Whirl of the Wheel, Clickety-Clack of the LoomI Can Hear Them Spinnin'
In 1850, there were 9,780 sheep raised in Montgomery County - more than double the amount of horses or cows in this agrarian setting. Sheep were highly valued for their outer coat of wool, a natural fiber that can be manipulated to make domestic textile products ranging from coats to coverlets. Local weaver Thomas Fawcett, who managed the Paint Branch Woolen Factory at this location from 1833 to 1871, ironically did not keep one sheep on his Colesville property. After Thomas Fawcett died in 1871, his sons Benjamin and Joseph continued operations at the mill until 1873. A decade later, the facility was in ruins.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Fawcett was raised in a region known for its woolen manufacturing - a skill he brought with him to the United States. Weaving was a male-dominated trade learned through apprenticeship. As the instructor, Fawcett taught young boys, both white and black, reading, writing, arithmetic, and "the art and mystery of a weaver." In return, the boys worked for the master craftsman until they reached the age of 21.
Weaving was the final stage of wool processing. Customers would bring batches of newly shorn wool to Fawcett who, with his staff of both male and female employees, would card, fully, dye, and weave the wool
into a finished good. The wool was woven using a loom, a machine that produced cloth by interweaving threads at right angles. Fawcett was compensated by patrons by either cash or through barter of other goods like produce, grain, raw wool, or a portion of the completed goods.
American Merino Ram
Courtesy: Cornell University Library. Making of America Collection
Montgomery County generated more than 28,961 pounds of wool in 1850.
1830 Land Plat Showing the Location of Fawcett's Mill
Courtesy: Collection of the Maryland State Archives
According to family lore, Fawcett dumped excess dye into the nearby stream. Realizing the colors in the water came from the woolen mill, the neighbors named it "Pain Branch." These colors probably came from surrounding indigenous plants, such as sumac, walnut, butternut, blackberry, elderberry, mulberry, black locust, yarrow, tansy, hollyhock, sunflower, and black-eyed susan.
Lutz Woolen Factory, Bedford County, PA
Courtesy: Library of Congress
Codorus Woolen Factory, Adams County, PA
Courtesy: John McGrain
Rural woolen factories (as shown) in the mid-Atlantic region were usually small stone or brick buildings that often started as fulling mills. The fulling room was located on the upper floor of a two story structure, where cloth was dragged through troughs of alkaline substances and cam-action water powered wooden mallets pounded on the cloth to make it softer, cleaner and thicker.
Runaway Slave Ad
24 April 1813, Frederick Town Herald
Courtesy: Collection of the Maryland State Archive
Fugitive Slaves Escaping from the Eastern Shore of Maryland
Background Image: Woven Coverlet
Although the structure Fawcett owned is no longer standing, it is documented that the building once encompassed "jack billy" and "jenny" spindles, water-powered looms, and carding machines. With such equipment, this business generated carpets, blankets, flannel, broad cloths, and "servant clothing" that was acquired to attire locally enslaved persons - possibly those who labored for Fawcett on his 270 acre farm.
Many slave runaway advertisements (as shown below, center) paid particularly close attention to the dress worn by the fugitive in question. Often of a very basic quality, such coarse clothing was increasingly made by female slaves during the off season and in bad weather in an effort to promote the self-sufficiency of their owner. In remembering this important task, former slave Tempe Durham recalled, "I can hear [t]hem spinnin' wheels turnin' roun' an sayin' hum-m-m-m, hum-m-m, an' hear [the] slaves singin' while [th]ey spin."
Lucindy Jurdon, Former Slave (ca. 1938)
Courtesy: George Washington University
Jurdon spoke of this spinning wheel during an interview, "My mammy was a fine weaver and she worked for both white and colored [people]. This is her spinning wheel, and it can still be used. I use it sometimes now."