This Day in History
Alamance Plaids

On a day like today in 1853...

In 1789 the twenty-one-year-old Samuel Slater, who had worked for some years in English textile mills, embarked for America, carrying with him knowledge of Arkwright’s cotton manufacturing machinery. In America he joined with the Providence, Rhode Island, tycoon, Moses Brown. Together they built, wholly from Slater’s memory, an Arkwright spinning machine. It was the beginning of the cotton textile industry in America and determined the concentration of that industry in New England. The South, which produced the cotton, lagged far behind in manufacturing it into textiles.

The beginnings of the cotton industry in the South may be dated from the establishment of a mill at Alamance, North Carolina, by the Philadelphia-trained Edwin Holt in 1837. It was Holt, too, who learned from an itinerant French craftsman (for the price of $100) the art of dyeing woolen and cotton yarn, equipped the first dye house, and launched the celebrated Alamance Plaids. Here Mr. Künstler portrays him showing off his newly dyed cottons to a group of admiring ladies. As Holt later wrote with justifiable pride, “...up to that time there had never been a yard of plaids or colored cotton goods woven on a loom south of the Potomac.” By the close of the century, the Holt mills had almost a thousand looms producing colored cotton goods.

In the twentieth century the textile industry, irresistibly attracted by the availability of cheap labor, ineffective unions, the absence of child- or female-labor laws, and tax and other concessions, moved from New England to the South. The result was a generation of labor warfare in which labor usually lost. National labor legislation, during and after Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, rescued Southern textile workers from exploitation. Today the textile industry remains largely a southern monopoly.

October's Archived Features:

Friday October 1, 2021
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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.