George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 28 October 1789]

Wednesday 28th. Went after an early breakfast to visit the duck Manufacture which appeared to be carrying on with spirit, and is in a prosperous way. They have manufactured 32 pieces of Duck of 39 or 40 yds. each in a week; and expect in a short time to encrease it to [ ]. They have 28 looms at work & 14 Girls spinning with Both hands (the flax being fastened to their waste). Children (girls) turn the wheels for them, and with this assistance each spinner can turn out 14 lbs. of thread pr. day when they stick to it, but as they are pd. by the piece, or work they do, there is no other restraint upon them but to come at 8 Oclock in the Morning and return at 6 in the evening. They are the daughters of decayed families, and are girls of Character—none others are admitted. The number of hands now employed in the different parts of the work is [ ] but the Managers expect to encrease them to [ ]. This is a work of public utility & private advantage.1 From hence I went to the Card Manufactury where I was informed about 900 hands of one kind and for one purpose or another. All kinds of Cards are made; & there are Machines for executing every part of the work in a new and expeditious manr. especially in cutting & bending the teeth wch. is done at one stroke. They have made 63,000 pr. of Cards in a year and can under sell the Imported Cards—nay Cards of this Manufactury have been smuggled into England.2 At 11 Oclock I embarked on board the Barge of the Illustrious Captn. Pentheve Gion, & visited his Ship & the Superb, another 74 Gun Ship in the Harbour of Boston, about 4 Miles below the Town.3 Going & coming I was saluted by the two frigates which lye near the Wharves and by the 74s after I had been on board of them; as also by the 40 Gun ship which lay in the same range with them. I was also saluted going & coming by the fort on Castle Isld.4 After my return I dined in a large Company at Mr. Bowdoins and went to the Assembly in the evening where (it is said) there were upwards of 100 Ladies. There appearance was elegant and many of them very handsome; the Room is small but neat, & well ornamented.5

1Boston Sailcloth Manufactory had been established in 1788 by a group of Boston merchants and businessmen under the leadership of Samuel Breck and Thomas Alkers, in hope of profiting from a bounty offered by the Massachusetts legislature in Mar. 1788 on the production of duck and sailcloth. The factory was erected in the area of what was then Nassau Street and Frog Lane (Boylston Street), and production was underway by early 1789. By 1792 “there were four hundred employees, and the weekly product was not less than fifty pieces of duck” (BAGNALL description begins William R. Bagnall. The Textile Industries of the United States including Sketches and Notices of Cotton, Woolen, Silk, and Linen Manufactures in the Colonial Period. Cambridge, Mass., 1893. description ends , 116). One observer noted that GW “made him self merry on this Occasion, telling the overseer he believed he collected the prettiest girls in Boston” (WEBB [2] description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 3:142–44).

2Presumably this was the cotton and wool card factory of Giles Richard and Co., on Hanover Square, supposedly the largest such establishment in Massachusetts. In 1791 Nathaniel Gorham, supervisor of the revenue for Massachusetts, reported that the company’s improvements in machinery for carding had developed to such an extent that “models of two of their principal machines, were lately purchased by an English Gentleman for nearly one hundred pounds sterling. . . . At present the works are in such perfection, that Eight men can turn out Fifty dozen [cards] per day” (Gorham to Hamilton, 13 Oct. 1791, HAMILTON [2] description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 9:375).

3See entry for 12 Oct. 1789. The French captain and his officers, accompanied by the French consul, Philippe André Joseph de Létombe, had already paid a visit on 24 Oct. to GW at his lodgings (Pa. Packet, 4 Nov. 1789). For a further description of GW’s visit to the French squadron, see Pa. Packet, 19 Nov. 1789.

4The fort on Castle Island was Castle William or Fort Adams, later Fort Independence.

5According to Joseph Barrell, a member of the Boston committee that had met GW at Worcester, “the Hall was elegantly decorated, behind his majesty was hung my handsomest Tapestry & before him as a Carpet the other. He was seated on a Crimson Settee with the Vice President, our Governor and Governor Bowdoin, the Ladies were very handsomely dressed, and every one strove here as every where else, who should pay the most respect. We had a very pretty Desert for Supper with 3 fine Cakes (one for each set) at 150£” (Barrell to Samuel B. Webb, 1 Nov. 1789, WEBB [2] description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 3:142–44).

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