SLAVES TO SPINNING ALONG THE BLACKSTONE:

Today is Patriot’s Day. Here in Massachusetts, this day commemorates – and re-enacts — the battles of Lexington and Concord and the beginning of our Revolutionary War. And we have a marathon too … in Boston.

But this post is about the other  revolution — the American Industrial Revolution — which took place around the same time … and had perhaps even more profound effects on our world.

America: Born Bankrupt

America was born bankrupt. We won the revolution, but lost everything else. Our economy was dependent on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but Great Britain turned those materials into goods for the world’s markets.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

Not merely did we depend on the British to supply us with finished goods we could not produce ourselves, we depended on British banks, British shipping, and British trade routes.

Everything has a price and we had no money. We had hoped we could reach an agreement with England short of war and had there been a less intransigent monarch on the throne at the time, we might have been able to do so. Despite the Massachusetts “Sam Adams faction” who were hellbent for battle, most colonists felt at least some allegiance to England.

We had no “American identity” because there was no America with which to identify. Nor was the yearning to breathe free burning in every heart. What the colonists of North America wanted was simple. They wanted the rights of free Englishmen. We wanted seats in British Parliament. We wanted the right to vote on taxes and other policies that affected colonial life. A deal should have been reached, but George III was not a sensible, reasonable or judicious king.

The result was war, the staggering loss to England of their wealthiest colonies and birth of a new nation.

That we won the war was astonishing. We had little in the way of arms and no navy. We were sparsely populated. Existing militias were untrained, undisciplined, little better than rabble. That George Washington was able to turn this into an army was no mean feat. No wonder they wanted him to be the first President.

French military support enabled us to beat the British. It was a loan, not a gift. We agreed to pay it back, so the French revolution was an unexpected and deeply gratifying development. It was like having the bank that holds your mortgage disappear taking your mortgage with it. It vastly improved our debt to income ratio. When Napoleon came to power and suggested we repay our war debt, we said “What debt?”

Our shipping industry was in its infancy. We had few ships or sailors, minimal access to world trade. The British ruled the seas and being soreheads, refused to share it with us. It would take many years before we could challenge their ascendancy on the seas.

What Did We Have?

Slaves and land. Sugar and rum.

If you who think slavery was an entirely southern institution, you’re wrong. Although slaves lived mostly in the southern colonies, they were brought to these shores by New England sea captains, held in New York, Boston, and other northern cities, sold to slavers at markets in the north, then sent south to be sold again to individual owners. The entire economy of the nascent country was based on slaves and their labor. The institution of slavery could not have persisted had it not been supported by business interests in the north.

The new-born United States had, for all practical purposes, no economy. We were pre-industrial when European countries were well into the modern industrial period. We had no factories. We had no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws or central government. Our only thriving industry were slaves.

Although there was an abolitionist movement, it was tiny, more sentimental than real.

North and south, slaves made people rich. Not the slaves, of course, but other people. North and south, fortunes were made selling human beings, then profiting from their labor. When it came time to write the Constitution, to turn a bunch of individual colonies into one country, the Devil’s compromise was needed. Abolishing slavery would doom any attempt to pass the constitution … so slavery became law and the groundwork was laid for the bloodiest war America would ever fight.

It would twist and distort American history, shape our politics, society, culture, and social alignments. Its legacy remains with us today and probably always will.

So How Come We Didn’t Find a Better Way?

Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in civil war. In other words, they did knew it would bite us in the ass. They could keep slavery and form a strong nation — or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.

Was it the lesser evil? Hard to say and it’s a bit late to second guess the past. It was clear from the get-go there was no way we were going to form a nation if slavery was made illegal. From private writings by members of the continental congress, it’s clear they knew the issue of slavery would eventually be resolved by war. Long before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. So “The Great Compromise” was put into place, the Constitution was approved and a later generation fought the war.

Right went head to head with the bottom line and lost.

Eighty years later, 630,000 lives (more or less) would be the butcher’s bill for the compromises made in 1789. An ocean of blood would be the cost of ending America’s traffic in human lives. Many more years would pass before this country’s non-white population would see anything resembling justice, much less equality.

When you dine with the Devil, bring a long spoon.

So About Those Mills …

Slaves, rum, and sugar — the triangle of trade that kept America’s economy alive — was profitable for plantation owners, sea captains, and other slave traders, but it didn’t generate a whole lot of entry-level job opportunities for average working people. A lot of people needed work, even more needed trade goods and dependable sources of income.

Most people didn’t own ships and if they did, were disinclined to take up slaving. It was never a profession for “nice folks” and a fair number of people found it distasteful. Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but the actual process of buying and selling human beings was more than they could stomach.

So as great political and legal minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document to build a nation, other great minds were seeking ways to make money. It’s the American way.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.

The Crown and Eagle Mill today, renovated into elderly and affordable housing.

In one of the stranger coincidences of history, the Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 while simultaneously, the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

Moses Brown had been fighting his own war. He was battling the Blackstone. With a 450 foot drop over a 46-mile course — an average drop of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Not a wide river, its sharp drop combined with its narrowness and meandering path give it much more energy than a river of this size would normally generate.

It invited development. The question was how.

Through 1789, as the Constitution was gaining approval throughout the former British colonies, Brown wrangled the river, trying to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at the falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, but as the end of the 1789 approached, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We needed more people and especially people with industrial skills. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcomed. This turned out to be a stroke of luck for Moses Brown.

Slaterville Mill -- oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

Slaterville Mill — oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

In December 1789, Samuel Slater – a new immigrant from England — began working for Brown. Slater had spent years working at an English textile mill. He recognized that Brown’s machinery was never going to work. Slater had fine engineering skills. In under a year, he’d redesigned and built a working mill on the Blackstone River.

By 1790, Slater’s Mill was up and running, the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the United States. Slater’s Mill proved you could make money in New England doing something other than whaling, fishing, or running rum and slaves. Entrepreneurs hopped on the idea like fleas on a dog. Mills were an immediate success. New England was inhospitable to agriculture, but fertile for factories.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

The Blackstone Canal

On the Blackstone, mill owners urgently sought a better way to move their goods.

The features that made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it useless for shipping. The only other choice — horse-drawn wagons — was slow and expensive. the trip took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from the northern part of the valley to Providence.

blackstone canal locks

When the weather turned bad, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal. Meant as a long-term solution, it actually turned out to be no more than a short-term temporary fix … but it was an impressive undertaking.

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?

Mills brought employment to the north. It created a real industrial base that would give the north the ability to fight the civil war … and win. It started with a river, continued with a canal, expanded with the railroads. Which is why the Blackstone Valley is a National Historic Corridor and known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution … a revolution that brought the U.S. into the modern world and positioned us to become a top dog on the international scene.

Building the Canal

The Blackstone Canal took 4 years to build, from 1824 to 1828. The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone. In some places, the canal and the river are one. There is an extensive network of small canals, many on tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to places not immediately on the Blackstone. Small barges could move cargo between towns and mills.

Small canal serving the Crown and Eagle

Small canal serving the Crown and Eagle

Big barges were faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons. A single barge could haul as much as 35 tons of cargo and only needed two horses going downstream.

The canal system remains largely intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges have become walking paths. The barges are gone, but small boats can enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

Railroads

Ultimately, railroads were the game-changer. As soon as rails from Worcester to Boston, and Worcester to Providence were built, the canals were abandoned. Business boomed.

The Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories at the end of the 1800s. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

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By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

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Pollution

In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region. It was time to clean up the mess.

We’re still cleaning up. Although not as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone itself because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom what reasoning, if any, those who favor pouring sewage into our river are using. The fight never ends.

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Good news? The birds and fish are back.

American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch fish that breed there. The river is alive despite man’s best efforts to kill it.

THE BIG TEN

So there we were in the car driving home on a lovely almost-spring day also known as Easter. I was mentally shuffling through the heap of junk I call my brain, trying to remember all ten of the commandments.

spring on the blackstone

 

I found myself stopped at around seven or eight, depending on how I divided the “How to behave to God” section. I turned to Garry, my good Lutheran husband and asked him if he knows all ten commandments and he replied, with some irritation, he had to pay attention to traffic. There wasn’t any traffic, except for one very slow driver in front of us. I suppose Garry was trying hard to avoid ramming him.

Finally, he admitted he didn’t know all of them either.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” I pointed out, “When two such educated souls as us cannot list all ten commandments.”

“Well there’s a lot of stuff about not making idols and coveting and all.”

“Yeah, and taking a day off once a week.”

So when I got home, I looked them up.

It turns out there really are a bunch of “how to behave to God” commandments and not all religions divide them up the same way. You can come up with as many as 15 (à la Mel Brooks “History of the World.”) or as few as 8. It depends on how you look at them and where you punctuate the sentences.

Following are the Big Ten according to most Protestant sects and a second list which are my streamlined easier-to-remember set.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

I thought I’d make them easier to remember, so here’s my take on them. Remember, mine are not etched in stone. For that matter, except for the ones Moses got on Sinai, none of them are.

The Serendipity Top Ten

  1. I’m God. The One and Only. Don’t forget it, not for a moment.
  2. Idols are O-U-T.
  3. No using God’s name to swear. Or maybe no swearing. I’m not sure. Maybe both.
  4. Take a break on the seventh day of your week. Really it doesn’t matter what day you choose because when I started making the world, there were no calendars. So take your pick, then stick to it. Everyone gets the same day off, including your family, guests, slaves, servants and animals. No work. Got that?
  5. Take care of your parents.
  6. Don’t murder anyone.
  7. Don’t cheat on your spouse. YOU know what I mean.
  8. Don’t steal stuff.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t envy other people’s stuff. You’ve got your own.

Is that better? I’m just here to help.

 

 

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MOSES, PETER AND MEL

Before I put one finger to type, I acknowledge this may be heresy to some people. On this day of days, one simply doesn’t make fun of religious movies. But I do.

Last night, Marilyn and I had our traditional viewing of “The Ten Commandments”. Marilyn has already posted a piece on this event which expresses our sentiments about Mr. Demille’s final epic. Cecil B was, once again, going for life altering moments. He gave us, instead, much-needed laughter.

Today’s lineup of movies on our favorite cable station includes almost all of the familiar biblical movies. Few stand the test of time. Some are really well intended like George Stevens’, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. But the man who gave us classics like “Shane”, “A Place In The Sun” and “Giant”, wound up with a ponderous and static film in “The Greatest Story”. It’s biggest sin? It is boring!

As I write, we are watching Mel Brooks’, “History of the World-Part One” which is the perfect antidote to historical films that have become parodies or that were really never good. The ironic thing is that we have a greater appreciation of history because of Mel’s equal opportunity insults than the cardboard epics which play fast and loose with facts.

I must admit I love watching gladiator movies. It’s a guy thing like war films.  I also enjoy seeing semi clad (or even less clad) young women engaging us in erotic dances before evil monarchs who are not playing with a full deck. But we’re not talking about great cinema here.

HistoryOfTheWorldPartI

Charlton “call me Chuck” Heston was really honest when he talked about playing Moses. He told me it was a good gig. Working with Cecil B. DeMille (for a second time) was nice for his résumé. It actually gave him a boost for a religious film he really wanted to do. “Ben Hur” is one of the best religious films out of Hollywood. It stands the test of time because of William Wyler’s fine direction. And, yes, the chariot race alone is still worth the price of admission.

This really is obviously subjective. If you love Cecil B’s forceful (?) narration of his take on the old testament, so be it. So let it be written, so let it be done,

We’re back with Mel. Now, it’s the French Revolution and those girls in their generously cut costumes.

It’s good to be king!

DUST IN WHOSE WIND?

Dust in the Wind

Have you made your bucket list? Now’s the time — write about the things you want to do and see before you become dust in the wind.

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WordPress suggested we write about our bucket list (again). The subject alarmed me (again). I don’t have a bucket list. I’ve never had a bucket list. Until the movie of the same name came out in 2007, I’d never heard the expression.

Clearly I am and have always been out of touch with popular culture. When I was a kid, I always had my head in a book. When everyone else was dancing to the tunes on American Bandstand, I was practicing Chopin or Mozart on the piano. I didn’t have time or — if I want to be honest, the inclination — to spend afternoons watching something I found kind of dopey. I wouldn’t have admitted it under torture, but I never understood what they found so fascinating.

In elementary, junior high school, and even high school, I was so out of step that even amongst misfits I was a misfit. Yet by the time I got to college, there were enough people like me to form a sub-culture of oddballs who did their own thing. I finally fit in.

At some point in my life, I opted out of trends and fashions. I stopped reading reviews, cancelled subscriptions to fashion and home decorating magazines. I have no idea what’s in style. I’m wearing essentially the same clothing I wore in college. Or maybe high school. As for home furnishings, decisions are entirely based on back-friendly design and how well the upholstery can withstand and/or blend with dog hair.

Because I read a lot and enjoy movies, I poke around to see what’s coming out, but I have no idea what’s on any best-seller or most-popular list. I have favorite authors and genres. I listen to the same music I listened to 40 years ago. It wasn’t popular or fashionable then either, but I like it. Good thing my husband shares my lack of concern with what’s current, trendy, or “hot.”

The closest thing I have to involvement with The Latest Things is a passion for technology. From the day I first got my hands on a computer back in the early 1980s, a lightbulb went off and I said “This is a better way.” I never looked back. I’m not quite as on top of the techno wave as I was a decade ago when I was working in the development world, but I retain a keen interest and strong opinions about technology, operating systems, databases and software. My granddaughter makes fun of me … until her computer stops working and suddenly, I morph from granny to guru.

I enjoy donning my cape and mask and slaying computer demons. It is a rare Old Person who gets to be a heroic in the eyes of a teenager, even briefly.

I am most at home in the world of words. As much as I write, I read more. Obviously I don’t sleep much. This blog is my reward for spending my entire professional life writing about abstruse software and hardware. Now, finally, I get to write for fun.

Many of my favorite books and movies got lousy reviews. The books didn’t sell, the movies flopped at the box office. Garry still reads reviews and passes them to me if he thinks I’ll be interested. It is not uncommon for us to wonder if these reviewers watch or read the same stuff we do. It doesn’t sound like it.

Thus my lack of a bucket list. If I wanted to do something, I did it. If I didn’t do it, it was because it wasn’t all that important. Today I’m limited by money and health, but when I was younger, I did my own thing. I wanted adventure. A life composed of suburban predictability was much scarier than any risk I could take.

I wanted to live in another culture and I did. International moves with 10 year interruptions of career are not fiscally sound choices, but I wouldn’t trade that “lost” decade for anything. And who’s to say it would have turned out differently anyhow? I bet we wind up where we are supposed to be no matter what we do.

I don’t need to regret what I missed. I know it’s a cliché, but “at least we have memories” isn’t ridiculous or sentimental. It means you’ve lived. You can’t buy a life you missed. You have to be there, have been there. You had to choose the foolish, unsafe path to get the stuff that money can’t buy.

The whole idea of a bucket list bothers me. How can you codify life on a list? You get opportunities, see forks in the road. People come into your life. You choose to do it or not. If you say no, maybe you’ll get another chance, a different opportunity … but most people never accept any invitation to get off the path, even temporarily. They have lots of good reasons. Money, responsibilities, uncertainty. Fear.

They wind up with bucket lists which are a summary of regrets, organized statements of missed opportunities, paths not taken. Maybe that’s sensible, but I’d have hated it. So I don’t have a bucket list. Instead, I had a life.

THE CASE WITH THE MISSING EGG – RICH PASCHALL

The story of Harold (Soup and Sandwich) continues with a new week.

Sunday started like any other Sunday.  Harold arose punctually with the sound of the alarm clock.  There was never any pressing the snooze button for Harold.  Time was too valuable to be wasted pressing a snooze button.  The world never snoozes, so why should Harold?  He quickly went through his morning routine, then went on to the kitchen for coffee.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD

Han Dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD

As expected, Harold found the coffee already brewing.  He set it up the night before so that there would be no fumbling through the coffee-making process in the morning.  When Harold was ready, so was the coffee.  You would not expect anything less from the time managing genius that he was.  He had a light breakfast, did some light reading and followed that by cleaning the dishes and neatly putting them away.

Now Harold, master of organization, commander of the schedule, and ruler of all the cleaning supplies, was ready to begin.  He would start cleaning in the living room at the front of the house and follow through all the rooms, closets included, until he got to the back of the house.  This would generally take all day with a little time off for a second cup of coffee and then again later for a light lunch.

So Harold dusted and vacuumed and swept.  Every item was cleaned.  As there were very few item on tables or cabinets, the job could be done quickly.  Each drawer had to be opened and inspected.  Everything had to be in place.  A quick visual inventory was taken by Harold’s computer like mind, and nothing was out-of-place when he was finished.  Actually, nothing was out-of-place when Harold started, but he just had to check to make sure.

Tang Servant

When he got to the bedroom closet he spied a box on the top shelf above the space where his clothes were neatly hung.  Harold removed a two-step ladder from behind the bedroom door and put it in from of the closet door.  He used it to reach the case on the shelf and then carefully lifted it as if it held a king’s treasure.  He brought it carefully down the steps and carried it to the living room.  There he set it on the coffee table, which never saw any coffee, and he sat down on the sofa.

Years earlier Harold had the case made to his exact specifications.  While its outward appearance was of an ordinary cardboard box, it was reinforced on the inside to hold the heavy and precious items Harold had so carefully collected in his lifetime.  The sections were of various sizes because the contents were all different in shape.

While no one who saw Harold’s neat, clean and modest apartment would ever suspect, Harold was a collector of rare Japanese and Chinese porcelain.  They were the only collectables in his possession and they were as much an investment as they were a collection.  The pieces were carefully procured over many years.  He had to be careful in his choices, as there were many fakes on the market.

The items also had to be something that Harold enjoyed.  If they were not aesthetically pleasing to his eye, he did not purchase them.  He could not imagine spending a lot of money on something, if they were not good to look at.  Of course, he was the only one who ever saw them.

Once Harold went to China for vacation, partly because he thought he had a lead on a piece of Imperial porcelain of the Yuan dynasty.  It turned out not to be so, but he settled on a piece from a later period.  It was his only trip outside the country.  Everything else was purchased from collectors and auctions.  Now he had a box full, a little bigger than the standard shirt box.

As always, Harold carefully removed the cover.  On this day, as in every Sunday, he would pick up one piece and examine and admire it closely, but wait!  There was a piece missing.  A porcelain egg was not in its place.  Harold’s mind was racing.

Where could it be?  Did someone break in and steal it?  No, that makes no sense.  Why steal the egg and leave the rest?  Did he lose it?  Impossible!  He never took them out of the house.  It must simply be misplaced.  How could the well-organized Harold have misplaced anything?

Harold was frantic.  He wanted to get up and start searching the house but his body went numb.  He started to shiver.  Never was an item of Harold’s life out-of-place and now a precious piece was missing.  His stomach was all twisted in knots.  He struggled just to get to his feet.

Sui Dynasty musicians

Sui Dynasty musicians

When he got his wits about himself, he started a careful and well-organized search of the house.  Since it seem unlikely to be in any of the places he just cleaned, he searched everywhere else, some places multiple times.  When the egg was not found, Harold sunk to his knees and prayed to St. Anthony, patron of lost items.  The egg remained lost.

Harold returned to the sofa, sat down and stared at the case with the empty space.  Through the careful collection of these porcelain items over the years, Harold felt that his very life had gained in value.  Now the missing porcelain egg, soft and beautiful in his mind, caused a tear to come to Harold’s eye.  He could not shake the feeling that now he himself, through stupidity or carelessness or whatever, was worth a little less.