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Lowell Mill Girl Letters

Ebenezer Robinson, February 20, 1846




                                             Freetown, Ms.2 Feb. 20, 1846

            Dear Sister,

           The condition on which you are to receive a letter from this place during the present month is decreed to be that I must write the first sheet---& so I submit, although it is not fair play, because it is not a rule that works both ways. But however, to the task. In your November fortnights’ visit, I suppose you talked every thing over that had then transpired, & every matter of interest, with regard to our concerns, on which the mind could wander. So then to inform you of anything about our affairs, or to entertain you for the half hour, in the perusal of this sheet, I must needs, speak of things of a later date, or conjure up something else about which to write an epistle. I must leave the Madam to tell her own plaintive story about her troubles & privations during the three weeks of her loneliness, in cold & watchings & suspense & anxieties: but though I was sorry for her, when hearing of it, I did not suspect she would get herself into any such trouble, still I was glad for you  - & my wonder is how you can get along alone, with any degree of comfort, or without wearing upon your constitution, & hastening on the time when it will bear then abuse no longer. Your Sister thinks it a pretty hard case for me to be gone two or three days in a week, with Cousin Sarah here: how then do you live & drag one foot before another when night draws near? How do you get all washed from week to week, &how can you get your food into a proper state for eating. Cant you contract to have some mortal, great or small live in your habitation, that is capable of taking some of those steps & of exerting some of the needed strength to keep all your household matters in a comfortable shape.

           It is my settled opinion that it will cost too much for you or us to live with out assistance in the family – it must be costing pretty dear if a broken constitution & an invalids life or premature death be the result. To take care of present health is of more consequence than to lay up for the future. I know we are apt to get along as much within ourselves as we can, & indeed it is desirable; but a series of extra efforts getting a little overdone, time after time, is what makes draughts on the strength which can never be repaired. It is the wisest economy to take proper care & repairs to preserve that which when lost can never be restored – or being somewhat impaired there is so much the more importance of taking due care &  
precaution that it become no worse.

         What do you do when you get sunk twenty fathom deep with such a load on your back that you might as well think of taking up a millstone on your finger as attempt to rise? Do you give it up & submit to lie there till the burden vanishes & falls off of itself? When you see that you are held down; tied up so that you 
can’t get away – troubles & difficulties rise mountain high before you, burdens that you have not strength to bear – labors that with  the utmost effort you can not perform, what can you do? How do you rise above these things or how do you get up when fairly down? Or don’t you ever get down into the valley so far that you can look up & discern day light & hardly see the stars? If not, their indeed is your circumstances you are highly favored. If you do I can’t tell of any thing better than to con over some select passages from a certain ancient book that many in like circumstances have found a great source of relief to them – which together with an interview with the author of said book, many have by their own blessed experience found a most effectual panacea for ills & troubles of that kind. I should not think it strange indeed if you had heard of the same remedy & tried it. If you have learned its value, don’t fail to try it as often as you have need.

           There has been an Orphan Asylum Agent here from Boston two or three days & as they have sometimes excellent girls 10 or 12 years of age for whom they wish to find good places would it not be well for you to make application for one. They come to the Asylum at B. from all parts of the State- & though the demand is greatest for girls of the age mentioned, yet you might in a little time be in a fair way of getting one, unless you can find one nearer. In the winter the number of children offered to the Asylum is greatest, on account of the difficulty of obtaining fuel & provisions. Many a poor widow or a worse than widow having a drunken husband, when she can keep her children together & provide for them no longer, gives them up 
to be adopted into a good family or to reside for a time with such as are willing to take them. Thus the Asylum affords a temporary home for the little ones & is an Intelligence Office both for the children & the 
families wishing for them – of all ages from a few months to 12 or 15 years there are found or less without one or both parents & in want of homes. There is a paper published monthly devoted to this object, entitled the Orphan’s Advocate & Social Monitor, Boston.

           By not getting my first letter when it arrived at Franklin in Nov. Sarah did not write to me till Tues. the next week & her letter was one day too late, & the consequences was that I did not get it in ten days after & thus both she and & myself were kept in suspense. She urged me to return so hard that together with a disappointment where I had been invited to preach I concluded to return immediately although I was in the vicinity of several vacancies & arrived here the next day after Cousin Sarah did. A few days previous an application had been made from Carver (between Middleboro & Plymouth) & I went there immediately after I returned & have been supplying there ever since – with an engagement till April. It is about ten 
miles further from Taunton than Freetown is - & seven miles from the Plymouth & the same distance from the Middleboro railroad. There are above 100 members in the church – some good people – a tolerably pleasant place – some talk of a rail was directly through there from Wareham to the Old Colony minister, Mr. King had considerable property so that the people did not raise a very large salary for him & it will be more difficult for them to support another minister more entirely dependent on them. I presume they will be glad to have us continue there, but the salary & the want of a house to live in make it a doubtful question about one continuing if they should. Five or six weeks, however, will be likely to settle the matter in some way as it now is I have to walk generally 18 miles on Sat. & back on Mon.- twice. I have rode all the way & back - & a few other times a part of the way. But this is rather hard work – though I can stand it better in the winter than in the summer excepting the traveling is not generally quite as good.

           We went (that is we three) leaving the children with Mrs. Tucker at our house to Carver & to Plymouth, Dec. 22,  Forefather’s day – but not much worth going for did we see – there being no public address as we expected – for the speeches were reserved for the dinner table - & the Pilgrim Hall which contained paintings & relics & curiosities was shut up to be ready for the Ball. It was really enough to make good natured folks a little indignant to be thus imposed upon. But as we could not help it we have only to take care & not be caught so again. We walked over the rock – went to the Pilgrim Hall where in front are the names of the 41 men who came in the Mayflower cast in iron surrounding an oval iron fence; which encloses a large piece of the Rock inscribed “1620”; & thence we walked to the rail road Depot where 475 $3: men dined & drank wine & made speeches. Thence we went over Burying Ground Hill & to a friends house where we had some succotash; & then turned our faces homeward, where we arrived the next afternoon.

           Cousin Sarah is here, though she has not let you know what became of her - & James has been here too, & spent 4 or 5 days – about which I will let her tell you if she pleases. The week that he came (Thur. eve) Sis. went on Tues. to Boston, (Feb.3) to get some teeth filled & staid till Sat. eve. Went Tues. Found her dentist was gone. Wed. – found another Thur.- & he busy – got her work partly done Fri. & finished Sat. a.m.

           We live here in the old house (136) near the meeting house – keep a fire in the fire place in the front room, & warm up the stove in the kitchen in the morning – also wash & bake there - & we live quite independent of good & bad in this said village of Assonet. Our good neighbor Nichols folks hardly seem to know that we live so near them & where we can see what they are about. Mr. Chamberlain now boards with them & teaches a school in a little ten foot shoe shop in the village – Elder Maxwell also teaches by the meeting house.

           It is Sarah’s part also to tell you what she has heard from home. She thought some of returning to Lowell a while – but we have tried to pusuade her to stay here till the middle of May & teach school this summer, then go to S. Hadley next Oct. for a year.

           Here is your blessed Sister on my right hand before the fire, lean(ing) one elbow on my writing chair before a good bearing fire & she finds it hard fighting to keep her eyelids from shuting up. She has baked to-day 6 loaves brown bread (say about 3 pecks) 4 of white bread, 6 pies, & beans & a pudding - & she felt pretty pleasant before she let old ------- take possession, “because she had such a lot of victuals cooked”. I hope you will not draw any inferences for it must be apparent that we do not always keep such a locooked.

           There is nothing of interest in the state of religion in this region so far as I know. All around the great concern is what shall we eat? & what shall we drink? & where withal shall we be clothed? & how much 
can we lay up for the future or for children? Fools any live as creatures of immortality – in a world of probation & bound to the bar of Christ.

           My father was dismissed Jan.1, & mother lives with my brother Samuel’s wife & baby there too. He in VT. with a prospect of locating. My sheet is full. So good bye 
                                             E. W. Robinson

 1Ebenezer Weeks Robinson b: 1 May 1812, Granville, NY;  
     occupation: minister; married 1838: Sarah Bacon Adams. 
  2Freetown, Massachusetts

Sarah & Ebenezer Robinson, January 30, 1846




                                           Freetown, Ms.3 Jan. 30, 1846

Dear Sister,

           Perhaps you have been disappointed in our not writing to you since Sarah has been here-but we have been busy when she has written, so that we have not asked a place in her letters, nor has she made the offer, & so she has written what she pleases, without our knowledge, & from her tell- you of our affairs, there has been less need of our speaking for ourselves. The week after she arrived we had our Institute for Teachers a favorable privilege for her but as we had no $2 bounty to offer as in the other Institutes in the State it was a new thing of which the most were afraid, we had not the numbers present to succeed  according to our expectation. During that week & the week after, Sister Sarah had a very lame neck, so as almost to be laid by; & the next week we attended to painting & cleaning house, so as to move the week following back to the house where you found us. On Thur. of the week we moved we all went to Franklin, and by that time Sarah had made but little progress in her studies for which we were sorry, yet in the circumstances it seed almost unavoidable. She was ab-sent at Franklin & Boylston five weeks. I spent only one day & two nights at F & then went on a parish hunting tour into Conn. thence through Ms. into Vt. & as far North as Middlebury & returned the day after Sarah did. I did not continue longer, though in the region of several vacancies, because of being disappointed in two places & because Sister Sarah begged me to re-  
turn immediately. During the last three weeks she was here alone with the children & had about as hard a time of it as any poor woman ever had. Of this I was entirely ignorant till the day before I started home – the letter sent me arriving one day too late so that I did not get it for ten days - & thinking they would all return together, I felt very safe concerning them. Having been so long out of any productive employment, I felt as if I must take the time when I could leave the family provided for. We were disappointed concern
ing the place, which seemed to be an opening for us, when we wrote the last of Aug., though since Nov. I have had a place to preach still nearer. On account of moving so late, & leaving things but partly arranged & one winter fexins not done, it was hard staying three weeks alone & the more work needed to be done afterward. We have been greatly aided & made much more comfortable than otherwise would have been possible by what Sarah ha done. She has seemed the most of the time to have her mind more upon work than upon study & has not studied any of the time so much as we should have preferred to have her do ex- cept occasionally when we have needed more assistance we have ----- her less in her studies than we should because some of the time she did not appear able to study very hard- & for four weeks past she has been lame by having a sore on the top of her foot made by scalding, raising a small blister; but now she is better than we have ever seen her before. She has seemed to be increasing in her interest in her studies till within a few days; & has appeared till quite lately to be contented – but now for want of seeing company enough perhaps she is rather uneasy - & she is made the more so since receiving your last letter. The last two letters neither of us have seen & we know of what they contain only a little that she had mentioned, incidentally or occasionally. When we understood that she was to come to stay till spring or summer, probably till you come. & hen she seemed to be making good progress in her studies – having gone through Watts on the Mind & now reviewing, pursuing Grammar & progressing in Natural Philosophy you may judge of our surprise when she began this week to talk of leaving us in a week or two when James comes to work in the factory & return home- when we had no idea that she was thinking of it. she has not consulted us as to what is best for her to do; & we supposed she was contented as she is not desiring any change though we can not always promote her improvement as we would wish.

 Now if we are to be consulted, & are to have any thing to say about it, one judgment will be as follows:

 Her time is worth more now for study, than it can be in the factory. Time must be occupied for study & it makes no difference whether she can earn 1, 2 or 3 dollars a week – it is ordinarily worth the same for study as for work; but now it is worth more for study because she has got into a train of study which requires a month or two, just as it takes time to get used to any other business. Every change therefore is at a sacrifice. And it will be more than a common sacrifice to her now, as she is now better able to study 
& a month to come will improve will be about equal to two months past.

 It will be a real disadvantage to her to leave off studying before the first of May - & much better not till June. She needs at least so much time for study to be paid for the preparation she has been making to study to advantage. If we had supposed she intended to stay only till the first of Feb., we should not have 
been willing for her to be gone five weeks, unless study was to be made altogether an incidental secondary thing. But Sis had not seen Sister Lucy since she saw you, & of course desired to go to Franklin when she was there; & it seemed best for Sarah to go home with her, because she wished to go to B. some time, & Sister L. needed her help get home, & immediately after. Thus so much time has been taken up aside from study that if it was worth while for her to come here to make study a business, it is needful for her to stay till June, unless she would be a loser by the bargain. Writing & composition & other studies we wish to have her attend to, & we had no idea of being cheated out of them for want of time. We have taken it for granted that she is familiar with arithmetic & geography & after reviewing Watts, we wish her to pay attention to history, algebra & botany.

 She is deficient in some of her studies, & her desire to have her bring them up as fast as possible. At the Institute, it was evident that she was not so familiar with different branches as some others, with whom she ought to be equal. Her most apparent deficiency in reciting to me, is in Grammar, & in that she needs a good deal of practice. She is often puzzled by very slight difficulties in that. What she needs can not be of some benefit to her, without at least 3 or 4 months longer to do it in.

 The pursuit of her studies is at present the most important thing she can do. It is the proper time – she is at a suitable age to do it – she will before long think she can not afford the time, if she has the Lowell fever & she is in danger of thinking that her studies must be dispatched, like the weaving, when her time is really more valuable for study now, than for any thing else. It will be at a great loss of time, to have her studies suspended at present or very soon.

 She had better take time for study now, than two or three years hence. She can learn probably now, to as good advantage, as hereafter. And by delaying she will either be cheated out of that extent of privilege that she needs or she will be in danger of having her mind on her engagements in such a state as to make it more difficult than at present. There is really nothing in the way of her pursuing her studies till June if you only add your advice to ours. She can have as many hours to study here as she would wish to employ at school & with quite as good if not better opportunities for asking questions about any difficulties that may occur.

 It seems to us quite a short sighted policy for her to stop studying now when the pains already taken to give her the advantage she now enjoys of getting under  weigh; to which I have before referred, & the excuse of coming; & her need of more advantages for study all considered.

 What we should mark out as the course for her is for her own mental improvement and as justice to her would be the following. Let her continue here & we will help her along all we can till the middle of May then the first of June let her have a school for three months & in Oct. let her go to South Hadley for one year; & with nothing short of this should I be satisfied if she was the daughter of my sister, & I had any voice in ad- 
vising with you to her studies. I should not grudge $150 taken from her portion to have her enjoy so much advantage-though the expense will probably not be more than 80 or 90; board & tuition being only $60 per year. She needs to teach in order to fix her studies in mind & to gain the faculty of communications what she does know which may be in part the real difference of her appearance from others-except in what she has committed to memory. I should value this course as better for her then all she can earn in two years. It will be better for her taking her whole life into the account for her to teach next summer (the most advanced school you will be likely to find in Winthrop) to give her practice in arithmetic, grammar etc.) there a girls to keep house while you are visiting in Mass. Her going to school five years will not give her the practice she needs, that she would have by teaching.

 I might say much more had I the time, I would take time, if I could think it necessary,- but it seems that on a review of the case, you will think it best for her to study longer. She is going to become fickle minded, if she is easily discouraged by not having learned all she might in other circumstances, while having now only been really a month well going in her studies…We shall also be left in a bad fix, if she now leaves us because we expected her to stay longer. I thought this is a secondary thing, it is of some consequences.

 We had rather give her a weekly compensation for what she may do more her expenses for we must have somebody, for I am gone from Sat. till Mon. sometimes longer- though we have frequently been obliged today stay alone by the hardest when we thought we must have help, because unable to get it. If you judge however, that it is best for her to go to  Lowell, & take the responsibility, we have nothing more to say.

                                            Yours aff.’ E.W. Robinson 
                                             Freetown Feb. 10th 1846 
My dear Sister: 

           We intended to finish and send this more than a week ago-But Mr. Robinson must spend 2 or 3 days in Carver every week and last week I had more than usual to do by way of preparing to leave as little as possible to do while I was to be absent a few days. I did not till quite recently suppose Sarah had any idea of going home for months to come. I supposed she would remain with us unless she chose to visit her friends some more, until you returned home after your visit to Massachusetts. I did not suppose she thought of going to work at Lowel again and I do not think you appreciate her state of health in consenting that she should go. I do think her health much improved, but I do not think it should long remain what it is now. I can give reasons but it would take more room than I can spare now. I do not think she is able to work hard or constantly at any one employment. In addition to these considerations, we are very unwil- 
ling she should relinquish her studies at present. She not only needs to finish what she has begun but also to take up others and finish them, not only for the information she may acquire but for mental discipline and cultivation. If, however Sarah cannot be contented with us so as to pursue her studies profitibly we would not detain her, tho we must of course feel some or very much disappointed. If you are still dissatisfied will you not write us and tell us wherein then we can govern ourselves accordingly. My husband says he would rather pay half her board & tuition for a year at S.H. rather than that she should not go tho he is not particular to have her go there if she can have equal advantages that she might, but it would take longer anywhere

                                              else. Your aff. Sister. S.B.A.R.

(Written up the left side of letter:)

My love to all. I want to see you and say a great deal more about this & many other things. 
In haste I can study 6 hours per day if she please ordinarily or more.


 1Ebenezer Weeks Robinson b: 1 May 1812, Granville, NY; occupation:  
     minister; married 1838: Sarah Bacon Adams. 
  2Sarah Bacon Adams b: 27 Jun 1809, Franklin, MA d: 19 Feb 1902,  
     Washington, DC; parents: James Adams and Lucy Fairbanks; married  
     1838: Ebenezer Weeks Robinson. 
  3Freetown, Massachusetts.