October 16, 1861
Source material for this story is from the Museum L-A.
Benjamin Bates owned a textile mill in Lewiston.
Like the owners of nearby companies such as the Boston Associates, Bates had bought land near the Androscoggin River. The Androscoggin’s fast moving water provided power to the area’s textile, lumber, and paper mills.
Benjamin Bates’ company would come to be known worldwide for manufacturing bedspreads, but in October of 1861, he had his mill employees prepare for another kind of covering, tents for Union soldiers.
The Bates mill already had power.
What the company needed was workers.
On October 16, 1861, D. M. Ayer, the company’s agent, published a notice seeking 120 children to help in manufacturing tent cloth – "Twisting, Spooling, Spinning, Doffing, and Quilling" – for the war effort.
In appealing for child labor, Bates was not alone.
Many mill owners resorted to using children, partly because they could be paid less, and partly because the women who could work outside the home were already employed, and most men either had jobs or were in the army.
Bates anticipated that the war was going to last longer than expected. During a time when other New England mills were exhausting their cotton supplies and trimming their work force, the Bates Mill was hiring new workers and using cotton it had stockpiled to make war products.
Benjamin Bates died in 1878. He is the namesake for Bates College, in Lewiston.
- Where did New England mills get their cotton?
- Would this be the reason why the Bates Mill may have stockpiled their supply during the war?
- What kinds of work conditions do you think the children would have encountered?
- Do you think it would be a safe environment?