Born in Derbyshire, England on June 9, 1768, Samuel Slater become involved in the textile industry at the age of 14 when he was apprenticed in a factory that manufactured textile machines. Slater was promoted to supervisor of machinery and mill construction in his third year. By his seventh year, he knew all that there was to know about textile manufacturing.
Believing that textile industry in England had reached its peak, Slater emigrated secretly to America 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.
One of the earliest of these mill villages was Slatersville. Located on the Branch River in present day North Smithfield, 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 Woonsocket, six mill villages grew up along the Blackstone River in the area around the Woonsocket Falls. Five of these villages - Social, Jenckesville, Hamlet, Bernon and Globe - clustered around the mills of one company in a manner similar to Slatersville. The sixth and largest, Woonsocket Falls, contained the mills of several companies huddled together. Click here to learn more about Woonsocket's mill villages.
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