Recollections of a Varied Career
General William F. Draper


I was born in Lowell, Mass., the ninth day of April, 1842, my father at that time being an overseer of weaving for the Massachusetts Corporation in that city, and an occupant of one of the factory houses. My first recollection is of the firing of cannon, which I have since been told was during my father’s residence in Woonsocket, R.I., the occasion for the firing, (which was close to the house occupied by him), being the release of Governor Dorr from prison. In Ware, Mass., at the age of seven, I began to attend the public schools, and made such progress that the fall after I was nine years of age I entered the High School. I suppose the qualifications for such entry were not as high as at the present day, but I immediately began the study of Latin and algebra, and before leaving Ware, at the age of eleven, I had made considerable progress in both mathematics and languages. There is nothing special to note in this part of my boyhood, except that as my father was superintendent of the large mills of the Otis Company, I had ample opportunity to visit these mills and to obtain a general idea of the process of the manufacture of cotton goods, as then carried on.

 In 1853 my father resigned his position with the Otis Company, and went into partnership with my uncle, Ebenezer D. Draper, in the business of making and selling temples, [Ebenezer and George’s grandfather, Ira, had invented and patented an improved temple, a loom part, which became the most successful product of the Hopedale Community and the basis of the Draper business in Hopedale..] My uncle had carried on this business for several years, having inherited it from his older brother, James Draper; and the mechanical work was done at the shop of the Hopedale Community at Hopedale, of which Community Mr. Ebenezer D. Draper was president. The business was small, employing only a few men, but it indirectly furnished the financial backbone of the Hopedale Community, through the royalties that it yielded, though their amount would not seem large at the present day. In removing to Hopedale, my father became a member of the Community, with whose ideas he was in sympathy, and so remained until its financial failure a few years later.

 A little account of the Hopedale Community and its ideas will not be out of place, as my boyish experiences in connection therewith have affected my views on many important questions during the rest of my life.

 During the year 1841, a company of men and women, who believed that the organization of society, as it was then and is now, was on the wrong basis, associated themselves together under the name of “Fraternal Community No. 1,” at Mendon, Mass. The number of original members was thirty-two, among whom were my uncle and aunt, Ebenezer D. and Anna T. Draper. The founder and leader of the enterprise through all its subsequent vicissitudes was the Rev. Adin Ballou, at that time pastor of the First Church and Parish of the town of Mendon. He was a man of commanding presence, great intellectual ability, and a character above reproach. Count Tolstoi, in a recent interview, named him as the best writer that America has produced, and though that may be a partial estimate, I here state my belief that she has produced no better man. He is to me the highest embodiment of Christian character and unselfish devotion to duty, as he saw it, that I have ever come in contact with. In my brief account I shall quote from his history of the Hopedale Community such facts and statements as may seem pertinent, this being the only authority accessible, outside of my personal recollections.

 The decade beginning with the year 1840, saw in the United States a large number of these efforts to establish a better order of things by voluntary co-operation. As Emerson wrote to Carlyle in the autumn of that year, “We are all a little wild here with numerous projects of social reform. Not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.” Within a few years of that time no less than sixty of these communities were established in different parts of the country, and of that sixty not one now remains. Hopedale was one of the first to be organized, and one of the last to be finally abandoned. The believers in communistic theories now advocate their enforcement by government power, upon populations at least partially unwilling. If the voluntary associations failed, what may be expected of the unselfishness maintained at the point of a bayonet?  Equality [in the Community] was established by the following section of the original constitution:

 “Sec. 7. All members of every Community shall stand on a footing of personal equality, irrespective of sex, color, occupation, wealth, rank, or any other natural or adventitious peculiarity.”

 In June, 1841, the Community purchased the so-called Jones Farm, of 258 acres, in Milford, (now Hopedale), and their holdings were afterwards increased to about 600 acres. The first settlement was made in October, 1841, and community life began the following spring. At the start the joint stock subscribed was $4,000, and the individual property was estimated by Mr. Ballou at $10,000. The general plan adopted was that the Community should own the farms and shops as they should be established, –the instruments of production, — and that individuals might personally  own their houses and furniture. An exception to this was that my uncle, E.D. Draper, retained the patent business inherited from his father and elder brother, as a personal asset. This was of great pecuniary advantage to the Community, as my uncle invested in their joint stock all or substantially all his business profits; but it was doubtless the occasion for jealousy, and may have had to do with the final breakup of the organization. It is, however, fair to say that if this business had been put in as a general asset under the general control, the end would probably have come much sooner.

 The Community undertook to furnish employment for all connected with it who were able to work, and at the beginning the uniform rate of wages for adults was fixed at fifty cents for each day of eight hours. The same price was paid for intellectual work as for manual labor.

 At the close of 1842 the above general arrangement was found impracticable, and a provision was adopted by which members were to be paid according to the productiveness of their services, but not exceeding a dollar per day, or three hundred dollars per year. It was also provided that profits up to four per cent, should be divided pro rata among the holders of the joint stock, but that any excess should be devoted to such religious, educational, or charitable purposes as the Community might determine. (I may say that the excess never came, and that the four per cent was frequently, if not generally, lacking.) These provisions were considered too individualistic by about a dozen members, who seceded.

  General Draper continues for several more pages with some of the details of the operation of the Community. I’m going to skip over a few pages (leaving off on page 12 and picking it up at page 22) at this point. Anyone interested in these details can find the book, Recollections of a Varied Career, at the Bancroft Library in Hopedale.

 Into this village and community of Hopedale I came with my father’s family, as a boy of eleven. The change from the ordinary village life to which I was accustomed was marked enough to give me impressions which I remember clearly. The children were under certain community regulations, outside of the usual parental control, among which I remember especially the designation of certain hours for play, and the restriction of amusement to those hours, anywhere outside the domicile of the child’s parents. [ This policy seems to have continued long after the failure of the Community. Playing in the town park was not allowed on Sundays through the 1930s.] Going to the neighboring town of Milford was discouraged, except in case of emergency, and when we did go we were glad to get back, as the boys there did not sympathize with the Community, and greeted us with opprobrious epithets, if nothing worse. We were sometimes assailed, and if the number were not too great on the other side, the Hopedale boys were inclined to depart from the non-resistant principles of their fathers.

 In my first year I attended the Community school, — ungraded, — of which Miss Abbie Ballou, (later Mrs. Heywood), was the teacher, and a most excellent one. After this, it being one of the tenets of the Community that boys should be taught to work, I spent three years in manual labor between April 1st and Thanksgiving Day, and attended school only during the winter terms. Two years I was employed by the “garden” branch, in raising vegetables for the Milford market, being expected to hoe my row with the men employed and succeeding fairly well. The year that I was fourteen I went into the machine shop, then under the charge of my uncle, Mr. J.B. Bancroft [his mother, Ebenezer’s wife, and Bancroft’s wife were sisters], and he gave me as good a chance as he could to learn the use of tools, consistent with my doing a fair amount of work. I remember surprising him by doing in a day a certain job which had usually occupied a man of slower motions and less interest an entire week. My performance was later taken as a standard of what ought to be accomplished in a given time.

 After leaving the shop I attended the Home School [a school for boarding and day students that operated in Hopedale for several years] a little more than a year, and concluded my schooling just before I was sixteen years old. At this time I was supposed to be fitted to enter Harvard College, and I was further advanced in mathematics and languages, to which I had given special attention. My father thought I was too young to enter college at this time, and he also believed in the gospel of work; so, after a month or two spent in Worcester in the study of mechanical drawing, I was sent to a cotton mill in North Uxbridge, (the same one whee my father first worked), with a double object, — to learn as much of the cotton manufacture as I could while doing an operative’s work and to keep me employed.

 Before continuing I will relate a few personal recollections of the Community regime, which continued in force nearly up to this time. A lyceum was held every Tuesday evening, in which the boys were all interested, and in which, later, some of us took a part. Here were discussed the details of living, as well as general subjects. The question of vegetarianism, as against the use of animal food, was discussed at great length, and the boys were all advocates of meat. One orator stated that not only should animal food be dispensed with by the truly refined, but that the use of vegetables should be determined by the distance from the ground at which the ripened product was gathered. Potatoes and turnips were of the earth, earthy; cucumbers and squashes were not much better; and he recommended the use of grains which grew several feet from the ground, adding that no doubt as the human race progressed, it would subsist entirely on fruit. The meat-eating advocate responded, amid the applause of the boys, that nuts, growing still higher, would be a proper food for the gentleman who had last spoken, but he had learned on inquiry that he was one of the greatest meat-eaters of the village. This conviction of inconsistency floored him.

 Discussions also covered the use of tea and coffee, and of eggs, which are animal in origin, and some even objected to milk, on the same ground. Dress and the private relations of life were also discussed to our delectation, and there was an evident desire on the part of leading members to regulate living down to the minutest detail. In an annual report of my uncle, as president of the Community, in 1855, he said:

“I think the meetings held of late to discuss matters relating to expenditures and modes of living… have been and will be productive of much good. When we can come together and talk plainly concerning what we shall eat, drink and wear, — talk of economizing in a way that shall be understood by those at fault, — and all preserve a loving disposition and maintain a proper self-control, I think it speaks for our good.”

 The Sunday meetings were unusual, and sometimes very interesting. There were, I think, five regular preachers, taking turns; and the pulpit was also frequently occupied by eminent men from abroad, including unordained reformers. Among them I distinctly remember William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Stephen S. Foster, Henry C. Wright, and Prof. William Denton. I have been told that Anna Dickinson made her first speech in public in the Hopedale pulpit. After the address, whether from home or outside talent, any listener was allowed to speak or ask questions, and meetings often lasted several hours.

 I remember a case in which my father took part. An advocate of Free Love had the pulpit and delivered an address. My father questioned him, and made an opposing argument, and a vote was taken in which he (my father), was nearly unanimously sustained. About a month later the same man came again with a similar sermon. My father rose an said we were told to “prove all things and hold fast that which is good,” but that if the task of proving the same thing to the same man was to be repeated every month, the labor would become monotonous and little progress would be made. He finished by saying that he thought some foundation principles should be considered as settled, long enough to remember what they were, — and once more he was rewarded by a unanimous assent, and the free lover never appeared there again.

 Another incident of another kind, that my mother told me, may be interesting. When we moved to Hopedale, among our household goods were some old-fashioned stuffed parlor chairs, covered with horsehair, such as were in most New England parlors half a century ago. A short time after our arrival my mother received a call from a committee, who lectured her for having such extravagant furniture, when there were so many poor people in the world. Wooden bottomed chairs were pronounced good enough, and I agree that they are more comfortable than the kind criticized. My mother replied that the extravagance of buying them was committed before coming to Hopedale, and the occasion passed with a warning to do so no more. A few years later, after the financial change in the organization, my mother, calling upon one of the former committee, found some modern upholstered chairs and asked why “such extravagant furniture was in use when there were so many poor people in the world.” The reply was, “Mrs. Draper, I have changed my mind.” It may be fair to say that the party’s circumstances had also changed.  My aunt, the wife of the president of the Community, made the mistake of buying an easy chair, which caused a great excitement, until it was agreed that it should be used as a sick chair and sent from house to house for use by invalids, in case of illness, — and that when not so needed, my aunt should be its custodian.

 One excellent institution was a Christmas Festival, which was then a much less common observance than it is now. There were addresses by some of the clergy, songs by the musical, pieces spoken by the children, and short plays by the young people, — all being crowned by a Christmas Tree. Those who desired to give presents to members of their families or others brought them to the tree for distribution, and a committee, of whom my mother was one, saw that no man, woman or child for the village went without some remembrance. To those not otherwise provided an handkerchief was given, and at my first Christmas a handkerchief was all that I received. Stocking hanging at home was replaced by the tree, and I remember feeling that communism was a disadvantage as far as I was concerned; especially since most of the other children, and even my younger sisters, had little presents on the tree from their parents. The next year I determined to make a better showing, so I bought a pocket book with some of my farm wages, hung it on the tree for myself, — and received the pocket book and a handkerchief. After this my recollection on this point is not clear. I was either better treated or had less feeling about it.

 One more anecdote, and I will pass on. In the fifties there was a movement for reform on women’s dress, which consisted the adoption of a costume designed and first worn by Mrs. Amelia Bloomer. Corsets were abandoned, skirts were shortened to the knee, and supported from the shoulder, while trousers similar to those worn by men, (if I remember aright), completed the costume. As Hopedale was in the front rank in the
adoption of real or alleged reforms, several of the ladies temporarily adopted this dress and were regarded as great curiosities when they went outside the “Dale.” My mother’s mother paid us a visit before she had seen or heard of this innovation, and one day in looking out of the window she saw a dress reformer coming down the street. She called my mother, and pointing in the direction of the apparition, said, “Hannah, what is that?” My mother replied, “That is what we call a Bloomer.” “Is that all?” said my good grandmother; “I thought it might be the Devil.”

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