The Role of Slavery in the Cape Ann Economy
The Slavery Industry as the Basis of the Cape Ann Economy
As a result of its location and protected harbors, as well as its established shipbuilding, fishing, cotton milling and shipping trades, Cape Ann was actively involved in the slave trade and slave-based economy of the North. Economic involvement with slavery began with providing food, lumber, rope, and other basic provisions to slave plantations. Beginning in the early 1600s Massachusetts Bay Colony merchants shipped salt cod, other dried fish, Indian corn and barley flour to feed the African and Native slaves on tobacco and rice plantations in Bermuda and Barbados. Their ships carried fish and flour that Cape Ann merchants and others sold to the Boston traders. In the early 1700s Cape Ann merchants began directly provisioning cotton and rice plantations in the southern colonies, sugar and coffee plantations in Cuba and elsewhere in the West Indies,1Babson, 1860, p. 364. and coffee plantations in Surinam, Guyana and Brazil on the Atlantic coast of South America.2Warren, Wendy, 2017, New England Bound: Slavery And Colonization In Early America.
Cape Ann merchants who at first shipped supplies to slave plantations, and furs, timbers, whale oil and sassafras to England, also began carrying the commodities produced by slaves on the southern and Caribbean plantations to European ports—another pattern of triangular trade. These commodities included tobacco, cotton, and indigo from Carolina and Georgia and sugar and molasses from Cuba.
American exports of sugar and cotton to St. Petersburg, Russia, for example, were brokered by the merchant and sea captain Richard Trask of Manchester-by-the-Sea.3Captain Trask and the St. Petersburg, Manchester Historical Museum: http://manchesterhistoricalmuseum.org/captain-trask-and-the-st-petersburg/. In the 1830s Captain Trask sailed to St. Petersburg, Russia, with Cuban sugar and American cotton. He re-invested proceeds from his sales there and sailed home with Russian hemp, sail cloth, goose feathers for writing quills, and samples of the latest European fashions for his wife. In 1839 Captain Trask launched the largest packet ship ever built in Massachusetts to that time (in Medford). He named it the St. Petersburg.
Thus, in addition to supplying plantations and European markets, Cape Ann ship owners and sea captains also carried the commodities needed for and produced by the triangular trade. Ultimately, some Cape Ann ship owners and sea captains became wealthy by directly buying and selling enslaved people and transporting them to and from slave markets, plantations and home ports.
All the commodities involved in the slave trade required ships and ships’ captains and crews, as well as stores to transport raw materials, enslaved people, and manufactured goods, which spurred the growth of shipbuilding and the shipping industry. The Cape Ann economies thus thrived as much on the industries slavery supported as on the slave trade itself. Everyone was in some way involved.
A key commodity in the slave trade was rum. “Demon rum” is an expression from the Prohibition era in the 1920s, but rum was discovered in the 1700s as an alcoholic beverage that could be made from molasses, a waste product of sugar refining. Molasses recovered from sugar cane processing by slaves in the West Indies and South America was used to brew rum in Cape Ann’s thriving distilleries. In the 1840s, for example, Edward Babson, a Gloucester sea captain and owner of the brig Cadet, sailed back and forth to Surinam, trading salt fish for molasses. The salt fish fed the slaves on the sugar plantations, and the molasses supplied the New England rum business.4http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=13
From around 1800, Pearce’s rum distillery occupied a wharf on Harbor Cove in Gloucester, for example.5Citizens Financial Group Inc. and The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, 2006-2009, Predecessor Institutions Research Regarding Slavery and the Slave Trade, p. 6: https://www.citizensbank.com/pdf/historical_research.pdf. Small operations were common throughout New England, however; it’s been said that a still could be found anywhere molasses could be landed.6http://tellnewengland.com/rumtrade. According to research on connections between Gloucester Bank, founded in 1786, and the slave trade, in the early 1800s:
“Much of the port’s business…was connected to the Surinam Trade, in which dried fish caught by local fishermen were exchanged for molasses produced by the Dutch slave colony on the northern coast of South America. The molasses was brought back to Gloucester, where it was made into rum. Many of the bank’s founders and directors were local merchants involved in this trade, including William Pearce, who was the bank’s president between 1816 and 1818 and owner of Gloucester’s largest distillery.”7Predecessor Institutions Research Regarding Slavery and the Slave Trade, p. 7.
The first president of Gloucester Bank, John Somes, was also involved in the rum business.8http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/historical_material/. The rum produced on Cape Ann was then exported to Europe and Africa as part of the triangular trade. Thus, in addition to being in demand for local consumption and ships’ stores for crews on voyages, rum played a key role in the slave trade.
The rum industry contributed mightily to New England’s prosperity. In 1733 the British passed the Molasses Act, a much-hated tax on molasses, sugar, and rum imports to North America from non-British colonies. The Act was designed to preserve a monopoly for sugarcane planters of the British West Indies, but it encouraged smuggling and contributed to the economic outrages that ultimately led to the War of Independence.9https://www.britannica.com/event/Molasses-Act
19th Century sugar cane plantation. 1867 illustration of workers harvesting sugar cane (Saccharum sp.) on a plantation in Cuba.
Source: Collection Abecasis. Science photo Library
1800s Rum Distillery in the British Virgin Islands
Long-distance involvement with slave-based markets in the course of business sometimes meant that the ownership of slaves was not always confined to home territory. A case in point is that of David Low, a Gloucester born merchant, who took possession of part of a Cuban coffee plantation called Arc de Noe in 1826, in payment of a debt.10Indenture of George DeWolfe and the House of Arrieta Moreland with David Low, for Arc de Noe Plantation, Cuba, 1826. Box P19 File 16. Cape Ann Museum Archives. At the time Cuban plantations were dependent on slave labor11Slavery had been introduced to Cuba in 1511 with Diego Velasquez’s conquering forces. By 1792 there were 8,528 slaves on the island and it is estimated that one million slaves were brought from West Africa before Cuba finally abolished slavery in 1867. Aimes, Hubert H.S., A History of Slavery in Cuba, 1511 to 1868, 1907.
and the Arc de Noe transfer included:
“all the negroes in number as the same were on said estate on the first day of January in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred & twenty six to wit 105 of both sexes, including creole [mixed race] children.”
The proof of this comes from a four-page document outlining an agreement between the owner of the Arc de Noe plantation, George DeWolf, and his agent, the House of Arrieta Moreland & Co., on one side, and David Low on the other, to cover the debt they owed him.12Indenture between David Low and George DeWolfe and the House of Arrieta Moreland, for the Arc de Noe Plantation, Cuba, 1826. Box P19 File 16. Cape Ann Museum Archives. Unfortunately, only the bottom half of the four-page document has survived but it is clear from the available portion that David Low alleged that Arrieta Morland and DeWolf accepted an order to ship a cargo of sugar to Stieglitz & Co. in St. Petersburg, Russia,13Stieglitz & Co. was a private Russian banking enterprise that was one of the prime movers in creating a joint-stock insurance society dealing in international trade insurance and promissory notes. Brumfield, William Craft et al., ed., 2001, Commerce in Russian Urban Culture, 1861-1914. The commercial house of Stieglitz & Co. began in 1803. It was the first bank in Russia and the greatest until its liquidation in 1859. Between 1824 and 1833 the total value of its imports/exports was 30,294,932 rubles a year. The main exports were iron, wool, hemp and tallow. The biggest imports were Cuban sugar and US cotton. Blackwell, William L., The Beginnings of Russian Industrialization 1800-1860, 1968, pp. 192, 86. but failed to do so.
David Low was the eldest child of David and Elizabeth (Rogers) Low who were both from well-established Cape Ann families. He had gone to sea at the age of 16,14Seamen’s Protection Certificates issued at Gloucester to: David Low Jr. aged 16 born Gloucester, #749 on 4/25/1803. David Low aged 17 born Gloucester, #1041 on 5/5/1804. New England Seamen’s Protection Certificates, https://research.mysticseaport.org.
but by the time of this agreement he was living in Boston15Boston Directories, 1825-1829. where he was both a merchant with a business address on Long Wharf and a director of the prestigious mercantile Marine Insurance Company.16The Mercantile Marine Insurance Co. was one of the most successful insurance companies in Boston. It confined its business to marine insurance until 1871 when it began to take on fire risks. It was chartered in 1823 and “its directors have always been among the most respected business-men of Boston.” King Moses, ed., 1881, Kings Handbook of Boston, p.246.
He resided, with his young wife,17David Low (1786-1829), aged 38, married 20-year-old Mary Haswell Langdon in Kings Chapel, Boston, in 1824. Church Records, 1630-1895, New England Historic Genealogical Society: https://www.americanancestors.org.
in a house at Hayward Place, just a short stroll from Boston Common.
George DeWolf18George DeWolf (1798-1844) was a nephew of slave trader and politian James DeWolf (1764-1837). The DeWolf family is estimated to have transported over 11,000 slaves from West Africa to Cuba and the Americas between 1769 and 1808. One of George’s slave ships made a profit of over $100,00 on a single voyage. He used this money to purchase Arc de Noe. Marques, Leonardo, Summer 2012, Slave Trading in a New World: The Strategies of North American Slave Traders in the Age of Abolition, Journal of Early Republic 32 (2): 243: https://www.jstor.org. See also General George deWolf: the man who swindled a whole town, Warwick, RI, Digital History Project: www.warwickhistory.com. was a member of the infamous slave trading family19The DeWolf family has today gone to great lengths to confront and make amends for its slaveholding history. See, for example, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-northern-family-confronts-its-slaveholding-past-88307/. of Bristol, Rhode Island, who was invested in several Cuban sugar and coffee plantations. The House of Arrieta Morland20There were no legitimate banks in Cuba until the 1850s so mercantile houses acted as private bankers. The House of Arrieta Morland and Co. consisted of John Morland, a merchant trader who had arrived in Cuba from New England in the late 1790s and was named acting U.S. Consul to Cuba in 1834; and an unknown member of the Arrieta family of which two brothers, Ignacio and Joaquin later become owners of the highly successful sugar plantation Flor de Cuba, which had over 400 slaves in the 1850s. Chambers, Stephen, 2015, No God But Gain; and Ely, Roland T., Winter 1964, The Old Cuba Trade: Highlights and Case Studies of Cuban-American Interdependence during the Nineteenth Century, The Business History Review 38 (4). No. 4. was an import-export company that provided the plantation owners with credit, acted as their agent for sale of their crops and supplied imported goods to their families.21Perez, Louis A. Jr., 1991, Cuba and the United States: Origins and Antecedents of Relations, 1760-1860s, Cuban Studies Vol. 21, p.71.
The background to the disagreement between them is that George DeWolfe ran into financial difficulties after a combination of economic set-backs in 1824-25, the most crucial of which was the failure of the Cuban sugar crop in 1825.22The Cuban sugar crop failed due to severe weather, then torrential rain delayed what harvest there was. A devastating flood also overwhelmed St. Petersburg in late 1824 destroying the sugar stored in its warehouses and driving the price of sugar up. This opened the door for a financial windf – if you could be among the first to get your sugar to Russia. This led to overextension on the part of merchants which, when combined with a panic over the price of American cotton, threatened the commodities market, causing the banks to intervene and call in loans. At around the same time, the notorious Guamacaro Slave Insurrection occurred, resulting in the destruction of three plantations and the slaying of three plantation owners (and the retaliatory deaths of upwards of one-hundred slaves). All this in turn destabilized the Cuban sugar and coffee markets. Chambers, Stephen, 2013, At Home Among the Dead: North Americans and the 1825 Guamacaro Slave Insurrection, Journal of the Early Republic 33 (1): 61-86: www.jstor.org/stable/23392570.
In fact, George DeWolf, who had an extensive portfolio of creditors, went spectacularly bankrupt, and the abrupt collapse of all his enterprises had far-reaching consequences. His all-pervading financial dealings in his home town of Bristol, Rhode Island, meant that his downfall, and subsequent flight to Cuba,23DeWolf and his family arrived at Arc de Noe on Nov. 18, 1826. Joseph Goodwin Diary, 1820-1827, New York Historical Society Museum, Digital Collections. practically destroyed the town. Businesses in New York, Boston, and Europe teetered; even the small check he wrote to pay for his and his family’s passage to Cuba was subsequently refused by Morland.24Howe, George, 1959, Mount Hope: A New England Chronicle, pp.230-232.
George DeWolf had failed to deliver a contracted cargo of sugar on at least two other occasions in 1825,25Once to the Quito, Capt. James DeWolf Jr., in January. Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States, 1903, Vol.26, pp. 475-502. And Once to the Brig Jacob, Capt. Sylvester Eddy, in June. Howe, George, 1959, p.229. while a third instance, which involved David Low, may have been the origin of this agreement. Low’s dispute was with George DeWolf, but George’s empire had crashed and he had no money, so Low attempted to recoup his loss by bringing suit against John DeWolf,26John De Wolf (1779-1879), also known as Northwest John, was a cousin of George De Wolf. He went to sea at age 13, a cabin boy on one of his uncle Charles De Wolf’s slave ships. He hated the slave trade and as soon as possible transferred to merchant traders, concentrating on Alaskan furs. He made many voyages to Russia which was “in his blood.” Herman Melville was his wife’s nephew and it is believed that Melville absorbed many of his uncle’s tales of the sea. Howe, George, 1959, pp.135-164.
captain of the Octavia which was owned by George DeWolf and another man. According to testimony, in the summer of 1825 Low had advanced money on a cargo of sugar and coffee on board the Octavia, which was bound for Hamburg, Germany. As surety on the loan DeWolf had transferred his interest in the ship to Low, but omitted to inform either his Russian agents Stieglitz & Co. or Captain John of the change. The Octavia arrived in Hamburg where the cargo was sold, then sailed for Russia where it took on a return cargo of hemp, iron and cordage, with Stieglitz & Co. depositing DeWolf’s share of the profits into his London account. On the way home the Octavia ran into bad weather and put in at Copenhagen for repairs, where Captain John left seven bales of hemp to be sold. Unaware of the transfer of ownership to Low, or of DeWolf’s business failure, Captain John ordered Stieglitz & Co. to deposit the proceeds from this sale into George DeWolf’s London account also, which they duly did, and from which DeWolf quickly collected it. Low’s suit was unsuccessful because the court decided that as Captain John did not know of Low’s investment, he was not liable.27Massachusetts Reports: Decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Vol.25, 1830, pp.101-108: www.hathitrust.org.
This decision was not reached until March 1829 and in the meantime Low had taken over part of the plantation, perhaps in lieu of payment.
We do not know when the Low family became divested of the plantation. From his probate record we know that Low was still in possession when he unexpectedly died at Le Havre, France, in early December 1829. Listed among his un-appraised property was interest in an unnamed estate in Cuba, while debts due him from both George DeWolf and Isaac Clapp (DeWolf’s attorney) appear under the heading of “… of doubtful or no value.” The debts totaled $82,750 (over $2 million today) and, in the unlikely event that any were ever paid, it was stipulated that the money was to be split equally between Low’s estate and Stieglitz & Co.28Probate #11997 David Low, 3/2/1830, p.9. Norfolk County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1793-1877: www.americanancestors.org.
In 1833 Low’s widow married her brother-in-law John Gorham Low who thereby became co-administrator of his deceased brother’s estate. Two years later there was a report of $990.19 coming from the “estate in Cuba … half for a/c of David Low … Stieglitz half.”29Probate #11997 David Low, 11/27/1835, p.33. 3rd account on the estate. Norfolk County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1793-1877: www.americanancestors.org.
Whether this was a final clearing of the debt or unexpected profit from the sale of coffee, we do not know. What we do know is that Gloucester merchant David Low had intimate, if long-distance, involvement in a slave-based economy, and probably was not the only 19th century merchant with similar connections to both Cape Ann and Cuba.
Cotton was crucial to the American economy in the mid-19th century, accounting for almost half of the country’s exports between 1820 and 1860. It was also indispensable for domestic consumption, providing the thread, twine, sailcloth, and canvas necessary for America’s maritime trade. Its manufacture in both Old and New England was inextricably connected to the slave plantations of the American south. “Cotton was dependent on slavery and slavery was, to a large extent, dependent on cotton.”32Dattel, Eugene R., Cotton in a Global Economy: Mississippi (1800-1860) www.mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us.
On February 8, 1847 the General Court of Massachusetts passed an “Act to incorporate the Rockport Steam Cotton Mills” allowing the petitioners (Jabez R. Gott, Josiah Haskell and David Babson) to manufacture cotton goods in the town of Rockport. Ten days later another act was passed allowing a similar group (comprised of Benjamin K. Hough Jr., John W. Lowe and George H. Rogers) to incorporate as the Cape Ann Steam Cotton Manufactory, also for the purpose of manufacturing cotton goods, but in the town of Gloucester.33Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Court of Massachusetts, 1846, 1847, 1848; Chap. 11, pp.315, 320.
|1840||Uxbridge||Uxbridge Cotton Mills|
|1845||East Boston||East Boston Cotton Mills|
|Fall River||Fall River Iron Works|
|1846||Braintree||Braintree Cotton Manufacturing|
|Methuen||Atlantic Cotton Mills|
|1847||Rockport||Rockport Steam Cotton Mills|
|Gloucester||Cape Ann Steam Cotton|
|Milbury||Waters Cotton Mills|
|South Boston||Boston South Seam Cotton Mill|
|1848||New Bedford||Gosnold Mills|
|Taunton||Dean Cotton & Machine Co.|
|Grafton||Saunders Cotton Mills|
|Canton||Neponset Cotton Factory|
These two initiatives were part of a national expansion, the beginnings of the American Industrial Revolution, which saw twenty cotton mills incorporated in Massachusetts between 1840 and 1848.34Cotton Mills incorporated in Massachusetts between 1840 and 1848: Acts and Resolves, State Library of Massachusetts www.archives.lib.state.ma.us. Also Ware, Caroline F. Early New England Cotton Manufacture, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931. Cape Ann businessmen were eager to join this movement for two main reasons, even though it involved investing in an industry that required the importation of the raw material (as opposed to one that would utilize local resources such as fish and granite). First, because cotton was crucial to both the local fishing industry and the international maritime trade, providing sailcloth and trawl lines, and second because cotton manufacture had the potential to become a very profitable enterprise. In 1847, 287 fishing vessels called Gloucester their home port bringing in more than twelve million pounds of fish worth over 15 million dollars in today’s market.35 Procter Bros., The Fishermen’s Own Book, Gloucester, 1882, p.45. In 1850, four barques and twelve brigs sailed out of Gloucester loaded with trading goods, bound overseas for ports as far away as Asia.36Procter Bros., The Fishermen’s Own Book, Gloucester, 1882, p.101. All of them needed cotton, most notably for sails, and the schooners also needed it for miles of fishing lines.37Fish, primarily cod, were caught on hooks attached about 6’ apart on a tarred cotton rope called a trawl line which was 300’ or more in length. Procter Bros., The Fishermen’s Own Book, Gloucester, 1882, p.103. But first some history:
For hundreds of years the best sailcloth had been woven from flax (linen) with a cheaper, coarser version made from hemp.38The Dutch word for canvas is cannabis, and for sailcloth is zeildoek – zeil meaning sail and doek meaning cloth. Iacobacci, Robert, Fabric of a Nation, Lulu.com, 2019. Holland and Russia were the major suppliers of both, and the British Navigation Acts required that the material had to pass through British ports, where it could be taxed, before export to America.39John Adams, in a letter to Secretary Jay, Grosvenor Square, Westminster, 5 November, 1785, remarked that in a conversation he had with the Chevalier de Pinto, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from Portugal, the Chevalier commented there is not a nation in Europe that would suffer a navigation act to be made in any other, at this day. The English navigation act was made in times of ignorance, when few nations cultivated commerce, and no Court but this understood or cared anything about it. Adams, John, The Works of John Adams, Vol.8, Letters and State Papers, 1782-1799, Jazzybee Verlag Jurgen Beck, p.205. The American Revolution put an end to this trade and, although the cloth continued to be smuggled into the colonies, the costs and risks were great enough for American merchants to start looking elsewhere.
Prior to the Civil War, Southerners referred to “King Cotton”, indicating the importance of that commodity to the American economy
Textiles had also been made from cotton for centuries, with India the primary supplier of both raw cotton and the woven cloth.40In 1600 the East India Company, also known as the British East India Company, received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I allowing them to trade in the region of the Indian Ocean, specifically in Mughal, India, the East Indies and Qing, China. In the late 1600s they built factories in India that began exporting cheap, high-quality cotton fabrics to England in direct competition with the local home spun wools and linens. This caused discontent among the British workers and the impacted people – farmers, shepherds, spinners, weavers and dyers – protested to Parliament who responded with the Calico Acts (1700 and 1721) which banned the importation of finished cotton cloth into England (and in 1721 the sale of cotton fabrics), but not raw cotton. The 1721 Calico Act states in part: An Act to Preserve and Encourage the Woollen and Silk Manufactures of this Kingdom, and for more Effectual Employing the Poor, by Prohibiting the Use and Wear of all Printed, Painted, Stained or Dyed Callicoes in Apparel, Household Stuff, Furniture, or otherwise, after the twenty fifth Day of December one thousand seven hundred and seventy two Calico Acts www.en.wikipedia.org.
However, in North America, despite having been minimally cultivated in the warm climate of the south by the indigenous population, the early European settlers regarded the plant mainly as an ornamental shrub. Apart from a brief experiment in growing cotton as a cash crop in South Carolina in 1747,41When seven bags were exported from Charleston, South Carolina, Earl, H.H. & Peck, F.M., Fall River and its Industries, 1877: The Growth of the Cotton Industry in America, p.71: www.sailsinc.org/durfee/earl2.pdf. cotton was not seriously considered a viable alternative to hemp or flax in spinning and weaving cloth, which were long-time home industries in the cooler northern colonies where the raw material was readily available. In 1705, for instance, a typical Cape Ann farm produced flax, hemp and wool for weaving in addition to corn, wheat, barley, peas, beans, root and leaf vegetables, butter, cheese and meat.421705 indenture between Nathaniel Coit & John Fitch, CAM Deeds, A5, Box 2A. This disdain for cotton was due largely to the presence of numerous seeds in the raw product, whose removal was a very labor intensive, and therefore expensive, undertaking. Nevertheless, the market was clearly there, and efforts were made to increase America’s share of it. In 1770 a total of seven bales were exported to England from New York, Virginia and Maryland, and three barrels from North Carolina. In the next twenty years over 200,000 pounds of cotton were sent to the spinning mills in England.43In 1785 14 bags were exported; 1786 – 6 bags; 1787 – 109 bags; 1788 – 389 bags; 1789 – 842 bags; 1790 - 81 bags. Earl, H.H. & Peck, F.M., Fall River and its Industries, 1877: The Growth of the Cotton Industry in America, p.71: www.sailsinc.org/durfee/earl2.pdf. Then, in 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which mechanically removes the seeds, and cotton started to develop into a major cash crop. In 1795 eight million pounds were harvested, three quarters of which were sold abroad, and by 1801 the total had reached forty million pounds.44Earl, H.H. & Peck, F.M., Fall River and its Industries, 1877: The Growth of the Cotton Industry in America, p.72.
America grew cotton, but it was spun into yarn in the mills of Lancashire, England. Prior to 1787 there were no textile mills in America, where almost every household had a spinning wheel to turn wool, flax or hemp, into useable yarn, and many had a small hand-loom to weave it into cloth. Patriotic “Federal Spinning Matches” were held where young unmarried women, spinsters, competed to see who could spin the most yarn. In 1788 thirty young ladies met at The Air Balloon, Capt. Philemon Haskell’s tavern on Middle Street in Gloucester, for just such a competition, followed by dinner and dancing with the eligible young men of the day.45Brooks, Henry M., The Olden Time Series: Vol. 2: The Days of the Spinning-wheel in New England, Ticknor, 1886, p. 91.
Eli Whitney-inspired industrial cotton gin of the early 1800s from saltofamerica.com
Source: Science Source
England jealously guarded its cotton weaving industry, which accounted for half of its exports in 1830,46Horn, Jeff, The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions, ABC-Clio, 2016, p. 30. by prohibiting the exportation of weaving or spinning inventions and the emigration of skilled mill workers. Nonetheless, in 1786 a Massachusetts man commissioned two Scottish brothers47This was the Hon. Hugh Orr of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and the brothers were Robert and Alexander Barr. Earl, H.H. & Peck, F.M., Fall River and its Industries, 1877: The Growth of the Cotton Industry in America, p.74: www.sailsinc.org/durfee/earl2.pdf. to build a carding, drawing, roving, and spinning machine48Carding is the term used for cleaning and untangling the cotton fibers to form a thin web. This is followed by drawing, which creates a rope-like strand, then roving, a process by which the carded and drawn fibers are twisted ready to be spun. and by 1788 a mill had begun producing cotton yarn in Beverly, Massachusetts.49An Act for incorporating certain persons by the name of the Proprietors of the Beverly Cotton Manufactory. “… for the purpose of establishing the manufacture of Cotton, and cotton and linen goods, …” Feb. 3, 1789. Acts and Resolves, Acts, 1788. – Chapter 43-44, pp. 71-73: www.archives.lib.state.ma.us.
Interestingly, the act of incorporation stipulated that the mill was to use “… materials of American produce within this Commonwealth …,” and, as cotton was not grown in Massachusetts, the ruling was adhered to by trading New England fish for raw cotton from the West Indies, not from the southern colonies.
Then, in 1789, Samuel Slater, a skilled mill worker, arrived from England. Within a year he had moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and set up a “perpetual spinning” system in an old fulling mill run by a water-wheel.50In a Fulling Mill wool was cleaned and beaten, making it thicker, stronger and more waterproof. Earl, H.H. & Peck, F.M., Fall River and its Industries, 1877: The Growth of the Cotton Industry in America, p.76: www.sailsinc.org/durfee/earl2.pdf. Like the Beverly mill the cotton did not come from the Southern states. It was from Surinam, a country in South America that Cape Ann was soon to develop an extensive trade with. This cotton was described as having a “fibre like silk.”51Weeden, William Babcock, Economic and Social History of New England, 1620-1789, vol. 2, p.912, Appendix I, Houghton Mifflin, 1890. Preparing and spinning raw cotton into yarn were still the only processes carried out in these mills, and the resulting yarn continued to be sent out to be woven on hand-looms by artisans. Despite this limitation similar mills started to sprout up all over New England.
At the start of the nineteenth century America’s supply of cotton goods was severely restricted by the enactment, in rapid succession, of three trade laws52They were: the Non-importation Act of 1806, the Embargo Act of 1807, and the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809.
followed closely by the declaration of war with Great Britain in 1812, during which a prohibitive tariff of 25 percent was imposed on various crucial imports, including cotton. International trade was strictly curtailed, which led to New England import/export merchants turning their attention to domestic investment. Cotton cloth attracted their interest because it was much in demand for personal use, essential to the fishing and maritime trades, and fetched a high price. The first spinning mills were built in New England because that was where investment capital was available, and plenty of water to power the massive water-wheels that drove the machines that twisted the yarn onto the spindles.
By 1810 there were 238 cotton spinning mills in America, all but 19 of them in the northern states. Then in 1815 the first effective and efficient water-driven power loom in America was installed in a mill in Waltham, Massachusetts, owned by Francis C. Lowell and associates. The industry took another leap forward.
For various social and political reasons, not least their strong dependence on an agricultural economy, the southern states focused on growing the cotton, not processing it, so the north, most specifically Massachusetts, became the hub of the cotton manufacturing industry with 340,000 spindles in 1831, over 800,000 in 1845, and more than a million and a half in 1860.53Taussig, F.W. The Tariff, 1830-1860, Quarterly Journal of Economics Vol.2 No.3 (Apr., 1888) p. 337: www.jstor.org.
The peak period of this growth was from 1844 to 1846, by which time cotton mills had become acknowledged money-makers and towns were encouraging mills to be built within their jurisdiction. It was “… morally certain that cotton manufactures will enlarge the population of a town … [and] add to its commercial prosperity,”54James, Charles T., A lecture on the comparative cost of steam and water power: delivered at Hartford, Conn, February, 1844, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, call# E J27 1844.
by not only offering direct employment but also indirect employment through use of support industries. As one enthusiastic salesman put it:
“Cotton manufactures create an extensive demand for operatives. … They [also] give employment to coasting vessels and mariners, to import the raw material and export the goods manufactured. … [Plus] To supply the numerous wants of those connected with or employed in manufactures, additional mechanics and traders, … [and others in] all branches of business and professions, are required. … [and] raise the value of real estate, by creating an increased demand for it.”55James, Charles T., A lecture on the comparative cost of steam and water power: delivered at Hartford, Conn, February, 1844, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, call# E J27 1844.
Slater’s Water Wheel Spinning Frame
Source: National Museum of American History
Power Looms at Lowell’s Cotton Mill
This explains the interest in starting a cotton mill evinced by Jabez R. Gott, Josiah Haskell and David Babson in Rockport, and Benjamin K. Hough Jr., John W. Lowe and George H. Rogers in Gloucester.
Initially both groups had local support. In January 1847, the Gloucester Telegraph reported that $38,000 had been subscribed for the Rockport mill and there was little doubt “that it will not be long before the vessels of the Cape will be able to proceed to sea with canvases manufactured upon their own shore.”56The Telegraph, Jan. 20, 1847 Toward the end of February, it was announced that Beniah Colburn, Thomas O. Marshall, George D. Hale and Hiney Dutch of Rockport and David Kimball of Boston had added their names to the list of directors, and Jabez R. Gott, was named as treasurer and clerk.57Announcement in the Telegraph, Feb. 27, 1847. Then in March the Town of Rockport agreed to support the enterprise, instructing that surplus revenue should be used to buy “stock or shares in the Steam Cotton Factory about to be established in this town,”58Rockport Town Records, extract, Sandy Bay Historical Vertical File: Cotton Mill. The Town also sold a piece of land to the company for $400 in May 1847, the deed referencing a Town meeting on March 12, 1844 agreeing to the sale. Salem Registry of Deeds Bk. 404 p.113. David Babson Jr. was one of the three selectmen at the time. and two months later sold a piece of land “situated on the Eastern side of Cross Street” to the company for $400.59Salem Registry of Deeds Bk. 404 p.113 Also in March, the Gloucester consortium, which had added nine new names to its roster,60These men were: Joseph Johnston Procter (1802-1848), Eben Hough Stacy (1814-1862), Benjamin Hough Corliss (1818-1895), Nathanial Babson (1810-1863), John Church Calef (1806-1897), William P. Dolliver (1814-1891), Epes William Marchant (1804-1887), John Pew (1807-1890) and Stephen Brown (1784-1862).
placed an advertisement in the local newspaper soliciting “Subscriptions to the Stock for a Cotton Factory … which must ultimately be of immense advantage to this town.”61Gloucester Telegraph Mar. 3, 1847. Despite such enthusiasm, the investing public apparently did not see any advantage to having two cotton mills in such close proximity as there is no evidence that the Gloucester mill ever got beyond the planning stage.
The Rockport mill, however, was already under construction by May, 1847. Designed by architect Luther Briggs,62Luther Briggs (1822-1905) designed several other mills, including the Naumkeag Mill in Salem, MA. From 1842 to 1844 he worked with architect Gridley J.F. Bryant, who designed Gloucester’s City Hall in 1871. it was built of refuse granite from local quarries and filled the area between School Street and Dock Square on Broadway.63MHC Reconnaissance Survey Town Report, Rockport, 1985. Half of it was two stories high,64Swan, Marshall W., Town on Sandy Bay, Phoenix Publishing, 1980, p. 163 the other three, and at 200 feet long and 60 feet wide had room for 38 duck looms and 50 sheeting looms.65Duck is a heavy, tightly woven canvas used for sails etc.. Sheeting is a loser weave used for clothing such as shirts, or as backing for oilcloth, window shades, etc. By the following year, the mill employed 160 men and women and was enthusiastically lauded by the local newspaper:
“Specimens of duck from these looms have been sent to dealers in Boston and other places, and to our fishermen, and it is pronounced unanimously to be as good, if not a better article, than any thing of the kind manufactured in the country … some of it has already been cut into sails for the fishermen of this town … the thread [is] hard twisted, and the web closely woven. … A softer article is to be manufactured here for the sails of square-rigged vessels; and also a wide cotton sheeting. A very superior kind of twine has been for some time made, being used principally for nets.”66Gloucester News, 1 Nov., 1848
In the meantime, the list of directors had changed again. Thomas O. Marshall, George D. Hale and Hiney Dutch dropped out, while Eben H. Stacy transferred his interest from the aborted Gloucester mill, and four “heavy hitters” had been brought on board. These included two Bostonians, Nehemiah Boynton (who had been born in Rockport) and Alpheus Hardy, as well as David Fairbanks of Provincetown and Stephen C. Phillips of Salem.67Announcement in the Telegraph, Feb. 19, 1848. One was given as Eben H. Story of Gloucester, but as there was no likely person named that at the time it is presumed that the reference was to Eben H. Stacy, a Gloucester merchant. There does not seem to have been a common denominator among them except that they were all, first and foremost, businessmen, affluent merchants and traders. Most of them were in their mid-forties, at the height of their earning potential, and interested in an investment that would provide a good return. The fact that their profits were dependent on a product grown and harvested by enslaved people may not have crossed their minds, or was perhaps perceived as a necessary evil. It has been said that the further north cotton moved the whiter it became.
Despite advances in manufacture, the growing and harvesting of cotton was still done by hand, a very labor-intensive process, and from the earliest days of colonization, the English aristocratic plantation owners needed cheap labor to make their new lands profitable. This was initially provided by indentured servants – impoverished English laborers who contracted to work for seven years in return for passage to the New World and the promise of economic betterment. The problem, from the landowners’ point of view, was that the period of servitude was finite and, as Britain’s economy improved, fewer people were willing to indenture themselves. Building a permanently subservient workforce through enslavement was the easiest and most cost-effective solution and the importation of slaves from Africa escalated. Between 1787 and 1808 (the year it became illegal to import slaves to America) 250,000 slaves were bought and sold in the markets of the South.68Cotton and African-American Life, U.S. History Online Textbook: www.ushistory.org.
Some investors in the Rockport Cotton Mill had personal and family conflicts concerning the divisive issue of slavery. In 1838 the first Cape Ann Anti-Slavery Society had been formed by about thirty members of the West Gloucester Haskell clan. The same year the mill was incorporated a member of the Gott family organized an anti-slavery convention in Salem,69An anti-slavery Convention organized by Lemuel Gott of Rockport met in Salem at Lyceum Hall. Massachusetts. Emancipator (New York, New York) 27 Oct. 1847: n.p. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 11 June 2019.
and attended a presentation in Gloucester by a self-emancipated slave which had an audience of “something like a thousand people.”70The speaker was Henry Watson. Gott, Lemuel, Correspondence, the Emancipator, New York, NY, 18 Aug. 1847. Henry Watson was born into slavery in 1813. After being sold several times he escaped to Boston where he met William Lloyd Garrison. Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave, Bela Marsh, Boston, 1848: www.docsouth.unc.edu. Stephen C. Phillips, the scion of a wealthy and influential Salem merchant family, appears to have been the most conflicted of all. He was active in the Freesoil Party,71Stephen C. Phillips was a Freesoil Party candidate for the office of Governor of Massachusetts in 1848 and 1849. Obit, Boston Daily Advertiser, 1 July, 1857. The Freesoil Party opposed the expansion of slavery into the Western Territories maintaining that free men working free land was both morally superior to slavery and of greater economic benefit to the country. Freesoilers were not necessarily abolitionists. a political group opposed to the expansion of slavery into the Western States, and, in 1845, made an articulate and impassioned speech against the annexation of Texas, a slave state, in which he specifically denigrated the slave-dependent cultivation of cotton in the South, complaining that:
“… as the cotton manufacture is, or is fast becoming, our principal interest, and as slavery has produced cotton, and is necessary to produce it, it is essential to the cotton manufacture, and therefore all-important to us, to secure all the cotton land we can, and also to secure and retain slavery with it.”
But, he argued:
“There is no moral or social evil with which slavery is not identified, … there is no moral or social tie which it does not unscrupulously and habitually violate. … We should at once resolve … to exert all our influence … public and private, political and religious, – to effect as speedily as may be, the abolition of slavery in our country, or our deliverance from it.”72Phillips, Stephen C., An address on the annexation of Texas, and the aspect of slavery in the United States, in connection therewith: delivered in Boston November 14 and 18, 1845. Boston, W. Crosby and H.P. Nichols, 1845. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Call # E P563.3 1845.
Yet Phillips was a supporter of Henry Clay for president, who was said to have “done more than any other man to extend and perpetuate slavery,”73Announcement of the death of Henry Clay Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts) “Essex County,” 2 July 1852. and three years later Phillips invested in the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill. His choice to invest in the mill may not have been as random as it appears. He had an interest in Cape Ann having been on the Gloucester Lyceum’s roster of lecturers in 1830-1831,74Gloucester Telegraph 9 Sept., 1865 and instrumental in persuading the government to fund the Rockport breakwater.75Gloucester News, 1 Nov., 1848. The Harbor (Long Cove) breakwater project began in 1836 and ran out of funds in 1840 before it was completed.
Nine of these early shareholders in the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill held political offices or appointments of some kind, ranging from selectman and town clerk to port inspector, postmaster, treasurer, mayor, state prison inspector, representative and senator. Their religious adherence was varied, with one Unitarian, five Universalists, three Congregationalists and a Baptist. One of them was ecumenical enough to own a pew in four churches (the Congregational, Universalist and Unitarian Churches in Gloucester and the Universalist Church in Rockport). Two were deeply involved in missionary work, another two signed the temperance pledge and four were affiliated with fraternal organizations. They were frequently described with words and phrases like integrity, sagacity, prominent, generous-hearted, exemplary, universally esteemed, highly respected, of irreproachable moral character and of excellent Christian character.
Those early shareholders residing on Cape Ann were all descendants of long and estimable lineages. Jabez R. Gott’s ancestor, Samuel Gott, had arrived in 1702 and settled at Halibut Point in what is now Rockport. Jabez was Deacon of the Congregational Society, an incorporator of the Rockport Savings Bank, and an advocate of temperance, vowing to “abstain from excessive use of ardent spirits [and] … profane language, evil speaking and gambling.”76Marshall, John W., et al, eds., History of the Town of Rockport, Centennial Address of Dr. Lemuel Gott, M.D., 1888, p.107. Josiah Haskell could trace his lineage back to William Haskell of West Gloucester, who came to Cape Ann in 1643. When Josiah died in 1867 he still owned 71 shares in the Cotton Mill.77The shares were valued at $1065 ($18,462 today); Essex Probate #41846, July 1867. The matriarch of the Babson family on Cape Ann had also been an early settler, arriving around 1640. David Babson Jr. was a Rockport selectman for over ten years, a port inspector for the district of Gloucester and a charter member of the Granite Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF).78The International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a fraternal charitable organization still in existence today.
Beniah Colburn was a newcomer, arriving on Cape Ann in the early 1820s. He was a quarryman working for five years with William Torrey before forming a partnership with Ezra Eames in 1827 called Colburn & Eames which provided almost all the granite for the naval yards of Charlestown and Portsmouth. This segued into Eames, Stimson & Co. before he branched out into business for himself creating the dressed stone known as ‘New York blocks’ and sending granite as far afield as San Francisco and New Orleans. Colburn was known as “a man of strict integrity.”79Hurd, Duane Hamilton, ed., History of Essex County, Massachusetts, J.W. Lewis & Co., 1888, vol.2 part 1, pp. 1380-1381.
Eben Hough Stacy was one of the youngest investors at the age of thirty-three. A trader by profession, and unmarried, he had a net worth of $11,000 in 1850 (over $360,000 today). He held several political appointments, including Customs Collector, and was the ecumenical resident with a pew in four different churches. His obituary noted that he was “universally esteemed.”80Obituary Cape Ann Advertiser Dec. 1862
David Kimball had been born in Rockport but had moved to Boston “before it was a city.” He was a tailor before becoming a dry goods merchant and part owner of the Boston Museum81Obit, Boston Daily Advertiser, 18 Mar. 1873. The Boston Museum was a museum of art and natural history as well as a theatre, wax museum and zoo.
with his brother, Moses Kimball. It is through Moses that David has an anti-slavery connection. Moses was not known as an Abolitionist but he owned a copy of the sculpture by Thomas Ball called the Emancipation Memorial, which he donated to the city of Boston, where it stands in Park Square. The original monument which, according to the National Park Service, was commissioned and paid for by former slaves, is in Lincoln Park, Washington, DC.
Nehemiah Boynton, who was also a Rockport native, moved to Maine at the age of twenty-one where he established his business, N. Boynton & Co.. After almost twenty years there he relocated to Chelsea and added ‘Commission Merchants and Manufacturers of Cotton Duck’ to his business description before investing in the Rockport Cotton Mill two years later. His company, which was an agent for cotton duck mills, later became Wellington, Sears & Co., with offices in Boston and New York. He was a State senator at one time and on his death in 1868 his funeral was attended by the cream of Boston society. Representatives from town and state government, bank directors, theological professors and officers of temperance and missionary organizations were all present.82Farnham, John, The Boynton Family: A Genealogy of the Descendants of William and John Boynton, 1897p.95; Lamb, James H., Textile Industry of the United States, 1911; Boston Daily Advertiser, Local Matters, 26 Nov. 1868.
Thomas Oakes Marshall, a trader, tax collector and customs inspector, and George Dennison Hale, a cordwainer and later a trial judge, were among the less affluent and older of the investors (Marshall was fifty-five and Hale fifty). They were also both selectmen, members of the Rockport Universalist Church and two of the three original investors who still held shares in the Cotton Mill at their deaths.
These men were determined to put the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill on the cutting edge of innovation. The use of the word steam in its name was one indication of this because the introduction of steam-powered looms increased a mill’s output nine-fold:
“A very good hand weaver, … will weave two pieces of 9-8th shirting per week, each 24 yards long, containing 100 shoots of weft in an inch … In 1833, a steam-loom weaver, … attending to four looms, can weave eighteen similar pieces in a week, some can weave twenty pieces.”83Hills, Richard L., Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993, p.117.
Coal was the energy source for the steam and, according to one source, steam did not come into common use for powering cotton mills until after the Civil War, when the expansion of railway lines made the transportation of coal cheaper and easier.84Ware, Caroline F. Early New England Cotton Manufacture, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931, p.82.
The railroad line from Boston and points south actually reached Gloucester in January 1848 but did not get to Rockport until 1861. However, Cape Ann is surrounded on three sides by the ocean, and coal arrived on sea-going vessels that docked at Rockport’s wharves where it was unloaded onto carts and trundled a short distance up the road to the mill.
Another, post-Civil War, innovation was the erection of “Corporation houses” on Broadway between School and Main Streets,85MHC Reconnaissance Survey Town Report, Rockport, 1985. The land and buildings on it were purchased from Ebenezer G. Green in 1865. Salem Registry of Deeds Bk. 683 p.190. which were specially built to house the workers, who were frequently young, unmarried, immigrant women. These tenements were constructed to avoid the inequities of a poor and poorly educated labor force that had befallen English mill towns. When interest in building mills in New England first arose, several mill owners had visited English mills and been appalled by the working and living conditions they observed there. They determined to provide a clean and safe environment for their employees and campaigned to have strictly enforced limits on work hours along with these factory owned boarding houses where the young mill-hands’ moral and spiritual welfare was under the watchful eye of a hired “matron”.86Dodge, Bertha S., Cotton The Plant That Would Be King, Univ. of Texas Press, 1984. Their concern for the welfare of their free white workers, while commendable, is somewhat ironic, given that mill’s cotton came from the labor of enslaved plantation workers.
Despite these outward signs of concern with workers’ welfare, there were still inequalities. Employees worked long hours for little pay (at the Rockport Mill the men earning $20.00 per month and the women $12.00 in 1850)871850 Federal Census Non-population Schedule, Rockport Steam Cotton Mill. and protests were frequent. The women of the Lowell Mills were especially vociferous, demanding unionization, shorter workdays and improved working conditions. They organized petitions to take to the state legislature and opened union chapters in other mill towns, although there is no evidence that these actions reached Rockport, even though there were difficulties here too. In the summer of 1857, the mill had a surplus of unsold cloth and briefly shut down operations.88Boston Daily Advertiser 10 July, 1857. The immediate cause was the plethora of cotton mills that saturated the market, which was in turn a forerunner of the world-wide economic downturn that began with the so-called Panic of 1857.89For several years prior to 1857 there had been a period of prosperity with banks giving large loans to the burgeoning railroad companies, many of which did not get beyond the planning stage. Much of this growth was based on the gold coming out of California. Then in September 1857 a ship carrying almost 10 tons of this gold (worth about $550 million today) to banks in New York sank; the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company (a bank holding a large number of mortgages) and the well-established New York flour and grain company, N.H. Wolfe and Co., both failed and the stock market went into decline. In July of the following year a Lowell newspaper reported that the Rockport Mill was to close again, but this rumor was quickly denied: “The Cotton Duck Mill has not suspended operations – it is in a prosperous condition, and has had an improved engine and machinery added recently.”90Lowell Daily Citizen and News, 24 and 30 July, 1858.
Even with these set-backs the mill became a major producer of sail cloth and cotton yarn. In 1852 it produced 800,000 yards of duck, as well as “India Rubber Cloth”, and 30 tons of yarn, and was paying the shareholders a dividend of 10 percent.91The Pool Papers, Sandy Bay Historical Society. The cloth was sold in a wide market as well as locally, while the yarn was sent to fishing line manufacturers in nearby Essex. In 1855 the mill employed 183 people (48 men and 135 women) and produced over eight and a half thousand yards of cotton duck and seventy-five thousand pounds of cotton yarn, which together, was worth more than six million dollars in today’s market.92MHC Reconaissance Survey Town Report, Rockport, 1985.
Mill Workers’ Housing at 9-15 Broadway Today
In 1861 at the start of the Civil War, South Carolina’s Confederate currency featured slaves picking cotton and a state bank financed by cotton planters.
Source: Public Domain
By 1860 America was producing and exporting two-thirds of the world’s cotton and was home to four million slaves, most of them working that cotton.93Dattel, Eugene R., Cotton in a Global Economy: Mississippi (1800-1860): www.mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us. Around thirty-five hundred ocean-going steamers left New Orleans, Louisiana annually, most heading for Liverpool, England, with cargos of cotton amounting to 220 million dollars (approximately $6.8 billion in today’s dollars).94OER US History: Cotton is King: The Antebellum South, 1800-1860. Not coincidentally, New Orleans was home to the largest slave market in America, and Natchez, Mississippi, where two members of another of Cape Ann’s oldest families95The two were brother and sister. Winthrop Sargent Jr. (1753-1820) rose through the ranks to Major during the Revolution and was appointed the first Governor of the Mississippi Territory in 1798. He settled in Natchez, Mississippi, where he owned a cotton plantation. Judith (Sargent) Stevens Murray (1751-1820) retired in 1817 to her son-in-law Adam L. Bingaman’s family plantation in Natchez. had set up residence, became the second largest. The Rockport Cotton Mill prepared “to add new machinery for the manufacture of jeans and other goods. … [which would] afford employment to the hands throughout the year.”96Lowell Daily Citizen & News May 3, 1860.
In 1861 President Lincoln, in a ploy to weaken the Confederacy, issued a blockade of all Confederate ports, effectively ending cotton exports. At the same time the north was allowed to purchase southern cotton but only with permits issued by the Treasury Department. The whole system was open to corruption and price gouging was rife. The Rockport Cotton Mill remained viable, however, attested to by an advertisement that ran in the Boston Advertiser throughout most of the Civil War years. It was placed by Baker & Morrill, agents for the Rockport Steam Cotton Mills, offering “Rockport soft duck, Cape Ann hard duck, Raven’s duck, sail twine, shirtings, drillings and cotton flannels for sale.”97The Boston Advertiser July 3, 1863. In 1863, 209 people owned the 2,000 shares that had been issued by the company. Seventy-six of the shareholders were not local, 109 were Rockport residents and 24 were Gloucester people. Those with the largest number of shares were the Salem Bank, Salem, with 340, the Atlantic Bank, Boston, with 100, Newell Giles and Jabez R. Gott, both of Rockport, with 74 each, and William P. Dolliver of Gloucester with 54. The following year the Walker Bros. of Boston bought a controlling interest in the mill and built an addition to house more looms.
By 1865 the Board of Directors had completely changed, with all but one member living in Boston, although three of them had been born on Cape Ann, and all of them had connections with the area in one way or another. These new investors were Benjamin K. Hough Jr., Edmund Dwight, Francis Skinner Jr., Charles J. Morrill, Hewes (with unknown first name), and D.B. Jewett, all of Boston, and Newell Giles of Rockport.98The Telegraph (Gloucester) 2 Dec. 1865.
Like the earlier investors these men were primarily wealthy businessmen in the prime of life whose ages ranged from 25 to 60. The oldest was Benjamin K. Hough Jr. who had been born in Gloucester and been one of the applicants for the unsuccessful Cape Ann Steam Cotton Manufactory in 1847. He moved to Boston in the 1860s, where he was a proprietor of the Boston Athenaeum, but continued to maintain a house in Gloucester. He started out in the import/export business with his father before moving on to a partnership in the dry goods business with William Saville and in vessel ownership with William Parsons.99As Parsons & Hough they owned two schooners, Leda and Mayflower and a barque, Stag. He was a pillar of Gloucester society, a leader in the Whig party, a representative at the Harrisburg Convention in 1840, involved in various committees of the Gloucester Universalist Church, a founder of the Gloucester Lyceum (posting membership sign-up sheets in the window of his dry goods store on Main Street), and a patron of the arts commissioning paintings of his ships from local artist Fitz Henry Lane. He was also, like Stephen C. Phillips, clearly aware of the economic importance of slavery; in Hough’s case through the co-ownership of several slave ships in the 1840s.100These were the Leda, Illinois and Pilot. www.slavevoyages.org
Benjamin K. Hough Jr.
The youngest, Francis Skinner Jr., joined the family dry goods business of Skinner & Company of Boston which also acted as agents for many of the New England textile mills, including the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill.101Guide to the Fuller-Higginson Family Papers, www.deerfield-ma.gov. Gloucester & Rockport Directory, 1869, Procter Bros. Three Generations of Francis Skinners, Acton Historical Society, www.actonhistoricalsociety.org.
He was also a Harvard graduate, patron of the arts, a member of the Boston elite and soon to be husband of Eliza Gardner, whose sister-in-law was Isabella Stewart Gardner.102Francis and Eliza were married in 1868. Eliza’s mother was the only daughter of the immensely wealthy Joseph Peabody of Salem. Eliza’s father, John Lowell Gardner, was one of the last great East India merchants of Boston. Her siblings married into the Peabody, Steward, Amory and Coolidge families.
Eliza’s sister Julia married Joseph Randolph Coolidge, whose sister Ellen Randolph Coolidge married another of the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill’s latest proprietors, Edmund Dwight. The mother of the Coolidge siblings was the great-grand-daughter of Thomas Jefferson and had been married in the parlor of Monticello in 1825, which may explain why the historic Dwight family home in Winchester loosely echoes the design of Monticello.103The Edmund Dwight House. en.wikipedia.org. The Dwights were also well educated and wealthy residents of Boston and Edmund left money in his will to the Eliot Fund at Yale “for the Greek professorship” because he was “a grandson of the founder.”104Probate: Will, Suffolk Probate Record Book, Vol.770-779. www.ancestry.com.
Edmund’s father had been involved with cotton mills in Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke and when Edmund died in 1900 he was treasurer of an unidentified mill.105 Boston Vital Records, Deaths. It was not the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill, which was defunct by then, but he had been its treasurer for several years previous.106Gloucester & Rockport Directory, 1869, Procter Bros.
Connections continued. Charles J. Morrill was the Morrill in Baker and Morrill, the company advertising themselves as agents for the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill throughout the Civil War years, and Baker was Ezra Howes Baker who had been in partnership with Alpheus Hardy (an earlier investor in the mill) as Hardy and Baker. Morrill joined their firm in 1845 (Hardy, Baker and Morrill) before Hardy withdrew, leaving Baker and Morrill. Through all these name changes the company was active in foreign and domestic shipping (mostly grain and fish) and owned several vessels that traveled to Nova Scotia, the East Indies, China, South America and the Mediterranean.107Deyo, Simeon L., Ed., History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts: 1620-1637-1686-1890, Blake, 1890, p.538. One of these ships was the Southern Cross built for them in 1851, and painted by Fitz Henry Lane, who also painted another of their vessels – Star Light – in 1854.108Their other known clipper ships were: Radiant built in 1853, Winged Arrow (1852), Alarm (1856) and Grace Darling (bought in 1858) Crothers, William L., The Masting of American Merchant Sail in the 1850s: An Illustrated Study, McFarland, 2014 and Knoblock, Glenn A., The American Clipper Ship, 1845-1920: A Comprehensive History with a Listing of Builders and Their Ships, McFarland, 2013.
David Brainard Jewett had been born in Rockport, son of the Reverend David Jewett, pastor of the Congregational Church, and began his working life in the dry goods business of Jewett, Tibbets & Co. before moving to Newton, Massachusetts and becoming involved in the cotton industry, holding the position of treasurer of the Lowell Manufacturing Company from 1865 until 1874.109Lowell – The Bay State Monthly, Mar. 1884, Vol. 1, issue 3. www.libguides.uml.edu. In 1860 he was a member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and may have been in Europe on mission business when he died four years later while on a trip to Rome, Italy with his wife and sister.110Passport applications 23 Aug. 1873, www.ancestry.com. He was regarded as “cheerful, genial, liberating to the poor [and with] sympathy for the suffering.”111Obituary The Congregationalist, Boston, 4 June, 1874.
Newell Giles was also Rockport born, and married to a daughter of Jabez Gott, one of the earlier investors in the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill. He was a deacon of Rev. Jewett’s church, a cashier in the Rockport National Bank (as was his father-in-law for many years), treasurer of the Rockport Savings Institute and of the Rockport Isinglass Company, and elected to the State Senate as a Republican in 1870. At the time of his death he had lived in Winthrop, Massachusetts for about fifteen years where he continued in the isinglass business and was an insurance agent.112Obituary New York Times, 27 Sept., 1891.
Benjamin K. Hough was still president in 1870 when the company was sold at auction in Boston and reorganized under the name Annisquam Mills with shares at a par value of $100.113Lowell Daily Citizen & News 30 June, 1870. The Rockport Steam Cotton Mill sold all the land, buildings, machinery and furniture to the Annisquam Mills for $126,000.00. Salem Registry of Deeds Bk. 821 p.95. 11 April, 1871. The new president was Austin Sumner, C.H. Fiske was treasurer, G.P. Whitman the local agent and Wentworth & Co. was their Boston agent. Some difficulties must have followed because in 1877 it was announced that the workers would get a cut in pay to avoid closing the mill,1141877-1878 scrapbook collection of newspaper clippings, Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester. although some form of closure must have occurred as in January 1878 it was reported in the Boston Daily Advertiser that the “Rockport Cotton Mill has resumed operations.”115Boston Daily Advertiser, 14 Jan., 1878.
Cotton is a flammable material and fires were not infrequent in the mills. Rockport was not exempt from such conflagrations and two broke out in the cleaning room, one in March 1854 and the other in August 1855. They were quickly extinguished but the mill briefly closed for repairs after the last one. Then on December 9, 1883 the mill complex was almost completely destroyed by fire. At the time it had 240 employees working 262 looms and was manufacturing three and a half million yards of cotton cloth annually. The work day started at 6:30 and ended at 5:45 with a break for ‘dinner’ from 12:00 to 12:45.116Annisquam Steam Cotton Mill, Sandy Bay, Myrtle L. Cameron; Saga of Cape Ann p.91; Gloucester Times: Rockport’s Big Cotton Mill Burned 30 Years Ago Today, Dec. 9, 1913. The fire was extensive and fire trucks from both Gloucester and Salem came to assist. Combined efforts saved the picker-room and storehouse, which contained 400 bales of cotton, and the tenement houses. The watchman, John Haskell was badly burned, but no other injuries were reported. The Boston Daily Advertiser predicted that the Boston controllers would rebuild, but this never happened. The site remained a burnt-out ruin until 1904 when the surviving machine shop, which had been part of the 1864 addition, was converted to the George J. Tarr School. In 1990 it became, and remains, the Rockport Public Library.117Franz Denghausen (1911-1987), a local sculptor and benefactor, left a $1 million bequest to provide Rockport with a new library building.
The Tarr School in 1925 Currently the Rockport Public Library
Source: Vintage Rockport
Remains of Rockport Steam Cotton Mills after fire, showing employee housing
Map of Annisquam Mills (in Rockport)