Sunday, June 4, 2017

Who Killed John Paul Busch?

The family story that spurred me to research and write Darkness Visible is a story of industrial sabotage--of radical unionists intentionally causing an explosion around an industrial boiler, an explosion that killed my great-grandfather and two other men. One of the questions I've been asked most often about my research is whether I found any reports of sabotage within the Homestead Works during the strike, that is, during the period from July to November 1892. With the exception of the poisoning case (more about that later), I found nothing about sabotage within the walls of Fort Frick.

Idled workers watching the Works before the Battle, July 1892. Photo: Library of Congress

At the suggestion of researchers with the Battle of Homestead Foundation, I decided to look up the coroner's report on my great-grandfather's death. I have his death certificate, showing his death from burn injuries on September 14, 1892. Would the coroner's report make any mention of sabotage? I had to find out.

The report turned out to be fascinating reading. It consists of three parts: The testimony of mill doctor E.E. Stribler (obviously not a native speaker of English), my grandfather's brother, John Paul Busch, Jr., and "Wm. H. McBroom, Chief of Police for Steel Wrks."

Dr. Stribler says that he was called to attend to John Paul Bush [sic] after he suffered burns in a gas explosion on the afternoon of Sunday, September 4th. Stribler sent John to West Penn Hospital for treatment. For some unknown reason, the family moved John to their home in East Liberty. Stribler concludes, "This was not right, he should have staid [sic] in hospital as moving him in air was bad as skin surface might be exposed." We can only conjecture why the doctor reached this conclusion. Was air quality THAT bad? Or was this an attempt to suggest that John would not have died had the family not taken him home?
Smoke belching from mill stacks.

John's son simply states that John was burned in the Homestead Works and that on the Saturday following the incident,  he was brought home from the hospital to 625 Achilles Street (no longer in existence). John died at 4 p.m. on September 14th, ten days after he sustained the burns.

The sworn statements of  Stribler and John, Jr. are pretty much in line with the family story. However, McBroom's testimony is where the story gets interesting: "deceased told me that he was injured by the gas exploding near the boilers. . . Another man was present but I did not know his name. Dr Wible [the 'Stribler' of the first part?] examined Deceased and sent him to the West Penn Hosp. Gas was turned on and he [John] threw a piece of lighted waste, causing the explosion." End of statement.

I had to read McBroom's statement several times before the full force of his allegations sunk in. McBroom is claiming that the gas was turned on (although we don't know where or by whom) and that John threw a piece of burning trash (although we don't know what it was, why it was on fire, nor why he threw it), and that therefore, John was responsible for his own death.

John Paul Busch, late 1880s
Whoa. Next liar stand up. Would a man who had fired boilers on Union gunboats in the heat of battle be so careless? Would a man who had worked in dangerous conditions all his adult life be so foolish? Why didn't the police get the name of the witness and interview him? Why didn't they investigate why the gas was turned on and escaping into the air around the boiler? This statement clearly consists of "alternative facts," designed to blame the victim. Company man McBroom, Chief of Police for Carnegie Steel, is throwing his own metaphorical piece of waste at the coroner.
McBroom's statement

Let's return now to the only documented incident of sabotage during the strike: the poisoning of non-union workers in the Works. As contemporary chronicler Arthur Gordon Burgoyne reports, the months of September and October 1892, saw an "alarming increase" in deaths of non-union workers  from acute diarrhea and gastric distress inside the mill. "It was not until December that the first intimation of a criminal cause for the species of epidemic which struck down man after man and baffled expert physicians and chemists reached the public. The Carnegie Company concealed the truth as far as possible, endeavoring from the first to counteract the statements sent abroad by the Amalgamated Association to the effect that bad food, bad water, and bad sanitary arrangements were killing off the 'blacksheep.'" (Chapter 19, The Homestead Strike of 1892)

As it turned out, the workers had been indeed been poisoned with croton oil. Robert Beatty, a cook who had been arrested, pointed the finger at "master workman" Hugh Dempsey of the Knights of Labor as the leader of the conspiracy. To make a long and complicated story short, Beatty and Dempsey were indicted, and their separate trials were held in January and February 1893. After days of testimony from poison victims, doctors, company employees, Pinkerton agents, friends of the accused, and the exchange of mutual recriminations by union and company, the trials ended with a swift guilty verdict for both defendants. Dempsey's attorneys fought the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court--and lost. The other two men who had confessed and become witnesses for the prosecution, were sentenced to shorter terms.

The family story blames the explosion on radical Irish unionists. Tales of Irish unionists condoning violence--like the Molly Maguires--are legion. I introduced Irish characters into Darkness Visible to show their perspective on the injustices perpetrated by the company. It struck me that the surnames of the defendants in the poisoning case were all Irish. Who knows that whether this is because they actually belonged to radicalized groups, or if they were targeted as a "problem" faction.
The structural mill at Homestead Works. This photo by Benjamin Lomax Horsley Dabbs was taken shortly after the structural mill was completed in 1893.
So, was John Paul's death the work of union saboteurs, as the family story claims? We'll never know for sure. However, I'd like to note these facts:

--The explosion that killed John-Paul Busch took place in early September, about the time non-union workers began to get sick and die from poisoning.
--Carnegie Steel covered up the poisoning deaths, later claiming that they had checked the water supply and found it pure, and therefore had no need to report them. The deaths were not reported until December, after the Pinkerton investigation and after the cook was arrested. One of  the others arrested turned witness for the prosecution and was allowed to walk free until February 1893--a fact that the defense attorneys brought up during the trial.
--The union tried to spin the reports of sickness inside the Works their way, claiming that the company was serving tainted food and water.
--After the strike, Carnegie Steel bought the local newspaper. So much for a free press.

 Now, 125 years later, as during the turbulent days during and after the Strike, it's been difficult to sort through the testimony of the dissonant voices giving conflicting versions of events. But from what evidence we do have, I must conclude that the official version by the company Chief of Police is ridiculous. The other pieces of the story of what was going on inside the mill in the fall of 1892 fit well into the version told by my grandfather and his brothers.

Who killed John Paul Busch? Did he kill himself in an incredibly stupid move, or was he killed by saboteurs? I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I'm sticking to the family story.

Homestead steel workers, 1890. Photo: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.  According to Captain Jones of the Edgar Thomson Works, "Germans, Irish, Swedes, and ‘buckwheats,' [young American country boys] judiciously mixed, make the most effective, tractable force you can find. Scotsmen do very well, are honest and faithful, Welsh can be used in limited quantities. But Englishmen have been the worst class of men–sticklers for high wages, small production and strikes." I love that the Welsh can be used in limited quantities. Too many Welsh spoil the workforce apparently.

Monday, May 29, 2017

In Memoriam

Memorial Day is a day to visit the graves not only of those who served in the military, but of loved ones, a day to place memorial flowers and remember departed ancestors and family members. During my recent visit to Homestead, my friend Joyce and I went to Homestead Cemetery (actually in Munhall), to look for the grave of my cousin Grace's father, whose father took part in the Battle as a striker. The cemetery--the Protestant side on the east, Catholic on the west--is the resting place of six strikers killed in the Battle of Homestead.

The Civil War soldiers' memorial and circle on the rise by the entrance to Homestead Cemetery.
An historical marker on 22nd Street declares:
 'Homestead Strike Victims. In these two adjoining cemeteries are buried six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers killed during the "Battle of Homestead" on July 6, 1892. The graves of Peter Ferris, Henry Striegel, and Thomas Weldon are here in St. Mary's Cemetery. The remains of John Morris, Joseph Sotak, and Silas Wain lie in Homestead Cemetery. The seventh victim, George Rutter, is buried in Verona.'

We didn't find Grace's father's marker, but in walking around the hill by the entrance, I accidentally happened upon the grave marker for William Williams, the open hearth superintendent from Wales who is a character in Darkness Visible. 
The south side of the Williams monument

One side of the monument is dedicated to Williams (1840-1905) and his wife, Mary. The west side of the monument bears the names of other members of the Williams family, in particular Lester Fix (Williams' grandson, 1900-1983) and Lester's wife, Tydfil Jones.(1904-1938). I was glad to find this because Lester and Tydfil's son Jack was the source of the stories about his great-grandfather's life and experiences during the Strike. But what took me aback is the name of Jack's mother: Tydfil (pronounced "tud-vil" in Welsh). This struck me because a) it's not a common Welsh name and b) Williams was from Merthyr Tydfil, an old iron and coal city in South Wales. There must be a story here.
The Fix-Jones side

It's a bit weird to see this granite marker to the real flesh-and-blood man who became a character in the book. There's no way of knowing for sure, but I hope the Wm. Williams in the novel is in some important way a reflection of the real Wm. Williams, who, judging by Jack's stories, was both a first-rate engineer and a man of conscience.
Looking down the steep slope on the northeast side of the cemetery to Anne Ashley Church
 If you ask the young people who work in the Waterfront complex today, you'll find that few of them even know that a mammoth steel mill sprawled along the banks of the Monongahela River where the current commercial development stands. But perhaps some have heard in the classroom about that terrible day in American history when a battle raged on the river bank between striking workers and company-hired Pinkerton guards.

"An Awful Battle at Homestead, Pa"  National Police Gazette, 23 July 1892
As we get further removed in time from the events of 1892, we need to keep reminding new generations of  those events. The Homestead Works is gone, but it lives on in the memories of those who worked there and lived in the community. And it lives on in the archives and buildings of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area (Website: 

On Memorial Day 2017, I remember--not from experience, but imagination--all of those who lived through and died during the Homestead Strike, now 125 years in the past. I have to go back two generations to my grandfather, George Washington Busch, to get to a person who actually was witness to the events of that summer and fall. By writing Darkness Visible, incorporating scholarship with stories of and by the workers and townspeople, I have tried to pay tribute to their lives and legacy. May they rest in peace and honor.
Carrie Furnace from Whitaker Hill, 1976 (Photo by Ed Busch) 

                          *                         *                         *                        *                         *
"I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator."--Mother Jones

Friday, May 19, 2017

John B.Edwards vs.The Man

My Grandma Busch's father has been an enigmatic figure for me.  He moved away from Pittsburgh before my grandparents were even married, and my father had only fleeting childhood memories of him. But a recent discovery of his lawsuit against Union Mining Company has opened new insights into his life and personality.
The only known photo of John Edwards, taken in Richmond, Virginia, c. 1875, when he was in his mid-20s.

My father recalled hearing that John was the Black Sheep of the family back in his native Wales. A hard-drinking blacksmith, he worked in the slate mines. When he married Ann Jones of Froncysyllte, her family opposed the union. In 1872, the couple emigrated to the U.S., taking their two-year-old son Edward with them. My grandmother was born in 1874, and her brother Jesse in 1877. When Ann died in 1884, John couldn't manage the children and abandoned the two younger ones to the cold care of a Baptist "orphan asylum" in Pittsburgh.

Some time after that, John moved to Frostburg, Maryland, where he married Alice Harriet Mussiter in 1893. The only things that Dad could remember about his grandfather--and these apparently were from John's visits to Pittsburgh in the 1910s--were of John singing "Oh, How I Love Jesus!" on the streetcar and of Dad and Grandpa Busch hauling John drunk out of saloons in Homestead, where he was singing hymns in Welsh and English, sometimes from on top of the bar.
Grandma Annie Edwards Busch with Dad, 1908. John Edwards had a copy of this photo of his daughter and grandson, as I discovered through Ginnie Ganoe of Frostburg.

These stories are the reason that I was taken aback to find that John and his second wife (who is listed as both "Alice" and "Harriet")  had enough gumption to sue the Man, namely Union Mining Company, one of a number of coal mining companies in the Frostburg area. In April 1894, a notice was posted in the Cumberland Times of the initial hearing. (Thanks to Ginnie Ganoe for alerting me to this notice.)
According to affidavits in official records of the case in the Circuit Court of Allegany County, Maryland, this is what happened: 

John B. and Harriet Edwards were living as subtenants in the Varnum House, a 55-room hotel and office building owned by Union Mining in Mt. Savage.  While John was at work, one Daniel Houck, a former sheriff and then-agent for Union, busted into the Edwards's quarters and demanded that Harriet vacate the premises. When she refused, he threatened to arrest her and throw her in jail. He badgered her until her resistance crumbled, and she fled, leaving supper on the table and all of their belongings behind. Houck then locked up their rooms and refused to let them in to retrieve any of their possessions. They were locked out with only the clothes on their backs.

The lockout continued for a couple of weeks, during which time they were forced to find somewhere else to live. When they finally were allowed to take back their belongings, they found that some had been stolen or damaged. Their suit asked for $500 in damages from Union for the expense of having to find new lodgings and replacing household goods and clothing.
The Union Mining office building with the Varnum House at right. (Photo courtesy Dan Whetzel)
The court documents end with a page declaring "case dismissed," meaning that the case never went to trial and Union settled out of court. This outcome is amazing to me. Mining companies in the Appalachian coalfields at this time had extraordinary power and resources, controlling the lives of their workers in so many appalling ways--company-owned houses and stores, extensive political connections, etc.

Union Mine, Mt. Savage, 1841
John Edwards worked as a blacksmith for one of these mining companies in Mt. Savage, possibly Union. Blacksmiths worked in the mines and on the surface, and there's no record of which he did, perhaps both. The 1910 census shows that he was still working as a blacksmith for a coal company, and that his "mother tongue" was Welsh. John and Harriet were subtenants, so we can only speculate why Houck threw them out of Varnum House. If they were behind on their rent, the tenant would be the aggrieved party, not the landlord, Union Mining.

Blacksmiths for a West Virginia coal mining company with their tools (Photo courtesy Rebecca Gaujot)
I recently visited the graves of John and Alice [Harriet] Edwards in Porter Cemetery outside of Frostburg. Simple stone markers note the names and dates of each. It's a lovely, remote site on a hilltop surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains. Someone cares about this old cemetery enough to tend to it and erect a new fence with two hand-painted panels.
The entry gate to Porter Cemetery, Eckhart, Maryland
One of the hand-painted panels on the fence.
The visit to Porter Cemetery occured before I had a chance to look at the court papers from the suit against Union. So I just introduced myself to John, then sang the refrain of his favorite gospel hymn for him--"Oh, How I Love Jesus!"
Warming up to sing for John (grave marker at left font). My dog Viggo was quite alarmed by this unexpected vocalizing.
Singing "Oh, How I Love Jesus" for John

There is a Name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest Name on earth.

Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Because He first loved me!

It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe;
Who in each sorrow bears a part
That none can bear below.

This Name shall shed its fragrance still
Along this thorny road,
Shall sweetly smooth the rugged hill
That leads me up to God.

 And there with all the blood-bought throng,
From sin and sorrow free,
I’ll sing the new eternal song
Of Jesus’ love for me.

    ---Frederick Whitfield, 1855

Special thanks go to my neighbor Ezra Gray, who went through the court papers and did further research on details of the suit. A fitting postscript is that Ezra found side-by-side articles in The Cumberland Times a year or two previous to the suit:
John B. Edwards arrested for disorderly conduct.
Someone else settling a slander suit against Union Mining.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Freaky Easter Cards: Bizarro Victorian Holiday Greetings II

A couple of years ago, I did a post on Creepy Christmas Cards: Bizarro Victorian Holiday Greetings Well, guess what--the Victorians came up with quite a selection of weird Easter cards as well. While not as creepy as some of the Christmas ones, Victorian Easter greetings could be just as bizarre, and to modern eyes, quite inappropriate. Like the Christmas cards, the Easter cards are overwhelmingly secular and often feature anthropomorphized animals pulling carts, whipping each other, playing instruments, riding each other and other weird activities (for animals).

A boy in a strange outfit plays a flute (chews licorice?) with a pussy willow whip in hand while sitting in a nest of very large eggs. The rabbit, quite wisely, is getting the hell out of there.
Rabbits are attempting to carry a supersized golden egg with pussy willow switches. They aren't having much success. Everything is out of scale in this card set in a huge field.
Easter greetings, military style. Rabbit soldiers fire eggs out of a cannon while an officer riding a chicken brandishes a sword. Note that while the text is in English, the rabbits are wearing Pickelhauben, German army helmets. 
Kittens dressed as children are dyeing a purple egg whence a large "chickee" is hatching. That's why the sender couldn't send eggs. Or is it because the kittens ate the chick as soon as it emerged?
With an ominous sky overhead, chicks carrying baskets wait to board a steamship. From their hats, we can deduce that these are affluent fowl. One can't help but wonder why going on a ship has anything to do with Easter celebrations.
Chicks inexplicably wearing spring bonnets admire the eggshells from which they presumably emerged. Where are the other two chickens?
A sad rabbit quartet wishes us "A Joyful Easter." With a drum, two cornets, and a violin (played on the right-hand side), it's hard to imagine what any tunes coming from this quartet would sound like.
Too cheap to buy different cards for Christmas and Easter? You could scratch out "A Happy Easter" and use this card showing an adult man-rabbit pushing kid-rabbits and eggs through the snow in a sled for Christmas.
Whoa. What the heck is going on here? Maybe the egg was too large to hard boil.

Better watch out, kiddies.
An evil-looking rabbit watches another rabbit with a basket of eggs on its back drown. Happy Easter!
After my German cousin Hanne read this post, she sent me a vintage Easter card that she found in the family home in Weißenstadt. It's a post card addressed to Hanne's grandmother Babette, postmarked April 5, 1917--almost exactly 100 years ago. This date is during World War I, and perhaps that explains why the card seems more subdued than festive.  
'Want to see more weird Victorian cards? Check out these sites:
Twenty Bizarre Old Easter Cards
Crazy Website: Happy Easter Earthlings

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Oh, Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

The old song, 'We wish you a Merry Christmas" is familiar to most, and sung often at holiday gatherings. It dates back to the 16th century in the West Country of England, growing out of the tradition of the wealthier members of the community giving rich fruit-and-nut puddings to carolers who came to their door. ("Figgy" in this context means not literally figs, but any dried fruit, like raisins and plum prunes.)  
Children caroling on a Victorian Christmas card
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
Ref. Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
And bring it right here.
We won't go till we get some,
We won't go till we get some,
we won't go till we get some,
So bring it right here.
We all like our figgy pudding,
We all like our figgy pudding,
we all like our figgy pudding,
With all its good cheers
Hear the carol sung here:
 By the late 18th century both the carol and the pudding had become holiday staples throughout Britain. From Charles Dickens to Blackadder, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas in England without Christmas pudding.
A servant carries a flaming Christmas pudding to the table. The clothes and furniture suggest early 19th century.
For the Busch family, Christmas was defined by several customs: trimming the tree, the singing of carols, midnight church service on Christmas Eve, opening presents on Christmas morning,  and eating plum pudding at Christmas dinner. 

But the Busch plum pudding wasn't just any old plum pudding. It was made from a recipe dating back to Victorian England and prepared in the kitchen of St. John's Lutheran Church (now SS Mark-John Church) in Homestead. My Uncle Jack Breakwell, husband of my father's sister Frances, contributed his family recipe for the church pudding-making. Uncle Jack was from Barrow-in-Furness, England--a town from which, according to Breakwell family lore, they could see the Isle of Man on a clear day.
St. John's in 1976. Photo by Ed Busch
I fondly remember going with my father in early December to check on the pudding production at St. John's. In the kitchen, my grandfather and Uncle Jack would be busy cracking walnuts and passing them on to the cooks--Grandma Busch, Aunt Frances, and other church women, who in turn would be mixing up the batter and pouring it into coffee cans. The cans were placed into gigantic kettles of boiling water to be steamed. The whole church was filled with the spicy fragrance of the steaming puddings.
Plum pudding batter mixed and ready to be steamed.
After the steaming was complete, the cans were cooled and placed on tables for people to pick up. People from all over the Homestead area reserved a pudding from St. John's for their Christmas feast. It was a tasty holiday fundraiser for the congregation.

For me, the best part was eating the pudding on Christmas Day--or on other days after Christmas when we had dinner with relatives. The pudding was usually served with lemon sauce, although the traditional British version is buttery hard sauce. I prefer lemon sauce, as it makes a nice, tart contrast with the rich, sweet pudding. Some people light brandy aflame on the pudding as they bring it to the table, but my grandparents and father, being teetotalers, did not.
A plum pudding I made.
My cousin Elsiemae, daughter of Frances and Jack Breakwell, passed on her family's plum pudding recipe to my daughter Ceridwen in a handwritten letter. In the 1880s they sold coffee in cans, but you may have trouble getting these cans today. However, you can use a metal mold or other suitable container. Most plum puddings are made with suet or, in more modern times, with butter. This one is different from the traditional version in that it has neither suet nor another animal fat, in effect, vegetarian plum pudding.
                                              1880's English Plum Pudding
Original recipe from Grandmother Hannah Breakwell, Barrow-in-Furness
1 c. white sugar                              1 t. cinnamon
1 c. flour                                         1 t. cloves
1 t. baking powder                          1 c. chopped apples
1 t. baking soda                               1 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 t. salt
1 cup bread crumbs (cubed)
can evaporated milk 

Mix dry ingredients. Add milk and mix together. Add fruit and walnuts. Mix.
Place mixture in 1 pound coffee can, 3/4 full. Cover with aluminum foil. Place can with mixture into bottom of double boiler or pot with water halfway up. Boil for three hours, making sure that enough water is always in boiler.  To serve, spoon out and serve with lemon or hard sauce.
--Elsiemae Breakwell Simmers
The Nativity Window in St. John's, made in Germany, 1917.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Damn the Torpedoes!

Deck officers on the USS Susquehanna, 1864. Source: Civil War Talk web site
When I was teaching, as an end-of-semester "fun" writing assignment, I'd have my students collect a story and retell it in their own words. By far the greatest number turned out to be family immigration stories--stories passed down from several generations as well as stories fresh in the memories of those who experienced it. Just about every single one, even if badly told, was fascinating. For example: the Swedish immigrant who walked from Willmar to Minneapolis (95 miles) carrying two heavy sacks of flour to sell because he couldn't afford to pay for transportation. Or the Vietnamese man who was on a boat that was sunk as they were fleeing the country, drowning half of the people on board.

But today, Veteran's Day, I'd like to tell one of my own family immigration stories, the tale of how Johann Paulus Pösch, citizen of Bavaria, became John Paul Busch, citizen of the U.S.A.
The old portrait of John Paul that used to hang in my grandfather's house, surrounded by Busch family photos (left) and beer steins from his native Weißenstadt (below).

The year was 1863, and the U.S. was embroiled in the some of the darkest days of the Civil War. In Europe, Prussian Chancellor Bismarck was in a territorial dispute with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein, accompanied by sabre-rattling. Twenty-three-year-old Johann Paulus Pösch of Weißenstadt, near the border with Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), trained as a tanner, decided to pack up and emigrate to the United States. When he arrived in the port of Philadelphia, immigration officials asked him if he'd like to become a U.S. citizen on the spot. His answer, of course, was "Ja."

The kicker was that he then had to serve in the U.S. military. As John Paul Busch he joined a U.S.Army division consisting of German immigrants like himself, where officers asked him about skills that might be applied to his service. Apparently there was zero need for tanners in the Army, but when he told them that he had learned how to fire boilers making beer in the civic brewery back in Weißenstadt, he got their attention. He was whisked off straightaway to become a member of the U.S.Navy.

John Paul served as a fireman--a skilled job involving firing the boiler of the engine driving the ship--on two gunboats. The gunboats were part of the blockade of Confederate ports, trying to choke off supplies and trade from Europe. In the summer of 1864 the second of these, the USS E.G. Hale, was assigned to serve under Rear Admiral David G. Farragut in the Gulf coast off Mobile, Alabana. At that time Mobile was the Confederacy's last large port open on the Gulf, and to protect it, they had placed hundreds of tethered naval mines (then called "torpedoes") in the bay.
USS Water Witch, a gunboat that served with the USS Hale
Source:  US Navy Historical and Heritage Command 
 Farragut aimed to shut down the port of Mobile. In coordination with the Army, he assembled a force of 5,500 men on 12 wooden ships, four ironclad monitors, and two gunboats (one of them the Hale), and on August 5, 1864, Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. But when the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, the others began to withdraw.

Suffering from an attack of vertigo during the assault, Farragut was lashed to the rigging of his flagship the USS Hartford. Seeing the ships of his fleet hesitating, Farragut shouted through a trumpet to a neighboring vessel, "What's the trouble?" "Torpedoes," its captain yelled back. "Damn the torpedoes!" shouted Farragut, "Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed."

"The Battle of Mobile Bay" by Louis Prang (1884) Library of Congress Archives At lower left the two US gunboats are shown doing battle with the Confederate ironclad.

In this daring assault, the bulk of the U.S. fleet succeeded in passing through the mine field, thus avoiding the guns of the three forts guarding Mobile Bay. The last remaining Confederate ironclad vessel, the CSS Tennessee, fought valiantly, but was eventually reduced to a motionless hulk, and the crew surrendered. With no Navy to support them, the three Confederate forts also surrendered within days. Complete control of lower Mobile Bay thus passed to the Union forces, and the blockade of the Confederacy was complete.

Busy firing the gunboat's boiler, John Paul probably saw nothing of the battle itself.  But I'm sure he must have heard the explosions and chaos going on around the Hale in Mobile Bay. At the end of the war, the Navy presented John Paul with a Bible for his service. My dad's sister Irene, knowing how much I am into family history, gave this Bible--or rather, what's left of it--to me.

The back pages of the now-tattered King James Bible presented to John Paul by the US Navy

Every Veteran's Day I think of Great-Grandfather John Paul Busch, who became an instant citizen and instant service member back in the terrible days of the Civil War. John Paul, I salute you and all the other veterans who have served to keep our country united, strong, and safe.

Veterans, here's to you.

The crew of the gunboat USS Hunchback that served on the James River in Virginia, 1864-1865. Note that about a fifth of the crew is African-American. Source: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls

Yorkshire has recently got a lot of publicity out of PBS's soapy series, "Downton Abbey", allegedly set there. What many people don't realize, however, is that the stately home used for the filming, Highclere Castle, is many miles away in posh Hampshire in the south of England. You'd never know from watching "Downton Abbey" that Yorkshire, in the north of the country, is historically best known for its moors, mills, mines, and religious reformers.
1820's workers row houses in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

I recently traveled to Yorkshire to visit Knaresborough, the native town of a Minneapolis master builder (See  "Henry Ingham's Yorkshire."). Being interested in industrial history, I hired a guide, Keith Britton, to take me around to relevant sites in the county, the largest in England. We concentrated on the West and North sections where many of the industrial centers are located. Cities in West Yorkshire developed during the industrial revolution include Bradford (textiles), Leeds (transportation, textiles), and Wakefield (coal mining).

Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. The old linen mill was located on the River Nidd below the railroad viaduct.
What I found was a curious and sad incongruity between the quality of technology vs. the quality of the workers' lives.  Technological advancement and engineering marvels of nineteenth-century Britain are indeed impressive--as were the dangers to life, limb, and health of the workforce.

Let's start with mining. We visited the National Coal Mining Museum for England in West Yorkshire and got a tour of what was a working mine not too long ago. We heard the stories of the darkness, cramped and hot working conditions, dangerous machinery, rats, the stench, child labor, explosive gases, and deadly flooding. I've also visited the Big Pit mine in Wales and mines in Pennsylvania, where the stories are similar.
Headstock of the Capshaw Colliery, now part of the coal mining museum
The more recent the mining machinery, the more dangerous--big and fast. Most of the shaft/pit coal mines in Britain and America are now closed, replaced by strip mining. Nevertheless, an estimated 12,000 workers are still killed annually worldwide in the coal mining industry (BBC News, 2010).
The Clydesdale draft horse playing "pit pony" at the museum contemplates lunch. He has a much better life than the real pit ponies, who worked and died in the darkness and filth of the coal mine.
We visited two 19th century textile mills, which offered glimpses into what life was like for the workers 150 years ago. Saltaire Village near Bradford is named after Sir Titus Salt who in 1853 built a textile mill on the River Aire. When completed, Salts Mill was the largest industrial building in the world by total floor area. Salt also constructed a town, Saltaire Village on the site for his workers, a project that's been heralded for its enlightened urban planning. In mid-century Britain, this owner-built town was far better workers' housing than offered in the slums of nearby Bradford.
Part of the huge Salts Mill complex
 The Saltaire site is interesting because it has been saved as a commercial property instead of as a museum. In 1986 the woolen mill closed, and the next year entrepreneur Jonathan Silver took up the daunting task of redeveloping the complex. Thanks to his efforts, Saltaire today is a successful shopping and arts center. The sturdy brick workers' houses have been rehabbed and sold to private individuals.  In 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Windows installed in a former mill room in the arts wing of Saltaire.
My guide Keith enjoying a tea break at the Saltaire cafe.
The large bookstore in Saltaire. The complex also houses a wonderful housewares store.
The mill exterior by the canal. Nineteenth century mills were often dependent on water power.
On seeing Saltaire, I immediately thought of the textile mills in Massachusetts, which I wrote about last year ("Remaking Industrial America"). As it turns out, there is a strong connection between the textile mills in Bradford and those in Lawrence, Massachusetts. (Read the details here.)
Between the mill buildings at Saltaire.

Despite the successes of the paternalistic ethos of Salt and other mill owners, friction between the textile industrialists and their workers inevitably escalated. Among other cost-saving measures, mill owners constantly tried to replace male workers with cheaper female ones. But unlike in the U.S., in Bradford trade unionism was notoriously weak. In the 1870s the owners of Salts Mill broke a strike by using the strategy of a lockout (sound familiar?).

In contrast to the privately developed Saltaire complex is the Quarry Bank Mill in nearby Cheshire, a National Trust property that predates Salts Mill by seven decades. In 1783, Irish-born Samuel Greg found the perfect spot for his new cotton mill on the River Bollin, harnessing the flow of the river to power the mill. Like Salt, Greg built on-site housing for his workers, carrying on the paternalistic tradition found in textile mill owners on both sides of the Atlantic.
Quarry Bank Mill 

What's fascinating about Quarry Bank Mill is the assortment of working textile manufacturing machinery on display. The museum takes visitors through the historic process of spinning and weaving cotton fabric, from hand-spinning and weaving to power looms. When the machinery is running, it becomes very obvious why workers usually lost most of their hearing within a year.

1926 spinning mules in operation:
                                      1790's water power loom weaving shirting material:

 The first mills were powered by water wheels on fast-moving streams. Here's a video of water flowing from a holding pond onto an 1840's overshot wheel powering an old flour mill in Wales:

But to power a mill as large as Quarry Bank, a huge wheel was required. The "Great Wheel" installed at the mill in 1818 was 21 feet wide and 32 feet in diameter. The wheel was an undershot wheel, with the water pouring in from the back near the bottom of the wheel. This gives a definite mechanical advantage over the older overshot wheels. From 1810 on, steam turbines generated additional power for the mill.
The water wheel currently powering the mill is 25 feet in diameter. It is of similar design to the Great Wheel and was brought from a mill in North Yorkshire.
As in coal mining, airborne particles generated by the textile mills' operation caused a number of disabling and often fatal lung diseases, including "brown lung" and COPD. And as in other industries, accidents involving large, fast-moving machinery caused many deaths and horrible injuries. Long working hours with few breaks contributed to hazards for exhausted workers--often children and women.

"Yorkshire, West Riding"--Photo by B. Hobson, 1921. Which was worse, the air inside or outside?
Whether coal, textiles, or steel industries, life for workers during the 19th century was often nasty, brutish, and short. I find it one of the great ironies of Andrew Carnegie's career that his family emigrated to the U.S from Scotland in 1848 because his father, a handloom weaver, was put out of work by the textile mills. While Carnegie was quite bitter about his family's exit from the old country as paupers, he apparently had few concerns about the hand workers and artisans forced to find work in his mills. Carnegie aimed to settle the score by buying a castle in Scotland, where he could lord it over his former countrymen--a castle where he was staying during the summer of 1892, far from the squalor and violence in Pittsburgh.

The history of the industrial revolution has many, many chapters, most of them not pretty. Still, the lives of fantasy English aristocrats don't interest me nearly as much as the lives of the millions of industrial workers in Britain and North America. For many of us from Pennsylvania, as with many from Yorkshire and all the other industrial places of the world, these stories are our family stories.

The song and old photos are American, but the experience of these textile workers is universal:

 "Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls"
Power loom at Quarry Bank Mill

Suggested reading, Social Novels:
Sybil, or the Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli (1848). Deals with the conditions of the working classes.
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (1849). Set in Yorkshire during the Luddite uprisings.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855). Based on Gaskell's experiences in industrial Manchester. Adapted for television in 1975 and 2004.
Suggested viewing.
Detective series set in the North of England.
Vera. ITV. Set in contemporary Northumberland.
Inspector George Gently. BBC One. Set in 1960s North East England (Newcastle, County Durham)
Brassed Off (1996). Comedy-drama about coal miners in a North England town where the colliery may be closed.
Cambrian Woollen Mill just north of Llanwrtyd Wells is one of the few remaining operational woolen mills in Wales.The brick mill building dates from the 1820s. In the 1990s I bought a Welsh tapestry coverlet here. Today their production is limited to smaller items such as tartan scarves.

--Except where noted, all photos were taken by Trilby Busch. Please credit if you reuse.