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
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:
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
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.
Marriage to Lydia Joy Draper Menu HOME
|Recollections of a Varied Career
By General William F. Draper
Learning a Trade