Posts Tagged ‘Bolton Lancashire’

When two young Bolton cotton weaver brothers came ashore in New York from the steamer Melbourne on the 15th of June 1863, perhaps they thought that they had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. The American Civil War was still raging – Gettysburg was only a couple of weeks away – and New York was a toxic cauldron of racial and social violence and discontent. Irish and other gangs roamed the streets, illegal slave trafficking still flourished and large swathes of the population would, within the month, literally be up in arms against the war draft. Whether young John and Jonathan Grisdale were still in New York on July 13 when the New York City Draft Riots broke out we don’t know. Perhaps they were and had witnessed what New York historian Edward Robb Ellis called “the most brutal, tragic, and shameful episode in the entire history of New York City”. Or perhaps they had by then already reached their destination in the cotton mill towns of Pennsylvania, where they would undoubtedly meet up with their weaver uncle Doctor Grisdale, who had emigrated from Bolton, Lancashire, thirteen years earlier.

New York Draft Riots, 1863

Whatever the case, the two brothers soon headed south to start a new life. Both were married and had young children back in Bolton – who were to join them shortly – but for now they were on their own. Perhaps first staying for a time with uncle Doctor and his family in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, they would soon have gone to look for work in the rapidly expanding cotton mills of Pennsylvania. Like their father and grandfather before them, both young men had already spent years in the hell-holes that were the Lancashire cotton and woollen mills.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Such was the place in which these brothers had lived and worked. They would find that the conditions in Pennsylvania’s mills really weren’t much better. Indeed many of the mills had been founded or were run by their Lancastrian compatriots.

For those of you more interested in genealogy rather than social history, I will briefly outline the brothers’ family line. Jonathan Grisdale (1832) and John Grisdale (1836) were the fourth and fifth children of Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale senior (born 1799) and his wife Mary Wellsby. John Grisdale senior’s and Doctor’s father was Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s, Thomas moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton, including in 1799 John, the emigrant brothers’ father.

The family’s earlier history is relatively easy to trace back to the first half of the seventeenth century – in Matterdale of course. Back to another Thomas Grisdale, a farmer, born in 1654 in Ulcatrow in Matterdale. This early Thomas was one of 54 tenant farmers who fought the local lord Andrew Huddleston all the way to the House of Lords in 1690 (see: Walking to London for Justice). I will leave aside the question of who was this Thomas Grisdale’s father for the time being. Those of you who are interested in such minutiae are invited to contact me.

Despite their youth both men had already had years of work in the Bolton mills behind them. This was a period when a type of child factory slavery was still the order of the day. In the 1861 census John is found living in Queen Street in Farnworth, Bolton, with his new wife and daughter. He was already a “Cotton Power Loom Manager”, quite an achievement at the age of 25. John was obviously quite proud of this fact because in A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, edited by John W. Jordan and published in 1914, when John was possibly still alive, we read:

The Grisdale family of Clifton Heights, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, are of English origin, England having been the home of the family for many generations….  (John) was educated in the common schools of his native country, and obtained his first employment in a cotton mill. His rise in the business was rapid, and when only twenty-two years of age he was promoted to the position of manager.

John Grisdale junior had married local girl Catherine Taylor in 1860, and a daughter, Sarah Jane, followed a few months later. His elder brother Jonathan was also working in the Bolton mills in 1861, as a cotton power loom “overlooker”. He had married Sophia Bamber in 1854 and before he emigrated to America with his brother the couple had had three children: Mary (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862).

Many Lancastrian cotton mill workers were to emigrate to America, and particularly to Pennsylvania, during this period. But perhaps it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it was the brothers’ uncle Doctor Grisdale who had encouraged them to take the plunge and join him in America?

With their experience and skills they soon found work. In the 1870 US census we find Jonathan, perhaps as we might have expected, living in Middletown Delaware and working as a “loom boss”.  John his younger brother, however, although not far away in Philadelphia, was by now working as a “grocer”! In the History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, we read:

In 1863 he (John) immigrated to the United States and worked for two years at the machinist’s trade, later serving an apprenticeship and learning the trade of a mason and bricklayer. In 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease.

Yet in 1880 he was certainly back in a cotton mill in Clifton Heights, Delaware County as a “loom boss” and is listed in the same place in the US censuses of both 1900 and 1910 as a real-estate agent! So perhaps he could turn his hand to anything?

John and his wife Catherine were to have three daughters: Sarah Jane, Mary Ann and Elizabeth. The report of John’s life continues:

The old school house of Clifton Heights was erected upon land sold by him to the borough. He has held several prominent political positions in the borough, having been a member of the council for eight years and for two years was treasurer. When the local fire department was organized he was one of the charter members and contributed his most earnest efforts to raising it to its present high plane of efficiency. He is at present inspector for the borough. Both he and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

His wife Catherine, we are told, was “a trained nurse” and “she is president of the Women’s Club and a strong advocate of woman’s political equality; she is the present efficient treasurer of the borough poor fund and active in promoting all good causes”.

John died in sometime after 1914 but before 1920.  As it seems that John only had daughters – which is no bad thing – his Grisdale name died with him.

Views of Norristown in 1881

With his brother Jonathan it was quite different. As I said earlier, he and his wife Sophia had had three children in England: Mary Ann (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862). They arrived in America with Sophia aboard the steam-ship City of London on the 5th October 1863. Five more American-born children were to follow: Jonathan (1866), William Henry (1868), Thomas (1871), George (1874) and Sofia (1878).

As I have mentioned, by 1870 Jonathan and his family were living in Middletown, Delaware, where he was working as a “loom boss” in a cotton mill. By 1880 they had moved to nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania and Jonathan was still working in a cotton mill.

Norristown was incorporated in 1812 on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and expanded in 1853. It was named after early mill owner Charles Norris. When the Pennsylvania canal system connected Morristown with Philadelphia in 1826, the town prospered as a trade center. Mills began to emerge along the waterways.

Many of Jonathan’s sons, and indeed grandsons, were to follow him into the cotton and woollen mills of Norristown, where an untold number of his descendants still live to this day.

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

In which Norristown cotton mill did Jonathan Grisdale work? It’s of course possible he worked in more than one. Let’s first ask where he lived in the town. In 1880 he was living around Main Street. Various city directories and (after his death in 1888) the 1900 census show that the family house was at 320 Hamilton Street “below West Main Street”, so right in the heart of the original town and very close to many of the town’s largest cotton mills straggling along the Schuylkill river. The nearest mills was probably Washington Woollen Mills near the Montgomery Cemetery, but Jonathan could easily have walked along the river to Bullock’s Mills, Simpson’s Mills, De Kalb Street Mills/Jamison’s Mills or even to the Ford Street Cotton and Woollen Mills.

While not perhaps quite on the scale of some of the Bolton cotton mills in which the Grisdale brothers might have previously worked, a couple of these Norristown factories were pretty large operations, as the drawing of the Jamison Mills factory clearly shows.

Jonathan’s brother John had just perhaps fared slightly better. He was after all deemed worthy of an entry in the Montgomery County history, which said that “in 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease”. I am sure that with a bit of local research more can be discovered about both Jonathan and John Grisdale’s lives. Perhaps their descendants can add more? I hope so.

Jonathan Grisdale died in 1888 in Norristown at the age of just 56.

I will leave Norristown and Pennsylvania now and very briefly tell the tale of one other member of the same cotton weaver family who also came to America and founded his own little Grisdale tribe in and around Gaston County in North Carolina.

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Jonathan and John Grisdale had an older brother called Thomas, born in 1821 in Bolton. He had married Maria Howarth in Bolton in 1841. Two sons followed: James in 1845 and John in 1846. It seems that shortly thereafter Thomas died. At first the two young boys lived with their mother Maria, but maybe it was too much for her, because by 1861 James was living with his uncle John (the American immigrant) and Catherine his wife. He is clearly listed as John’s nephew in the census. What became of James’s mother and brother is unknown but what we do know is that James also decided to make the voyage to Pennsylvania. He arrived in New York from Liverpool on the 21st December 1866 on the ship City of New York. Like his relatives before him he made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill. I hope you’re keeping up! (see here)

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1871 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina.  I will probably have to return to explain James’ family in more detail at another time. But for now why did James move to North Carolina? Well, as we might expect, it had to do with cotton mills.

In addition to its rail connections, Gaston County was a prime location for water-powered cotton manufacturing on account of its many fast-flowing rivers and streams, its location in the midst of a cotton growing region, and the availability of cheap labor. By 1897 Gaston County had the largest number of cotton mills of any county in the state, twenty-two total, representing 10.6 percent of the state total of 207 cotton mills.

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

In 1880, James was living in Mountain Island Village, Gaston, North Carolina, and working as a “Superintendent in a Cotton Mill”.

A cotton mill, said by some authorities to be the first in Gaston County, was established on Mountain Island in 1848 by Thomas R. Tate and Henry Humphreys, owners of the Mount Hecla steam-powered mill near…. They hoped to take advantage of the less expensive water power from the Catawba River. The site at river’s edge featured a partially completed canal around the shoals that could be used for a mill race, and a steep island whose top now rises from the lake. Machinery was moved from the Mount Hecla mill by mule-drawn wagon and operations began in 1849. A village of brick houses grew around the mill. The mill and village were destroyed on July 15, 1916 in a flood caused by a hurricane.

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

By 1882, James had moved to the Long Island Cotton Mill in Catawba (which is now under Lake Norman). A letter to The Landmark newspaper dated 1882, tells us that the mill had been recently acquired by the Turner Brothers and that ‘James Grisdale, an Englishman of vast experience,’ had ‘the general supervision of the factory’.

By 1900, James and his family were in McAdenville, Gaston, North Carolina, still working in a cotton mill, almost certainly in the huge McAden Mills. McAden Mills claimed to be the first textile mill in the South to install electric lights. According to historian Billy Miller:

In 1884 Thomas Alva Edison came to McAdenville to oversee and help install the first electrical generator in the South…The lights hung from the ceiling of the mills and were spaced about thirty feet apart. People came from everywhere to gawk at the miraculous new lighting technology.

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina: five boys and two girls. Many of their descendants still live around there to this day.

So this is my brief history of three Bolton cotton weavers who “went America”. As we (sometimes) say in England, “The boys done good”.

I guess that next I’ll have to write a bit about another Thomas, the brother of Doctor and John Grisdale, who went to India with the British army, married there, and then moved on to Australia – where he arrived in Melbourne from Bombay on the Strathfieldsaye  in November 1853. Maybe I might even write about the members of the family who stayed in Bolton. Or perhaps I should come more up-to-date and tell my own Grisdale family story? Let’s see.

McAden Mill

McAden Mill

Welshman Eric Grisdale was born in Caernarvon in 1920. He started work as a clerk but when the war came Eric joined the RAF and became a bomber pilot. In the early hours of 23 May 1944 Eric was piloting a Lancaster bomber of 626 Squadron as part of a massive incendiary attack on Dortmund. Despite severe engine problems en-route the Lancaster delivered it load of fire and death on Dortmund. But while on the way home Eric’s Lancaster, now running on ‘two and a half engines’ was suddenly attacked and shot down by a German night fighter near Eindhoven in Holland. Four of the crew of seven managed to bail out safely but the other three died. With the help of the courageous Dutch Underground and Flemish partisans, Eric managed to evade capture and spent nearly four months in hiding, constantly moving around. Eventually he met up with the advancing U.S. Army and made it home.

This is Eric’s story. Actually many years after the war he wrote his own story in a short book called One of the Few. Despite my best efforts I have yet to obtain a copy (I since have click here). However from the accounts of others who talked with Eric, the squadron’s operational logs and the official RAF ‘Evasion Report’ I think we can reconstruct Eric’s Lancaster flight and his subsequent evasion.

But first let me extremely briefly tell how Eric’s very English forebears (with the Norse name) had come from Matterdale to Wales. They weren’t the only Grisdale family to do so and they certainly weren’t the first.

Llanbeblig Church, Caernavon

Llanbeblig Church, Caernavon

Like countless others I have written about on this blog, Eric Grisdale was descended from seventeenth-century Matterdale couple Joseph Grisdale (1687-1750) and his wife Jane Martin (1687-1769). We could of course go even further back. To cut a long story short, Joseph’s grandson Thomas Grisdale (1772-1841) had moved in the 1790s with some of his brothers from Matterdale to the Lancashire cotton mill town of Bolton. The whole family became cotton weavers and I have told of many of them and their descendants before. One of Thomas’s grandsons was called Elijah, born in Bolton in 1836. His father George (1807-1887) was a ‘Power Loom Weaver’. For reasons I don’t know twenty-three year-old Elijah married Llanbeblig girl Margaret Cowburne Howells in Caernarvon in 1859. The family was very poor and Elijah died in Caernarvon’s workhouse in 1878. To skip a couple of generations, RAF pilot Eric Grisdale was the great grandson of this Elijah who first brought the family to Wales. If you would like more detail please contact me.

Let’s now fast-forward to the Second World War. Eric joined the RAF on 28 February 1941. He trained with No. 26 OTU (Operational Training Unit) and did his bomber conversion with No. 1653 Conversion Unit. I haven’t got Eric’s full RAF record so I’ll just say that he was most probably a founder member of Lancaster 626 Squadron when it was formed at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire in November 1943. The squadron undertook many bombing missions over enemy territory and Flight Sergeant Eric Grisdale was one of their pilots.

Sixteen 626 Squadron crews at RAF Wickenby in January 1944

Sixteen 626 Squadron crews at RAF Wickenby in January 1944

On the 22 May 1944 a huge bombing raid took place – the destination was Dortmund. Among the 361 RAF Lancasters there were fourteen from 626 squadron, one of which, with the markings UM-U, was captained by Eric.  On board were most of his usual crew: Sgt R. A. Sindall RAF, Flight Engineer; Fg Off J. B. Morritt RCAF, Navigator; Flt Sgt R. H. Punter RCAF, Bomb Aimer; Sgt I. A. Prestwell RAF, Wireless Operator; Sgt R. J. Turtle RAF, Mid Upper Gunner and Sgt R. W. Richardson RAF, Rear Gunner. Canadian navigator Morrit had replaced Eric’s usual Canadian navigator G. A. Pierce.

Eric Grisdale and his crew at RAF Wickenby

Eric Grisdale and his crew at RAF Wickenby

The aircraft carried a 400lb high explosive ‘Cookie’ and 7920 lbs of incendiary bombs. It took off from RAF Wickenby at 10.30 in the evening. I am indebted for what follows concerning the flight to Tony Beeton.

‘As the aircraft crossed the Dutch coast the port outer engine started to give trouble and ran very roughly. After awhile it ran smoothly again so the decision was made to continue onto the target. The crew had an uneventful trip to the target and began their bombing run just a little behind the allotted time. As the pilot held the aircraft steady, following the bomb aimers instructions a piece of flak shrapnel hits the starboard inner engine with a loud bang but the pilot held his course until the call “Bombs Gone” when he banked to starboard and headed for home.

By now the starboard inner had lost its oil pressure requiring that it be shut down. At almost the same time the port outer engine started to give trouble again and the Lancaster was flying on two and a half engines, slowly losing height.

Lancasters being attacked by German night fighters

Lancasters being attacked by German night fighters

At about 02.00 hours whilst flying at about 19,000 ft over Holland, the Lancaster was suddenly raked by bullets from an enemy night fighter all along the port side. The port fuel tank was ruptured and the port wing caught fire and was burning furiously. The Pilot called to the crew over the intercom and found the Wireless Operator and Navigator had been killed by the burst of gunfire. He realised that the position was hopeless and as the aircraft was becoming difficult to handle, gave the order “Abandon Aircraft”.

The only response he received was from the Rear Gunner who said calmly “Do you mean now”. The pilot replied “Yes”. As the Pilot made his way down to the escape hatch in the Bomb Aimers position there was a violent explosion within the aircraft, followed a few seconds later by another. The next recollection the Pilot had was being free from the aircraft and falling towards the ground. He managed to open his parachute and watched as his burning Lancaster fell past him and crashed onto the ground. There were no signs of the other crew members.’

It sadly turned out that Sergeants  Morrit, Prestwell and Richardson had been killed, but the other four crew members, including Eric, had made it safely to the ground, where they found themselves near Asten outside Eindhoven in German-occupied Holland. Sindall and Turtle were soon captured and became POWs. Here we can read Eric’s own words, taken from the official RAF ‘Evasion Report’ written after an interview by M.I.9 at RAF Hendon on 15 September 1944, two days after Eric had flown home from Brussels. I’ll quote it in full as it’s quite brief.

23 May 44, Baled out near Eindhoven.

I was the pilot of a Lancaster aircraft which took off from Wickenby at 2230 hrs on 22 May 44. We were shot down by a night fighter, and baled out at 0115 hrs on 23 May 44. On landing I looked for other members of the crew and hid my parachute. I could see no one, so started walking South West.

After walking some distance I was stopped by a party of civilians, one of whom spoke very good English. They took me to a doctor, who treated my broken hand and cuts and bruises on my face. I was then taken to a farm about two miles from Someren… a small village South East of Eindhoven.

Next morning I was joined by F/Sgt, Punter… and we stayed at this farm for seven days.

Till 7 Jul 33, Camp near Eindhoven.

From here we moved to a camp run by the Dutch underground movement in woods near Eindhoven where we met F/Sgt. Gardner and F/Sgt. Sparkes. We were later joined by F/Sgt. Tend, R.A.F F/O Walker, R.A.F., F/O Walker, R.A.F., Sgt. Simmons, R.A.F., Sgt. Kinney, U.S.A.A.F., and Lt. Cooper, U.S.A.A.F. We remained in the camp until 7 Jul, when we moved to a farm for one night.

Crossed into Belgium.

Next morning we went by train from Venraij to Sittard. Here we lived in a private house in the town for three weeks. We were then moved to another house, near Roggel. We stayed there for two nights and then moved to a hut in the woods, where we stayed for ten days. From here we moved to a hut in an orchard near Kempen and, after two days, to a farm near Hunsel. Four days later we were taken over the border with Belgium.

We spent three nights on a farm near Kinroy. As the Germans were active in this part, we moved into the woods. After thirteen days we moved to another wood near Eelen, where we met some Belgian Partisans. We stayed with them for five days.

12 Sep 44, Contact with U.S. Troops.

The Allied lines were rumoured to be very near, and the Partisans foregathered in a wood near Rotem. We spent four days with them, but had to leave on account of an attack by the Germans. We headed. W. Towards the Allied lines.

On 12 Sep we were told by a farmer that Allied tanks were in the vicinity, and that evening we met an advanced unit of U.S. Troops.

Dutch Resistance group in 1944

Dutch Resistance group in 1944

I’m sure Eric’s own book provides many more details and observations, but for now I’ll leave the story here. The day after Eric and the others had met the Americans he was flown home from Brussels to RAF Hendon.

Eric had spent nearly four months avoiding capture but only succeeded with the help of many courageous Dutch and Flemish people; I’m sure he was always grateful to them.

In 1946 Eric married Enid Jones in Caernarvon, he died in 1991.

slaughterhouse-five-by-kurt-vonnegutBut let’s not forget the countless thousands of German civilians who died horrific deaths in cities all over Germany which were subjected to Allied fire-bombing and subsequent firestorms, as was Dortmund on this night of 22/23 May 1944.

The great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who was a POW in Dresden and dug corpses from the rubble following a massive incendiary raid on that city in February 1945, later wrote:

You guys burnt the place down, turned it into a single column of flame. More people died there in the firestorm, in that one big flame, than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

I do recommend you read Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, unless that is it is still banned in parts of the United States as it once was.

‘A firestorm is caused when hundreds of smaller fires join in one vast conflagration. Huge masses of air are sucked in to feed the inferno, causing an artificial tornado. Those persons unlucky enough to be caught in the rush of wind are hurled down entire streets into the flames. Those who seek refuge underground often suffocate as oxygen is pulled from the air to feed the blaze, or they perish in a blast of white heat–heat intense enough to melt human flesh.’

Survivors of such raids told how:

The detonation shook the cellar walls. The sound of the explosions mingled with a new, stranger sound which seemed to come closer and closer, the sound of a thundering waterfall; it was the sound of the mighty tornado howling in the inner city.

As the heat intensified people ‘either disintegrated into cinders or melted into a thick liquid–often three or four feet deep in spots’.

The results of incendiary bombing

The results of incendiary bombing

Enough of that! On a less strident note I’ll end, as I often do, with two poems:

My brief sweet life is over,

My eyes no longer see,

No Christmas trees,

No summer walks

No pretty girls for me,

I’ve got the chop, I’ve had it

My nightly Ops are done,

Yet in another hundred years

I’ll still be twenty one.

R.W Gilbert

And:

“Darky” Call by Pip Beck

Through the static

Loud in my earphone

I heard your cry for aid

Your scared boy’s voice conveyed

Your fear and danger;

Ether-borne, my voice

Went out to you

As lost and in the dark you flew

We tried so hard to help you,

In your crippled plane –

I called again

But you did not hear

You had crashed in flame

At the runway’s end

With none to tend

You in your dying …

from “A WAAF in Bomber Command”

Eric's Lancaster was the only one of 626 squadron not to return that night. See above

Eric’s Lancaster was the only one of 626 squadron not to return that night. See above

So the Grisdales of Matterdale became not only Canadians, Americans, Australians and even South Africans, some, God help us, became Welsh too. I’m only joking – have a look at my name. But some Canadian Grisdale men married French Canadian women and became ‘French’ – now that’s truly beyond the pale!

Oh and it’s nice to find the Dutch still remember Grisdale’s Lancaster crew: https://www.bhic.nl/lancaster-bij-het-ven

 

 

America is often said to be a great cultural melting-pot, and so it is. Except for the Native Americans everyone is descended from immigrants, whether early or more recent. Here I’d like to tell the story of the meeting of two different cultures: those of the Portuguese Azores and of Lancashire in England. It’s the story of Arlena Grisdale and Manuel da Silveira and their families in Oregon.

The Azores

The Azores

The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is located about 850 miles west of Portugal. ‘The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores… ‘

‘In “A History of the Azores” by Thomas Ashe written in 1813 the author identified a Fleming, Joshua Van der Berg of Bruges, who made land in the archipelago during a storm on his way to Lisbon. Ashe stated that the Portuguese explored the area and claimed it for Portugal shortly after. Other stories note the discovery of the first islands (São Miguel Island, Santa Maria Island and Terceira Island) were made by sailors in the service of Henry the Navigator, although there are few written documents to support the claims.’

I start with this mention of Flemings because the subject of this story is a certain Manuel Caetano da Silveira, whose family had been settled on the island of São Jorge (St George) from the earliest times. In fact the family name da Silveira is the Portuguese rendition of the name of a ‘noble Flemish native’ called Wilhelm Van der Haegen, who was the first to settle the island in a major way. Haag means forest in Flemish and thus William became known as Guilherme da Silveira to the islanders. Azorean families with the surname Silveira generally descend from the Fleming Willem van der Haegen. ‘By 1490, there were 2,000 Flemings living in the islands of Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge and Flores. Because there was such a large Flemish settlement, the Azores became known as the Flemish Islands or the Isles of Flanders.’

Prince Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry the Navigator

I reproduce much of the Wikipedia entry for Wilhelm van der Haegen below. It is rather long and those who are not interested in deep history can skip it.

As part of his inheritance, King Edward of Portugal bequeathed the islands of the Azores to his brother, the Infante D. Henriques (Henry the Navigator), in 1433. This was subsequently left to Henry’s nephew and adopted son, Infante D. Fernando, in addition to Henry’s title as Grand Master of the Order of Christ. A grant was made by the Infante to his aunt, D. Isabella of Portugal (Edward and Henry’s sister), the Duchess of Burgundy, in the Low Countries. For many of the Flems (sic) who were recuperating from the Hundred Years’ War, this grant offered an opportunity of alleviating their suffering.

Van der Haegen, a wealthy entrepreneur, was invited by Josse van Huerter (for four-years Captain-General of the island of Faial) to settle the island with him, in an archipelago that was becoming known as a New Flanders or the Flemish Islands. Consequently, in 1470, with his wife Margarida da Zambuja and at his own expense, he offloaded two ships carrying his extended family, slaves and professionals of various services, to begin what was characterised as a “second-wave” of immigration to the island (the first having been pioneered by Van Huerter in the 1460s).

Van der Haegen, by his virtues and distinguished personality, became popular on the island. But, sensing a level of bad faith on the part of Huerter and a growing rivalry, he abandoned his holdings on Faial, to settle in Quatro Ribeiras, on the island of Terceira. He begins to cultivate wheat and gather woad plants for export (specifically Isatis tinctoria which was also produced in the Picardy and Normandy Regions of France until that time). These plants, along with other species, were essential in the production of many of the dyes popular with mercantile classes. Most islands in the archipelago were populated, and the plants commercialized by the landed gentry for their exportable nature; early settlements were founded on the basis of agricultural and dye-based exports, such as woad. Van der Haegen’s colonies were no exception.

Ruins of the Solar dos Tiagos in Topo

Ruins of the Solar dos Tiagos in Topo

On a trip to Lisbon he encounters D. Maria de Vilhena (widow of D. Fernão Teles de Meneses, the Donatary of the islands of Flores and Corvo, then administratively one fiefdom) and his son Rui Teles. After some negotiation, D. Maria would cede the rights to the exploration of the islands to Van der Haegen, in exchange for monthly payments.

Around 1478, Willem van der Haegen settles in Ribeira da Cruz, where he built homes, developed agriculture (primarily wheat), collected more woad species for export, and explored for tin, silver or other minerals (under the assumption that the islands were part of the mythic Ilhas Cassterides, the islands of silver and tin). Owing to the island’s isolation and difficulties in communication his crops became difficult to export. After several years, he decides to leave the island and return to Terceira.

But, his return was brief; after seven years he leaves Quatro Ribeiras and settles in the area of Topo, São Jorge Island, effectively establishing the community with other Flemish citizens. He died in 1500, and was buried in the chapel-annex of the Solar dos Tiagos, in the villa of Topo, today in ruins.

So Wilhelm had eventually settled and died in Topo on São Jorge Island, which is precisely where his descendants mostly lived for the next four hundred years. The American immigrant Manuel Caetano da Silveira was born in 1879. His parents were Topo-born farmer Martinho Caetano da Silveira and his Topo-born wife Ana Vitorina.

Island of St George

Island of St George

The local Azorean records report:[1]

Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario in Topo

Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario in Topo

Aos treze dias do mez de Abril do anno de mil oitocentos setenta e nove, nesta egreja parochial Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario, da Villa do Topo, concelho da Calheta, Ilha de São Jorge, diocese de Angra, o reverendo beneficiado Francisco Pimentel de Noronha, baptisou solemnemente um individuo do sexo masculino, a quem deo o nome de Manoel, que nasceo nesta freguesia, às duas horas da manhã do dia oito do mez corrente, filho legitimo de Marthino Caethano da Silveira, lavrador, e Anna Victorina, e que se ocupa em arangos de sua caza, naturaes, recebidos e moradores no lugar da  Lomba de São Pedro, desta freguesia, neto paterno de Caethano Silveira Leonardes e Francisca Victorina da Silveira e materno de João António Gonçalves e Maria Benedicta. Padrinho dito Caethano Silveira Leonardes, lavrador, cazado, que sei serem os próprios. E para constar lavrei em duplicado este assento, que dipois de lido e conferido, perante o padrinho, só assigno por elle não saber escrever. Era ut supra.

O vigário Francisco Monteiro de Amorim

Précis:

Manuel, legitimate son of Martinho Caetano da Silveira, farmer, and Ana Vitorina, housewife, both native of Topo, where they married and live in Lomba de São Pedro, paternal grandson of Caetano Silveira Leonardes and Francisca Vitorina da Silveira and maternal of João António Gonçalves and Maria Benedita, was born at 2 am, on 8 April 1879 and was baptised on the 13th, in Topo. Godfather was the paternal grandfather Caetano Silveira Leonardes, farmer, married. The godfather cannot write.

silvers ancestry

Manuel was the couple’s third child. Maria was born in Topo in 1876 and Francisca in 1878. Both were born in Topo and baptized in Topo’s Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario church, as had been all their ancestors. Martinho and Ana had been married in 1875:

On 13 October 1875, in Topo, Martinho Caetano da Silveira, single, 31, worker, native of Topo, legitimate son of Caetano Silveira Leonardo and Francisca Vitorina, married to Ana Vitorina da Silveira, single, 25, native of Topo, legitimate daughter of João António Gonçalves and Maria Benedita. They cannot write. Witnesses were Pedro Benedito da Silveira and Joaquim Silveira Leonardes, landowners and living in Topo.

Lomba de São Pedro

Lomba de São Pedro

But shortly after Francisca’s birth in 1878 the family moved to farm in Lomba de São Pedro on the nearby island of São Miguel. Over the coming years six more children were born in Lomba de São Pedro, all of whom were brought back to Topo shortly after birth to be baptized in the family church: João (1880), Rosa (1883), António (1885), Ana (1886), José (1889) and Francisco (1891).

Martinho’s mother, Francisca Vitorina da Silveira, ‘wife of Caetano Silveira Leonardo, veteran soldier,’ died in 1898 in Topo. Her husband Caetano was charged with ‘going to the local judge to give information on his children and his belongings (properties, animals, tools and furniture), but he couldn’t do it, because, due to his age (91) he barely could stand, (never mind) …  walking to the judge’s office. This was told by his maid Ana Rita. The person that went to the judge instead of him was the one that was representing his sons. It was said that the couple owned nothing, nor had any debts’.

Here we find mention of Caetano’s other son: João Caetano Silveira Leonardo. Although João was four years Martinho’s junior (born in 1847), at the age of about 18 he had emigrated to America and seems to have first established himself in California before moving on to Grant County in Oregon.

The Vega

The Vega

By 1893 Martinho and his large family decided that they would join João in America. On 1 April while still in Lomba, and just before boarding ship, Martinho ‘issued a document, giving full power to be represented in any occasion by Isidro de Bettencourt Correia e Avila’. A few months later in October his, by now married, brother João ‘issued a proxy to the same above at the notary William H. Kelley, in Grant County, Oregon’.

Having probably sold his farm in Lomba, Martinho bought tickets for himself and his family from the Empresa Insulana de Navegação (EIN) line of Lisbon to travel on their English-built cargo ship Vega from the Azores to New York.

vega

The family arrived at Ellis Island on 19 April 1893. Martinho gave his occupation as ‘Proprietor’ and said the family were bound for California. They crossed the continent by train and seem to have only passed through California before moving to Oregon. Brother João (by now married) was already in Oregon when Martinho and his family arrived in America and Martin and his family went to join them. What is clear is that in 1890 João was certainly in John Day in Grant County, Oregon, as probably was Martinho’s family too by October 1893. From now on will now call João and Martinho John and Martin and use the English names which all the family adopted, at least officially. The family name changed too, from Silveira to Silvers.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Martin and John were both farmers and I imagine they knew that they could buy farms cheaply in Oregon. John settled to start with in John Day in Grant County, where he was with his family in 1900 and 1902 (he had married Francisca/Juanita (known as ‘Jessie’) de Moura in about 1889). Martin went to farm at ‘Express’ i.e. Durkee in Bay County where we find him also in 1900 (his son John Martin is living near his uncle John in John Day, Grant County) and 1910.

Durkee was originally a stage stop called Express, and by the 1860s it was the only transfer point between Umatilla and Boise. It prospered as a water stop and telegraph station for the railroad, and even later as a stop on Highway 30, the only paved road in the area. It was platted in 1908, even though the population had already peaked.

I won’t follow all Martin’s family in detail here. Suffice it to say that Martin’s children started to marry and have children of their own (as did John’s): Francisca married Bernadino (Barney) Moura, Rosa first married Manuel Burgess and then Joseph A Moura, Ana married Joseph A Amada, Antonio/Tony married Grace Mae Francis, Jose/Joseph married Mary and Oregon-born Mary married Haven G Ross.

John Day, Grant County, Oregon

John Day, Grant County, Oregon

In 1902, when he was 23, Manuel Silvers married local girl Arlena Grisdale. Here we have a typically American meeting of cultures: the Portuguese Azores meets Lancashire! We can easily guess how Arlena and Manuel met because in 1900 Manuel was working as a ‘servant’ for the family of Arlena’s older married sister Mary Lucinda (Grisdale) McKinney,  who also lived in Express/Durkee, as did Manuel’s family. It was no doubt in the McKinney household that Manuel first met Arlena.

Actually Arlena had been born in America. She was the fifth child of English immigrant Thomas Grisdale and his Indiana-born wife Elmira Jane Clements. Thomas had arrived in America in 1850 aged just eleven with his Bolton cotton-weaver father Doctor Grisdale and mother Mary Greene, together with his brother Joseph. Having originally moved to the cotton mills of Pennsylvania to work, Doctor Grisdale and his family set off on a long trek across the States. I told their story in an earlier article (see here). When Arlena was born in 1875/6 the family was already in Oregon and her father Thomas was working as Brick Maker. Doctor Grisdale had died in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa in 1878 and never reached the West Coast, but the rest of the family finally made it to Oregon in about 1871, about twenty years after the family’s arrival in America and about 22 years before Martinho Silveira set sail from the Azores.

This cotton-weaving Grisdale family weren’t the only ones to come to America, I wrote of just some of the others who followed them to Pennsylvania here and here. Of course all these Grisdales found their roots in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale (see here).

In 1880 we find the family of Thomas Grisdale in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon. Thomas’s sister Mary Ann was also there, having by this time married Timothy Ford. But also Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary had moved with them to Oregon. As said Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with yet more of his children and was listed there in the 1900 US Census as a “farmer”. So maybe after more than a century it was back to the land! Thomas Grisdale was still living in 1903 because he paid a substantial council tax in Baker, Oregon, in 1903; but his mother Mary died on 26 June 1901 and was buried in Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, as was his sister Mary Ann Ford. Thomas’s wife Elmira married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

So Thomas Grisdale, who was working as a farmer in Bridgeport in 1900, would no doubt have been present at the marriage of his daughter Arlena with farmer’s son Manuel Silvers in 1902, which probably (though not definitely) took place in Durkee. He wouldn’t have been able to talk much with Manuel’s parents because as the censuses make clear Martin and Ana Silvers couldn’t yet speak English.

The Express Ranch in Durkee

The Express Ranch in Durkee

Manuel and Arlena (Grisdale) Silvers started life together on Manuel’s father’s farm in Express/Durkee. Two sons soon followed: James in 1903 and Thomas Martin Silvers in 1905. There was also a daughter called Anna M Silvers born in 1908 who would marry Arthur Edward Powell in 1923 but died after having two children in 1935. But while the children were still small, for some reason Arlena died in 1908 aged just thirty-four. Perhaps she died giving birth to Anna? Manuel must have been devastated and not being able to cope on his own he sent the two boys to live in Baker City where we find them in 1910 with Arlene’s mother Elmira and her unmarried sisters. Baby Anna was sent to be brought up in the house of her Aunt Anna Almada.

But in 1913 Manuel remarried. His new wife was forty-year old widow Malinda Anderson (nee Glassley). They had a child they called Eva in 1915, who later married Keith Chaffin. Manuel lived to the great age of 93, dying in Baker City. (His father Martin also died aged 93 in 1936!) Malinda died in 1960 aged eighty-seven.

Martinho Caetano da Silveira/Silvers  with some grandchildren in California

Manuel and Arlena Grisdale’s children married too. I have mentioned Anna already. James married Vivian Helen Voris but the couple had no children. Thomas Martin married Sadie Irene Craven and they had two sons. Many of Thomas’s descendants still live in Oregon and other states to this day. I’ll just highlight one here. Eugene Thomas Silvers was Manuel and Arlene’s grandson and Thomas and Sadie’s son. His 2001 obituary reads:

EUGENE “GENE” THOMAS SILVERS

Posted May 11, 2001

Wasilla resident Eugene Thomas Silvers, 72, passed away at Patsy’s Assisted Living Care on March 19, 2001.

As per his wishes, he was cremated and no memorial services will be held. His ashes will be scattered over a large body of water in Alaska early this summer.

Mr. Silvers was born July 24, 1928, in Baker, Ore., to Sadie (Craven) Silvers and Thomas Silvers.

He moved to Alaska from Idaho in 1975 and resided in Wasilla until his death.

He enjoyed a varied career — from logging, ranching, industrial construction, carpentry and general contracting — and retired in 1997.

Throughout his years, Gene taught his sons the value of hard work. He was preceded in death by his mother and father, Sadie I. Silvers and Thomas M. Silvers, of Grants Pass, Ore.

Surviving are his former wife and friend, Irene Silvers of Wasilla; sons, Michael G. Silvers of Lacey, Wash., Patrick T. Silvers of Challis, Idaho, and Clifford Silvers of Wasilla; brother and his wife, Donald and Patricia Silvers of Hauser Lake, Idaho; nieces, Becky McGill and family of Oak Harbor, Wash., Peggy Magnuson and family of Vancouver, Wash., Jeanette Tingstrom of Wasilla; and nephew, Robert Silvers of Guam. He is also survived by his caregiver, Patsy Long, of Wasilla.

Andrew Leslie's shipbuilding yard in Hebburn

Andrew Leslie’s shipbuilding yard in Hebburn

One final coincidence. The Vega, the ‘cargo’ ship that brought the Silveiras to New York, was, as I said, English-built. In fact it was built by Alexander Leslie’s shipbuilding yard in Hebburn, Northumberland in 1879. After several owners in England it was sold to the Lisbon-based Empresa Insulana de Navegação (EIN) in 1890 before changing its name to the Benguela in 1900. It was wrecked in 1907 ‘at Mossamedes when inward from Alexandria with a cargo of dried fish’. And here’s the thing: when the Vega was being built in Hebburn a certain Joseph Grisdale was living right next door to the Leslie yard and would have seen it being built; indeed he also helped manufacture some of its components. Joseph was a distant relation of Arlene Grisdale, having common ancestors in Matterdale. I might tell Joseph’s story another time.

The Vega after it became the Benguela

The Vega after it became the Benguela

 

 

[1] I am grateful to an unnamed American Silveira descendant who visited the Azores to find the local records and posted them on the internet. I thank him/her.

James Grisdale can’t have had an easy early life. When he was born in 1843 in Bolton, Lancashire, into an extended family working in the cotton mills, a type of forced child labour was still practiced. James probably starting working in the mills at an early age, after a perfunctory education.  But he had other things to contend with as well before he finally ended up in the mills of North Carolina.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

He continued:

The way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left.

How is it possible that the poorer classes can remain healthy and have a reasonable expectation of life under such conditions? What can one expect but that they should suffer from continual outbreaks of epidemics and an excessively low expectation of life? The physical condition of the workers shows a progressive deterioration.

James’ cotton weaver father Thomas had died in 1847 aged just twenty-six. James was only four. His one year old sister died in 1848. This left James together with his younger brother John and his half sister Nancy Howarth to be looked after by their mother Maria (nee Howarth). In 1851 they are all together in Bolton living in Martin’s Building.  Maria was working as a power loom weaver.

But Maria probably found it all too much as a single mother because by 1861 James had been sent a few miles away to Farnworth to live with his widowed grandfather John, his uncle John and his aunt Margaret.  They all lived in Queen Street and worked in the mills. Grandfather John was a cotton twister, while his uncle John was already a ‘Cotton Power Loom Manager’. Meanwhile James’ mother and brother were still in Bolton centre toiling in the mills.

Lancashire 'Cotton Famine' workers queuing for food

Lancashire ‘Cotton Famine’ workers queuing for food

As I have told before, many thousands of Lancashire cotton weavers went to America when times were hard (which was most of the time) to try to find a better life. Of the Grisdale clan, James’ grandfather’s brother, Doctor Grisdale, was the first to leave. He had emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850 with his young family (see here). By 1863 when the American Civil War was still raging and the Union navy had blockaded the Confederate ports, raw cotton supplies from America to the Lancashire mills dried up. This led to a dreadful ‘Cotton Famine’ which threw thousands out of work and caused starvation and death.

The Lancashire Cotton Famine, 1861 -1865

In the early 1860’s, the Lancashire cotton industry, which dominated the mid-19th century British economy, was devastated by a political event beyond its control, the Civil War in the United States of America. In April 1861, President Lincoln ordered a blockade of the Confederate southern ports, the outlet for the raw cotton on which Lancashire’s mills depended. Attempts to find alternative sources of supply from India or Egypt had little success. The short stapled Surat cotton proved no substitute for the medium stapled American variety. Deprived of essential raw material, spinning mills and weaving sheds closed down or resorted to short time working. Unemployment mounted rapidly.

By November 1862, three fifths of the labour force, 331,000 men and women were idle. Many operatives, their savings exhausted, were forced to apply for charitable handouts or for relief from the despised poor law system. Such hardships, however, they endured calmly because they believed in the noble cause for which Lincoln was fighting, the freeing of the slaves of the southern plantation owners. From its peak in 1862/3, unemployment fell, but not until the end of the war, in April 1865, was normal working resumed. The cotton industry never regained the dominance it had once held in the British economy.

Most probably as a result of the famine, in late 1863 James’s uncles Jonathan and  John  (with whom James had been living in 1861) made the voyage from Liverpool to New York and from there on to Pennsylvania (see here).

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Perhaps James didn’t go with them because he wanted to support his mother and brother. But it seems that they both probably died in the 1860s, no doubt as a result of the Cotton Famine. So James decided to follow his uncles and grand uncle to America to seek work there in the rising cotton mills there. He embarked in Liverpool on the Inman Line’s ship SS City of New York (2) and arrived in New York on 21 December, 1868.

Like his relatives before him James made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill.

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1873 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina. He probably saw better chances there for a man of his experience:

In addition to its rail connections, Gaston County was a prime location for water-powered cotton manufacturing on account of its many fast-flowing rivers and streams, its location in the midst of a cotton growing region, and the availability of cheap labor. By 1897 Gaston County had the largest number of cotton mills of any county in the state, twenty-two total, representing 10.6 percent of the state total of 207 cotton mills.

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

In 1880, James was living in Mountain Island Village, Gaston, North Carolina, and working as a “Superintendent in a Cotton Mill”.

A cotton mill, said by some authorities to be the first in Gaston County, was established on Mountain Island in 1848 by Thomas R. Tate and Henry Humphreys, owners of the Mount Hecla steam-powered mill near…. They hoped to take advantage of the less expensive water power from the Catawba River. The site at river’s edge featured a partially completed canal around the shoals that could be used for a mill race, and a steep island whose top now rises from the lake. Machinery was moved from the Mount Hecla mill by mule-drawn wagon and operations began in 1849. A village of brick houses grew around the mill. The mill and village were destroyed on July 15, 1916 in a flood caused by a hurricane.

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

By 1882, James had moved to the Long Island Cotton Mill in Catawba (which is now under Lake Norman). A letter to The Landmark newspaper dated 1882, tells us that the mill had been recently acquired by the Turner Brothers and that ‘James Grisdale, an Englishman of vast experience,’ had ‘the general supervision of the factory’.

By 1900, James and his family were in McAdenville, Gaston, North Carolina, still working in a cotton mill, almost certainly in the huge McAden Mills. McAden Mills claimed to be the first textile mill in the South to install electric lights. According to historian Billy Miller:

In 1884 Thomas Alva Edison came to McAdenville to oversee and help install the first electrical generator in the South…The lights hung from the ceiling of the mills and were spaced about thirty feet apart. People came from everywhere to gawk at the miraculous new lighting technology.

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina. They were: John 1869 – , Emma Virginia 1870-1952, James Wingate 1873-1967, George Washington 1879-1952, Kate Roper 1881-1940, Lucy Lula Sanders 1884-1949 and Jesse D. 1891-1918.

All James’ sons (and many grandchildren) were to follow him into North Carolina’s cotton mills, both in McAdenville and in Salisbury. His daughters too married weaver husbands. And so it went on, as the bible says ‘unto the next generation’

One of James’ sons, Jesse D. Grisdale, died from ‘friendly fire’ in France in 1918 (see here). What became of James and his wife Annie Cannon? I can find no mention of James himself after 1900, when he was working in the McAden Mill. In 1910 his wife was a patient in the State Hospital in Morganton, Burke County, and said to be married, but no sign of James. Where and when James died I do not know. Annie died in 1923 aged 74. She is buried in The Hollywood Cemetery in Gastonia, North Carolina.

McAden Mill, N. C.

McAden Mill, N. C.

Finally, while the cotton mills of North Carolina (and Pennsylvania) had offered various members of the Grisdale family some opportunities, they weren’t much better than the mills ‘back home’ in Lancashire. Child labour was still seen and once the demand from the First World War died out conditions deteriorated and strikes broke out. There is much to be read and learned about this.

Located in the south-western piedmont of North Carolina, Gaston County had the ideal resources for manufacturing. Because of the large potential workforce of former sharecroppers and failed farmers, many northern industrialists moved south in search of a reduced cost of labor. World War 1 brought great prosperity to the southern cotton mills, “fuelled largely by government defence orders for uniforms, tents, and war material. Thousands of new jobs opened in the mills, and wages soared to all time highs.” This boom was to be short-lived, however, and the prosperity that the workers enjoyed soon disappeared. The luxury items they had purchased on credit were now stretching their budgets so much that they could hardly afford to put food on the table.

Managers introduced the “stretch-out” system in which spinners and weavers not only doubled their work, but also reduced their wages. “I used to tend forty-eight looms,” complained a South Carolina weaver in 1929, “while under the stretch-out I have to tend ninety looms and I couldn’t do it. Three years ago I was makin’ over $19 a week. Now I make $17.70.” “By the late 1920’s some mill workers’ wages sank as low as $5 a week.” The owners of the mills insisted on keeping prices down, which caused mill work to become extremely dangerous and dirty. Often the workdays were so long that the women, who made up a considerable percentage of the workers, were rarely home to raise their children.

Annie P Cannon Grisdale's Grave

Annie P Cannon Grisdale’s Grave

Towards the end of 1921 gold miner Fred Grisdale was dying of pulmonary tuberculosis in hospital in the mining community of Kingman in Mohave County, Arizona. He told people he was from Oregon and gave the names of some friends there and in Los Angeles, but he refused to name his parents or even mention his wife and child. What was Fred’s story?

Fred died on Christmas Eve 1921. His death certificate gives his age, 43, and his Oregon place of birth, but regarding the names of his father and mother it says that he ‘refused to tell’ and ‘information refused’. Six days later the Mohave County Miner (Kingman, Arizona) announced:

Fred Grisdale a miner aged about 43 years died at the county hospital in Kingman last Saturday after an illness covering a long period. Death was due to tuberculosis. Deceased gave the names of friends in Oregon and Los Angeles but so far nothing has been heard from them and it is probable that burial will take place here.

So Fred was buried in Section 17, Lot 2, Grave 31 of Kingman’s Mountain View Cemetery.

We know that exposure to silica dust increases the risk of pulmonary tuberculosis, particularly among gold miners who drill through hard rock. And Fred was a gold miner. Where had he come from? Who were his family? And why did he refuse to name them?

Baker City, circa 1900

Baker City, circa 1900

Frederick Grisdale was born on 8 November 1878 in Oregon, probably in the town of Roseburg in Douglas County. He was the fifth child and second son of Thomas Grisdale and Elmira Clements. Thomas had arrived in the United States in 1850, aged 11, with his brother Joseph and parents Doctor Grisdale and Mary Greene. They came from the cotton mill town of Bolton in Lancashire, England. I wrote about the family previously; how they had first moved to the cotton mills of Pennsylvania and how, later, Thomas set off on a long journey across the breadth of the continent, via Montana, Iowa and Missouri, marrying and having children on the way. By 1873 the new family had reached Salem in Oregon and then moved to Roseburg, where Fred was probably born, and from there to their final destination in the gold-boom town of Baker City, Oregon. In 1880 Thomas was a brick layer in Baker City and the children were in the local school.

As Baker City grew in population—300 in 1870, 1,200 in 1880, 2,600 in 1890, 6,600 in 1900–all the downtown frame buildings were replaced by buildings constructed of brick and native tuff stone quarried at Pleasant Valley. The most impressive brick building still standing on Main Street is the elegant Geiser Grand Hotel, which the Warshauer brothers, Jake and Harry, constructed in 1889. It went by the name Hotel Warshauer until purchased by the Geiser family about 1900.

Thomas Grisdale probably worked helping to construct some of these buildings. One local historian writes, ‘Baker City was a bawdy place in the late 19th century. One block of Main Street boasted five saloons and several brothels, yet more refined tastes also had a place in the “Queen City of the Mines.” An opera house lent the Oregon hinterlands a little taste of Europe, and the ornate Geiser Grand Hotel was considered the finest between Salt Lake City and Seattle.’

The growth of the town was all due to the discovery of gold. ‘The area had been a mere way station for pioneers on the Oregon Trail, but the region’s fate changed in 1861, when the discovery of gold in nearby Griffin Gulch sparked decades of frenzied mining in the Blue Mountains. Towns sprang up, among them Baker City, named for Edward Dickinson Baker, the U.S. senator from Oregon who died fighting in the Civil War. By the beginning of the 20th century, Baker City was home to 6,700 people… ‘

Placer Mine, Baker City, Oregon

Placer Mine, Baker City, Oregon

To start with the Baker City mines were so-called ‘placer’ mines. ‘Placer mining is frequently used for precious metal deposits (particularly gold) and gemstones, both of which are often found in alluvial deposits—deposits of sand and gravel in modern or ancient stream beds, or occasionally glacial deposits. The metal or gemstones, having been moved by stream flow from an original source such as a vein, is typically only a minuscule portion of the total deposit. Since gems and heavy metals like gold are considerably more dense than sand, they tend to accumulate at the base of placer deposits.’

In Baker City, the placer operations involved running water and gravel through sluice boxes to sift out the heavy gold flakes and maybe also a few valuable nuggets. By 1900 both Fred Grisdale and his older brother Thomas Edward were working as placer miners near Baker City.

We don’t know if Fred and his brother spent any money they made in the taverns, dancing houses and brothels of Baker City, though it might be a good guess. But something must have happened to estrange Fred from his family. Whether it was his marriage in 1904 to Wisconsin-born Laura Hamblin, or something else, remains a mystery. Whatever the case, Frederick moved from Oregon sometime in the first decade of the twentieth century, either before or after his marriage. One historian of the family wrote that Fred had, ‘left home at an early age and was never heard from again’. He had simply disappeared from his family’s lives.

A Missoula Mine

A Missoula Mine

But we can follow him. By 1910 he was living in the Montana gold-mining town of Missoula with his wife Laura and Montana-born daughter Evelyn. Here we find the first clear signs of his refusal to say anything of his parents. In the Federal census, while his wife Laura gave the places of birth of her parents (New York and Canada), Fred refused to say. The entries read, ‘unknown’.  Freddy was still a miner, though by now working underground. Like Baker City, Missoula was a gold and silver boom town. The town was founded in 1860 and named Hellgate Trading Post while still part of Washington Territory. By 1866, the settlement had moved five miles upstream and renamed Missoula Mills before being shortened to Missoula. In 1910 one downtown part was still called Hellgate Township and this is where the family lived.

Tonopah Extension Mine, 1912

Tonopah Extension Mine, 1912

But being a miner was a precarious business and miners were constantly moving in search of work. Sometime over the course of the next few years the family moved again, this time to Tonopah in Nye County, Nevada. In 1918, Fred was working for the Tonopah Extension Mining Company and living in East Pine Street. A History of Nye County gives a little flavour of how miners were hired in Tonopah:

In the era when miners worked for a day’s pay, a person obtained a job by “rustling” at the collar of the shaft. That is, he put in an appearance at the shaft, making it known that he was looking for a job. The old-time mine foreman did the hiring, not the manager or superintendent, although they might recommend someone to the foreman. The person who was hiring seldom used an employment agency, preferring to look at the man he might hire. The foreman wanted to see how healthy the prospective miner looked and whether he seemed capable. If the foreman did not personally know the miner, and if the man did not come well recommended from someone whom the foreman respected, he would take the man into his office and quiz him. He might not even ask about mines, but he could tell by the way the man talked whether or not he knew anything about mining. Mines had varying hiring times, but a lot of miners rustled at noon when the foreman came out of the shaft for lunch, though some miners tried to catch the foreman as he went down into the mine in the morning. Sometimes an unemployed miner would learn about a job from relatives or perhaps a friendly person in a bar might say, “Christ, there’s a bunch of guys quit last night. You’d better get out there tomorrow morning.” One thing that would finish a miner in search of a job faster than anything was for him to follow an ambulance up to the mine. People in town knew when there was an accident; they would hear three blasts on the bell or whistle and the ambulance would head for the shaft. Though foremen were sometimes gruff, had rough exteriors, and might not be able to give a man a job, some were known to give their lunch to a hungry man.

Spokane, Washington, circa 1920

Spokane, Washington, circa 1920

Fred was drafted into the US Army on 12 September 1918 in Tonopah. He gives his occupation, employer, date of birth and his wife’s name and address, but no mention of his parents of place of birth. Whether Fred actually had to serve I don’t know. It’s possible he was sent to Los Angeles, (as his brother was to be), and there met the ‘friends’ referred to in the newspaper notice I started with. But in any case, the First World War was over and with it the demand for many of the war materials mined in Spokane was drying up. The family had to move again, this time to the mining town of Spokane in Washington State.

In the 1920 trade directory for Spokane, Fred is listed as a miner living in College Avenue and his wife is given as Laura. But this information was probably already out of date, because in the 1920 census his wife Laura and 11 year-old daughter are living without Fred in Douglas Crescent, Spokane, and Laura is said to be ‘divorced’! There is no trace of Fred anywhere. Had Fred left Laura? Had she thrown him out? Was Fred already ill? Who knows.

Kingman Arizona

Kingman Arizona

So Fred, divorced from his wife, estranged from his family, set off one last time to seek work in the mines. This time he found himself in Kingman in Mohave County, Arizona. Kingman was founded in 1882, when Arizona was only a ‘Territory’. There were gold, turquoise and other mines. Being at an elevation of around 3,300 feet, it’s not quite as hot as one might imagine. But Fred was probably already ill and if he worked in the Kingman mines it can’t have been for long.

And here it is that I end this sad tale. Poor Fred would never mention his parents to his last breath. He didn’t even mention his former wife and his only daughter. When his ‘friends’ in Oregon and Los Angeles were contacted there was no reply. Did his daughter ever know what happened to her father? It seems his family back in Oregon did not.

Mountain View Cemetery, Kingman, Arizona

Mountain View Cemetery, Kingman, Arizona

So if you’re ever passing Kingman, Arizona, pop into the Mountain View Cemetery and think about lonely Freddy, the grandson of an enterprising Bolton cotton weaver, a descendant of the Matterdale Grisdales; a man for whom life didn’t seem to go quite right.

When a young unemployed cotton bleacher from Bolton in Lancashire walked into the annual meeting of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) being held at Exeter Hall in London’s Strand in May 1865, he didn’t know that his life was about to change. A hymn inspired him and a discussion would lead him down the path to becoming a missionary himself, and later on a Bishop in the Canadian prairies. The young man’s name was John Grisdale. This is the first part of his fascinating story.

Preaching at Exeter Hall

Preaching at Exeter Hall

The hymn that inspired John was a favourite of his former teacher, the Rev. Canon Henry Powell, who was present at the London meeting. The hymn referred, as John’s obituary in a Bolton newspaper in 1922 tells us, to ‘India’s Coral Strand’; it is called From Greenland’s Icy Mountains and was written in 1819 by Indian missionary Reginald Heber. I include it here because the sentiments tell us a lot about about how missionaries such as Powell, and later John Grisdale, saw their job and the world at large:

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.

After the meeting John talked with Canon Powell. He “expressed a desire to enter upon Christian work in a larger field”. Powell was obviously pleased that his former pupil wanted to follow him into a missionary life and “used his influence” to get John admitted to the CMS’s  Islington Missionary College, where he would spend the next five years training to be a missionary.

Let’s go back a bit to see what had led John to be in London in 1865.

He was born in 1845, in Tongue Moor, Bolton, Lancashire, the second child of Bolton cotton weaver Robert Grisdale (1819-1897) and his wife Alice Yates (1821-1897). The family soon moved to another part of Bolton: to Slater’s Lane in Little Bolton. In the year of John’s birth Frederick Engels wrote this about the Lancashire towns and about Bolton in particular:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.   – The Condition of the Working Class in England (Leipzig, 1845)

St Peter's, Bolton Le Moors

St Peter’s, Bolton Le Moors

Later in life John would tell of how he was “formerly an errand lad” around the town. While his father toiled in the mills John attended the Bolton Parish School. This was an Anglican school attached to Bolton Parish Church (Saint Peter’s) and was overseen at the time by the vicar of Bolton: the Rev. Canon Henry Powell we have already met. Henry had been made vicar of Bolton after many years as a missionary in Ceylon. Canon Powell taught John at the school. Another of his teachers was the Rev J Farrell Wright (whose own son was to become an Archbishop). Given John’s subsequent career as a missionary in India and then in Canada, it might prove informative to try to get a little flavour of how Canon Powell saw the “heathens” whose job it was the CMS’s missionaries to convert. In 1840, two years after arriving in Ceylon, Powell wrote home to his friend the Rev. Francis Trench in Reading:

The natives, among whom we live and labour, are a mild, inoffensive race of beings, but very indolent, uncleanly, indifferent, and deceptive. In fact, without charging them with any particular breaches of morality, I should designate their character as low, weak, and in nowise to be depended on. The men have no dress but a cloth tied round the waist, reaching to the knees. The women dress precisely the same, except in missionary stations, where they have been induced to add a jacket. The hair, both of the men and women, is turned up and fastened with a comb, as ladies’ hair in England; so that it is with great difficulty a new comer can distinguish male from female.

The religion which is commonly professed amongst the natives is Bhuddhism; though many are given up to devil worship, and others are Atheists, and of no religion at all. Idolatry, it seems, is very productive of Infidelity and Atheism. Satan may here almost literally be said ‘ to lead the poor creatures captive at his will;’ and so infatuated are they of their superstitions, that nothing but the power of the Divine grace can, I am sure, drive them out of those fastnesses in which they have entrenched themselves.

Their ignorance, also, is fearful in the extreme; and their minds have been so long neglected, and so unused to consideration, that it seems almost impossible to communicate ideas to them. Words seem to make no impression; they are listened to as a pleasant sound; they recreate, but fail to instruct. It is a fact, that the natives will sometimes listen to my instruction and conversation for a tolerable length of time; and though I broach none but the most elementary truths, yet even these are not understood or remembered, and they are unable to answer a single question upon what has been told them.

An old woman, indeed, told me the other day that she had heard the missionaries preach here for years; but she did not understand or remember what they said, for it was not her place to think, and she could not. This arises from their own destructive system; for, when they go to hear their idolatrous books read, which is, however, only once a year (but then for a whole week, night and day), they are not required to attend to what is said, but only to be present to hear, which is all that Bhuddh requires of them, and for which he will dispense merits according to the time that they attend. Indeed, they could not understand the reading, were they to pay attention to it, for it is in the Pali and Sanscrit languages, which they have never learnt.

Their indifference to religion, however, is even a greater obstacle to our success than their ignorance. This seems almost invincible. They do not care for the event; nor do they look upon religion as important. They are, indeed, a set of fatalists; and, holding very strongly the cold doctrine of metempsychosis, they look upon their present condition as the result of their conduct in some former state of existence; and, in consequence, seem to care very little what becomes of them for the future. Indeed, they have very few notions of religion in common with ourselves, and, apparently, do not wish to have. They acknowledge Christianity to be a good religion, but they cannot see why they should become Christians.

Of course that they didn’t want to be Christians didn’t stop the missionaries from trying to make them be; a pattern that John Grisdale would later follow in Canada.

Slater's Bleachworks, Bolton

Slater’s Bleachworks, Bolton

John was obviously a keen pupil of the religious doctrines he was taught in Bolton Parish School because he was eventually to become a religious ‘Sunday School’ teacher there. But John had to work too. At the time in Lancashire a type of unpaid child slavery still existed in the cotton milling industry.

As long as the English cotton manufacturers depended on slave-grown cotton, it could truthfully be asserted that they rested on a twofold slavery, the indirect slavery of the white man in England and the direct slavery of the black men on the other side of the Atlantic — Karl Marx, New York Daily Tribune, October 14, 1861

As well as the mills themselves, the cotton industry had many other associated trades. One of these was cotton bleaching – an extremely unhealthy job. The Grisdale family lived in Slater’s Lane, right next to Slater’s Bleachworks, and it was perhaps inevitable that John, and later his brother Levi, went to work there. He was perhaps in his early teens but could have been younger. John became an apprentice and he is listed as such in the 1861 census when he was fifteen. After completing his apprenticeship, we are told that “he was thrown out of work, and leaving Bolton in search of employment, he went to London”.

In the early to mid-1860s, thousands of Lancashire cotton workers had been thrown out of work, become destitute and even starved. It was the time of the so-called Lancashire Cotton Famine. This was a depression in the textile industry of North West England brought about by the interruption of imported baled cotton caused by the American Civil War. The North had blockaded the Southern ports. One historian writes:

The famine of raw cotton and the difficult trading conditions caused a change in the social circumstances of the Lancashire region’s extensive cotton mill workforce. The factories ran out of raw cotton to process, large parts of Lancashire region’s working society became unemployed, and went from being the most prosperous workers in Britain to the most impoverished.

Lancashire 'Cotton Famine' workers queuing for food

Lancashire ‘Cotton Famine’ workers queuing for food

That the Lancashire cotton mill workers were ever the most prosperous in Britain is ludicrous. They never were. But I’ll leave that to one side.

Rather than starve John Grisdale tried his luck in London and, when he had walked into the missionary meeting at Exeter Hall, his luck had been good.

We don’t know much about John’s five years of missionary training in Islington and I won’t try to reconstruct it here. But in 1870 John left the college and was ordained a clergyman in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The Church Missionary Society then decided to send him to India; as a missionary to the heathens there. By the way, the word ‘heathens’ was the one used by the CMS, whose whole purpose, which was very explicit, was to convert the native “heathens” – the religious care of colonists generally being left to the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), although the lines were often blurred.

We know something of John’s short career in India from letters he sent home to the CMS and from a talk he gave to the  ‘Anniversary Meeting’ of the local  CMS ‘auxiliary Society’ at their meeting in Colchester on 13 May 1872. It was reported that “owing to the exceedingly unfavourable state of the weather… the general attendance was very small”. A motion was taken and passed asking the speakers to tell the audience something about “the character and reality of the work being done by the society”. John Grisdale “proposed to give them in plain language the experiences of a young Missionary on his first arrival in the country which was to be the scene of his labours”. “It was”, he said, “one Sunday morning in December (1870) that (we) first steamed into the Harbour of Bombay.” He was met by a missionary friend and taken to his house. John “truly rejoiced to see 70 native Christians taking part in the Liturgy and Services of the Church of England, in their own tongue, and a native Clergyman who was once a Hindoo, reading the service for them”. The next day he “went to see a large and important school in Bombay – the Robert Money School”. The Roman Catholics, Protestants, Mahommedans and Hindoos were “all mixed together”. They had, Grisdale said, “all come to this School which had for its avowed object their conversion to Christianity; they nevertheless seemed to come to the School from some decide preference to the others in Bombay”.

John then moved “105 miles to the north, to the sacred city of Nassach, the very centre of Hindooism in India”. He talked a lot about the Mission there, but another incident caught his attention. It seems that having travelled much during the day he had taken a longer night’s rest than usual and about half-past five in the morning, “when it was just dawning”, he heard voices outside his window. “In that heathen land” he heard the words of Bishop Ken’s morning hymn: “Awake my soul, and with the sun, thy daily stage of duty run.” When he went out he “found that nearby were some thirty of the sable daughters of Africa”. He continued:

The Church Missionary Society had an orphanage there for the purpose of receiving the girls captured by the Queen’s ships from the slavers, who still carried on their trade on the Eastern Coast of Africa… When rescued, these slaves are taken to Bombay, and from thence to Nassach, and an attempt was made to civilize them, and afterwards many of them were taken back to their own country. It was hoped, in this way, that their bodily slavery might turn out to be the setting free, not only of themselves, but many of their fellow-countrymen, from the trammels of idolatry.

St John's College, Agra

St John’s College, Agra

John continued his journey across much of the breadth of India; visiting the missionary stations in Jubbulpore and Benares before eventually arriving in Agra. Here he was “attached to St. John’s College”, a CMS missionary establishment occupying a fine building. He was appointed Professor of Pastoral Theology. His “especial duty”, he told his Colchester audience, “was to teach the Bible, and afterwards (he had) also the English class”. Every morning about 50 gathered around him – some “Mahommedans, some Hindoos”. He would open his class with a prayer and when the reading was over he would say: “Is there anything you would like to say as to the bearing of this chapter on Hindooism or on Mahommedanism?” And after they had spoken he would try “to show the superiority of Christianity”.

Soon after he was “summoned down to Calcutta, and afterwards to Burmah”. But he was so unwell that he thought he would have to go to the hospital in Rangoon. However, an English gentleman took him to his house, where he was “obliged to keep to his room for some weeks”. He related how every morning a “Mahommedan” used to come and ask:” How is your Highness’s health?” It seems that “this little fellow was the grandson of that cruel king who was reigning in Delhi at the time of the Indian Mutiny”. Grisdale hoped that this young member of that family “would reach the Kingdom of Christ”!

Missionary John Grisdasle

Missionary John Grisdasle

Because the climate had affected his health so much, John had written to the CMS in London requesting a transfer. A little later, in June 1871, he wrote again from Calcutta to the Rev. Wright, the corresponding secretary of the CMS. He brought up the subject of his health and enclosed a letter from his doctor. He also mentioned for a second time his intention to marry. In view of both these facts he asked that the CMS sanction both the marriage and the transfer so that he would be “enabled to make the necessary arrangements”. The CMS were to agree to John’s request and he soon returned to London. His intended wife, Ann Chaplin, was a carpet dealer back home in Bolton. When John was “invalided” back to England they were married in late 1871 in Lutterworth, Leicestershire (Ann having been born nearby in Hinckley) to where her parents had returned after their many years in Bolton. Their first son, Robert Chaplin, arrived in Chelmsford, Essex in September 1872.

Where would be a more conducive place for John’s future health and ministry? Canada was decided upon. Not ‘old’ Canada, but rather Rupert’s Land, which had only just been acquired for the British Crown from the Hudson’s Bay Company and whose “capital” was the 300 person settlement of what was soon to be called Winnipeg.

And so it was that the 27 year old Reverend John Grisdale, his new wife Ann, twelve years his senior, and their baby son, stood on the docks in Liverpool one day in late April 1873 about to board the ship Algeria. They were bound for New York, from where they would make their journey to Winnipeg and their new life. And there I will leave them. I will tell something of John’s long and successful career in Canada in Part Two.

When two young Bolton cotton weaver brothers came ashore in New York from the steamer Melbourne on the 15th of June 1863, perhaps they thought that they had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. The American Civil War was still raging – Gettysburg was only a couple of weeks away – and New York was a toxic cauldron of racial and social violence and discontent. Irish and other gangs roamed the streets, illegal slave trafficking still flourished and large swathes of the population would, within the month, literally be up in arms against the war draft. Whether young John and Jonathan Grisdale were still in New York on July 13 when the New York City Draft Riots broke out we don’t know. Perhaps they were and had witnessed what New York historian Edward Robb Ellis called “the most brutal, tragic, and shameful episode in the entire history of New York City”. Or perhaps they had by then already reached their destination in the cotton mill towns of Pennsylvania, where they would undoubtedly meet up with their weaver uncle Doctor Grisdale, who had emigrated from Bolton, Lancashire, thirteen years earlier.

New York Draft Riots, 1863

Whatever the case, the two brothers soon headed south to start a new life. Both were married and had young children back in Bolton – who were to join them shortly – but for now they were on their own. Perhaps first staying for a time with uncle Doctor and his family in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, they would soon have gone to look for work in the rapidly expanding cotton mills of Pennsylvania. Like their father and grandfather before them, both young men had already spent years in the hell-holes that were the Lancashire cotton and woollen mills.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Such was the place in which these brothers had lived and worked. They would find that the conditions in Pennsylvania’s mills really weren’t much better. Indeed many of the mills had been founded or were run by their Lancastrian compatriots.

For those of you more interested in genealogy rather than social history, I will briefly outline the brothers’ family line. Jonathan Grisdale (1832) and John Grisdale (1836) were the fourth and fifth children of Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale senior (born 1799) and his wife Mary Wellsby. John Grisdale senior’s and Doctor’s father was Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s, Thomas moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton, including in 1799 John, the emigrant brothers’ father.

The family’s earlier history is relatively easy to trace back to the first half of the seventeenth century – in Matterdale of course. Back to another Thomas Grisdale, a farmer, born in 1654 in Ulcatrow in Matterdale. This early Thomas was one of 54 tenant farmers who fought the local lord Andrew Huddleston all the way to the House of Lords in 1690 (see: Walking to London for Justice). I will leave aside the question of who was this Thomas Grisdale’s father for the time being. Those of you who are interested in such minutiae are invited to contact me.

Despite their youth both men had already had years of work in the Bolton mills behind them. This was a period when a type of child factory slavery was still the order of the day. In the 1861 census John is found living in Queen Street in Farnworth, Bolton, with his new wife and daughter. He was already a “Cotton Power Loom Manager”, quite an achievement at the age of 25. John was obviously quite proud of this fact because in A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, edited by John W. Jordan and published in 1914, when John was possibly still alive, we read:

The Grisdale family of Clifton Heights, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, are of English origin, England having been the home of the family for many generations….  (John) was educated in the common schools of his native country, and obtained his first employment in a cotton mill. His rise in the business was rapid, and when only twenty-two years of age he was promoted to the position of manager.

John Grisdale junior had married local girl Catherine Taylor in 1860, and a daughter, Sarah Jane, followed a few months later. His elder brother Jonathan was also working in the Bolton mills in 1861, as a cotton power loom “overlooker”. He had married Sophia Bamber in 1854 and before he emigrated to America with his brother the couple had had three children: Mary (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862).

Many Lancastrian cotton mill workers were to emigrate to America, and particularly to Pennsylvania, during this period. But perhaps it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it was the brothers’ uncle Doctor Grisdale who had encouraged them to take the plunge and join him in America?

With their experience and skills they soon found work. In the 1870 US census we find Jonathan, perhaps as we might have expected, living in Middletown Delaware and working as a “loom boss”.  John his younger brother, however, although not far away in Philadelphia, was by now working as a “grocer”! In the History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, we read:

In 1863 he (John) immigrated to the United States and worked for two years at the machinist’s trade, later serving an apprenticeship and learning the trade of a mason and bricklayer. In 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease.

Yet in 1880 he was certainly back in a cotton mill in Clifton Heights, Delaware County as a “loom boss” and is listed in the same place in the US censuses of both 1900 and 1910 as a real-estate agent! So perhaps he could turn his hand to anything?

John and his wife Catherine were to have three daughters: Sarah Jane, Mary Ann and Elizabeth. The report of John’s life continues:

The old school house of Clifton Heights was erected upon land sold by him to the borough. He has held several prominent political positions in the borough, having been a member of the council for eight years and for two years was treasurer. When the local fire department was organized he was one of the charter members and contributed his most earnest efforts to raising it to its present high plane of efficiency. He is at present inspector for the borough. Both he and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

His wife Catherine, we are told, was “a trained nurse” and “she is president of the Women’s Club and a strong advocate of woman’s political equality; she is the present efficient treasurer of the borough poor fund and active in promoting all good causes”.

John died in sometime after 1914 but before 1920.  As it seems that John only had daughters – which is no bad thing – his Grisdale name died with him.

Views of Norristown in 1881

With his brother Jonathan it was quite different. As I said earlier, he and his wife Sophia had had three children in England: Mary Ann (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862). They arrived in America with Sophia aboard the steam-ship City of London on the 5th October 1863. Five more American-born children were to follow: Jonathan (1866), William Henry (1868), Thomas (1871), George (1874) and Sofia (1878).

As I have mentioned, by 1870 Jonathan and his family were living in Middletown, Delaware, where he was working as a “loom boss” in a cotton mill. By 1880 they had moved to nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania and Jonathan was still working in a cotton mill.

Norristown was incorporated in 1812 on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and expanded in 1853. It was named after early mill owner Charles Norris. When the Pennsylvania canal system connected Morristown with Philadelphia in 1826, the town prospered as a trade center. Mills began to emerge along the waterways.

Many of Jonathan’s sons, and indeed grandsons, were to follow him into the cotton and woollen mills of Norristown, where an untold number of his descendants still live to this day.

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

In which Norristown cotton mill did Jonathan Grisdale work? It’s of course possible he worked in more than one. Let’s first ask where he lived in the town. In 1880 he was living around Main Street. Various city directories and (after his death in 1888) the 1900 census show that the family house was at 320 Hamilton Street “below West Main Street”, so right in the heart of the original town and very close to many of the town’s largest cotton mills straggling along the Schuylkill river. The nearest mills was probably Washington Woollen Mills near the Montgomery Cemetery, but Jonathan could easily have walked along the river to Bullock’s Mills, Simpson’s Mills, De Kalb Street Mills/Jamison’s Mills or even to the Ford Street Cotton and Woollen Mills.

While not perhaps quite on the scale of some of the Bolton cotton mills in which the Grisdale brothers might have previously worked, a couple of these Norristown factories were pretty large operations, as the drawing of the Jamison Mills factory clearly shows.

Jonathan’s brother John had just perhaps fared slightly better. He was after all deemed worthy of an entry in the Montgomery County history, which said that “in 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease”. I am sure that with a bit of local research more can be discovered about both Jonathan and John Grisdale’s lives. Perhaps their descendants can add more? I hope so.

Jonathan Grisdale died in 1888 in Norristown at the age of just 56.

I will leave Norristown and Pennsylvania now and very briefly tell the tale of one other member of the same cotton weaver family who also came to America and founded his own little Grisdale tribe in and around Gaston County in North Carolina.

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Jonathan and John Grisdale had an older brother called Thomas, born in 1821 in Bolton. He had married Maria Howarth in Bolton in 1841. Two sons followed: James in 1845 and John in 1846. It seems that shortly thereafter Thomas died. At first the two young boys lived with their mother Maria, but maybe it was too much for her, because by 1861 James was living with his uncle John (the American immigrant) and Catherine his wife. He is clearly listed as John’s nephew in the census. What became of James’s mother and brother is unknown but what we do know is that James also decided to make the voyage to Pennsylvania. He arrived in New York from Liverpool on the 21st December 1866 on the ship City of New York. Like his relatives before him he made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill. I hope you’re keeping up! (see here)

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1871 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina.  I will probably have to return to explain James’ family in more detail at another time. But for now why did James move to North Carolina? Well, as we might expect, it had to do with cotton mills.

In addition to its rail connections, Gaston County was a prime location for water-powered cotton manufacturing on account of its many fast-flowing rivers and streams, its location in the midst of a cotton growing region, and the availability of cheap labor. By 1897 Gaston County had the largest number of cotton mills of any county in the state, twenty-two total, representing 10.6 percent of the state total of 207 cotton mills.

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

In 1880, James was living in Mountain Island Village, Gaston, North Carolina, and working as a “Superintendent in a Cotton Mill”.

A cotton mill, said by some authorities to be the first in Gaston County, was established on Mountain Island in 1848 by Thomas R. Tate and Henry Humphreys, owners of the Mount Hecla steam-powered mill near…. They hoped to take advantage of the less expensive water power from the Catawba River. The site at river’s edge featured a partially completed canal around the shoals that could be used for a mill race, and a steep island whose top now rises from the lake. Machinery was moved from the Mount Hecla mill by mule-drawn wagon and operations began in 1849. A village of brick houses grew around the mill. The mill and village were destroyed on July 15, 1916 in a flood caused by a hurricane.

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

By 1882, James had moved to the Long Island Cotton Mill in Catawba (which is now under Lake Norman). A letter to The Landmark newspaper dated 1882, tells us that the mill had been recently acquired by the Turner Brothers and that ‘James Grisdale, an Englishman of vast experience,’ had ‘the general supervision of the factory’.

By 1900, James and his family were in McAdenville, Gaston, North Carolina, still working in a cotton mill, almost certainly in the huge McAden Mills. McAden Mills claimed to be the first textile mill in the South to install electric lights. According to historian Billy Miller:

In 1884 Thomas Alva Edison came to McAdenville to oversee and help install the first electrical generator in the South…The lights hung from the ceiling of the mills and were spaced about thirty feet apart. People came from everywhere to gawk at the miraculous new lighting technology.

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina: five boys and two girls. Many of their descendants still live around there to this day.

So this is my brief history of three Bolton cotton weavers who “went America”. As we (sometimes) say in England, “The boys done good”.

I guess that next I’ll have to write a bit about another Thomas, the brother of Doctor and John Grisdale, who went to India with the British army, married there, and then moved on to Australia – where he arrived in Melbourne from Bombay on the Strathfieldsaye  in November 1853. Maybe I might even write about the members of the family who stayed in Bolton. Or perhaps I should come more up-to-date and tell my own Grisdale family story? Let’s see.

McAden Mill

McAden Mill