AMERCAN NOTES: TRAVELS IN AMERICA
THE WESTERN WORLD
TRAVELS IN THE UNITED STATES IN 1846-1847
BY ALEXANDER MACKAY
Journey from New Haven to Worcester and Boston.--Proceed to Lowell.--Appearances of Lowell.--Its rapid Growth.--Colonial Manufactures.--Difficulties with which they had to contend.--Progress of American Manufactures during the War of Independence, and that of 1812.--Motive Power used in Lowell, and means of employing it.--The Operatives of Lowell.--Educational and other Institutions.--The different Manufacturing Districts of the Union.--New England.--The Northern Atlantic States.--The Southern Atlantic States.--The States on the Mississippi.--Distribution of Manufacturing Capital throughout the Union.--Rise of Cotton Manufacture in America.--Exports of Cotton Goods.--Progress of other Manufactures.--Steam v. Water Power.--Comparative strength of the Manufacturing and Agricultural Interest.--The dream of Self-dependence.--The Future.
From New Haven I proceeded through the interior of Connecticut to Worcester, in Massachusetts, and thence direct, by railway, to Boston. Almost every inch of this portion of New England is rich in colonial reminiscences; the traveller constantly meeting with objects which remind him of the time when the early colonists were struggling for existence with the Indians; when, relieved from their common enemy, they persecuted one another; when the regicides ay concealed amongst them; when they entered into defensive leagues against their enemies the French, who overhung their northern border: and when they merged into that still mightier league, which embraced the greater part of the Atlantic sea-board, and gave nationality and independence to half a comment.
Between Worcester and Boston the country now looked very different from
what it appeared when I first passed over it on my way to Washington. It
was then arrayed in the garb of winter, but was now clad in the warmer
and more attractive habiliments of autumn. The trees were beginning to
lose their freshness, and some of them had slightly changed their colour;
but that transformation had not yet been wrought in them which arrays in
such brilliant effects the last stages of vegetation in America for the
year. When the frost comes early, the change is sometimes wrought almost
in a night. To-day the forest seems clothed in one extended mantle of green--to-morrow,
and it appears to have appropriated to itself the celebrated coat of Joseph.
The change looks like the work of magic.
The eastern portion of Massachusetts is very flat, and is in this respect quite a contrast to its western section, lying between the beautiful town of Springfield and the Hudson. The soil is light, and much of it is under pasturage. The vegetation became more stunted as we approached the coast, and we were surrounded by many of the indications which usually mark a tract consisting of a marine deposit.
After remaining a few days in Boston, I proceeded by railway to Lowell, the distance being about twenty-five miles. In point of construction, this line was one of the best on which I had travelled in America. The great majority of my fellow-travellers were New Englanders, and not a few of them would have served as specimens of the genuine Yankee. One cannot fail to observe the tone and demeanour which distinguish the population of this part of the country from that inhabiting the south and west. They are sober, sedate, and persevering; not restless and impatient, like their more mercurial fellow-countrymen. . . .
On approaching Lowell, I looked in vain for the usual indications of a manufacturing town with us, the tall chimneys and the thick volumes of black smoke belched forth by them. Being supplied with an abundant water power, it consumes but little coal in carrying on its manufacturing operations, the bulk of that which it does consume being anthracite and not bituminous coal. On arriving I was at once struck with the cleanly, airy, and comfortable aspect of the town; cheerfulness seeming to reign around, and employment and competence to be the lot of all.
The town of Lowell, a creation as it were of yesterday, is situated on the south bank of the Merrimac, close to the junction of the Concord with that stream. Immediately above it are the falls of the Merrimac, known as the Pawtucket Falls, and which supply the town with the motive power for nearly all its machinery. In 1820 Lowell was scarcely known as a village, its population at that time not exceeding 200 souls. It is now, in little more than a quarter of a century, the second city in Massachusetts in point of size and wealth, and about the twelfth in the United States. Its present population must exceed 30,000.
Until recently American manufactures have had a very up-hill game to
play. During the colonial times the jealousy of the mother country threw
every obstacle in their way. Still they had in them a germ of vitality
which not only outlived every effort made to quench it, but which also
enabled them to expand, notwithstanding all the adverse influences against
which they had to contend. The imperial legislation of the period would
be ludicrous if it were not lamentable, redolent as it was of the spirit
of monopoly and self-interest. Its whole object was to make the colonist
a consumer, and nothing else, of articles of manufacture, confining his
efforts at production to the business of agriculture. If a manufacturing
interest raised its head, no matter how humbly, in any of the colonies,
it was not directly legislated down, it is
Notwithstanding the many difficulties with which they had to contend,
colonial manufactures had taken a firm hold on the continent for some time
previous to the epoch of the Revolution. That event, by freeing them from
all imperial restrictions, and throwing the American people for some time
upon their own resources, afforded them an opportunity by which they failed
not to profit. The revolted colonies not only emerged from the war with
an independent political existence, but also with a manufacturing interest
exhibiting itself in unwonted activity at different points, from the sources
of the Connecticut to the mouth of the St. Mary's. This interest steadily
progressed, with occasional checks, until the war of 1812, when the Republic
was once more, as regarded its consumption of manufactured articles, thrown
to a considerable extent upon its own resources. So much so was this the
case, that large sections of the country, where the maple was not abundant,
had to supply themselves with sugar made from the stalk of the Indian corn.
During the war, a large amount of additional capital was invested in the
business of manufacturing, to which the three years from 1812 to 1815 gave
an immense and an enduring stimulus. Still, even as far down as 1816, the
manufacturing system in America had attained, as compared with that of
England, but a trifling development; the whole consumption of raw cotton
by the American looms for that year being but about half that now consumed
by those of Lowell alone, and not more than one-eighth the annual consumption
of England at the same period. From that time, by adventitious aids, the
system has been forced into rapid growth, until it now owns no rival but
that of England herself.
It is supplied with motive power by means of a broad and deep canal, proceeding from the upper level of the Falls along the bank of the river; the majority of the mills and factories being built between this canal and the stream. The canal serves the purpose of a never-failing mill-dam to them all, each drawing from it the supply of water necessary for the working of its machinery. The motive power thus placed at the disposal of capital is equal to the task of turning about 300,000 spindles. In 1844 the number in use did not exceed 170,000; there was therefore power then wasted sufficient to turn 130,000 more. But as new companies are constantly springing up, a power so available will not long be unemployed.
Almost all the mills in Lowell of any great size, are owned by incorporated companies. A few years ago there were eleven such companies, owning amongst them no less than thirty-two mills, exclusive of print and dye-works, and all supplied with power from the canal. The chief of these is that known as the Merrimac Company, which owns most of the valuable property in the neighbourhood. To it belongs the canal itself, the other companies, as it were, renting the use of it. In addition to several large mills, the Merrimac Company possesses a large machine establishment, in which is manufactured the machinery used in most of the other mills. In addition to the mills owned by the companies, there are some factories of a miscellaneous description, and on a comparatively small scale, owned by private individuals. The great proprietary company, from the very first, took good care that the enterprise of others should not seriously compete with it, by purchasing, when it could be procured at a low rate, all the ground of both sides of the river immediately below the Falls. It is in this way that the other companies are not only dependent upon it for their water power, but are also its lessees or grantees, as regards the very sites on which their mills are erected.
In 1844 there were upwards of 5,000 looms at work in the establishments
of the companies, who were then employing nearly 10,000 people, of whom
only about one-fourth were males. Scarcely any children were employed under
fifteen years of age. The average wages of a male were then from seventy-five
to eighty cents a day, or about four dollars eighty cents a week, which
make about a pound sterling. Those of a female were from thirty to thirty-five
cents a day, or about two dollars a week, being 8s. 4d. sterling. In many
cases they were higher. The wages here specified were, in both cases, received
exclusive of board.
The operatives in the different establishments are paid their wages once a month, the companies, however, paying their respective workmen on different days, an arrangement which obviously serves more than one good purpose. A great portion of the wages thus monthly received is deposited in the Savings' Bank, particularly by the females, who make their work in Lowell a stepping-stone to a better state of existence. After labouring there for a few years they amass several hundred dollars, marry, and go off with their husbands to the West, buy land, and enjoy more than a competency for the remainder of their days.
In all that conduces to the improvement of the physical and moral condition of the operatives, the companies seem to take a common interest, working together to a common end. The mills are kept as clean, and as well ventilated, as such establishments can be, and their inmates, with but few exceptions, appear in the best of health; nor is there about them that look of settled melancholy which so often beclouds the faces of our own operatives. They are comparatively light-hearted, their livelihood being less precarious, and their future prospects far brighter, if they will only improve their opportunities, than those of the English factory-labourer.
Every attention is also paid in Lowell to the education, not only of
the young, but also of the adults. By economy of their time and means the
women not only manage to be instructed in the elementary branches of education,
but also to be taught some of the accomplishments of their sex. It would
not be easy to find a more acute and intelligent set of men anywhere than
are the artizans and mechanics of Lowell. They have established an institution
for their mutual improvement, which is accommodated in a substantial and
handsome-looking edifice known as Mechanics' Hall. There are other institutions
on a smaller scale, but of a kindred nature, in Lowell. It also possesses
eight grammar-schools, at which the pupils who attend receive an excellent
education. In addition to this it has no less than thirty free public schools,
at which the children of the poorer classes are educated. The number of
children attending all the schools is about 6,000, and this out of a population
of about 30,000. As elsewhere in the Union, the great business of secular
education is harmoniously promoted, without being marred and obstructed
by sectarian bigotry and jealousy. Even the Catholics, who are numerous
in Lowell, join with the Protestants in the work, all parties wisely and
properly agreeing to forget their differences, in furthering that in which
they have a common interest,--the education of the young.
Although Lowell is, perhaps, the spot in which is concentrated the greatest
amount of manufacturing energy, and in which the largest investment of
capital has been made for the sole purpose of manufacturing, it forms but
a single point in the general survey of the industrial system of America.
There is scarcely a State in the Union in which manufactures of some kind
or other have not sprung up. The system has as yet obtained but a partial
development west of the Alleghanies, but most of the sea-board States present
to the observer numerous points characterised by great industrial activity.
Massachusetts is undoubtedly preeminent in the extent to which she has
identified herself with manufactures, in the proper acceptation of the
term. In 1846 the capital invested in the business of manufacture in that
State must have amounted to from fifty to sixty millions of dollars. In
1837 the amount invested was upwards of fifty-two millions and the value
of the manufactures produced was above eighty-five millions. Between that
period and 1842, that is to say, during the last five years of the existence
of the Compromise Act, there were no great additional investments made,
the operation of that Act not being such, as regarded home fabrics, as
to induce capitalists to turn their attention extensively to the business
of manufacture. At the same time there was great uncertainty as to the
commercial policy which would be pursued on the expiration of the Act,
which served as an additional