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Elementor #4686

Samuel Huntington and the Articles of Confederation

I am “distance teaching” during the Coronavirus / COVID-19 Crisis, and so am corresponding with students in writing. That means that I am writing essays on topics that I would normally cover verbally in class. In one class, we were cut off before we able to have a class discussion of the Article of Confederation, the United States’ first constitution. So I wrote this instead. 

March 1 marks the anniversary of the formal ratification of the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States. The Articles are on my mind: I am teaching three sections of United States History I (1607-1877) this term (two at Eastern Connecticut State University and one at the University of Connecticut), and we have been discussing the American Revolution, including the Articles. The Articles were adopted by the Continental Congress on 15 November 1777, but they technically did not become official until 1 March 1781, when they had been ratified by all thirteen states. Nevertheless, the Continental Congress acted as if they were in effect immediately following adoption, making the Articles the de facto constitution from 1777 until 4 March 1789, when they were replaced by the present Constitution, a period of more than eleven years. The Articles were a radical republican document, providing for an extremely decentralized government in which most power was placed in the states. Still, the Confederation (central) government did have some powers, including the sole authority to conduct diplomacy, enter into treaties, declare war, and maintain an army and navy. The Confederation government had only one branch – a unicameral Congress in which each state had one vote – with no independent executive or judiciary. Although the Articles proclaimed the new United States a “league,” it also made it clear that it was creating a country, not a mere alliance: it created the name “United States of America,” and declared it to be a “perpetual union” – meaning that the individual states could not chose to withdraw, as they could if it were simply an alliance.

The Confederation did have a President, but one that acted only as the presiding officer (chair) of Congress. The President of Congress on the day the Articles were ratified was Samuel Huntington of Connecticut, hence the claim by Conneticutters that Huntington was actually the first President of the United States. Huntington, however, was not the first President of the Continental Congress (which became simply Congress – or the Congress of the Confederation – upon the Articles’ ratification). Three Presidents served even before the November 1, 1777, passage of the Articles by the Continental Congress: Peyton Randolph of Virginia (twice, in 1774 and 1775), Henry Middleton of South Carolina (1774), and John Hancock of Massachusetts (1775-1777). Hancock was President when the Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which is why his signature on that document is so large. Henry Laurens of South Carolina became President on November 1, 1777, the same day that Congress passed the Articles, so South Carolinians sometimes claim Laurens as the first President of the United States. (It was the Articles, after all, that established “United States of America” as the name of the new country.) Laurens served through 1778, when he was succeeded first by John Jay of New York (1778-1779), and then by Huntington (1779-1781). Huntington was followed by Thomas McKean of Delaware (1781), John Hanson of Maryland (1781-82), Elias Boudinot of New Jersey (1782-83), Thomas Miflin of Pennsylvania (1783-84), Richard Henry Lee of Virginia (1784-85), John Hancock again (1785-86), Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts (1786-87), Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania (1787), and Cyrus Griffin of Virginia (1788). Marylanders sometimes argue that Hanson was the first President of the United States, as he was the first President to serve a complete one-year term under the Articles.

Should any of these Presidents truly be considered the “first President of the United States”? Yes and no. They did have the title, but none of them held any formal executive authority — although some (like Huntington) did, along with committee chairs, exercise some de facto executive powers during the Revolutionary War, when quick decisions had to be made. But neither should they be forgotten, and Connecticutters are right in remembering Huntington, as Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward did in his daily blog, https://todayincthistory.com/…/march-1-samuel-huntington-b…/.

Here is the language in the Articles of Confederation that established the office of President: “The United States, in Congress assembled, shall have authority to appoint a committee, to sit in the recess of Congress, to be denominated, ‘A Committee of the States,’ and to consist of one delegate from each State; and to appoint such other committees and civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the united states under their direction – to appoint one of their number to preside; provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of president more than one year in any term of three years.”

The Articles is rightly viewed today as a radically republican document, a pronounced contrast to the largely unwritten constitution of British Empire as it existed in the 18th century. While the imperial government was fairly centralized, concentrating much of the political authority into the Cabinet (appointed jointly by the King and the majority in the House of Commons), the Articles created an extremely decentralized government, with political power largely dispersed to the states. While the King and Lords served for life, and Members of Commons served many years between unscheduled elections, under the Articles the President and Delegates to Congress served only one-year terms. Moreover, there was also a strict rotation in office: Presidents, for example, could only serve for one year in a three-year period. Although the Articles gave Congress the authority to levy a head tax (i.e., a tax based on the number of free adult white males living in each state), it was not given any effective means to enforce such a tax, meaning that taxes were in fact voluntary on the states. And without the power to effectively collect taxes, Congress did not really have the power to maintain a standing army in peacetime. Congress also lacked the authority to establish tariffs or regulate commerce, powers also delegated to the states. With the relatively minor exception of admiralty law, the central government lacked any kind of independent judiciary. Military power was also dispersed. The President was not given the powers of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army; instead Congress appointed a separate Commander-in-Chief (understood to be someone with military experience), meaning the President could not command the army to do his bidding. And the states maintained their militias, which could act as state armies, if needed.

It is sometimes tempting today to consider the Articles of Confederation to have established a libertarian form of government. However, many libertarians today root their beliefs in the Positivism of Ayn Rand, a 1950s philosopher. And central to Rand’s philosophy was the idea of the great leader, an especially talented and capable person who rises through his or her merit and abilities and naturally assumes authority. The Articles, however, were constructed in such a way as to prevent such authoritarian great men from coming to power, regardless of their abilities. The Articles may have been libertarian (a word not yet invented in the 1700s) in some senses, but was not a Randian or Positivist libertarianism.

Finally, since the Articles left most political power to the states, it is important to look at the kinds of governments the states had. With the exception of Connecticut, which continued under its old colonial charter, each of the states drafted constitutions of their own. Although each state government was republican, some were moderate and others radical. While some states, like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, extended voting rights to all adult white males, other – Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia among them – only permitted men with property to vote. None of the new states was a democracy, but some were less oligarchical – in other words, more radical – than others.

Therefore, the Articles of Confederation created a government that, on the whole, was more radically republican than either the unwritten constitution of the 18th-century British Empire, or the current American Constitution that replaced it.

Elementor #4582

Revolutions

I have been thinking a lot about revolutions lately. Partly, this is because I am teaching the American Revolution — we got it in before the crononavirus crisis switched us from classroom-based to distance learning — in my three freshman Early United States History classes, two at Eastern Connecticut State University and one at the University of Connecticut. But it is also because my Facebook feed is alive with calls for revolution from many of my virtual colleagues, deeply disillusioned with the world as it is.

I begin my university classes on the Revolution by playing a YouTube clip of the Beattles song “Revolution,” written in 1968 by John Lennon. I was born in 1955, so I experienced the 1960s firsthand. And in 1968, it seemed that revolution was indeed in the air in many parts of the world, including the United States. The 1968 Presidential election was my introduction to American politics, and even though I was only thirteen, I chose up sides and proudly wore a Eugene (not Joe) McCarthy button. I remember the television coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago: the floor fight over which Mississippi delegation to seat (the white supremacist old guard, or the mostly African American Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party contingent, which I rooted for), the gruff face of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and the disappointment of McCarthy’s reform-minded followers when Vice President Hubert Humphrey (whom I would later discover once had been a staunch progressive, and who played a major role in the Senate passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964) secured the nomination. But mostly I remembered the spirited protests outside the convention hall, as legions of young reformers demanded change, and Daley’s Chicago Police Department sought to disperse them with tear gas.

Because the Beatles, like McCarthy, are associated with 1960s/70s youth culture, my students therefore expect Lennon’s song “Revolution” to be pro-revolution. But in fact, it is not. Although Lennon was a strong advocate of social reforms, he nevertheless was afraid of revolutions, afraid that they were too violent, that too many people would be hurt. “Revolution” is actually a plea for gradual change (“evolution”) rather than revolutionary upheaval. The lyrics make Lennon’s feelings clear, but he also went on record as confirming that he intended the song to be pro-reform but anti-revolution.

REVOLUTION

You say you want a revolution. / Well, you know, / We all want to change the world. / … / But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out.

You say you got a real solution. / Well, you know, / We’d all love to see the plan. / … / But if you want money for people with minds that hate, / All I can tell you, brother, you have to wait.

So, I ask my students, was Lennon right? Are revolutions by definition violent? Is gradual change better? Do revolutions unleash forces that are too destructive, too unexpected, to make them justifiable?

One place to go to begin to address such questions is the work of the historian Clarence Crane Brinton (1898-1968). One of the 20th century’s most important historians, Brinton was a child of Connecticut, born in Winsted. His family moved to Massachusetts when he was young — we can perhaps forgive him that — and he eventually went to Harvard, earned a Ph.D. in history in 1923, remained there to teach, and became a world authority in French History, especially the tumultuous history of the French Revolution. Brinton wondered whether all revolutions were similar, or was each one unique? And if they were similar, in what ways? In 1938 he published his classic Anatomy of Revolution, a comparative analysis of the English, American, French, and Russian Revolutions. Brinton concluded that similarities indeed existed, that all four degenerated into violence, and that three of the four — the American Revolution being the exception — had resulted in dictatorships. Brinton’s book is dated, but it is amazing how many of his insights still hold. Indeed, most historians of revolution continue to follow his broad outline.

(During World War II, Brinton — an accomplished linguist — served as Chief of Research and Analysis of the London office of the O.S.S., the forerunner of the C.I.A.)

According to Brinton, revolutions follow a common pattern. They begin as “revolutions of rising expectations,” with a disgruntled middle class pushing for change. The rich and powerful rarely support revolution, Brinton wrote, because they prosper under the old order. But neither, he argued, are they begun by the most oppressed, most exploited people in society. The downtrodden, he wrote, lack the time or resources to organize revolutions. Instead, it is the middle class — often the upper middle class — that takes the lead. Unlike, the poor or working class, the middle class has the education to produce revolutionary literature. It has the leisure time to debate social improvement. And it holds at least some leadership positions in society. The middle class becomes revolutionary, Brinton believed, when its members, who had expected their lives to get better — that their economic situation would improve as they aged, that they would be respected by the upper classes, that an era of peace and prosperity was at hand — find those expectations dashed. Their disappointment is usually exacerbated by a government crisis of some sort — an argument between king and Parliament over taxes to fight a foreign war, a large debt left by a previous war, or the failure to successfully fight a current war. But the underlying cause is middle-class disappointment that they have less than they believe they deserve. Is it true that all revolutions have been such middle class-led revolutions of rising expectations? Not quite. A good example of a revolution led by the most oppressed people in society is the Haitian Revolution, which was actually a slave revolt. Despite what Brinton thought, revolution can come from the bottom as well as from the middle. But most often he was right; most revolutions do indeed begin with the unmet rising expectations of a disgruntled middle class.

Another aspect of Brinton’s theory of revolutions is that revolutions tend to occur in three stages. They begin with a moderate stage, in which the disgruntled middle class organizes for reform. In the American Revolution, this stage was characterized by the colonial leaders’ attempts to persuade Parliament to repeal various laws they opposed: the Sugar Act (which lowered tariffs on imported molasses), the Proclamation of 1763 (which forbade settlement of the Ohio Valley), the creation of Vice Admiralty Courts (which did not have juries), the Stamp Tax, the Townshend taxes, the Tea Act (which lowered taxes on some teas), the Coercive Acts, the Quartering Act, and the Quebec Act (which established a government for the new colony of Quebec that did not have an elected legislature). Colonial leaders also sought to reshape the structure of the British Empire by giving colonial legislatures more authority to establish colonial laws.

When Parliament and King George III at last refused to grant the reforms colonial leaders sought (Parliament had twice backed down repealing first the Stamp Tax and then the Townshend taxes), the struggle passed from a moderate, reform stage to a radical stage. Convinced that it was not possible to achieve the reforms they sought by working within the system, American leaders resolved instead to overthrow the system. They now espoused independence, a republic rather than a monarchy, and — under the United States’ first constitution, the Articles of Confederation — a radically libertarian form of government that was extremely decentralized, had very short (one year) terms of office, and strict rotation in office. Under the Articles, the new central government had no real executive or judicial branch, could not tax without the states’ consent, and had no practical way to maintain a standing army without the support of all of the states. The radical stage also saw the passage by the Continental Congress of the (probably unintentionally) radically egalitarian Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed all people equal, and averred that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were universal rights. The radical stage also saw the first concerted efforts to end slavery in the northern states.

Indeed, in order to win, it had been necessary for the Patriots (the reformers who now became revolutionaries) to create a broad coalition of about 2/3 of Americans. The coalition included poor white men, free men of color, women, and even enslaved people. And in order to form this coalition, it had been necessary to offer everyone in it something they wanted.

I ask my students to imagine a scene. It is 1776, the British Army has arrived by ship at New York City to seize the port. George Washington and his small, untrained, ragtag army prepares for a desperate defense of the city. Seeking to fire up morale, Washington has the newly enacted Declaration of Independence read to his assembled troops. Imagine this motley army, drawn up. There are the officers, mostly well educated men of wealth, resplendent in their crisp blue uniforms. If Washington himself is horsed, the bridle is held by one of his slaves. Other enslaved men are present. The ordinary soldiers are poor men, most of them lacking uniforms. They include landless whites, free blacks, some Native Americans, and even some enslaved men from New England, promised their freedom in return for their service. And behind the men stands a phalanx of women, so-called camp followers, the nurses, water carriers, and cooks of the army, who themselves will come under fire in battle. As they hear the words, “all men are created equal,” what do those words mean to each of them? Do they dismiss it as just so much talk? Or do they consider it a promise?

Revolutions, Brinton believed, are inherently violent. Men and women fight and die. And revolutions have a great potential to end badly. The English Revolution produced the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell, the French Revolution the imperium of Napoleon, and the Russian Revolution the trauma of Lenin and Stalin. And had Brinton in 1938 been able to examine the German Revolution that created the Weimar Republic but culminated in the Nazi Third Reich, or the Chinese Revolution that led to Mao Zedung, he would have found dictators even more the rule. And every revolution, Brinton believed, had its counter revolution — the Restoration of the English monarchy, the monarchical rule of Napoleon followed by the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, and the rule of Stalin not so different from that of the tsars. The counter revolutions did not always produce dictatorships, but they always undermined the revolution’s goals. Eventually, Brinton argued, the moderates find themselves unable to tame the whirlwinds they unleash. First radicals (the left) and then reactionaries (the right) seize power, a political whipsaw that leaves everything in flux. Even in America, which at first seems the exception, the radical Articles of Confederation was ultimately replaced by the more reactionary Constitution, which (contrary to the goals of the radicals) strengthened rather than weakened central government, ensured that the elite would control most branches of government (thus establishing on oligarchy, not a democracy), and protected slavery in the South. Old radicals like Sam Adams went to their graves bemoaning that the true revolution had been co-opted and betrayed, that it was not the radicals but the counter revolutionaries who ended up in power.

More than 80 years ago a Connecticut-born historian began an academic discussion about the meaning of revolutions. Are they always violent? Are they always co-opted? Is there always a counter revolution? Do they always end badly? Historians still wrestle with these questions, just as John Lennon wrestled with them thirty years after Brinton, and more than fifty years before us.

Elementor #4524

Connecticut as a Maker State: The Smith and Winchester Company of South Windham, Part III

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History and the Connecticut League of History Organizations, and is a member of the Connecticut Coalition for History. He has written public history columns for the CLHO Bulletin and the Willimantic Chronicle. 

This blog concludes our examination of A Century of Pioneering in the Paper Industry. Published in 1928, the book is a short, illustrated history of the Smith and Winchester Manufacturing Company of South Windham, CT, published by the company itself. The book was a gift to the Museum from Pat Abbe, whose family had once been involved with the Company. Unfortunately, Smith and Winchester, founded in 1828, closed later in the 20th century. Yet for a hundred years it was a pioneer in manufacturing paper, a history worth remembering. Typically, the story of Smith and Winchester began with the invention of new technology in Europe, the transplantation of that technology to Connecticut, the application of Yankee ingenuity and Connecticut waterpower, and proximity to New York and Boston markets. Here are some more excerpts from the book. We pick up in 1876, as a new generation prepares to take over control of the Company, new products were being created, and electricity was being installed.

“A catalog published in 1876 states … that ‘Smith, Winchester & Company, Manufacturers of paper Machinery of Every Description, oldest and most extensive establishment of the kind on this continent,’ had developed ‘Many NEW AND VALUABLE IMPROVEMENTS, making the most complete and extensive variety of machinery produced by any manufactory in our line of business.'”

“Charles Smith’s son, Guilford, was now fast becoming a force in the concern. Many years before, as a young man of nineteen, he had entered the employ of Smith, Winchester & Company as a clerk. Gradually working his way up, he was winning, in his own right, the ability and judgment which would fit him for future leadership.”

“Arthur S. Winchester, son of Harvey Winchester, had also become associated with the concern and had risen to a position of great responsibility in connection with the financial side of the firm’s interests.”

“Nor was progress at Smith, Winchester & Company entirely a matter of personnel. Electricity had come to take the place of flickering lamps, turbines supplanted older types of water wheels. Things moved faster and faster through the world in general and (it seemed) at South Windham in particular.”

“Excellence in one line of work suggests ability in another. When laundry machines came into prominence, Smith, Winchester & Company were called upon to produce the necessary machinery for their work. The result was the Annihilator mangle (the annihilation referring to difficulties, not to clothes). This mangle, first produced in 1891, was an efficient single-cylinder machine for the ironing of flat work.”

“Subsequently this Company produced the Royal Calendar, an improved two-cylinder dryer which, with improvements in design, is now functioning efficiently in laundries throughout the country….”

“On April 6, 1896, the death of Charles Smith, long the guiding genius of the Company, necessitated a readjustment of the concern’s affairs. … The organization, which had been known since 1893 as the Smith & Winchester Company, went forward….”

“In 1899, Smith & Winchester Company absorbed an organization of high standards, devoted to the manufacture of paper cutters and paper-bag-making machinery.”

“In this purchase of the bag-making machine business of the Frank A. Jones Company of New York, Smith & Winchester Company gained control of important patents covering the inventions of the Jones Company’s former owner, Mr. Charles Cranston….”

“In 1905 the Company was incorporated as The Smith & Winchester Manufacturing Company, as at this time Guilford Smith bought out the interest of his partner and assumed control of the Company’s affairs.”

This concludes our examination of the history of Smith & Winchester, a company that flourished in an era when Connecticut was a maker state. There is, however, more in the book, which the Mill Museum will place in its library for access by the general public.

 

Elementor #4516

Connecticut as a Maker State: The Smith and Winchester Company of South Windham, Part II

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History and the Connecticut League of History Organizations, and is a member of the Connecticut Coalition for History. He has written public history columns for the CLHO Bulletin and the Willimantic Chronicle. 

As I wrote in a previous blog, a package arrived at the Mill Museum recently, containing a historical treasure: a copy of A Century of Pioneering in the Paper Industry. Published in 1928, it is a short, illustrated history of the Smith and Winchester Manufacturing Company of South Windham, CT, published by the company itself. The book was a gift from Pat Abbe, whose family had once been involved with the Company. Unfortunately, Smith and Winchester, founded in 1828, closed later in the 20th century, yet for a hundred years it was a pioneer in manufacturing paper, a history worth remembering. Typically, it begins with the invention of new technology in Europe, the transplantation of that technology to Connecticut, the application of Yankee ingenuity and Connecticut waterpower, and proximity to New York and Boston markets. Here are some more excerpts from the book. We pick up in 1830, shortly after the Company’s founders, James Phelps and George Spafford (the Company was originally called Phelps and Spafford), along with their foreman Charles Smith and a crew of workers, built and sold the first Fourdrinier paper-making machine manufactured in America. They quickly assembled and sold more machines, making technological improvements as they went along.

“A second machine, equally successful, was completed and sold, two years later, to Henry Hudson of East Hartford, and a third, built for the mill of W. I. C. Baldwin, near Bloomfield, N. J., was soon to add to the fame of Phelps and Spafford.”

“In 1830 George Spafford invented the first cylinder dryers, which performed, in a few minutes, work which had previously taken hours, even days. he was was first, too, to devise cutters which divided the continuous web into sheets of uniform size.”

“These improvements made possible the first complete paper-making machine in history, built by young Charles Smith and his men. The machine comprised the Fourdrinier part press rolls, steam-drying cylinder, reels, and cutters, operating as a unit. It was now possible for the pulp to be taken in at one end of the machine, the manufacturing process completed, and the sheets in the desired sizes, ready for finishing or packing, turned out at the other end of the machine.”

Phelps and Spafford thus prospered for several years, manufacturing Fourdrinier machines in their little factory in South Windham, Connecticut. Then, in 1837, disaster struck, in the form of America’s first industrial age depression, the Panic of 1837. Sales dropped, and Phelps and Spafford closed their factory. It would be left to their overseer, Charles Smith, to rescue it.

“Charles Smith, however, had faith in the future of the business, and with Harvey Winchester bought out the concern and reorganized as The Smith, Winchester, & Company. The new concern, guided by the maturing mechanical genius of Charles Smith, .. weathered the financial depression….”

“By 1840 the new company had developed a line of stuff pumps and beaters, and in 1854 obtaining the patents of Joseph Jordan and Thomas Eustice, introduced the Jordan and Eustice refining engine…. This machine has been adopted by the paper industry and is in universal use throughout the country….”

“By 1853 the fame of Smith, Winchester & Company had, literally, spread from Maine to California. Oxen had hauled one of the earliest Smith, Winchester & Company machines to Maine. Shortly after, the gold fever … attracted thousands to … San Francisco … and the Pioneer Paper Mill of the west coast came into being.”

“[A] machine went by boat to the Isthmus of Panama and was shipped on skids across the Isthmus. Then schooners took it to [California].”

“Demand for Smith, Winchester & Company machines grew and grew. they were installed in England, Cuba, Mexico, and South America.”

“[By the time of the Civil War], Charles Smith and Harvey Winchester looked back over the years. their bustling plant was somewhat different from the little schoolhouse where they had begun their enterprise, thirty years before.”

In a future blog, I’ll continue the story of Smith and Winchester into the next generation, continuing the story of how Connecticut became a “maker state.”

Elementor #4476

Connecticut as a Maker State: The Smith and Winchester Company of South Windham, Part I

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History and the Connecticut League of History Organizations, and is a member of the Connecticut Coalition for History. He has written public history columns for the CLHO Bulletin and the Willimantic Chronicle. 

A package arrived in the mail recently, containing a historical treasure: a copy of A Century of Pioneering in the Paper Industry. Published in 1928, it is a short, illustrated history of the Smith and Winchester Manufacturing Company of South Windham, CT, published by the company itself. The book was a gift from Pat Abbe, whose family had once been involved with the Company. Unfortunately, Smith and Winchester, founded in 1828, closed later in the 20th century. Like so many Connecticut manufacturers, it fell victim to globalization, unable to compete with larger, overseas corporations that hired cheap labor. Yet, for a hundred years, Connecticut was a pioneer in manufacturing paper, a history worth remembering. Typically, it begins with the invention of new technology in Europe, the transplantation of that technology to Connecticut, the application of Yankee ingenuity and Connecticut waterpower, and proximity to New York and Boston markets. Here are some excerpts from the book.

 

“The greatest discovery in the history of paper making … was in 1799, at the mill of St. Leger Didot at Essonnes, France, that an ingeniuous workman, Nicolas Louis Robert, made the first successful attempt to produce paper in an endless web, instead of making it a sheet at a time.”

“Messrs. Henry & Sealy Fourdrinier, wealthy stationers and paper manufacturers of London, purchased the patents of the machine, and it was because of their improvements and extensive manufacture (the first machine was made in 1804) that this type of machine has come to bear their name.”

“The first Fourdrinier to come to America was imported in December, 1827, by one Joseph Pickering. It was to be set up the next month in his shops at North Windham, Conn., under the direction of George Spafford of South Windham, know throughout the countryside as a machinist ‘of great mechanical insight.'”

“George Spafford arrived at the Pickering Mills. The tedious task of making necessary changes in the shop’s layout was at last complete. Then came the fascinating work of setting up the new machine and putting it into operation. And, for Spafford, this great machine from across the sea was a revelation — putting it into action was an adventure.”

“It was with regret that Spafford left the Pickering Mills.”

“And as he drove slowly back to Windham through the winter’s night, looking up at the clear stars through the black umbrage of the drooping Connecticut elms, he was pondering the things he had seen, and wondering.”

“‘It is a wonderful machine, this Fourdrinier,’ thought Spafford. ‘It is certain to supersede the inadequate paper-making process now in use. yet few people will import these machines. The distance is too great. The business arrangements are too difficult to establish.'”

“‘But if a similar machine — a better machine, were made in America….'”

“Thought was turned into action. Spafford, with an experienced paper-mill builder, James Phelps, formed the firm of Phelps & Spafford to build, in America, an improved Fourdrinier machine. Associated with them, and in charge of their working force, was Charles Smith, a boy of nineteen, whose mechanical talent and executive ability had already marked him for leadership in the great task which was to be undertaken.”

“There was, in South Windham, a considerable stream of water, falling rapidly over the ledges of a rocky glen. Near this stream a site was selected, and an old building, originally a country schoolhouse, was moved from its foundation to a position below a small dam erected to conserve the flow of the stream. Here was installed a single crude power lathe which, with hand tools, formed the total of the shop’s equipment.”

“And here, in secrecy, beneath the flickering light of fish-oil lamps, the first Fourdrinier in America was designed and built. Measurements of parts were made with simple calipers. Drawings, made on smoothed pine boards, were pland away, as soon as the pattern was complete, that there might be room on the same board for the next drawing.”

“Cold rolled steel was unknown. Every shaft had to be forged and turned on the lathe.”

“Castings formed a momentous problem. The nearest foundry of any size was at Stafford, some twenty miles away, and there the patterns were cast and then hauled, by ox team, back to South Windham.”

“But ingenuity triumphed over obstacles, and the completed machine proved an excellent performer, a vast improvement over the original Fourdrinier. It was sold to Amos D. Hunnard and put into successful operation in May, 1829, at his mill at Norwich Falls, Conn., a plant famous as the first paper mill in Connecticut, founded in Colonial days by the distinguished Christopher Leffingwell.”

For how this small operation evolved into the successful Smith and Winchester Company, see the next installment of the Mill Museum’s blog.

Charlotte Waldo, Connecticut’s First Woman Mail Carrier

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History and the Connecticut League of History Organizations, and is a member of the Connecticut Coalition for History. He has written public history columns for the CLHO Bulletin and the Willimantic Chronicle. 

One of the great things about working at a history museum is that people are always showing (or giving) you artifacts, stories, and information. You never stop learning. A friend from Ashford, CT, recently gave me a faded photocopy of a tattered newspaper clipping from an 1894 issue of the Hartford Times. It was a story about Charlotte Waldo,  at the time the only woman mail carrier in Connecticut. In a one-horse mail coach, Waldo drove the route from Ashford to Bolton Notch, delivering mail sacks to post offices along the way. I transcribed the article and it is reprinted below.

In the 19th century, most Americans regarded carrying and delivering the mail — and driving a stage coach — as masculine activities not suited to women. The Post Office did not appoint any female postmasters until the mid-1800s, and then only grudgingly and under the idea that running a small rural post office was mostly sedentary work acceptable for middle-class women. (Nineteenth-century working class women did all sorts of hard physical labor, but were not regarded as “ladies.”) Even then, in 1900 women made up only 10% of American postmasters. Carrying the mail and driving horses generally was viewed as too strenuous, unseemly, or dangerous for “ladies.” (Rural post offices were often located in taverns, off limits to middle-class women.) It was only in the 1880s that Susanna Brunner in New York and Minnie Westerman in Oregon became the first female mail carriers, joined in 1895 by Mary “Stagecoach Mary” Fields, the first African American woman mail carrier. In 1899 there were 11 woman mail carriers, most of them emergency substitutes for a male relative. Like Waldo, they delivered the mail to rural post offices, not door-to-door. Ethel Hill is usually credited with becoming the first woman mail carrier in her own right, in 1899, but Waldo seems to have come earlier. Women were not allowed to deliver mail in urban areas until 1917. Folks in Canterbury, CT, claim that Frances Vadavik was Connecticut’s first woman mail carrier, beginning in 1942. But if the story in the Hartford Times is correct, Waldo was actually first, delivering mail to rural post offices (but not to homes) as early as 1894.

The anonymous reporter (probably a man) who wrote about Waldo claimed to be a supporter of women’s rights and wanted to portray her as both competent and feminine. Although reporting that Waldo had some “masculine” traits, the author decided that it was her femininity that was her greatest strength. Waldo was tough, courageous, determined, and wore men’s shoes — traits normally ascribed primarily to men in the 1890s — but also empathetic and a non-drinker, supposedly feminine attributes that made her stand out. She didn’t drink while driving. She took good care of her horses. She stopped and broke up a fight between two men. And she wore a dress. 

Unfortunately, the article also demonstrates the pervasive racism of the era. The author quotes Waldo using a racial slur, common at the time. Both Waldo and the author regarded African Americans as “other,” fundamentally different from whites — as indeed, the middle class in the 1890s generally considered itself fundamentally different from the working class and immigrants.

Charlotte Waldo was a real person, not the figment of a log-ago newspaper reporter’s imagination. She is buried in the North Ashford, CT, Cemetery. Her stone says she was born June 9, 1849, and died March 9, 1910. There are no other Waldos buried in that cemetery. I invite you read the entire article below, to see what you think about Waldo — and about rural Connecticut in the 1890s. I used ellipses […] where the original clipping was so tattered that the text was unreadable. I edited out the racial epithet, but indicated its location in the text.

ONLY WOMAN MAIL CARRIER

Manages the Worst Route in the State

It Lies Between Ashford and Bolton

On Time Without Regard to Weather

Charlotte Waldo Faithfully Performs the Duties of Several Kinds of Mail Service. – A Resolute Woman, “Not Afraid of Any Man Living.”

Correspondence of the Hartford Times.

Rockville, August 14, 1894

Women have taken up almost every kind of occupation and trade formerly pursued exclusively by the sterner sex, but probably for novelty as well as for a total apparent unfitness, the woman stage-driver leads the van. It was while I was spending my vacation this summer away from all thought of “assignments” or “scoops,” drinking in the pure, invigorating air which the healthy town of Willington is so noted for, that I first heard of the woman stage-driver as a reality, and not as the heroine of fiction, existing in some imaginary “town of C—–“ in a far-away western State. I immediately made up my mind that the route on my return to the city should take in a trip on this stage with this woman driver. An early ride of a few […] brought me to the […] Town of Ashford, in Windham County […] the post-office, from which […] starts, there is a sturdy old […] under whose spreading branches Washington and his staff stopped to eat their dinner while on a hurried journey to Boston. The gallant General Lyons of Revolutionary fame, and his tired Continentals, also camped out over night on this spot, and in an ancient dwelling-house near by, there is a small, old-fashioned pane of glass of a deep greenish tinge bearing some initials which the wife of General Lyons is said to have scratched on there with her diamond ring.

Shortly before 6 the woman driver, Charlotte Waldo, drove up in a carriage and went into the office, appearing a minute later with a United States mail pouch on her arm. She was of medium height, and although not fleshy, her entire build suggested great strength and endurance. Her face and hands were as red as a boiled lobster, from the exposure to all kinds of weather. Her hair cut short and parted in the middle, huge black eye-goggles, a black sailor hat with a white ribbon and a huge bow much the worse for wear, a pair of large men’s shoes upon her feet, and the resolved, determined look on her face, all gave her a decidedly masculine appearance as she stood there with one hand on the carriage, merely to get in, and the other holding the mail bag. But the dress, a gingham with a huge plaid, made plain and loose, instantly declared her sex. Starting promptly at 6, we had gone probably about a quarter of a mile when a came out of a house and handed her a […] place, where he was burned to a crisp.

“You see that old barn there?” my companion asked suddenly, after a climb of a particularly long hill made up of a series of little steep pitches. I nodded in the affirmative as I gazed at the building, a little low shed, with the roof terribly sagged and full of great holes, and the sides braced up together by means of fence rails placed against them and a general suggestion about the entire structure of the old one-horse shay on the morning of its dissolution. “Well, the man that owns it lives in that house there,” nodding towards a small three-room house in a bad state of repair. “He’s a hermit, and he ought to be complained of to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. You see, he keeps a cow in that old shed and in the winter the poor thing suffers terribly from the cold. The building becomes half filled with snow at every snow-storm and twice last winter it nearly blew over and had to be pushed to place and braced up. Then, what little hay it holds, besides the cow, becomes soaked with every rain and is not fit to eat. When that is gone, he takes a wheelbarrow and goes up on that side hill and wheels down those tumbles, one by one, and feeds her. These lie out, with no protection from the weather all winter.” With this final outburst my entertainer relapsed into silence, having shown her tender regard for animals.

After sorting the mail at North Coventry, where we stopped long enough to get a light lunch at the hotel, we pushed on. Taking out her watch at the top of the hill, she informed me we were just a minute ahead of time. From the top of this hill it was straight down for quite a distance; then from the bottom there was a climb up a hill of apparently the same height and grade, the road being perfectly straight and the two hills resembling the sides of a broad-topped V. A country grocer’s team was lazily crawling up the last pitch on the summit of the opposite hill, and I was asked to guess the distance between our team and that. “A quarter of a mile,” suggested I, thinking that I had probably greatly overrated it. “Just one mile,” said she with a triumphant smile at my failure to anywhere near approximate the distance. It seemed almost incredible at first, the clear morning air making the team appear so near that I fancied I heard it rattle as it moved slowly along over the stony road. But the time that it took us to reach the top of the hill proved to me that it must be fully a mile. On this hill she pointed out the spot where, as she tersely expressed it, she “stopped a couple of [here the author quotes the driver as using a familiar racial epithet] from fighting.” I remembered then the account I had seen in a paper about the affair. One of the colored persons, becoming partially intoxicated, had called upon the other, a very steady old gentleman owning a small farm on the hill, and for a slight grievance had knocked him down and beat him unmercifully, bruising and cutting his head and reducing him to a state on insensibility, when a woman appeared on the scene and drove the intoxicated man away and had the injured man cared for. The assailant was afterwards arrested and committed to jail. The paper had spoken in high terms of the brave act of the woman. [….]

[…] me, every man driver, after he has been on a little while, takes to drink and ultimately becomes unfit for the position, while she never takes liquor in any form. Her calling, to say the least, is most eccentric, and uncommon, and one that very few women would have the rigid constitution and courageous determination to carry out. Her route lies over the old turnpike between Boston and Hartford, the larger part of it lying in the Bolton Mountain region and being made up almost entirely of long, steep hills with very few level stretches. Every other day she changes horses, and the good care she takes of them keeps them looking in good shape, in spite of the many miles of hills which they climb […] a week.

At Quarryville, the last sorting of the mail took place, and we drove along past the lower end of Bolton reservoir, and by the old burying ground with many of its quaint old tomb stones bearing dates back into the beginning of the seventeenth century. Bolton Notch, the end of our journey, was reached at 9:25, after having traversed across six towns and covering a portion of Windham county, the entire distance across Tolland county, and had we covered three miles more, we should have been in Hartford county. As the train came along three minutes later, I left the woman driver, after having had a most interesting ride with her. Although her exterior was rough and masculine in appearance, there was the woman there just the same, and although to the casual observer she appeared unfeminine in the extreme, in talking of the ills of human beings and the abuses to which the brute creation are subjected, she displayed a rare sympathy and depth of feeling which surprised me. Disappointed in early life, knocked about by the world ever since, and with no one to care what becomes of her, she has become hardened in manner and appearance, and has learned better than to wear her heart on her sleeve. But at heart, pure and simple, she is a woman still. As the train pulled out, just before entering the Notch, standing on the rear platform of the last car, I caught a last glimpse of her as she sat bent over the reins guiding her horse as he lazily moved up to the barn where she would take care of him and make her preparations to return in a short time over the long lonely road. With the utmost feelings of respect toward the woman and her occupation, I became a convert to Woman’s Rights on the spot, and, turning, I entered the car.

COMMENT From Drew:

This article can be recovered from the Ashford Historical Society. I had the Barbara Metsack from Historical Society talk about this recently at my installation on May 31st, 2019 as the Postmaster of Ashford. There surprisingly a lot of history in that town. Awesome to see this story shared.

Amy Hooker

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History and the Connecticut League of History Organizations, and is a member of the Connecticut Coalition for History. He has written public history columns for the CLHO Bulletin and the Willimantic Chronicle. 

For several years now, I have used bits and pieces of spare time trying to track down information about Amy Hooker, an early 20th-century Connecticut labor leader about whom little is known … even though she appears in a song by state troubadour Hugh Blumenfeld!

“I saw Eugene Debs rise up on Wobbly legs
I heard Amy Hooker dressing down American Thread
They took up the strikers’ signs from back in 1925
When the cutbacks ate our grandparents alive.”
–From “How Long” by Hugh Blumenfeld

In 1925 Amy Hooker was 38, single, and the President of the Willimantic Textile Union Council, an affiliate of the United Textile Workers of America, a former craft union that had recently metamorphosed into an industrial union. She was about to lead one of the bitterest, most divisive strikes in Connecticut history, and in the process stand up to one of the state’s most powerful corporations.

Hooker was born (probably) in New Britain, CT, where she was baptized at St. Mark’s on Sept. 9, 1887. Her father, Dwight Freeman Hooker, had worked as a joiner. Amy became a textile worker at an early age. The 1910 United States Census found her, 23 years old, living with her parents Dwight and Alice in Newark, NJ, and working in a factory making straw hats. She never went to school beyond the 6th grade, although she learned enough to be a union leader and later a private art teacher. In 1920 the Census recorded her living as a lodger in Scotland, CT, only a few miles from Willimantic, and unemployed. She subsequently showed up in several Willimantic street directories, living in the Thread City in the late 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. She moved around a lot, residing in a series of low-rent, working-class apartments, almost all of them in older buildings later demolished in Willimantic’s 1970s urban renewal.

Hooker was living in Willimantic in 1925 when the American Thread Company announced a 10% cut in the piece rates it paid its workers. The cut came on top of other cuts made a few years earlier, as ATCO attempted to bring wages back to pre-World War I levels. On Feb. 17, a delegation of workers affiliated with the United Textile Workers of America and led by Hooker (her title, according to the Willimantic Chronicle and Hartford Times, which reported on the event, was president of the Textile Union Council) met with plant manager Don H. Curtis. Curtis declined to rescind the pay cut. That evening, Hooker and other labor leaders called a “mass meeting” at Willimantic’s Central Labor Hall. Four hundred workers — 1/6 of the factory’s labor force — attended. They voted 320-80 to strike if the cut was not canceled. Two weeks of “determined” negotiations followed. On March 5, a second mass meeting at the Labor Hall, chaired by Hooker, unanimously voted to strike. They were promised support by Mary Kelleher, a UTWA organizer from Pennsylvania. The strike began on March 9 at 7:15 a.m. Over the next several months, ATCO replaced the 2,500 strikers with 1,700 replacement workers. By September, the strike was mostly over. The Union lost.

Tracing Hooker’s movements before and after the strike is like chasing shadows – the 1920 Census showed her as unemployed; the 1930 Census recorded her living in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ (a suburb of Passaic, the scene of another bitter 1926-27 textile strike – one wonders if she went there to participate), with her older married sister Carrie and working at her old occupation as a straw hatter; and 1920s, 30s, and 40s Willimantic street directories failed to list any occupation for her (although such information was recorded for almost everyone else who was employed). Was she blacklisted in Willimantic after the 1925 strike failed, and had trouble finding work? Why had she come to Willimantic from New Jersey in the first place? Was it because, like many working class Americans, she was following friends and relatives? Her sister Mattie and brother Dwight also lived in Willimantic, although she never lived with them. Why did she return to New Jersey? Was it simply to reconnect with her sister, or was she somehow involved in the Passaic strike? Why did she come back to Willimantic in the 1930s? Did she perhaps live with a lover? No – the people who lived at the same addresses as she did all changed with each move, and the majority were working class couples. Were her friends in the union taking care of her after the strike?

The 1925 ATCO strike was debilitating for the Union, Willimantic, and Hooker. It lasted nine months — or more, depending on how you measure these things — and involved thousands of workers. The union was fairly new at the ATCO mill, and most of its members were women and immigrants. Several of the women strikers were arrested for verbally abusing strikebreakers; in June Celia St. George, Jeanette St. George, and Caroline Kozek found themselves in court and fined $10 for name calling. To protest the eviction of strikers from their tenements – and to dramatize that the evictions would leave families homeless – the union conducted a parade of baby carriages. In June, the UTWA also erected tents on the outskirts of Willimantic, to house evicted strikers. In July the UTWA ominously threatened a general strike against ATCO’s other plants – and perhaps even other textile factories – if no further progress occurred, although the general strike never materialized. Evictions began in earnest that month, with deputy sheriffs removing furniture from the homes of strikers Joseph Aubin, Moise Morrisette, Nelson Chamberland, Marie Theroux, and William Chalifoux. None of the evicted families opted to move into any of the twenty tents the UTWA had erected, which as of July 16 were occupied by only “two or three caretakers.” Tempers frayed. When a state police officer claimed to have been “manhandled” by strikers, Willimantic Police Chief Allan MacArthur ordered that all parades and marches cease. Amy Hooker organized a committee of herself, two women strikers, and three men to beg MacArthur to rescind his decision. He did, but only after Hooker promised that pickets would stay on the sidewalks, and confine all parades to the morning hours. In September, the UTWA opened a commissary store at 166 Jackson St. in Willimantic to provide food and clothing for strikers and their families.

ATCO’s strategy of hiring replacement workers proved successful. The plant reopened on May 11, 1925, after having been closed for two months, and production continued throughout the rest of the strike. As the months dragged on, the union’s position grew increasingly weak. By the end of September, it was clear that the strikers had lost and that management had won. A few of the strikers returned to work. Others remained in the area, but took new jobs with other companies. But most simply moved away and never came back. In July the next year, plant manager Don Curtis announced the strike over. Hooker and Mary Kelleher insisted that it was still on, but if it was, it was in name only. In August, 1933, the UTWA officially declared the strike over. The 1700 to 1800 workers then at ATCO – some strikebreakers, some former strikers like who asked for their old jobs back – did not belong to a union. The union was broken. When in 1934 a general textile strike occurred on the east coast of the United States from Maine to Georgia – and involved several smaller mills in Willimantic – ATCO was not involved. “In Willimantic,” declared the Hartford Courant, “the large American Thread Company mills with 1800 employees have not been unionized.” The 1934 strikes, too, failed. The UTWA would not return to ATCO’s Willimantic plant until the 1950s, and by then Connecticut’s textile industry was already in sharp decline.

There is only one known photo of Amy Hooker, taken many years later. She is the older woman on right. This photo — of Amy standing next her niece Mildred Bartholomew — was probably taken sometime around 1950, when she was 63 and living with her sister Carrie Hooker Varley in Hebron, CT. At the time Amy was unmarried (in fact, she never married), taught art to private pupils, was active in the Grange organizing musicals and first aid training, and was otherwise leading a quiet life. Who would know that, a quarter of a century earlier as a young woman of 38, as President of the Willimantic Textile Council — an affiliate of the United Textile Workers of America — she stood on picket lines in Thread Mill Square and the stage of the Gem Theater and — in words of one-time Connecticut State Troubador Hugh Blumenfeld — “dress[ed] down American Thread.” She paid a great price for her temerity, never again finding employment in the Thread City. A quiet life. Except for 1925, when she led a union, organized pickets, headed marches down Willimantic’s Main Street, bargained with plant managers, police chiefs, and mayor, and stood on a stage in Willimantic’s Gem Theater rallying thousands of angry workers. Even quiet people have their day.

There is a lot more I would like to know about Amy Hooker. I will keep chipping away, checking further sources during odd moments I have free. She is someone whose story should be told.

Doing Hard History

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University. He has served on the Boards of Directors of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History and the Connecticut league of History Organizations, and is a member of the Connecticut Coalition for History. He has written public history columns for the CLHO Bulletin and the Willimantic Chronicle. 

One of the highlights of the year for public historians in Connecticut is the annual conference of the Connecticut League of History Organizations, held this year on June 3 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. The conference provides a chance to network with other public historians, and to learn innovative new ways to present history to the general public. It attracts dozens of museum professionals and volunteers, members of local historical societies, and even a smattering of academic historians, from across Connecticut. There were 21 different workshops this year, running concurrently in four, hour-long “breakout sessions,” so it wasn’t possible to take in everything. (A colleague absolutely despises concurrent breakout sessions, but pretty much all conferences these days have them, and I confess that I have gotten used to them.) There was also a keynote talk during lunch.

Four of us from the Windham Textile and History Museum (the Mill Museum) went this year: me, Bev York the Museum’s Educational Director, Kira Holmes the Vice President of our Board (and a worker at Mystic Seaport), and my wife Kit, a longtime volunteer at the Mill Museum. Kira and Kit co-taught a workshop on fundraising. Among the four of us, we were able to attend a majority of the workshops. Keeping in mind the State of Connecticut’s new social studies curriculum guidelines that expand the teaching of African American and Latinx history in public schools, I particularly looked for workshops dealing with how museums could help schools teach those themes.

I was excited to learn in one workshop about the Witness Stones project, begun in Guilford, CT, but now also duplicated in West Hartford. The goal of the project, according to Guilford’s Dennis Culliton and West Hartford’s Elizabeth Devine and Tracey Wilson, is to incorporate the history of enslaved people into Connecticut’s cloud of historic monuments and sites. The names and histories of Connecticans who were not enslaved already blanket our landscape, in the form of street names, other place names, and plaques on historic houses. But enslaved people as individuals too often have been ignored and forgotten — even though they, too, played vital roles in creating colonial and early 19th-century Connecticut. Enslaved people lived in almost every colonial Connecticut town – indeed, Connecticut had more slaves than all of the other New England colonies combined. The center for the New England slave trade was Newport, RI, but prosperous Connecticut farmers and shippers traveled to the Newport slave market regularly, looking for slave labor. So Culliton, Devine, Wilson, and others began looking for the histories enslaved persons in their towns’ histories and records, identifying each person when possible, and placing small paving stones near the locations where they lived. The stones bear inscriptions like “[Name of Enslaved Person] was enslaved on this site in [year],” or “[Name of person] was emancipated here in [year].” Other information about them is recorded, too. In both towns, schools played important roles in the projects. More information about the West Hartford project can be found at https://sites.google.com/view/westhartfordct/witnessstones/home.

The history of Connecticut’s enslaved people is an example of what is known as “hard history.” It’s “hard” because the research is difficult. Even the names of enslaved people often were not recorded – as a team of researchers at Hartford’s Ancient Burial Ground led by CCSU History Professor Kathy Hermes found out when they discovered dozens of brief burial records for persons called simply “a negro.” But it is also “hard history” because slavery and race are difficult and emotional subjects. As with most difficult subjects, we have a tendency to avoid talking about them. But they also are important subjects, and avoiding them leaves us with incomplete histories. That was the point made by Melissa Houston, the Educator at the Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center in Ridgefield, and Cheyney McKnight, a consultant who worked with her. “As a white woman, I had to get past taking the subjects of slavery and racism as attacks on me personally,” Houston said.

Enslaved people – along with African Americans who were legally free, but did unpaid work – lived at Keeler Tavern in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Houston and McKnight talked about how they learned to incorporate them and their stories into the Museum’s popular school tours. Similarly, West Hartford’s Devine and Wilson – both retired social studies teachers – talked about how their project helped make African American history more relevant in their town’s public schools. They made their research – including documents – available to teachers, and then worked with the teachers to develop relevant class projects, such as writing stories and creating art about the enslaved people. The consensus was clear: the history of African Americans  (and Native Americans) in Connecticut must forthrightly deal with the fact of 17th, 18th, and early 19th-century slavery, but at the same time acknowledge that enslaved people (the term “slave” implies that being a slave was the person’s only identity, while the term “enslaved person” both acknowledges that that they were people, and that their enslavement was something that was imposed on them and not the whole of their identity) were living, breathing human beings with hopes and dreams and wants and loves and longings, people who contributed greatly to the creation of Connecticut.

All of us – public historians and teachers alike – need to do more hard history. The Mill Museum does some, but there is need for more. On Monday, I got some good ideas about how to go about it.

The Stories Behind the Artifacts

Jamie Eves is the Executive Director of the Windham Textile and History Museum, a.k.a. the Mill Museum, a small-to-middle-sized history museum in Willimantic, CT. He has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Connecticut. He has been the E.D. at the Mill Museum since 2011, and a volunteer at the Museum since 2004. He has taught U. S. History, World and European History, and the History of Connecticut and New England as adjunct faculty at Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, the University of Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, and Central Connecticut State University.  

   I love artifacts because they tell stories. The things themselves are interesting, to be sure. And many of them, like most of the quilts in the Mill Museum’s new exhibit, Under Cover Stories, are breathtaking works of art. But it is stories behind the artifacts that I find compelling – stories of the women, children, and men who created and used them. Here are the stories behind some of the artifacts in Under Cover Stories. To see more – and to actually see the artifacts themselves – stop by the Mill Museum, 411 Main Street, Willimantic, CT, 06226, open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The exhibit is up through July 28.

A Woven Woolen Blanket from the Market Revolution

   This woolen blanket was spun and woven by hand by Mary Hobart Spear, who was an adult during the first half of the 19th century. (Two of her children were born in 1805 and 1814.) Typical of such blankets, it is constructed of two long pieces of cloth stitched together. A woman’s loom could not be wider than her wingspan, as she had to throw the shuttle with one hand and catch it with the other, which limited the width of a piece of homemade woven cloth. Mary Hobart Spear lived in the vicinity of Quincy, Massachusetts. Her husband, John Spear, owned a ship, and was probably fairly affluent.

   The story told by this blanket is the story of the Market Revolution in New England during the Early Republic. Following the American Revolution (1763-1783), the newly independent United States commenced a second revolution, the Market Revolution, well known to historians but not so much to the general public. It was at this time – the late 1700s and early 1800s, not during the earlier colonial era — that most of Connecticut’s villages formed, with their neat greens, steepled churches, white clapboard houses, general stores, shops, and inns. Taking advantage of the new nation’s sudden freedom from British mercantilism, Yankee traders launched into the global marketplace. Village storekeepers bought up handmade woven textiles from farm women (many of them teenagers) and resold them to shippers in New England’s bustling ports for international trade. As part of this new trade, New England women wove blankets like this one on hand looms, either for home use or to barter for produce at the general store. The monograph indicates that Spear likely intended to use her blanket at home. But plenty of women wove blankets and other cloth for the burgeoning new trade. Picking up a new way to contribute to the family economy, women strengthened their economic positions, within their families and their communities. The Market Revolution was not the only factor that contributed to a new women’s rights movement in the early 1800s, but it was one of them.

Mary Spear’s hand spun, hand woven woolen blanket, c. early 1800s. It is two pieces of cloth, stitched together. Hand looms could be no wider than the weaver’s wingspan.

Each Patch a Story: Mary Pollard “Polly” Leopold’s Patchwork Quilt

   This patchwork quilt was made by Mary Pollard “Polly” Leopold (1882-1941) of Lisbon, CT, and was obviously well used. It tells multiple stories: of the Industrial Revolution, of traditional women’s needle work, and the stories behind each patch itself.

   Patchwork quilts became common in the early 19th century. Colonial Era quilts were often constructed from single pieces of (usually) white cloth and were not pieced. In the 19th century, however, families became more likely to save leftover pieces of cloth — the remnants of clothing and other manufactured textiles — that could be cut up and pieced together. Patchwork quilts gave ordinary women and girls the opportunity to practice and show off their skill with a needle. A patchwork quilt could become part of a woman’s trousseau, a treasured family heirloom placed on the bed only when company was over. The individual pieces served as memories, recalling the former uses of each of them. Although intended to be used as bed covers, patchwork quilts added to the artistry of women’s quilt making. They actually gained popularity throughout the 19th century, as home sewing machines became more common and the quilts became easier to make.

   As it turns out, patchwork quilts also inspired an actual story in an early 1800s magazine. One of the first descriptions of patchwork quilts in American literature is the short story “The Patchwork Quilt,” published in 1845 in The Lowell Offering, a newspaper/magazine published by the “mill girls” — young, unmarried female mill operatives — at the giant textile mills in Lowell, MA. The story’s author wrote under the pseudonym “Annette,” but she was either Harriet Farley or Rebecca Thompson, both Lowell mill girls. Although the story is a work of sentimental fiction, its description of the fabric and labor that went into producing a patchwork quilt is instructive and worth reading — a good account of traditional women’s needlework at the opening of the Industrial   Revolution. Interestingly, the quilt in the story, although intended as a bed cover, ends up as an “art quilt” hanging on the creator’s wall. I found a complete copy of “The Patchwork Quilt” and transcribed it. We will put it on the Museum’s website.

Mary Pollard "Polly" Leopold's quilt: each patch a story.
Harriet Farley, the Lowell mill girl who founded and edited the Lowell Offering, and possibly wrote "The Patchwork Quilt."

Mary Bowman’s Prize-Winning Bedspread

   In 1889 Mary Bowman of Willimantic, CT, won the “best bedspread” prize at that year’s Willimantic Agricultural Fair. She was presented with a large certificate signed by E. S. Boss, the Willimantic Fair Association president and also the manager of the Willimantic Linen Company, a large thread mill. Agricultural fairs — even when they occurred in mill cities like Willimantic — were an opportunity for women to show off their skills in traditional crafts like sewing, spinning, weaving, crocheting, and embroidery. Bowman’s crocheted bedspread featured a centennial pattern, with illustrations of every United States President. Bowman probably began the bedspread around the centennial year of 1876.

   Mary Bowman was born Mary Whyte in 1845 in Aberdeen, Scotland. She married John Bowman, an Englishman, in London in 1866. Shortly after, the couple immigrated to the United States; their son William was born in New York in 1868. In 1869 they moved to Willimantic, where John operated a men’s clothing store and Mary raised their family. Four of their six children died in infancy; perhaps crocheting an intricate bedspread helped distract her from her grief. The Bowmans resided at 39 Lebanon Avenue, now 95 Hayden Street. John died in 1905, Mary in 1922. The bedspread remained in the Bowman family, a treasured heirloom, and was left to the Mill Museum by the estate of Gladys Bowman, Mary’s granddaughter, who passed away in 2004.

   Mary Bowman’s prize-winning bedspread tells at least two stories. The first is the story of how the Industrial Revolution transformed women’s work. Bowman crocheted the bedspread at a time when the manufacture of bed covers was undergoing a major transformation. Women no longer made bed covers like this out of necessity, to keep their families warm in cold Connecticut winters. A new, factory-made bedspread could be purchased from Sears, Roebuck for less than a dollar. Nor were beds what they had been in the colonial era, when they were often the most expensive piece of furniture in a small house, and therefore on display to visitors. Mary Bowman’s house was large, and the bedrooms were upstairs where most visitors would not have seen them. Handmade bedspreads had become transformed from necessary crafts to examples of women’s art, shown off at fairs. The competitions offered by the fairs was important. When women’s traditional crafts had been routinely on display to ordinary visitors, women’s work had also been on display, and the women who created fine bedcovers could point to them with pride. Now, agricultural fairs gave women the same opportunity to demonstrate their skills and win praise – and even prizes — for their achievements. It is unlikely that Bowman’s prize-winning bedspread spent much time on her bed.

   But there is another story here, as well. As immigrants like Mary Bowman poured into the United States during the second half of the 19th century, they were often greeted with scorn and suspicion by native-born Americans. In the 1850s the nativist American Party – the so-called Know Nothings – had for a time won control of the Connecticut state government. By choosing a patriotic theme, Bowman could proclaim her own “Americanism,” and declare herself a patriotic immigrant.

Mary Bowman's prize-winning bedspread, held by her great great granddaughter.

A Poor Milliner’s Crazy Quilt

    By the 1890s, factory-made quilts, coverlets, and bedspreads had become readily available at low prices. The 1897 Sears, Roebuck mail order catalog, for example, listed new bed quilts for sale for as little as 48 cents each. Handmade quilts, with all their time and labor, no longer made economic sense. Thus women made crazy quilts, which became popular during the Gilded Age (1877-96), not as utilitarian bed covers, but as ornamental couch throws for parlors, a way of demonstrating their creative skills to guests. Rather than regular blocks from set patterns, the pieces were shaped by the artistic sensibilities of the creator. Silk, satin, and velvet were the most common fabrics. Japanese motifs, like dragonflies, insects, spider webs, and flowers were often embroidered on them.

   Elizabeth L. Ramsden, a Willimantic milliner, made this crazy quilt in 1892 with scraps left over from her millinery work. Miss Ramsden operated a small shop at 129 Valley Street, a tenement near downtown, where she also resided with John Ramsden, perhaps her father. One of the stories told by the quilt is the role of small female-owned businesses like Ramsden’s. Milliners like Ramsden had no chance of becoming wealthy, but they did have a certain degree of independence.

   By 1935, when women’s hats had declined in popularity, Ramsden was no longer listed as a milliner in Willimantic city directories. She became impoverished and moved into a small cottage in the Methodist Willimantic Camp Meeting, where she resided until her death in 1944, at which time all of her belongings, including this quilt, were sold. That’s another story told by the quilt. Small businesswomen like Ramsden were never very far from poverty. Their lives were not easy.

   

   Come to the Mill Museum between now and July 28, 2019, and encounter these stories, and more.

Elizabeth L. Ramsden's crazy quilt.