Samuel Slater

Son of a yeoman farmer, Samuel Slater was born in Belper, Derbyshire, England on June 9, 1768. He become involved in the textile industry at the age of 14 when he was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of Richard Arkwright and the owner of one of the first cotton mills in Belper. Slater worked for Strutt for eight years and rose to become superintendent of Strutt's mill. It was in this capacity that he gained a comprehensive understanding of Arkwright's machines.

Samuel Slater
Samuel Slater

Believing that textile industry in England had reached its peak, Slater emigrated secretly to America in 1789 in hopes of making his fortune in America's infant textile industry. While others with textile manufacturing experience had emigrated before him, Slater was the first who knew how to build as well as operate textile machines. Slater, with funding from Providence investors and assistance from skilled local artisans, built the first successful water powered textile mill in Pawtucket in 1793.

By the time other firms entered the industry, Slater's organizational methods had become the model for his successors in the Blackstone River Valley. Later known as the Rhode Island System, it began when Slater enlisted entire families, including children, to work in his mills. These families often lived in company owned housing located near the mills, shopped at the company stores and attended company schools and churches. While not big enough to support the large mills which became common in Massachusetts, the Blackstone River's steep drop and numerous falls provided ideal conditions for the development of small, rural textile mills around which mill villages developed.

Old Slater Mill
Old Slater Mill

One of the earliest of these mill villages was Slatersville. Located on the Branch River in present day North Smithfield, Rhode Island, Slatersville was built by Samuel Slater and his brother John in 1803. By 1807, the village included the Slatersville Mill, the largest and most modern industrial building of its day, two tenement houses for workers, the owner's house and the company store. In the early twentieth century, industrialist and preservationist Henry P. Kendall took a personal interest in the village and initiated many of the improvement projects which give the village its traditional New England Charm.

This page utilizes information from:

  • History You Can See - Scenes of Change In Rhode Island 1790-1910 written by Hadassah Davis and Natalie Robinson and published by the League of Rhode Island Historical Societies, Providence, 1986.
  • History of Textiles - written by Perry Walton and compiled and written for John S. Lawrence, Boston, MA, 1912.
  • Working Water - A Guide to the Historic Landscape of the Blackstone River Valley published by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Parks Association, 1987.


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