The Early Industries of Amesbury – Ongoing Discoveries
By John Mayer
Executive Director, ACM
Member, ACM Industrial Survey Team
The Amesbury Carriage Museum Industrial Survey Team is made up of volunteers who research subjects about industry and worklife in our area. Every month the group meets to share new discoveries and review topics of interest. As with all history projects, the group is fueled by the reality that “the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.” Looking at the early history of the textile industry in Amesbury and Salisbury provides a great example.
By the early 1700s, the Powow River served as a source of power for the mills that lined the river’s banks. By 1792, from the falls below Pond Street to tidewater in the lower millyard there were six dams and more than a dozen mills of all types including mills that sawed lumber, ground grain, made snuff or pressed oil from seeds. There was an iron works and in 1796 a nail factory. It was a remarkable assemblage of industrial activity.
Included in the group was a fulling mill that was built sometime around 1710 and operated by Benjamin Eastman. Located in the upper millyard, the mill used waterpower to drive wooden paddles and agitate newly woven woolen cloth and remove oils and dirt. The fulling process cleaned and thickened the cloth so local makers could use it to make clothes or other textiles. Fulling was the first process of textile making to be mechanized and an operation that played a central role in establishing the local textile industry. From this beginning, Amesbury’s textile mills would grow to become part of the greater New England textile industry sending products around the world.
Unfortunately there are few records that document this industry. A handloom in the Macy-Colby house on Main Street is a rare artifact from this period. While we believe wool would be sheared from herds of sheep from nearby farms, hand spun into yarn, and then woven into cloth by individual workers and craftspeople there are no local records of this early industry.
By the 1790s the textile industry began to develop with new technology from England brought by immigrants and then improved in local workshops. The brothers John and Arthur Schofield came to Byfield in 1794 and introduced a water-powered carding machine from designs they had seen in England.
Carding was the first step in making yarn – combing wool fibers in such a way that made the spinning process easier. Using water-powered machines greatly increased the amount of yarn that could be made. It wasn’t long before carding machines appeared in Amesbury. Postings in local newspapers document the availability of water-powered carding machines as early as 1799 in the nail-factory of Jacob Perkins.
In a way, the nail factory was an 18th-century incubator for new ideas. Paul Moody, an apprentice who worked with Perkins, developed his mechanical interests and skills in this factory.
In 1812, Moody formed a partnership with Ezra Worthen and established the first mill completely dedicated to textile production in Amesbury. Located on Mill Street in the lower millyard, the building became known as Mill 6 and was eventually incorporated into the Salisbury Manufacturing Company, which became the Hamilton Woolen Company in 1880.
Moody left Amesbury in 1814 for a position in Waltham with the Boston Manufacturing Company. Here he used his skills to further textile machinery including perfecting a powered loom that was a critical part of the fully mechanized factories that soon appeared throughout New England.
As we continue to explore this history we gradually develop knowledge about the people who built the mills and operated these early machines. This information helps us learn about our industrial history and how these events shaped our community.