Samuel Slater – a Derbyshire ‘traitor’?


Slater Mill, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

When is a ‘traitor’ not a ‘traitor’? When he’s ‘The Father of the American Industrial Revolution’?

Samuel Slater, the son of a Derbyshire yeoman farmer, was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, who along with his business partner, Sir Richard Arkwright, had established the first successful textile mills, at Cromford, Milford and Belper in the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire.
Slater was a brilliant pupil, and learnt the whole method of carding and spinning of yarn, using the machinery designed by Arkwright, and the factory system, by heart.
Shortly after, in 1789, he took ship from London for New York. This was against the law, as England had made it illegal for textile machinery to be exported,or trained textile workers to leave the country. He posed as a farm worker, and was able to seem believable because of his family roots, but he had sewn his intenture papers, proving he had successfully completed his apprenticeship, inside his clothes. Samuel didn’t make it in New York, but a canny Quaker merchant in Rhode Island, one Moses Brown, brought him to New England, and funded the establishment of the first mill. Slater constructed machinery from memory, and by 1790, the mill was spinning cotton. Water power from the Blackstone River was added by 1791, and the mill was soon carding and spinning cotton in quantity.
Later, Slater struck out on his own, and established the mill you see here, Slater Mill, where he instituted the factory system, using children as young as four to help in the mill! He died a wealthy man, owning 13 mills, and having being acknowledged as ‘The Father of the American Industrial Revolution’ by President Andrew Jackson.
The Slater Mill has now been turned into an impressive museum, complete with costumed guides, and the surrounding area has been designated the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor by the United States government. Strangely, the Derwent River has gone one better, with UNSECO, in 2001, declaring a stretch of the river, to the north of the city of Derby, the Derwent Mills World Heritage Site.
One other, eerie, co-incidence – both the Blackstone and the Derwent are exactly 50 miles long.
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