes at the source of the Winnipiseogee and Squam, covering an extent of above 100 square miles, have been secured, and by this means not only will the water power of Lowell, but for the whole extent of the river, be increased. This increase may be estimated at 50 per cent., giving a total of 15,000 horse power as the supply of the Merrimack at Lowell. Theturbine, by which so large a per centage of the water power is made available, is a horizontal water-wheel with a vertical axis and curved float-boards. The whole is "boxed-in," as it were, with solid granite round the circumference and at top and bottom, so that none of the water, which enters at the upper part of one side and escapes at the lower part of the other, is wasted; and the wheel works although the back water is level with its upper surface if the top of the column from which it comes be on a higher level. The principle is a modification of one that has been long in use in Languedoc and Guyenne, in the south of France, where the water flows upon a horizontal wheel in the shape of an inverted cone with spiral float-boards.

Water in abundance, and the use of mechanical means for its economical application, the question was, where were the workpeople to come from? To obtain the supply of labour there was an admirable union of philanthropy and worldly wisdom. The sagacious founders of the town knew that unless the various manufacturing establishments made a moral provision which would satisfy parents, in a country where much of the religious strictness of the early puritans prevailed, young people would not be permitted to become mill operatives. Amongst the well-educated community of New England, where the standard of morality stands confessedly high, it was necessary to offer high moral temptations--to give unequivocal assurance not only that there should be none of the evil communications which corrupt good manners, but that the means of religious, moral, and intellectual teaching should be amply provided. In reading the regulations of the boarding-houses the Englishman wonders why, in a country where labour is scarce, the workpeople submit to so much strictness of rule. The fact is, that without strict regulation workpeople could not be had. The managers have to exercise the strictness of parental rule that parents may feel the conviction that their children are safe. Mr. White says:--

"The productiveness of these works depends upon one primary and indispensable condition--the existence of an industrious, sober, orderly, and moral class of operatives. Without this, the mills in Lowell would be worthless. Profits would be absorbed by cases of irregularity, carelessness, and neglect; while the existence of any great moral exposure in Lowell would cut off the supply of help from the virtuous homesteads of the country. Public morals and private interests, identical in all places, are here seen to be linked together in an  
indissoluble connection. Accordingly, the sagacity of self-interest, as well as more disinterested considerations, has led to the adoption of a strict system of moral police.

"There is one consideration bearing upon the character of our operatives, which must all the while be borne in mind. We have no permanent factory population. This is the wide gulf which separates the English manufacturing towns from Lowell. Only a very few of our operatives have their homes in this city. The most of them come from the distant interior of the country.

"To the general fact, here noticed, should be added another, of scarcely less importance to a just comprehension of this subject,--the female operatives in Lowell do not work, on an average, more than four and a half years in the factories. They then return to their homes, and their places are taken by their sisters, or by other female friends from their neighbourhood. Returns will hereafter be given which will establish the fact of the average above named.

"Here, then, we have two important elements of difference between English and American operatives. The former are resident operatives, and are operatives for life, and constitute a permanent, dependent factory caste. The latter come from distant homes, to which in a few years they return, to be the wives of farmers and mechanics of the country towns and villages. The English visiter to Lowell, when he finds it so hard to understand why American operatives are so superior to those of Leeds and Manchester, will do well to remember what a different class of females we have here to begin with--girls well educated in virtuous rural homes; nor must the Lowell manufacturer forget that we forfeit the distinction, from that moment, when we cease to obtain such girls as the operatives of the city.

"To obtain this constant importation of female hands from the country, it is necessary to secure the moral protection of their characters while they are resident in Lowell. This, therefore, is the chief object of that moral police referred to.

"It should be stated, in the outset, that no persons are employed on the Corporations who are addicted to intemperance, or who are known to be guilty of any immoralities of conduct. As the parent of all other vices, intemperance is most carefully excluded. Absolute freedom from intoxicating liquors is understood, throughout the city, to be a pre-requisite to obtaining employment in the mills, and any person known to be addicted to their use is at once dismissed. This point has not received the attention, from writers upon moral condition of Lowell, which it deserves; and we are surprised that the English traveller and divine, Dr. Scoresby, in his recent book upon Lowell, has given no more notice to this his subject. A more strictly and universally temperate class of persons cannot be found, than the nine thousand operatives (now 13,000) of this city; and the fact is as well known to all others living here, as it is of some honest pride among themselves. In relation to other immoralities, it may be stated, that the suspicion of criminal conduct, association with suspected persons, and general and habitual light behaviour and conversation, are regarded as sufficient reasons for dismissions, and for which delinquent operatives are discharged." 
A part of the moral machinery employed is that all the boarding-houses are the property of and under the direction of the various corporations. We visited one in a long range of excellent three-story houses, with a good pavement in front and a row of trees. They were such dwellings as would let for £40 a-year in Manchester, private looking, each having a brass plate with the name on the door, well finished inside and out, scrupulously clean, with two carpetted and neatly-furnished parlours, fifteen feet square each, used as the sitting-rooms of the young women, and the bed-rooms such as one might expect to find in a respectable English boarding-house for young ladies. I observed that every boarder had her little library, generally of religious books, and that a number had well-engraved and well-framed portraits of their respective ministers. In the spinning and weaving-rooms of the Merrimack Company I saw the young women at work, plainly but neatly dressed in dark-coloured prints or ginghams coming up to the throat, all bearing evidence of good health, although the actual working time is twelve hours a day. I regarded their appearance as a corroboration of a theory I had formed that women in America who had work to do were likely to have better health than those who had none. I saw them going to dinner, in twos and threes, arm-in-arm, all with hoods or bonnets, and perhaps one-half of them with green veils, having the look of farmers' daughters in our own country when, in their ordinary clothing a little tidied, they go an errand into the village shop. At night I went out into the main street, and saw hundreds of them "a shopping," in the perfect security that in this town of more than thirty thousand inhabitants there was not one person who dared to offer them an insult, either by word or look! These young women receive on an average three dollars a week, out of which they pay a dollar and a quarter for board, so that out of their savings, put out at interest in the savings' bank, they can accumulate, during their five years' stay, a pretty little marriage portion.

The Savings' Bank was incorporated in 1829, since which time it has received two millions five hundred thousand dollars, and paid out one million eight hundred thousand. Of the two thousand depositors in the bank, about one-half are factory girls, the amount of whose funds is a hundred and twenty thousand dollars, or £25,000 sterling. Many of the young women have £40 or £50 deposited, and some have as much as £100. Two per cent. interest is paid every six months, which, if not withdrawn, is added to the the principal, thus compounding interest every year. New England being rather a sterile country, many of the young men emigrate to the far west, carrying with them the sober, industrious, and moral habits of their fatherland--and young wives of similar habits, with a "tocher" or portion derived from their labour and saved by their economy at Lowell.

There are in Lowell twenty-three regularly-constituted religious societies, viz., one Episcopal, four Congregational Orthodox, one Congregational Unitarian, three Baptist, three Universalist, two Episcopal Methodists, two Wesleyan Methodists, two Roman Catholics, two Free-will Baptists, two Christians, and one Free Chapel, connected with the Ministry at large. These societies have erected nineteen churches, at a cost of three hundred and eight thousand dollars; and two new churches have been commenced this season. They are served at the present time by twenty-two ministers, whose support, with other expenses 
of public worship, amounts to twenty-five thousand dollars per year. Connected with these societies there are six thousand one hundred and twenty-three Sunday-School pupils and teachers, constituting about a fifth part of the entire population of the city. Though all these societies are composed altogether of working people, and many of them almost exclusively of factory operatives, yet their charities are many in number, and are considerable in their aggregate amount. Contributions of four hundred dollars have repeatedly been made, in a single church, for missionary purposes. One of these societies raised, two years ago, one thousand dollars for the purchase of a pastor's library. Another has established, within a few years, a parish library of two thousand six hundred volumes, of permanently valuable books, and has recently undertaken the support of a Ministry at large, pledging itself for this purpose to the amount of eight hundred dollars a year, It has been ascertained that the charities of the religious societies of the city, during the past year, beside what was raised for their ordinary expenses, amounted to ten thousand three hundred and twenty-six dollars.

I had occasion, in a previous letter, to remark on the comparative absence of rancourous feeling amongst the various religious sects in this country. Mr. White, the historian of a city which has only a twenty years' history, says of the above numerous body:--

"A better feature still of the Lowell churches is that higher kind of charity, which the Apostle has placed above the bestowing even of all one's goods to feed the poor. Few are the places which, on the whole, are more exempt from bigotry, intolerance, and the little arts of persecution and censoriousness so often suggested by sectarian zeal. The clergymen of the city often meet together, to consult and act in concert, to promote some moral end; and such meetings have encouraged generous feelings between the professors of different forms of faith. The factory girl, who comes to Lowell, finds a church professing the creed in which she has been educated; and many become interested in their Sunday-school, and attached to their pastor, and have occasion to remember this city with gratitude, as the birth-place of that higher life to which they have here been awakened." 
But I must bring my letter to a close. We were exceedingly pleased with our visit to Lowell. I said to the kind and hospitable family with whom we were guests: "It is all very delightful; but I think I could form something nearly as good in England if it were possible to give me the privilege of taxing all the other inhabitants to the amount of twenty-five per cent. on all that my community produced." The mills, though enjoying this protection, do not yield more profit than could be had by ordinary investment on mortgage; but it is believed that even additional outlay will be safe, and new factories of various kinds, in the neighbourhood, and where water power can be had, are in the course of erection, the capitalists either expecting additional protection, or calculating on the effects of our Ten Hours' Bill, and believing that young women who can earn their marriage portion in five years will not call for such a change as would compel them to work six years for that object.