Posts Tagged ‘Upper Darby Pennsylvania’

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

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At the end of the eighteenth century the pressures forcing rural people off the land were reaching a peak. One of the few options besides emigration and joining the army was to move to work in the dark satanic mills. In the north of England this often meant the cotton mills of Lancashire. Several Grisdale families from Matterdale followed this route. This is the story of just one of them. It is also a story of how part of the family then emigrated to Pennsylvania and from there, via Montana and the coal mines of Iowa, to Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. A story of pioneers maybe and a little example of “How the West was Won”.

The story is best started with 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. The fifth of these, born in 1809, was called Doctor Grisdale – for reasons that are not known. It is he who we will follow to America.

The industrial revolution was getting under way and Lancashire villages were being transformed from small rural settlements into huge cotton producing centres. They quickly became massive sinks of misery, squalor and exploitation for the rural poor – who were to become a new urban proletariat. They were to remain so throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.

An early Power Loom

Thomas became a cotton weaver. Whether at first he was a hand-loom weaver or whether he started work immediately on one of the new power looms that had recently been invented and patented by Edmund Cartwright we don’t know. Hand loom weavers were a type of urban working class elite and they could earn good wages for their skills. But once mechanised power looms were introduced demand for hand weavers fell and their numbers dwindled. It was precisely against the brutal and inequitable effects of this process that the original Luddites were to fight and this certainly in and around Bolton. One of the most infamous repressions of the Luddite protests took place in nearby West Houghton in 1812. Garth Ratcliffe in the ‘The Burning of Westhoughton Mill by Luddites in 1812’ writes:

On Friday afternoon April 24th 1812 a mob of Luddites from Chowbent/Atherton attacked Westhoughton Mill, a cotton weaving mill situated opposite the White Lion Inn. This Mill was one of the first steam driven in the locality. The Mill was broken into and set fire to and burned down. The Scots Greys stationed in the area, rounded up the suspects who were identified by various witnesses from Hag Fold and other areas of Chowbent which is only about 2 miles from Westhoughton.

The suspects, who were mainly disaffected weavers, were “examined” by Ralph Fletcher and other magistrates and subsequently taken to Lancaster Castle prison to await trial for the charge of burning looms and a factory.
In addition, there were other Luddites mainly from Bolton town centre, who were charged with various aspects of “illegal oath taking/attending illegal meetings”.

Both sets of Luddites were tried on 23rd May 1812 and the results of the trail sentenced four men to be hanged and nine others transported to Australia for seven years.

The executions were at Lancaster Castle. The transported prisoners were taken to Portsmouth to await the next ship to Australia which took about 8 months.

These prisoners had to work for seven years on govt projects or for a landowner. After this period they could apply for ownership of land.

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

Maybe Thomas Grisdale witnessed this? If not he certainly will have heard about it because it was his fellow weavers who were killed, executed and transported to Australia.

But with the Luddite protests crushed by the army and militia, the grim life of the power loom weavers in Lancashire went on. In 1841the family are still working in the cotton mills: Thomas, now aged “65”, living with two of his sons, and Doctor Grisdale with his young family. They were all “cotton weavers”.

Doctor Grisdale had married Mary Greene and their son Thomas was born in 1839. Another son called Joseph was to follow in 1842.

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.

Such was the place in which this Grisdale family lived and worked.

A Delaware Woolen Mill

Some were destined to suffer this cruel fate for decades to come, but some tried to get out. Doctor Grisdale was one of these. Some Lancashire weavers had already emigrated to the United States, there to help in the development of America’s cotton and woollen mills. One place where they had ended up was in Pennsylvania and it was to there that Doctor and his young family headed. They boarded the ship Plymouth Rock in Liverpool and arrived in Boston on 16 January 1850. Just months later the family were established in Upper Darby. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Doctor was working as a weaver in the mills. Local historian Thomas J. DiFilippo tells us this about Upper Darby:

The growth rate of the township changed about 1830 when textile making moved from the homes into mills. Before 1830, the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth was mostly performed at home by the women and primarily to satisfy the family’s needs. About 1830, some old grist mills were converted to spin yarn that was sold to individuals who wove their own crude cloth. About 1840, the mills became “integrated,” meaning they spun the yarn from raw material, then wove, finished and dyed the cloth. This was the beginning of a prosperous large textile industry in Upper Darby that lasted into the mid-1900s.

What became this country’s massive textile industry began in New England then spread to the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia became a major textile center with many mills in Germantown, Manayunk, Kensington, and Blockley. Realizing the potential market for textiles, descendants of the Garretts, Sellers, and Levis, followed by the Burnleys. Kellys, Kents, and Wolfendens, built or converted to textile mills. This expansion occurred after the flood of 1843 because that event destroyed nearly everything along the creeks.

Most of the mills employed Immigrants from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and later Irish Catholics. Although the managers and skilled workers were male, the laborious jobs were performed mostly by women and children. The mills owned the nearby “mill houses” and rented them to their employees. Workers were expected to follow the politics of the mill owners. Very few owners had compassion for the workers and thus the working conditions were poor, the salaries meagre and the working hours long. These conditions bred frequent labor disputes and were the cause of the early child labor laws and unionization.

By 1860 the family had moved to the mills in nearby Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where Doctor was still employed as a weaver in a woollen mill. What happened to Doctor Grisdale and his wife in the few years after 1860 is unclear, I’ll mention his death later. But the family’s long trek from Bolton to the west coast of America was only just beginning.

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

What is clear is that Doctor’s son Thomas set off west, probably accompanied with his American born sister, Mary Ann. Perhaps Doctor’s son Joseph had already died? In 1862, Thomas married a very young Elmira Jane Clements, who came originally from Porter, Indiana. Their first child, Dora Mae Grisdale, was born in Montana Territory in 1868. But in 1870 the family was living in Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, Iowa. Thomas was now a “Miner” living with his family and his sister.

Mahaska County was rich in bituminous coal and in the 1870s coal mining became part of the local economy. In 1883, the area had 38 mines and an annual output of over a million tons. In the prime days of mining, Mahaska County surpassed all other Iowa counties in tonnage and number of mines. The advent of transcontinental railroads was also a boon to Mahaska County. The locomotives moved coal out of the area year round as demand for coal increased.

The earliest settlers mined coal among the hills of south central Iowa. They used coal to heat their homes and cook their food in areas were timber was not available.

Not until 1870 did the industry of coal mining begin to rapidly grow in Iowa. By that time the major Iowa railroads reached from the Mississippi River in the east to the Missouri River in the west. The railroads leased land in coal producing areas and operated mines which produced coal for the use of the railroads. These were the largest and most productive mines in the state.

We are also told the following about the Iowa mines of the time:

Usually a coal camp had several hundred small homes, a company store, a tavern or pool hall, and a school. Most coal companies required that miners shop only at the company store which sold everything from “cradles to coffins.”  Most mining families didn’t like this restriction. Because the average coal mine lasted only ten years, little care was given to the appearance of these camps

The history of one of these mines tells us:

One of the best remembered and most unusual coal camps was located in Monroe County in southern Iowa. Buxton, as it was called, was a thriving coal community during the early 1900s.

At first the camp was located at what was called Muchakinock about five miles south of Oskaloosa in, Mahaska County. For at least two years mining was good in this area. But then in 1875 labor troubles began. The workers went on strike. In 1881 black workers recruited from the south were hired as strike breakers.  In a few years the mines of Muchakinock were nearly exhausted. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad, which owned the Consolidation Coal Company, bought more land south in Monroe County. The community moved south where they began to build the town of Buxton.  It was named after J.E. Buxton, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Company.

Buxton was a thriving community for at least twenty years. By 1920 the mines began to run out of coal. By 1927 the last mine was closed. Buxton soon became a ghost town like the many other mining camps dotting central Iowa.

We don’t know how long Thomas and Elmira were in this Iowa mining community, their second daughter, Mary Lucinda, was born in Montana in 1870 and by 1873 their third child Thomas Edward was born in Oregon, so maybe they were just passing through? However I think it likely that they remained until at least 1878 because on 25 April in that year Thomas’s father Doctor died and was buried in Oskaloosa. Perhaps he and his wife had come to join them. In any case Oregon was the family’s next stop in the great move west. In 1880 we find them in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon with several more children. 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. Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with 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!

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

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. Something of the immediate history of Thomas’s family can be found on my (evolving) tree on Ancestry; although I have yet to find Thomas’s own death or that of his father Doctor. Thomas’s wife Elmira had married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

I know this little history is somewhat lacking in detail and is rather skeletal, but it is, I think, another interesting example of the spirit of endurance and survival of so many English people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families – wherever in the world they had to go to do this. The Grisdales in this respect were no different to thousands or millions of others. But I don’t apologize for this. This family is after all the subject of this site. Sometimes I think that while this is family history it is perhaps something more. It can illustrate important social, economic and political realities about English history and the history of the English-speaking world.

Finally, although many members of this Grisdale family were to stay in Bolton (and their stories are interesting too) one other son of the Thomas Grisdale who came from Matterdale, a brother of Doctor, and also called Thomas (1804-1879), also led a very adventurous life. He found his way to Madras in India (possibly with the British Army) and from there, with wife and children, to Melbourne in Australia.

At the end of the eighteenth century the pressures forcing rural people off the land were reaching a peak. One of the few options besides emigration and joining the army was to move to work in the dark satanic mills. In the north of England this often meant the cotton mills of Lancashire. Several Grisdale families from Matterdale followed this route. This is the story of just one of them. It is also a story of how part of the family then emigrated to Pennsylvania and from there, via Montana and the coal mines of Iowa, to Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. A story of pioneers maybe and a little example of “How the West was Won”.

The story is best started with 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. The fifth of these, born in 1809, was called Doctor Grisdale – for reasons that are not known. It is he who we will follow to America.

The industrial revolution was getting under way and Lancashire villages were being transformed from small rural settlements into huge cotton producing centres. They quickly became massive sinks of misery, squalor and exploitation for the rural poor – who were to become a new urban proletariat. They were to remain so throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.

An early Power Loom

Thomas became a cotton weaver. Whether at first he was a hand-loom weaver or whether he started work immediately on one of the new power looms that had recently been invented and patented by Edmund Cartwright we don’t know. Hand loom weavers were a type of urban working class elite and they could earn good wages for their skills. But once mechanised power looms were introduced demand for hand weavers fell and their numbers dwindled. It was precisely against the brutal and inequitable effects of this process that the original Luddites were to fight and this certainly in and around Bolton. One of the most infamous repressions of the Luddite protests took place in nearby West Houghton in 1812. Garth Ratcliffe in the ‘The Burning of Westhoughton Mill by Luddites in 1812’ writes:

On Friday afternoon April 24th 1812 a mob of Luddites from Chowbent/Atherton attacked Westhoughton Mill, a cotton weaving mill situated opposite the White Lion Inn. This Mill was one of the first steam driven in the locality. The Mill was broken into and set fire to and burned down. The Scots Greys stationed in the area, rounded up the suspects who were identified by various witnesses from Hag Fold and other areas of Chowbent which is only about 2 miles from Westhoughton.

The suspects, who were mainly disaffected weavers, were “examined” by Ralph Fletcher and other magistrates and subsequently taken to Lancaster Castle prison to await trial for the charge of burning looms and a factory.
In addition, there were other Luddites mainly from Bolton town centre, who were charged with various aspects of “illegal oath taking/attending illegal meetings”.

Both sets of Luddites were tried on 23rd May 1812 and the results of the trail sentenced four men to be hanged and nine others transported to Australia for seven years.

The executions were at Lancaster Castle. The transported prisoners were taken to Portsmouth to await the next ship to Australia which took about 8 months.

These prisoners had to work for seven years on govt projects or for a landowner. After this period they could apply for ownership of land.

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

Maybe Thomas Grisdale witnessed this? If not he certainly will have heard about it because it was his fellow weavers who were killed, executed and transported to Australia.

But with the Luddite protests crushed by the army and militia, the grim life of the power loom weavers in Lancashire went on. In 1841the family are still working in the cotton mills: Thomas, now aged “65”, living with two of his sons, and Doctor Grisdale with his young family. They were all “cotton weavers”.

Doctor Grisdale had married Mary Greene and their son Thomas was born in 1839. Another son called Joseph was to follow in 1842.

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.

Such was the place in which this Grisdale family lived and worked.

A Delaware Woolen Mill

Some were destined to suffer this cruel fate for decades to come, but some tried to get out. Doctor Grisdale was one of these. Some Lancashire weavers had already emigrated to the United States, there to help in the development of America’s cotton and woollen mills. One place where they had ended up was in Pennsylvania and it was to there that Doctor and his young family headed. They boarded the ship Plymouth Rock in Liverpool and arrived in Boston on 16 January 1850. Just months later the family were established in Upper Darby. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Doctor was working as a weaver in the mills. Local historian Thomas J. DiFilippo tells us this about Upper Darby:

The growth rate of the township changed about 1830 when textile making moved from the homes into mills. Before 1830, the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth was mostly performed at home by the women and primarily to satisfy the family’s needs. About 1830, some old grist mills were converted to spin yarn that was sold to individuals who wove their own crude cloth. About 1840, the mills became “integrated,” meaning they spun the yarn from raw material, then wove, finished and dyed the cloth. This was the beginning of a prosperous large textile industry in Upper Darby that lasted into the mid-1900s.

What became this country’s massive textile industry began in New England then spread to the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia became a major textile center with many mills in Germantown, Manayunk, Kensington, and Blockley. Realizing the potential market for textiles, descendants of the Garretts, Sellers, and Levis, followed by the Burnleys. Kellys, Kents, and Wolfendens, built or converted to textile mills. This expansion occurred after the flood of 1843 because that event destroyed nearly everything along the creeks.

Most of the mills employed Immigrants from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and later Irish Catholics. Although the managers and skilled workers were male, the laborious jobs were performed mostly by women and children. The mills owned the nearby “mill houses” and rented them to their employees. Workers were expected to follow the politics of the mill owners. Very few owners had compassion for the workers and thus the working conditions were poor, the salaries meagre and the working hours long. These conditions bred frequent labor disputes and were the cause of the early child labor laws and unionization.

By 1860 the family had moved to the mills in nearby Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where Doctor was still employed as a weaver in a woollen mill. What happened to Doctor Grisdale and his wife in the few years after 1860 is unclear, I’ll mention his death later. But the family’s long trek from Bolton to the west coast of America was only just beginning.

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

What is clear is that Doctor’s son Thomas set off west, probably accompanied with his American born sister, Mary Ann. Perhaps Doctor’s son Joseph had already died? In 1862, Thomas married a very young Elmira Jane Clements, who came originally from Porter, Indiana. Their first child, Dora Mae Grisdale, was born in Montana Territory in 1868. But in 1870 the family was living in Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, Iowa. Thomas was now a “Miner” living with his family and his sister.

Mahaska County was rich in bituminous coal and in the 1870s coal mining became part of the local economy. In 1883, the area had 38 mines and an annual output of over a million tons. In the prime days of mining, Mahaska County surpassed all other Iowa counties in tonnage and number of mines. The advent of transcontinental railroads was also a boon to Mahaska County. The locomotives moved coal out of the area year round as demand for coal increased.

The earliest settlers mined coal among the hills of south central Iowa. They used coal to heat their homes and cook their food in areas were timber was not available.

Not until 1870 did the industry of coal mining begin to rapidly grow in Iowa. By that time the major Iowa railroads reached from the Mississippi River in the east to the Missouri River in the west. The railroads leased land in coal producing areas and operated mines which produced coal for the use of the railroads. These were the largest and most productive mines in the state.

We are also told the following about the Iowa mines of the time:

Usually a coal camp had several hundred small homes, a company store, a tavern or pool hall, and a school. Most coal companies required that miners shop only at the company store which sold everything from “cradles to coffins.”  Most mining families didn’t like this restriction. Because the average coal mine lasted only ten years, little care was given to the appearance of these camps

The history of one of these mines tells us:

One of the best remembered and most unusual coal camps was located in Monroe County in southern Iowa. Buxton, as it was called, was a thriving coal community during the early 1900s.

At first the camp was located at what was called Muchakinock about five miles south of Oskaloosa in, Mahaska County. For at least two years mining was good in this area. But then in 1875 labor troubles began. The workers went on strike. In 1881 black workers recruited from the south were hired as strike breakers.  In a few years the mines of Muchakinock were nearly exhausted. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad, which owned the Consolidation Coal Company, bought more land south in Monroe County. The community moved south where they began to build the town of Buxton.  It was named after J.E. Buxton, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Company.

Buxton was a thriving community for at least twenty years. By 1920 the mines began to run out of coal. By 1927 the last mine was closed. Buxton soon became a ghost town like the many other mining camps dotting central Iowa.

We don’t know how long Thomas and Elmira were in this Iowa mining community, their second daughter, Mary Lucinda, was born in Montana in 1870 and by 1873 their third child Thomas Edward was born in Oregon, so maybe they were just passing through? However I think it likely that they remained until at least 1878 because on 25 April in that year Thomas’s father Doctor died and was buried in Oskaloosa. Perhaps he and his wife had come to join them. In any case Oregon was the family’s next stop in the great move west. In 1880 we find them in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon with several more children. 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. Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with 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!

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

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. Something of the immediate history of Thomas’s family can be found on my (evolving) tree on Ancestry; although I have yet to find Thomas’s own death or that of his father Doctor. Thomas’s wife Elmira had married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

I know this little history is somewhat lacking in detail and is rather skeletal, but it is, I think, another interesting example of the spirit of endurance and survival of so many English people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families – wherever in the world they had to go to do this. The Grisdales in this respect were no different to thousands or millions of others. But I don’t apologize for this. This family is after all the subject of this site. Sometimes I think that while this is family history it is perhaps something more. It can illustrate important social, economic and political realities about English history and the history of the English-speaking world.

Finally, although many members of this Grisdale family were to stay in Bolton (and their stories are interesting too) one other son of the Thomas Grisdale who came from Matterdale, a brother of Doctor, and also called Thomas (1804-1879), also led a very adventurous life. He found his way to Madras in India (possibly with the British Army) and from there, with wife and children, to Melbourne in Australia.

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