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Pioneering Mills and Birds With Claws and Teeth

Okay, I’m in the middle of one of my infamous multipart series--this one about our recent trip to New England. You will recall that I had just finished our visit to Jamestown and the rocky coasts of Fort Wetherill. I had just said we were headed off to lunch and further adventures...including some with the rental car experience from h@ll.

But, I just remembered another place we visited (I think the day before, but I’m having trouble recalling), and I had better talk about it now, because...if I don’t...well...

...Patty will tease the bajeezus outta me.

Patty and Martha at Slater Mill

That’s because we sort of have a comic disagreement about what makes interesting stories. Like, I figure that including lots of info on, say, the Duke Family during our trip to Durham is terrific. She...or at least so she claims...finds that about as interesting as watching someone else floss their teeth. But with fewer giggles.

And she says as much...which is when I usually respond with a lengthy, yet soporific lecture on something fascinating like...I don’t know...prehistoric birds. I love prehistoric birds. You see, when most dinosaurs got wiped out (and birds *are* dinosaurs) almost all birds did too...except contemporary birds, who have beaks and no claws. Except before Earth met that most regrettable asteroid there were l0ts of other kinds of birds around, like the Enantiornithes, who looked and (probably) acted almost exactly like our birds today except they had teeth and little claws on their wings (sorta like bats) that they apparently used to climb trees. (1)

I mean, like, wow. Isn’t that cool? And wouldn’t it be great if some of them were still around? I mean, if you could go down to the park and see your robins and blue jays and sparrows...*plus* some Enantiornithes who’d be tweeting and chirping and scampering up your birches and elms to duke it out with squirrels over hazelnuts? I mean, whoa.

To which most rational people then reply, “Dude, I’ve got enough trouble with grackles. Can you imagine if they had fangs and claws? Are you like, daft, or what?” However, we shan’t listen to such individuals. They are far too kind.

A speculative reconstruction of an Iberomesornis, a member of the enantiornithine birds. I got this from Wikipedia and the credit is given as Locutus Borg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. You can see it here: I gather that this image, while striking, may not be considered accurate. But I love those teeth and claws!

But, anyway, that’s when Patty retaliates (she is a former history teacher, among other things) with an equally lengthy ...and impassioned...lecture on something like...I don’t know...the Wilkinson Family...which included the inventor David Wilkinson...who teamed up with Samuel Slater, who brought the industrial revolution to North America (right here in Rhode Island), and who then married David’s sister Hazel, who was herself a talented inventor and...(2)

Well, you get the point.

Anyway, if I don’t include our visit to Slater Mill, I’m in trouble. Briefly, though, before we went to Jamestown, Patty took us to Slater Mill Historic Site in downtown Pawtucket. This is the place along the river where Slater and the Wilkinsons built their first Mills in 1793. Slater had immigrated from the UK. He was a trained mechanic and knew about industrial cloth production, something the British had pioneered. However, for various reasons he didn’t feel particularly valued in England, and so went to the relatively young United States--earning him the undying hatred of British industrialists.

In the US, he teamed up with some American entrepreneurs -- including the Wilkinson family and before them, the industrialist Moses Brown. They then set up mills in Pawtucket, which had a nice, easy-to-exploit source of water power in the Blackstone River. Slater, along with David Wilkinson, then built or even invented the machines necessary to make power weaving possible on this side of the Atlantic. That made all the difference in the world, and none other than Andrew Jackson called him “the Father Of The American Industrial Revolution.”

A Slater Shot

More Slater

The Mills he and the Wilkinson family founded still exist and are now part of a museum complex and to it we duly traveled. We parked and had a quick self-guided tour of the area. There are several standing buildings -- including the Slater Mill itself, a Wilkinson Mill (built later on, I gather), and the Wilkinsons’ workshop. The little dam (or something like it) that contained the Mill’s pond is also there, and it is interesting to watch.(3)

Unfortunately, none of the buildings that day were open--I gather partly because of Covid and partly because of accessibility requirements that haven’t quite been met yet, but will be soon. So we didn’t go inside, but we did explore the area a bit.

It was really quite impressive, in its quiet way. When you think about it, this is an important site much as most battles and conquests, like Alexander’s Battle of the Hydaspes, or the English victory at Agincourt. Perhaps more so...because, well, let’s face it. Almost none of us has been impacted directly by the (purely temporary) defeat of an obscure Indian princeling in 326BC. And, come, confess, when was the last time you thought about Henry V’s defeat of the French six hundred years ago? A victory which did not, by the way, produce any lasting benefits for England?

But industrialization? That’s another matter. There is almost no one on earth whose life has not been touched...or the Factory and the Machine.

Such is Mr. Slater’s legacy...

Well, anyway...that was our visit to the Slater Mill.

And next time, I promise, I will actually get to lunch, and the world’s most annoying car rental place.

More to come.



1. On the Enantiornithes, see the following Wikipedia article:

2. For more Slater, the Mills, and the Wilkinson family, see the following:

3. On the Slater Mill Historic site:


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