FROM SLAVERY TO SPINNING: INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION IN THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY

AMERICA: BORN BANKRUPT


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

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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, a staggering loss to England of their wealthiest colonies — and birth of the United States of America.

Winning the war was just short of a miracle. The colonies 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. And no wonder eight years of that terrible responsibility was more than enough for him.

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. From north to south, slavery made people rich. Not the slaves, of course, but white people. Landowners. Farmers.

In the industrialized north and the agricultural south, fortunes were made selling human beings and profiting from their labor. When it came time to write the Constitution and transform a bunch of individual colonies into a single country, the Devil’s compromise was needed. Abolishing slavery would doom any attempt to pass a constitution, so slavery became law. 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. This evil lives on and its legacy still remains — and probably always will.

HOW COME WE COULDN’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 obvious from the get-go there was no way we were going to form a nation if slavery was banned. From private writings by members of the continental congress, we know every delegate understood the issue of slavery would eventually be resolved by war. Decades before the revolution that began in 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies.

“The Great Compromise” was written into law. The Constitution was approved  — and a later generation fought the war. Which, apparently, isn’t yet ended. The right and moral thing went head to head with the bottom line and lost. Sound familiar?

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.

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.

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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.

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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. The river had power … but the area is rough, dense with trees, rocky. And the river is full of twists and turn and drops. The river was full of potential, but it would require inventiveness and planning to harness it.

AMERICA’S INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION BEGAN ON THE BLACKSTONE


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 people — especially those with industrial skills. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcome. This was 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.

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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 needed a more efficient way to move their goods. The features that made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it worse than useless for shipping goods. Horse-drawn wagons were slow and expensive. The trip from Worcester to Providence took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads and in winter, was often impossible.

The Blackstone Canal in Uxbridge, Massachusetts

The Blackstone Canal in Uxbridge, Massachusetts

When the weather turned bad, the roads were impassable. 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.

It also eliminated and further need for slave labor in the north. Why use slaves when you can pay almost nothing to free men who will provide their own food, clothing, and housing? Sometimes the lines between free and not-free are not all that clear.

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.

Little canal along the Mumford, a Blackstone River tributary. Uxbridge, Massachusetts.

Little canal along the Mumford, a Blackstone River tributary. Uxbridge, Massachusetts.

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.

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD


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 horribly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast. One by one, the mills closed their New England facilities and moved south. By 1923, almost all U.S. cotton was grown, spun, and woven down south — in Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, Alabama. Without the mills and factories, the population in the Blackstone Valley’s towns began shrinking.

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The hulking empty factory buildings were left as reminders of the glory days of the American mill industry. Also left behind was massive pollution of the soil and the water.

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. There are also many areas where the soil is toxic, so full of hazardous waste it may never be usable for any purpose.

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We’re still cleaning up. Although not as bad as it was, the watershed has a way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the main parts of the Blackstone. Against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from at least one sewage treatment plant in Millbury and there are quite a few nuclear generating plants in the area who dump water into the river, too (but the government doesn’t readily admit to it — now there’s a shocker, right?). It’s hard to fathom what reasoning those who favor pouring sewage and wastewater into our river have. Save a few pennies, destroy our drinking water?

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The battle to save our world from greed never ends.

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. This is a battle we need to win.

LOCAL FLAVOR – OCTOBER IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

OCTOBER AROUND MY TOWN

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Living in a small town, when the nearest “real” city is 70 miles away, you find yourself taking many pictures of “local” because that’s what there is to photograph.

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What luck that our local is also highly photogenic.

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Long before we moved to the Blackstone Valley, we used to drive up here to see the leaves and buy the biggest pumpkin we could find.

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This is October in the neighborhood.

LOCAL | WORDPRESS DAILY POST WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE
I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

BLACKSTONE CANAL’S GEARS – CEE’S ODDBALL PHOTO CHALLENGE

CEE’S ODDBALL PHOTO CHALLENGE


We moved here in 2000. That’s 16 years ago this summer. It was probably the following summer that I really began exploring the valley with my camera … and discovered the canal and its locks.

The spillway where the water divides. The river is to the right and the canal, straight ahead.

Spillway where the river divides. The river goes right, the canal, straight.

The Blackstone Canal was built in the mid 1800s and was used by barges for just about a decade before being replaced by trains. The canal still winds its way along the river. Sometimes, it is the river. Other places, it splits off and runs alongside it. Uxbridge is one of the places where it separates. It’s also one of the places which has locks to raise and lower water levels. Rather like an elevator for boats and barges.

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The gears used to operate the locks at Uxbridge remain. Big, iron, and until recently, maintained in working order. For the past few years, no one has bothered to care for them. Probably a budgetary decision, but it’s a pity. How much did it cost to annually clean and oil the mechanisms? I’m sure it couldn’t be so much money the town can’t sustain the expense.

72-BW-Noir-Gears-Locks-Canal-082216_01Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get good pictures of the gears. These are the best (and most recent) photographs. I’m not entirely happy with them, but they’re the best I’ve done to date.

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Who’d have thought that so many years later, I’d still be hoping to get my first really good shots of the locks? If these don’t qualify as oddballs, I don’t know what does.

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IN OPPOSITION …

PHOTO CHALLENGE | OPPOSITES


Water against rock … factory against nature … wires against sky. Opposites? Yes, but inevitably, partners in an ever-changing world.

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And on an entirely different note …

In this election year, everyone is against and opposite everyone else. A nation ready to implode on itself.

I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

WITH RELENTLESS EFFICIENCY

After a lot of whining and complaining, I settled down. I filled out the ridiculous amount of paperwork, reconstructed as much of my medical history as I could — anything more than 5 years ago, is more than a little vague — and of course, my list of medications. I got my son to witness my permission to hunt down my records (good luck with that), and signed a new health proxy (everyone should have one — and I do mean absolutely everyone). Then, papers in hand, we drove over to the new doctor’s office — a mere one town over!

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I turned them over along with the appropriate Medicare insurance information and went home to notify Blue Cross Blue Shield that I’m changing doctors. They actually didn’t care because I have a PPO and don’t require a listed primary care doctor. I can go to any doctor that takes BCBS payments … which is nearly every doctor in the region except the group to which my current doctor is migrating.

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I explained that I needed an appointment with the new guy because I was going to need new prescriptions at the end of this month. Somehow, she found an appointment. Which conflicted with the dental appointment and the finishing up of my crown. So I took the doctor appointment, moved the dentist to the following day, leaving one day before the cardiologist appointment … and the almost immediate arrival of a houseful of out-of-town visitors. June and July have filled up.

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Summer always fills up quickly. I’m sure you’ve noticed. The weather turns warm and suddenly, you’re booking stuff for next September. It’s because winter is brutal. You can’t count on anything in the winter. Nature might just decide to throw a blizzard on the day you plan to visit those friends in Vermont. Instead, no one is going anywhere for a few days at least.

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It’s amazing how we manage to not see people we really want to see because when we are free, they are not. Everyone is busy seeing the people they need to see while they can … and before you know it, another year slips away.

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I haven’t found the cure for not enough time. I’ve been looking for something to do about this my whole life. I thought, after retirement, we’d have all the time in the world. In a sense, we do … but we live in New England. Winter is at best a wild card. You can plan, but you can’t be sure it will really happen, which means we really only have half the year to do stuff . There’s always more stuff to do than time.

I’m working on this. I suspect I’ll always be working on it forever.

THE CHANGING SEASONS: APRIL 2016 – NOT QUITE SPRUNG

I thought I’d add a few pictures to this because this month, after a warm and springlike March, April commenced with two quite substantial snows. It killed the daffodils — I’m hoping not forever, but they just died under the snow. Surprisingly, the forsythia continued to bloom while covered with snow.

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Both pictures were taken on April 3rd, but it snowed again on the 8th. I was just too tired of snow pictures by then to bother to shoot anything. I think in heavy snow regions, we do get weary of the white stuff. By the time April rolls around, we want some color, not more whiteness.

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It’s beginning to green. Here and there. A few blossoms on shrubs and trees. The green shoots of flowers that will bloom soon. One single bright yellow tulip.

Usually we don’t see full leaf on the trees until mid-May, but I think it’ll be early this year.

Dam on the Mumford in mid-April

Dam on the Mumford

Nothing was blooming by the dam, but the trees have that fuzzy look that means impending green. And there’s plenty of water this spring. After five years of drought, it’s a joy to see the river full and hear the rushing of the water.

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Everything is poised for spring, but it has not quite sprung.

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This is the dam over the Mumford in the middle of town. You’ve seen it before. The white building on the left is a liquor store now, but was a small mill in its former life.

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And then, there’s our garden. The daffodils died during the second April snow, but the forsythia remained undaunted. The day lilies are coming up with a fury. The violets are blooming.

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It’s Earth Day today. My garden is ready to celebrate.

What’s this «Changing Seasons» blogging challenge?

Some words from Cardinal Guzman

«The Changing Seasons 2016» is a blogging challenge with two versions: the original (V1) which is purely photographic and the new version (V2) where you can allow yourself to be more artistic and post a painting, a recipe, a digital manipulation, or simply just one photo that you think represents the month. Anyone with a blog can join this challenge and it’ll run throughout 2016. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t join the first month(s), late-comers are welcomed. These are the rules, but they’re not written in stone – you can always improvise, mix & match to suit your own liking:

These are the rules for Version 1 (The Changing Seasons V1):

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery.
  • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.

These are the rules for Version 2 (The Changing Seasons V2):

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post one photo (recipe, painting, drawing, whatever) that represents your interpretation of the month.
  • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!

DAY SIX – THE SEVEN DAY NATURE CHALLENGE

I feel honored to be chosen by Cee Neuner  to participate in the Seven Day Nature Challenge.

The challenge asks I post one photo per day for a week. The subject can be anything, as long as it comes from the natural world. About 90% of my work is landscape or wildlife photography. I do side trips to architecture and portraits –and I’m always trying to get a good picture of my dogs — but overall, there’s more of Autumn, the Blackstone River, water fowl, Arizona, and sunrise and sunset.

On this sixth day of the challenge is going down the river. My river, the Blackstone and it’s tributary, the Mumford River, both of which flow through Uxbridge.

Cee and I are acquainted with most of the same groups of photo bloggers and pretty much anyone I can think to nominate has already been nominated. If by some quirk of luck, you have been overlooked, please participate. Consider yourself nominated and chosen! Especially if these are the kind of pictures you usually post, it’s no stretch to just post them as part of the challenge.

Come one, come all!