The Luddites

A friend called me a Luddite the other day after a fit of yelling about computers.. (I am actually good with computers. But after my laptop crashed in June, I still haven’t gotten my finances straightened out. According to Quicken, I am $14,000 in the hole. Hence my rant about computers in general and online banking in particular.) But I digress.

The name-calling prompted me to research the Luddites. Yes, it was a real group – of weavers and other textile workers in the early nineteenth century. New weaving and spinning machines were coming into the factories.The owners said that the machines were more efficient – they probably were – and would make cloth cheaper – and they did. (The word ‘shoddy’ came into being shortly thereafter. Coincidence? I doubt it.)  The weavers were not opposed to the new machinery; that was not the issue. The problem was greed.

Weavers spent seven years in an apprenticeship before they could set up shop. Now they feared that the time and effort put into this craft was wasted. They had reason to worry. As the factory owners fired the men, they hired women and children, who they paid much less, to work instead.This was the beginning of six year olds working 14 hour days in a factory.

So the men protested. They blackened their faces and broke into the factories to destroy the new and expensive machinery. They purported to follow a fictional character called Ned Ludd(a stocking weaver) or another fictional personage King Ludd. Thus the name.

The British Government sided with the factory owners and made breaking machinery a capital crime. Soldiers were sent to quell the protests. A large number of men (both members of the protests and not) were swept up and accused of being Luddites. Those that were found guilty were either executed or transported. That ended the protests very quickly.

The situation was slightly different in the United States. The first textile factory came into  being in Massachusetts in 1814. Lowell, who had seen the textile machines in Great Britain, wanted to do the same in the U.S. (The city of Lowell is named for him.) He built his first factories beginning in 1816. But the  United States had a smaller population and there was not a large number of unemployed men so there was not the same labor pool. To solve the problem Lowell hired young women, who became known as mill girls, between the ages of 15 and 35. He of course paid them less than men. (To his credit, he chose not to employ children.) The mill girls were housed in company owned boarding houses, were strictly chaperoned and offered other ‘improving’ activities so the jobs had decent working conditions. This changed as the century wore on. The mill girls unionized, went out on strike a few times, and finally joined forces with another union.

Since my character,  Will Rees, is a weaver he is going to be affected by the increasing industrialization. In fact, will lose his profession in less than twenty years. He will be in his middle fifties by then, however, a fairly advanced age for the time, so he will have missed this huge change by only a few years.


Better lives for women

I tend to think of the 1700s as static in terms of women’s lives but of course it wasn’t. Although Colonial women spent significant time spinning, weaving (if they had a loom) and making candles, as the century wore on households transitioned from frontier living where everything had to be made in-house to a time where necessities could be purchased. Of course the coastal cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston enjoyed a higher standard of living even before the Revolution. Clothing or fabric, furniture and other luxuries were imported from England and the daughters of affluent households, well staffed with servants and/or slaves, had no need to use the wheel. They did ‘fancy’ work: embroidery of other decorative needlework.

But I digress.

By the late 1700s even rural communities, even in Maine, had access to items which could be purchased – such as dress goods – that would make a woman’s life easier. (Salem with its fast merchant ships and ties to the Orient, imported cloth of all kinds from cotton muslin to silk, cashmere shawls from India and more. Some of these goods made it away from the coasts. It is no surprise to learn that Salem at this time was the wealthiest city in the United States.) Labor could be hired to help in the fields and in the house. Will Rees, traveling weaver, was not the only (male) weaver who went from house to house plying his trade. (Women weavers were bound to their homes.) Spinners could also be hired, Usually widows or unmarried daughters in a large family, these women would spin for an agreed upon price.

But what about the frontier women. The frontier continued to push west and, by the late 1790’s, was pushing past Pittsburgh. Contemporary observers of Pittsburgh were vastly critical of the dirty streets, through which hogs ran unheeded. Most of the houses were wood or frame, but brick was beginning to take over. Glass for windows was imported at large expense. For women, moving to town no matter how dirty, made their lives less arduous. Tasks could be given over to the candlemakers, the washerwomen, dressmakers and shoemakers. Galatin (an important figure during the Whiskey Rebellion) was a weaver. By 1807 there were six professional bakers. In fact, by the 1800’s, the wealthy began building mansions outside of town and Pittsbugh began offering social and cultural opportunities.

The frontier had moved west to Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois.

Norway number two

One of my favorite parts of this trips was seeing an Iron Age farm. Man, times were hard. The people lived in longhouses with sod roofs.

Peopel lived in the south, animals in the north, so the heat from the animals came down, Also the smells and other less nice things. I’ve read about the custom of keeping the animals in the house. Diseases that began in animals then jumped to humans.

But I digress.

I was very interested in the loom. The weaving was done top to bottom. The warp threads at the bottom were hung with weights. Weaving, which for me is a fairly quiet operation, must have been noisy.

loom weights

One of the things I found interesting was the green tape and the interpreter’s green shirt. I knew from my research for “Death of a Dyer” that there was no green dye in Europe. In Peru they used some plant but that had not been discovered in Europe. But they did have yellow, blue (indigo) and red (madder).


So, where did they get green? Here is a better shot of the green tape.

green tape

I asked the interpreter and he referred me to the Archaelogy Department. Answer: they over dyed, beginning with yellow and then blue.

For pictures of the dress and shoes I refer you to the blog by ArchaeoFox.


Witchcraft – Salem and More

I ‘ve had a couple of questions about my most recent book, Death in Salem. Why didn’t I fully explore the witchcraft angle? Well, as I’ve said in earlier posts, Salem by 1797, was a very cosmopolitan city. It was not only the sixth largest, one of the most diverse (with the first East Indian immigrant populations in the US) but it was also the wealthiest. Salem’s witchcraft past was more an embarrassment.


House of one of the judges.





The witchcraft spell has never completely left Salem, however. On one of our tours, the guide was the descendent of one of the accused witches. Reminders of this past abound.


Graveyard includes memorials to those that were executed.





Although Salem became something other – a huge center of shipping and trading, however, the belief in witchcraft did not fade. In an earlier blog I wrote about trials that continued, right up to one in Russia in 1999. Belief that women are witches never completely disappear.

And I wonder what is behind these accusations? Belief? Greed, malice, revenge? Hatred of women. With Gamer gate and all of the Internet attacks on women we  cannot discount that as a motive.

Christianity certainly plays a part.I think most of us are familiar with the quote from the Bible about not suffering a witch to live. During the middle ages and right up to modern times this has been used to execute any number of innocent people, primarily women.

I will blog  in the future about my research into witchcraft and goddesses – I think the two are tied.

To answer the question I have asked, I decided, that since I did not explore witchcraft and the psychologies behind it in Death in Salem, I would do so in the next book. That book, titled The Devil”s Cold Dish, will be coming out next year. Spoiler alert: it does not take place in Salem.

Goodreads Giveaway – Two Days left

I think I will cross the 400 mark. My giveaway runs out Sunday night and I always see a big bump over the weekends. I am really excited since I, as the author, think this is my best. Salem is such an interesting town and with a fascinating history – right from the beginning. A community that evolved from witch trials to the leading shipping center of the fledgling USA – amazing.

The Industrial revolution and Looms


The Industrial Revolution mechanized the entire process of cloth making. According to Brouty, prior to the invention of the flying shuttle in the 1750’s, three to four spinners were needed to produce enough yarn for a weaver. The statistic I’ve read other places is nine. Anyway, many spinners are needed for each weaver. The flying shuttle, again according to Brouty, quadrupled the weaver’s output. If you think that then people would try to find a way to increase the yield of the spinners, you would be right. The spinning jenny was invented in the mid 1700s and the first spinning factory was set up in 1761 by a gentleman named Richard Arkwright. Samuel Compton invented the spinning mule ten years later (unfortunately for him, he was a talented inventor that had his life threatened several times and died in poverty) and now handweavers were hard pressed to keep up. Pressure mounted for a mechanical loom that could keep up with the spinning machines.

Hand spinning and weaving, a honored and important job (primarily done by women) became a ‘craft’. Most people don’t even think of the connection between the clothing on their backs and the process by which it got there.

The jack loom

The jack loom is a horizontal loom; i.e. the warp runs horizontally and most of the size is front to back, not up and down. The weaver can sit on a bench. With the vertical looms, like those still used in Scandinavia and previously in Greece, the warp threads hang down and the weaver must stand on a stool or the floor itself must be lowered to provide enough room.

folded loom

A loom this size could easily be put into the back of a wagon and transported from place to place, as I have my main character/detective doing in my historical mysteries. This is a back view, by the way. The white canvas is for the back apron. I prefer to have my finished cloth roll up on the back beam so i tie on the warp threads to the back and then thread them through the heddles and the reed.

Heddles; what are they? I’ve mentioned them several times and then someone emailed me and said I don’t know what heddles are. Well, mine are long metal wires with an eye exactly like a needle. Mine are made of metal, but the looms I saw in Greece had thread heddles. I think I would find weaving with those confusing.

heddles one heddles two

In the first photo, it is possible to see three of the four sheds. Each one has its own set of heddles. Threaded and tied up to the treadles, these sheds make it possible to weave many patterns.

And finally, the reed. The dents, or spaces, determine the fineness of the fiber and is another mechanism for keeping each thread smooth and untangled. I hope you can see the spaces here. Weaving with silk, for example, requires a reed with many many slots,