Samuel Slater
Because the first power spinning mill in America started operations in "Oxford South Gore", the town of Webster came into existence.

Son of a yeoman farmer, Samuel Slater was born in Belper, Derbyshire, England on June 9, 1768. He become involved in the textile industry at the age of 14 when he was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of Richard Arkwright and the owner of one of the first cotton mills in Belper. Slater worked for Strutt for eight years and rose to become superintendent of Strutt's mill. It was in this capacity that he gained a comprehensive understanding of Arkwright's machines.

Believing that textile industry in England had reached its peak, Slater emigrated secretly to America in 1789 in hopes of making his fortune in America's infant textile industry. Forbidden to take out of the country any plans, specifications or drawings, young Slater carried in his head the plans for the construction of Arkwright's spinning machinery, the invention which revolutionized the textile industry and which was so closely guarded by Great Britain. While others with textile manufacturing experience had emigrated before him, Slater was the first who knew how to build as well as operate textile machines. Slater was invited to Providence by Moses Brown, founder of Brown University, and in Jan. 1790, with Messrs. Almy and Brown, constructed the necessary machinery in Pawtucket, mainly by his own hands, and began the spinning of cotton. At the end of 20 months, they had several thousand pounds of yarn on hand, in spite of every effort to weave and sell it. With funding from Providence investors and assistance from skilled local artisans, he built the first successful water powered textile mill in Pawtucket in 1793.

By the time other firms entered the industry, Slater's organizational methods had become the model for his successors in the Blackstone River Valley. Later known as the Rhode Island System, it began when Slater enlisted entire families, including children, to work in his mills. These families often lived in company owned housing located near the mills, shopped at the company stores and attended company schools and churches. While not big enough to support the large mills which became common in Massachusetts, the Blackstone River's steep drop and numerous falls provided ideal conditions for the development of small, rural textile mills around which mill villages developed.

Slater married into the Wilkinson family of Pawtucket and it was shortly afterward that his attention was called to "Oxford South Gore" on account of superior water power obtainable from the great lake that was there. Lyman and Bela Tiffany, who were employed by Mr. Slater, lived in Wales and as they passed through this section their attention was attracted to the lake and its great possibilities for water power.

Mr. Slater visited the place, bought a large tract of land and entire control of water power. Bela Tiffany was taken into partnership, and the erection of s small mill at the East Village resulted. This was the beginning of the Slater industry in Webster, in 1812, an industry that was afterward to become one of the great textile industries of the United States. The great Slater Mills of Webster , three big plants, at East, North and South Villages, operated for more than 125 years in the same family.

The original mill, at "Oxford South Gore" was known as the East Village of Webster, the area that forms the town of Webster being taken largely from Dudley and Oxford. The story of Samuel Slater, pioneer of textile manufacturing in the United States is given here because it was Mr. Slater who brought about the incorporation of the town. The mills of Mr. Slater attracted workers to this location and when the petition was sent to the legislature for the incorporation of the town the village was a sizable community. The petition was signed by George B. Slater of Dudley and 114 others; William Kimball and 36 others of Oxford; and Paraclete Morris and 20 others of Oxford South Gore.

It was set forth in the petition that the proposed town contained: five cotton mills, three woolen mills, machine shop, five forge shops, hoe and scythe, dyeing and bleaching establishment and six stores.

Incorporation of the town of Webster took place on March 6, 1832, and the population was given as 1,168.

The contribution made by Samuel Slater to the nation is attested by the fact that a President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, called at his home during a visit to New England, to convey thanks of a nation for what he had done. Mr. Slater was ill at the time, and the President deviated from his route to come here to pay his personal respects.

"When the President witnessed these scenes of honest industry , of happiness and plenty, of order and decorum, examples of sobriety and morals -- he expressed the highest satisfaction. When he was told that the man who introduced the foundation of this prosperity resided in the village but was confined to his home by a rheumatic disorder, the consequences of his early exposure in operating his first machinery, President Jackson, with his suite, repaired to the house to pay his respects to the man who had thus benefited our common country.

"With the affability and complaisance so peculiar to General Jackson, he addressed Mr. Slater as the father of American manufacturers as the man who had erected the first valuable machinery, and who had spun yarn to make the first cotton cloth and who had, by his superintendence and direction, as well as by his intense personal labor, erected the first cotton mill in the land of the Pilgrims."

Thus highly was Samuel Slater regarded in his day -- an importance great enough to cause a President to make a personal tribute in the name of all the people of the land. The great pioneer of American Textiles operated the mills almost to the day of his death, which occurred in 1835, three years after the town had been established and named, at his request, for the statesman he so greatly admired, Daniel Webster.

Copyright© OldeWebster 2001
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