History of Slater Mill

In 1793, the Old Slater Mill was constructed.  The site of the mill and the water power rights had been purchased in 1791 by Moses Brown and Oziel Wilkinson for "350 Spanish milled dollars".  It was bought from Cynthia Jenks as executrix of the will of Jonathan Jenks.

The Old Mill had two and half stories. It was a 44 x 30 foot building with walls, floors, and roof constructed wholly of wood.  There were vast forests to clear, which made timber plentiful, so wood became the common material despite the great danger of fire.  In response to the fire hazard, Slater, Almy and Brown built a fire trap.  Rigid rules to prevent fires were one of Slaters more important operating procedures.  Despite these precautions the Old Slater Mill did experience one fire on October 9, 1811.  It caused severe damage to the roof and the mill was later rebuilt.  The Old Slater Mill has been often enlarged and rebuilt during the one and a half centuries that have ensued since it was first constructed.

Today in the Old Slater Mill Museum occupying the Old Mill, the original posts and beams of the section built in 1793 can be seen in their original locations.  The mill was of hybrid construction, resembling the stout New England barns in some details and the quaint old saltbox farmhouses in others.  Like the barns, it had well-braced, exterior posts mortised and pegged to heavy cross beams from which smaller, hewn beams were attached to carry the plank floors.  Like the farmhouses, the mill had clapboard on its exterior and whitewashed plaster on the interior.  The sloping roof was supported on "A" framed rafters.

The Old Slater Mill had a bell tower, with a bell that weighed sixty pounds.  The clang of the bell would awaken all the men, women and children who worked for Slater.

When the mill was finished the three carders and the two spinning frames totaling 72 spindles were taken from carpenter's shop to the mill and placed in position.  With the other necessary equipment setup, spinning began on July 12, 1793.

The mill had been built at the expense of, and was owned by Almy, Brown & Slater, the mill privilege (right to the water power) remained the property of Moses Brown till 1801.  Then Moses conveyed to Willlam Almy and Obadiah Brown "for love and affection," two-thirds, and to Samuel Slater, for a price, one-third of his interest of three-eighths of the mill privilege; and Thomas Arnold and Oziel Wilkinson each retained his interest.  By the original agreement of 1790, Slater owned one-half of the mill and Almy & Brown one-half.

By the turn of the 19th century the primary features of the Rhode Island Factory System were already established:  a small riverside mill equipped with cylinder cards and Arkwright spinning frames, children working within minimum and crowded housing nearby and a company store.

Raw cotton was cleaned by hand.  Yarn was either "put out" or woven on consignment by hand weavers or was hand woven in the mill itself.  In both cases, the finished cloth was sold by the merchant-manufacturer.