In 1839 Jarvis Miller travelled to Amesbury via Lowell. He describes Lowell’s factories briefly and then tells about how he learned to work in a local mill. Of note is the payment for mill work and his complaints about the standing and the noise.
**Note: This is a low image resolution of only the 1st page, the original document can be found at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, however the complete transcription is included here.
Amesbury, Oct 8th 1839
Dear Sir –
As I have leasure (sic)1 time today I shall improve a few moments in writing to you. I little thought when I last saw you that I should not see you again before I *** left home and as I did not know of going so soon as I did until Sunday before I started, it was impossible for me to come and see you before I started. We started on the 25th, went to Jaffrey the first day and on the 2d arrived at Lowell about 7 in the evening. As we were coming into the village of Lowell, we could see the lights from the factories from 3 to 7 stories high extending in one almost unbroken column for I should think nearly a mile, it formed a scenery worthy of notice.
We stayed in Lowell until the next day at 2 o’clock P.M. and then started for Amesbury in a carryall,2 and arrived here at 11 in the evening –
I stayed with Joel Richmond until Sunday evening and then went to board3 with Mrs. Morrill. I went on Monday to see Capt. Horton, agent. He said that he would give me a job, either Spinning or ringing the bell and feeding 80 hogs &c4 and concluded on Tuesday to have me go to spinning.
The next day I commenced learning to spin of a boy about 16, and in two days while I was learning to spin we spun enough to come to two dollars, which was enough to pay him for learning (sic) me. He makes 9 shillings per day, when he works alone. There are but very few which make but more than a dollar a day. I commenced spinning alone the 3d day and spun about 14 lbs which come to 56 ct.s –
The two first days which I spun alone were as hard days’ work as I ever did, as I have had to stand stooping, ore (sic) mending threads a good straw(?) of the time. Those who are used to spinning say they are no more tired at night than they are in the morning. I have to spin yet as a spair (sic) hand, and use the Ginny5 & when others are gone out. Although I can work a greater part of the time.
The noise in these large factories is not so bad as in a small Factory in Vermont. I do not mind it any more now that I should at work(ing) out of doors, and I think I feel quite as well.
This is the most pleasant place that I have ever seen, and for society it is good as can be found in any place whatsoever.
As for Girls there is a great variety although I have not become acquainted with many of them – I found things to be equally as favorable as Mrs. Richmond recommended them to be .
1 Sic = “incorrect spelling”
2 Carryall = wagon
3 Board = live with
4 &c = etcetera
5 Ginny = “spinning jenny” = early machine to spin fiber into yarn
I am well – and well contented and am not in the least homesick – I find many people here from Vermont – Stowe, Westminster, Putney, Brattleboro, Rockingham and many other places.
I have about 40 rods6 to go to work, and 10 to go to meeting7 There are about 8 or 9 Meetinghouses within a short distance.
I want you should write to me as soon (as) you receive this, and collect all the interesting news you can from headquarters and all other places. I should like to know how you prosper.
As it is now growing dark I must draw to a close by giving you my best respects –
Jarvis W Miller
6 Rods = unit of measure equal to about 5 1⁄2 yds. – now no longer used
7 Meeting = attend church (probably Congregational or Unitarian)
Jarvis Miller, “Jarvis Miller Letter” (October 8, 1839). 2001.74. American Textile Museum, Lowell, MA.
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