In the spring of 1858, when I was sixteen years old and well developed physically for my years, my father
    arranged for my employment in North Uxbridge, in one of the cotton mills of P. Whitin & Sons. As I have
    before stated, I knew what the processes of the cotton manufacture were from observation in the mills
    where my father had been superintendent. I had also studied mechanical drawing and worked in the
    Hopedale machine shop the greater part of a year, the work produced there being parts of machinery
    used in the manufacture of cotton cloth. The arrangement made for me was that I should do the work of
    a regular operative and be changed from machine to machine as fast as I had become sufficiently
    proficient and vacancies existed. Owing to this latter provision my pay for a year was kept at the price
    paid for the lowest priced work assigned me, -- two dollars and a half for a week of seventy-eight hours.

    To show exactly what factory hours were at that time, I will explain that my work began in summer at
    quarter of five in the morning, and ended at seven at night, twenty-five minutes being allowed for
    breakfast and thirty-five for dinner, and supper being eaten after work was finished. In the winter we
    commenced at a quarter past five in the morning, and worked till half past seven at night, making the
    same number of hours. Saturdays we finished an hour and a half earlier, and possibly a little more time
    was gained if we were lively in cleaning the machinery, which was stopped for that purpose in some
    departments a part of the Saturday afternoons.

    I boarded with my uncle, Mr. William Knight, in the house built by my great-grandfather, Benjamin
    Thwing, in 1776, which was situated perhaps an eighth of a mile from the mill. The house now stands,
    in good preservation, and is occupied by relatives of mine. I paid for my board two dollars and a quarter
    per week, washing included, and hence had twenty-five cents a week left for other purposes. It is fair to
    say, however, that my father supplemented my wages to a moderate extent, -- in fact, he provided
    everything that seemed to me necessary at that time, -- though my wants were certainly more limited
    that those of young men now-a-days, as shown by my cash account, to which I shall refer later.  

    For a year I worked in the carding department of this mill, learning to run each kind of machine, and
    actually running each for weeks or months, as the case might be. The last two or three months I was
    employed as a "fixer," under the supervision of the overseer, Mr. Robie, who taught me how to adjust the
    machines when out of order. I then went into the weaving department and learned to weave, and for
    several months I ran a set of four looms, making yard wide sheetings. Premiums were paid for a certain
    large production, and on one occasion I took it, so I must have been reasonably expert. As a weaver at
    that time, I could earn on four looms about four dollars and eighty cents a week. Most weavers ran this
    number, but some men attended five, making a dollar a day of thirteen hours.

    North Uxbridge is only seven miles from Hopedale, and while employed there I frequently walked home
    and back, so as to spend Sunday with my parents. Sometimes I rode one way, or even both, but this
    was counted a luxury.

    In the fall of 1859, a new cotton mill was started at Wauregan, Conn., which was supposed to be
    equipped with the latest machinery, in the best possible manner then known. My father, well acquainted
    with the agent, Mr. Atwood, thought this would give me an excellent opportunity to learn, and arranged
    with him to employ me at the rate of four dollars per week, to help start the mill, -- machine by machine. I
    secured board with the overseer of spinning, Mr. Barrett, and entered upon my work with great interest.
    The hours of labor were less here, being seventy-two hours per week instead of seventy-eight. Still
    there was very little time left for anything but eating and sleep, except on Sundays, and very little
    temptation in a small village to go out evenings, even if I had had the time. I therefore read evenings or
    discussed the problems of manufacturing wit Mr. Barrett, who was a very intelligent man. Being of a
    mechanical turn of mind, and having had some experience, I was able to do my work satisfactorily, and
    when the mill was started I remained a few months, in charge of a section of looms. The practical
    knowledge acquired here has proved of the greatest value to me since, in improving the arts of spinning
    and weaving; and to-day, when a practical problem arises, this experience stands out clearer in my
    mind than that acquired later through instructing others to make experiments and noting their reports.
    When I left Wauregan, Mr. Atwood expressed the opinion that I had sufficient practical knowledge for an
    overseer of either carding, spinning, or weaving; and I believe I then understood fairly well the underlying
    principles of these arts, and the machinery employed in them.

    In April 1860, my father thought I had earned a vacation, and took me with him to New York,
    Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, -- my first visit to any of these cities. The trip occupied a
    fortnight, and we visited various points of interest daytimes, and went to the theater evenings. I enjoyed
    this outing as only a boy could who had never before had one; and I verily believe that I saw more of
    these places, from the sightseer's standpoint, during that trip, than in all my visits since, added together.

    After returning home my programme was changed, as it was thought best to supplement my practical
    knowledge of machinery by some acquaintance with the theories of its construction. Accordingly, I was
    sent to the Saco Water Power Co., at Biddeford, Maine, (where the machinery and mill plans make were
    considered of the best), to spend a year in its drafting room, without salary, doing such work as was
    assigned to me and learning all I could. Mr. Eustis P. Morgan, one of the most skillful engineers in the
    country, had charge of the designs for machinery; and Mr. James H. McMullan, also a very competent
    man, and later agent of the company, made the plans for the arrangement of the machinery in mills.
    Under these able instructors I was employed in practical work as a draughtsman, and acquired a
    considerable knowledge of planning and building machinery, in addition to the knowledge of operating
    it, which I possessed already. Though I received no salary I was at liberty to do work for outside parties
    who desired to have drawing or designing done, and I supplemented my father's allowance in this way.

    Since this brings me to a consideration of pecuniary matters, I will say that I have recently found my
    cash book for 1859-60, used later as a sketch book by one of my boys. This book is kept to the cent, and
    properly balanced. From it I find that in the year 1860 my expenditures were $403.12, and that I
    summarized them at the end of the year as follows:

           Board...............$154.83
           Clothes................92.12
           Traveling...........108.46
           Amusements......37.79
           Sundries................9.92

                        Total    $403.12

    Traveling seems a large item in proportion to the rest, but it included my trip to New York and
    Washington, to which I have referred.  I have also summarized during this writing, the expenditures of
    the year 1859, when I was in Uxbridge and Wauregan, with the following results:

            Board...............$121.46
            Clothes................22.43
           Traveling...............45.90
           Donations...............4.30
            Tools....................12.00
           Sundries...............42.10

                        Total      $248.19

    Prices for most commodities, outside of board, were higher than now, and I had, or thought I had, all
    that was necessary, and as much as other young men with whom I associated. The low figures,
    therefore, probably indicate the moderate expenditures of those days, rather than any special economy
    on my part.

    The year 1860 was the year of the presidential campaign which resulted in the election of Abraham
    Lincoln as President of the United States. I was very much interested in the campaign, and attended all
    the meetings within range. My father having been an abolitionist, I inherited his hatred for the "peculiar
    institution," and was naturally an ardent Republican. I should have said earlier that, with my father, I was
    one of the crowd in Boston at the time of the Anthony Burns riot,* and though not a participant I was yet
    an active sympathizer with the rioters. When the Wide-awakes were organized in Maine I was an early
    recruit, and marched a great many miles, -- hundreds, I think, -- in processions in which my special
    company took part. We had officers who knew something of military drill, and I practiced it with the belief
    that I should afterwards find it valuable, and so it proved. I also joined a fire company and "ran with the
    machine, - this also from political motives, as there were Democratic and Republican fire companies in
    the city of Biddeford, where political feeling at that time ran high, -- higher, I believe, than I have ever
    seen it since, and higher than it ran even then in our staid Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
    Republicans traded at Republican stores, and Democrats with members of their own party, while all the
    Protestant Democrats of the city worshipped in one church, the others being unanimously Republican,
    or nearly so. The clergyman, even of this church, was a Republican, and we young fellows used to taunt
    our friends of the other side with the statement that it was impossible for them to find a minister of their
    political faith.

    In the spring of 1861, leaving Biddeford, I engaged myself with the Everett Mills at Lawrence, Mass., to
    start a lot of new looms built for so-called fancy weaving. About a month after this change Fort Sumter
    was fired on, and the entire North was ablaze. Two companies of the Sixth Massachusetts, which
    furnished the first martyrs of the rebellion, in its march through Baltimore, were located in Lawrence. I
    had never served in the militia, but had acquaintances in these companies, and wrote my father, asking
    his permission to join one, in the expectation, (which was realized within a few days), that they would be
    called out for active service. The reply was a telegram to come home immediately, and I went, losing a
    chance of immediate military service, - as I had determined to enlist.

    When I reached home my good father reasoned with me in this wise: That there was no lack of men for
    the service needed, as those ready to volunteer exceeded the number called for several times over, and
    that my life career would be much more interfered with, if I enlisted, than that of the average man; -- that
    my education was unfinished, and that I probably would never finish it as he had planned, if I became a
    soldier; and finally, that if the time came when men were really needed, he would bid me Godspeed,
    and perhaps go with me himself. I accepted his view reluctantly, but at his further suggestion I went
    home and reviewed my studies, with the expectation of entering Harvard in the fall, as I was then
    nineteen, and old enough, in his view, to commence my college course.

    During the spring and summer, therefore, I remained in Hopedale, not only looking over my text books
    but studying military tactics, -- learning the manual of arms, and learning it well, from an old soldier who
    happened to be in the village; and practising in firing at a mark, with others similarly ambitious.  

    After our reverse at Bull Run my father gave his consent to my enlistment, and set about raising a
    company in our town of Milford and vicinity and selecting suitable men among them to serve as officers,
    so that I might go under favorable auspices. He had already been active in recruiting, and was in close
    relations with our distinguished war governor, John A. Andrew, who was a personal friend. With him he
    was in close contact all through the war, as a member of what the governor called his private Advisory
    Board.

    The "Anthony Burns riot" occurred in Boston in 1854. Burns was an escaped slave who was returned to
    his "owner" in Virginia in a case that involved a huge amount of controversy and protest. His freedom
    was later purchased by Boston area abolitionists.

                                                              Draper Menu                                    HOME   

.
Recollections of a Varied Career

By General William F. Draper

Chapter III
Learning a Trade