Henry Humphreys and his Mount Hecla Factory

Mt. Hecla

By L. McKay Whatley


Home to the world’s largest apparel manufacturer in the 21st century, the world’s largest textile conglomerate in the 20th century, and the world’s largest flannel and denim mill in the 19th century, Greensboro is no stranger to the superlatives of American textile history. But the association is even older. Before 1830, Greensboro was home to what appears to have been the first steam-powered textile mill in the South, and the first textile mill of any kind in the North Carolina Piedmont: the Mount Hecla factory, located on the northwest corner of Bellemeade and Battleground, now North Greene Street. The proprietor of the factory, Henry Humphreys, Henry Humphreysis an unsung trailblazer for the southern textile industry. The state historic marker on West Friendly Avenue at North Greene Street is Humphrey’s only memorial in Greensboro, but his personal initiative and vision were crucial to the industrialization of antebellum economy, with his pioneer example inspiring textile entrepreneurs for more than half a century.

Personal Life.

Humphreys’ background is largely a mystery, even to his descendants.i He is said to have been born in Virginia around 1787, and soon moved to Caswell County, NC,ii where he married Mary Baldwin.iii Humphreys first appears in Guilford County records in May, 1807iv, and is listed in the census of 1810. He was one of the first residents of Greensborough, and was appointed one of the six Commissioners of Police “in and for the Town” by the state legislature in 1810.v In 1814 he is listed as a Lieutenant on the Muster Roll of the 2nd Regiment of the County Militia.vi In 1815 he is listed in a Guilford County tax list as owning a town lot worth $800.vii By 1829, the Greensborough tax listings describe Humphreys as the wealthiest man in town, owning property valued at $12,000. By contrast, his son-in-law John Motley Morehead, living at Blandwood, was listed with a total of $200.viii

Humphreys lead a very active civic life in Guilford County for more than 30 years, but less personal information has survived there than about his business activities. He remained involved with Greensborough’s local government all through 1820s and 1830s. He was elected to the town council repeatedly and was chosen as chairman of the council in 1832 and 1834.ix He served as a presidential elector for Andrew Jackson in the election of 1832,x and as President of the Greensborough Temperance Society.xi He was an active member of Buffalo Presbyterian Church, and a member of the building committee for the brick sanctuary that was built in 1826.xii

His grandson recalled that “his one recreation… [was] a great love of music,” and “he was accustomed to play his violin for the frequent dances of his employees.” One of the family’s prized heirlooms was Humphreys’ “old hand organ in a mahogany case, with its repertoire of eighty old Scotch tunes.”xiii Perhaps music made up for some personal tragedies. Three of Humphrey’s children died in infancy, and his wife Mary died in 1820xiv, soon after the birth of their daughter Ann L. Humphreys, a/k/a “Nancy”.xv Humphreys lost little time in courting and finally marrying in 1820 Letitia Harper Lindsay, the recent widow of Col. Robert Lindsay and the mother of nine young children.xvi She would bear Humphreys three more children before her death in 1835,xvii two of whom would survive them both.

To house his new wife and expanding family Humphreys first rented, then purchased, Blandwood, a four-room farmhouse on “the Salisbury Road” built in 1795 by Charles Bland. Humphreys expanded the house to six rooms after he purchased it in 1822,xviii then sold it to his new stepson-in-law, John Motley Morehead, in 1827.xix Humphreys moved from Blandwood to his new mansion on one of the most prominent and valuable locations in Greensboro, the southwest corner of Market and Elm, facing the courthouse square.xx The three-story stuccoed brick, hip-roofed townhouse with Italianate detailing would have been fashionable in New York or New Orleans, but in antebellum Greensboro it appeared so lavish and out of place that it was popularly known as “Humphreys’ Folly.” xxi

Business Life.

The dwelling became both the central headquarters of the ever-expanding Humphreys clan and the center of his far-flung commercial empire. The upper floors, entered through a central stair hall, were the residence of his family, but the spaces devoted to Humphreys’ mercantile business– the cellar and the street level “Store Room” and “Counting Room”—were the true heart of the building.xxii Humphreys had not only an aptitude for shopkeeping, but a genius for commerce. His corner shop was packed with the kind of dry goods, groceries and hardware that would most appeal to the Greensborough community. If, as one historian of southern commerce puts it, “A storekeeper had to be a catalogue of his community’s tastes,”xxiii then Humphreys’ semi-annual advertisements in The Patriot document Piedmont fashions of the 1820s and 30s. One such boasted

To give a detailed description of all the Goods which comprise his assortment would make a catalogue too long to be perused in this busy season of the year;– Suffice it to say, that his present stock is inferior to none in the Southern States.xxiv

In the fall of 1826 his list of “Staple and Fancy GOODS… just received from the North” offered seventy different types of textile fabrics on hand, many available in multiple colors, together with wearing apparel for men, women and children, as well as “a good assortment of Hardware, Cutlery, Sadlery, Crockery, Groceries, Paints, Dye Stuffs, Hatters Materials, Pearl ash &c.”xxv The inventory taken after his death in the spring of 1840 demonstrates even more variety, featuring everything from bolts of imported silk, taffeta and glass buttons, to “English soap,” “figured vests,” twenty dozen “mens hose,” and “mens fur capes.”xxvi

While the store in his townhouse appears to have been run by Humphreys himself, he regularly branched out in partnership operations with other local businessmen. He and his neighbor Abraham Geren purchased real estate in partnership for years.xxvii In 1829 he advertised the end of the association of “Humphreys and Long” so debtors could come in and settle their notes.xxviii He not only operated two stores Greensborough, but one in Lexingtonxxix and another in Statesvillexxx, boasting in print that this diversification and economy of scale allowed him to undersell his competition:

He does not pretend to any superior advantages over his brethren in business—except that of purchasing at the same time, for four large retail Stores of his own, one at Statesville, one at Lexington, and two in this place. The reduction in price to be derived from such extensive purchases, cannot be overlooked in these “pinching times.” The goods, in the Stores enumerated, when examined, will speak for themselves.

He derives pleasure from the fact, that he has the entire control of his own “CASH;” because if he were subject to the management of Gentlemen in Philadelphia or New-York, it would be readily and reasonably conjectured that his Store here would be the receptacle of but bad bargains and unfashionable Goods.xxxi

Humphreys’ boast that “he has the entire control of his own ‘CASH’” points to another aspect of the business life of a southern shopkeeper. Due to the lack of banks, merchants with cash on hand regularly made loans, received notes, charged interest, and took personal and real property as security, just as a banker would have. The inventory of his estate made in the summer of 1840 revealed thousands of dollars in outstanding loans to individuals which his executor grouped into “Good Claims” (24 different notes); “Doubtful Claims (30 bonds for future payment); and “Desperate Claims” (19 warrants to the sheriff for legal collection).xxxii

The Merchant becomes an Industrialist.

Diversification into textile manufacturing must have seemed like a natural expansion of Henry Humphreys’ business operations. Rural merchants commonly operated grist mills to supply their customers’ demands for flour, meal and feed, all items which could not reasonably be shipped long distances. Once the hydrological elements (dam, head race to supply water to a wheel, and tail race to channel away the waste water) were in place, any other type of machinery could be added. For this reason large “merchant mill” operations not only ran grind stones for flour and meal, but also powered saw mills, oil mills, wool carding machines, and cotton gins.xxxiii

Humphreys in fact began operating a cotton gin as a side-line to his business before 1827, when one was located on a lot to the east of Blandwood.xxxiv Other Greensborough merchants owned and operated gins; in 1829 Humphreys bought the stock and property of William T. Shields, including the lot “where the said Shields’ cotton machine now stands.” xxxv Used to clean the seeds out of cotton brought to town by farmers, cotton gins were the first step towards industrializing the production of cotton cloth.

There had only been sporadic efforts to institute textile manufacturing in North Carolina before Henry Humphreys became involved. In 1813 Hance McCain of Guilford and General Alexander Gray of Randolph were among 19 of the most prominent Piedmont citizens who met in Hillsborough “for the purpose of establishing a COTTON and WOOLLEN FACTORY,” but the proposed joint stock company never received sufficient capital subscriptions to begin operations. xxxvi A “joint stock company” is today commonly known as a “corporation,” but in the early 19th century it was an uncommon method of business organization. All new entities could only be “incorporated” by the state legislature, and then could only begin operations when sufficient shares of stock had been sold to accumulate the capital needed to operate. Many southerners were too suspicious of stock ownership to risk investing, no matter how attractive the business opportunity.

The first operating textile mill in North Carolina was organized by Michael Schenk in 1814, when he installed spinning machinery shipped from Rhode Island in a log grist mill in Lincoln County. A flood washed it away in 1819.xxxvii The first factory of any permanence was established in Edgecombe County in 1817, becoming known as Rocky Mount Mills. Henry A. Donaldson, a manufacturer from Rhode Island, bought machinery and installed it in Colonel Joel Battle’s flour and grist mill on the Tar River. Donaldson trained a workforce of Battle’s slaves to operate the spinning frames, producing as much as 1500 pounds of coarse cotton yarn each day, packaged in 5-pound skeins and sold to the local market for hand-weaving. xxxviii

Donaldson went on to consult on building the first mill in Fayetteville in 1825, a small operation similar to Battle’s in Rocky Mount, and also run by slave labor. Pioneer textile historian Richard W. Griffin states that this Fayetteville factory was “sold… in 1834 to the owner of the fourth and last cotton mill built in the state before 1830, Henry Humphreys of Greensboro.” xxxix Nothing else is known about Humphreys’ purchase of the Fayetteville factory, but it indicates where he may have learned much about the industry. Fayetteville and Petersburg, Virginia were the two most important wholesale shipping destinations for Piedmont North Carolina, and both were places where Humphreys, visiting to restock his merchantile stores, could have obtained a first-hand look at cotton manufacturing.xl

Richard Griffin uncovered evidence that Henry Humphreys’ interest in manufacturing began earlier than any Guilford County records indicate. “First built in 1818, Humphrey’s Mount Hecla Mill had two distinct periods of operation, the first from about 1818 to about 1825 and a second and more prosperous period after 1830 when plans were made for the use of steam power. The original mill was built on a stream outside Greensboro and employed the waterpower of a dam Humphreys had constructed earlier to operate a grist mill. The first frame structure apparently excited little interest in the 1820s, for it was listed in a newspaper article as merely “one of the four mills in the state.” But from this humble start, the second largest mill in ante-bellum North Carolina soon developed.” xli

Details of this first factory have been impossible to trace; Humphreys was a prolific real estate investor, and owned property on virtually every watercourse in Guilford County.xlii But it makes sense that, like most if not all of the first North Carolina factories, Humphreys began by experimenting with spinning frames in an existing grist mill. Purpose-built factories were expensive to construct, and the ability of local people to operate the complicated spinning machinery was an open question. Such an operation could only a hint at what the Mt. Hecla mill would later become, but required a similar level of organization. To support even one spinning frame, specialized preparatory equipment such as openers, pickers, carding and drawing frames would have been necessary. Adding that to a Humphreys merchant mill would have required a substantial portion of the available power, and would have taken up even more floor space than a grist or saw mill.xliii

Planning and Building a Factory.

By the late 1820s it must have become obvious to an experienced business man like Humphreys that a stand-alone textile mill made financial sense. An agricultural depression was encouraging mass emigration to western territories, especially among the local Quaker population. The North Carolina legislature established select committee under chairman Charles Fisher of Rowan County , charged with finding ways to diversify the state’s economy.xliv The Fisher Report “on the Establishment of Cotton and Woolen Manufactures,” together with a highly protective tariff passed by Congress,xlv inspired confidence in North Carolina’s pioneer industrialists that 1828 was the year other investors would finally get the message. No fewer than five “joint stock” companies sought incorporation by the General Assembly that year to open or recapitalize cotton factories.xlvi Although promoted heavily by progressive journalists, none of the proposed factories found it easy to attract stockholders and raise the money needed to get into operation.

In September 1828 a notice began to run in the Greensborough Patriot, requesting “THE citizens of Guilford County… to meet at the Court House in Greensborough, on Saturday the 1st day of November next, for the purpose of making arrangements for Establishing a Manufacturing Company, in this County—and petitioning the General Assembly for incorporating the same.” xlvii Nothing further is reported about this meeting, but local support cannot have been widespread. The practical outcome was that Henry Humphreys decided to risk his fortune on textile manufacturing, and build one of the South’s largest factories all by himself.

Designing and building North Carolina’s first purpose-built, completely integrated cotton mill was a visionary quest for Humphreys, and one that would require most of his time and capital to accomplish. It appears that he began in 1828 to free up his time and money by selling his successful mercantile operations. xlviii The next order of business would have been to acquire machinery, which was built to order and might take many months to be delivered. Humphreys somehow developed a relationship with Rogers, Ketcham and Grosvenor, one of the earliest American textile machinery manufacturers, headquartered in Paterson, New Jersey. The firm was founded by Thomas Rogers, the pre-eminent American mechanical engineer, and could manufacture anything from a sugar mill to a locomotive. His original machinery purchases are unknown, but an inventory of the contents of the factory at the time of Humphreys death in 1840 shows that it included all the equipment needed for “vertically integrated” textile manufacturing, that is, “from bale [of cotton] to bolt [of cloth].” Seventeen boxes of Humphreys’ machinery was shipped from Paterson through the port of New York to Petersburg, Virginia “on the schooner Planet;”xlix and hauled on wagons from there to Greensborough.l

While the production machinery would have been extraordinarily “high-tech” to local residents, undoubtedly the star of the collection was the steam engine that was designed to power the entire ensemble. Using the first steam engine in the county, and what may have been the first in western North Carolina, as the factory’s prime mover was a central aspect of Humphreys’ vision to bring the factory to Greensborough, a county seat without a major watercourse.li Steam power was so unusual that it suggested the name of the entire operation: Mount Hecla (or Hekla), after the most active volcano in Iceland, which had memorably erupted in 1756.lii Although the “annual operating expense of $4,000 for coal left a Raleigh editor aghast” in 1836,liii in 1840 the steam boilers for the engines were fired with wood.liv

If the engine was the beating heart of the factory, a transmission system of iron shafts, pulleys and leather belts was the circulatory system that transferred that power to each machine, and a massive brick and stone building the framework needed to anchor and shelter it all. A four-story, 50-foot-wide by 150-foot-long brick building, with attic and basement, was built at the upper corner of Bellemeade and Greene Streets, where Battleground angled off to the northwest. lv Space for future expansion was built in: though just 21 spinning frames with 2,096 spindles operated at the time of Humphreys’ death in 1840, the building was designed to accommodate 8,500 spindles or 71 spinning frames.lvi The imposing factory was probably the largest structure in Greensborough at the time, yet it was just one element of a sixteen-acre campus that included “Stables and Lumber houses and houses for operatives” and “the Cottage and Grove,” the home of Humphreys’ daughter Nancy, wife of factory manager Thomas R. Tate.lvii

Running a Factory.

The reference to “housing for operatives” opens up a question as to the nature of the workers in Humphreys’ factory. “Operative” does not necessarily mean “employee,” and several sources assert that Mt. Hecla, at least initially, used slave labor. A contemporary newspaper article states that statement that “Two supervisors accompanied the shipment [from Paterson] and taught the white and slave girls to tend the machines.” lviii Humphreys even went so far as to ask the legislature in November, 1832 for what may be the state’s first industrial development tax incentive, based on his investment in personal and real property.

Mr. Parker presented the petition of Henry Humphreys, of the county of Guilford, praying the legislature to pass an act exempting from taxation, for the term of fifteen years, a cotton factory, with the slaves therein employed, together with the lands and appurtenances thereto belonging, situated in Greensborough, which was read and referred to a committee…”lix

There is no indication that Humphreys himself ever owned enough slaves to operate all the machines in the factory.lx Hiring enslaved workers from other owners in the local market would have eliminated the financial advantages of slave labor.lxi By the late 1830s, it appears that Humphreys and every other factory using slave labor converted to a policy of using white labor only, and the fact that slave labor had ever been used was quietly forgotten.lxii The editor of the Patriot, writing in 1843, lauded Humphreys for his civic-mindedness in providing “employment for numerous hands hitherto doing nothing for the community, and but little for themselves.”lxiii It may be that one of Humphreys’ greatest innovations was made in conjunction with the conversion to paid labor: making up for the lack of currency in a tight money market, and lacking a local bank, Humphreys in 1837 printed and issued his own paper money. Undoubtedly these notes were needed to pay employees, and the one dollar bill even included a drawing of the factory itself.lxiv

Operatives of whatever status needed not only a place to live, but a job to do. The types of jobs available at Mt. Hecla posed the most revolutionary aspect of the transition from agricultural “private” work to factory-wage “public” work. Employment in the factory was linked to technically complicated machinery performing a number of very specialized functions. Those workers who tended certain machines became specialists in supporting the action of that machine, and seldom transferred from department to department. The functional layout of the Mount Hecla factory can be reconstructed from the machinery listed in the 1840 inventorylxv:

  • The Engine Room, with two steam engines and access to 592 cords of wood;

  • The Opening Room, with two hoppers where cotton bales are opened and mixed;

  • The Picking Room, where a Picker machine spreads the fiber out into a batt or “lap;”

  • The Carding Room, with 20 Carding Machines, 3 Draw Frames, 5 Speeders and a Card Grinder;

  • The Spinning Room, with twenty 120-spindle frames and one 96-spindle frame;

  • The Packing Room, with nine Reels, two Yarn Presses, a Baling Screw, Scales, and rope;

  • The Dressing Room , with a Band Machine, a Spooler, two Warpers and two Dressers to strengthen the warp with starch before weaving;

  • The Weave Room, running 26 looms;

  • A Blacksmith Shop, with a Turning Lathe, vice and bench, tools, springs, files, and wood screws and everything necessary to maintain the upright and horizontal shafting and pulleys;

  • An Office, with Desk, writing table, patent balance, steelyards, iron chest, clock and bell;

  • A Supply Room, with harness leather, lace leather, hemp twine, dusting brushes, tallow and sperm oil

  • A Store Room, warehousing finished bales of sheeting and bundles of yarn.

The number of “operatives” is nowhere made clear, but a collection this size would have required at least 60 employees to tend the machinery and supervise operations.

Success at Last.

After years of design, construction, training and practice, the risky and costly venture finally went into operation and was declared a winner. On June 30, 1834, Humphreys proudly announced in the local newspaper “THE subscriber takes unfeigned pleasure in announcing to the public, that his splendid STEAM COTTON FACTORY is now in the full tide of successful operation; and that whether factories of this description can now be advantageously carried on in the South is no longer a matter of doubt. It has long been disputed, and not until recently given up that an individual enterprise of the kind could succeed; but he is now making from twelve to 1,500 POUNDS of spun cotton per week… He expects to put an additional quantity of machinery in operation during the month of August, when he will be able to turn out THREE THOUSAND POUNDS PER WEEK.lxvi

The factory was a source of both public pride and consuming curiosity in the Greensborough community. “When the mill was first established the yarns were so popular that people from the country camped all round the factory, waiting for the yarns to come off the machinery.”lxvii Much of its success was attributed to the novel yet vital steam engine, which guaranteed constant reliable operation while water-powered mills generally shut down for at least a month each summer due to drought.lxviii Humphreys was happy to tour visitors through the noisy factory, and many of his future competitors must have had their first real look at an operating cotton mill at Mt. Hecla. Soon the competition became direct and heated. In July 1836 thirty Moravians organized the Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company and began to build a factory and worker housing. The Salem factory would also require steam power for its operation, and an engine was purchased in 1838 in Baltimore. lxix “A certain Danforth, ‘who brought the factory at Greensboro into operation,’ gave them helpful advice” concerning machinery and operations.lxx The Salem factory also became an immediate success,lxxi which evidently irritated Henry Humphreys. In 1838 he angrily accused Francis Fries, the superintendent of the Salem factory, of “luring away one of his skilled employees.”lxxii Fries countered by complaining that Humphreys tried to undersell his local competitors .lxxiii

Untimely Death.

Henry Humphreys enjoyed the success of his creation for less than ten years before he died March 26, 1840.lxxiv The circumstances of his death are unknown, but he made a will in early February that attempted to provide security for his minor children. Humphreys left his property equally divided among Absalom, aged about 18, Sarah, aged about 12lxxv, and Nancy, wife of Thomas Tate and mother of her own expanding brood of children.lxxvi He made his “highly esteemed and well-beloved son-in-law Thomas R. Tate, in whose prudence and honest I have unbounded confidence” the executor of his will, giving him also the “superintendence and management of the cotton factory and its operations” at an annual salary of $1,000.00.lxxvii Humphreys’ desire was that his children share equally in all his property, save that Absalom was to inherit the family townhouse. If the beneficiaries of his will had all been adults, that is, at least aged 21, Tate would have been able to execute the will in a straightforward manner. But two of the siblings were minors, and so the Clerk and Master in Equity became involved. Guardians were appointed for Absalom and Sarah, and rather than operating the factory and executing the terms of the will as he saw fit, Tate was required to report to the Court and confer on decisions with the Guardians.

Absalom proved to be an unruly young man. Though Humphreys had willed the townhouse directly to his son, until Absalom reached age 21 the will directed his sisters Sarah and Nancy, and Nancy’s entire family to live there with him. Absalom appears to have chafed at the supervision of his older sister and her husband. Within eighteen months he had wooed and wed Susan Dick, daughter of a prominent Guilford attorney.lxxviii But even before the marriage, and apparently without the knowledge of his sister or guardian, Absalom contracted to buy a dwelling in Greensborough to house his girlfriend (as distinct from his future wife) and other members of her family. This all became public knowledge when, in 1844, Absalom suddenly died at age 22.lxxix Outraged, Thomas Tate refused to pay for the house. The seller sued Absalom’s estate; the case went to court, where a local judge ruled that Absalom’s estate had to pay, and Tate appealed to the state supreme court. Tate’s legal argument was that, since the house had been intended “for a family with one of the members of which the intestate was in the habit of having illicit sexual intercourse,” and the seller knew of that purpose, that the whole transaction was immoral and void. The Supreme Court rejected the argument, ruling that the Humphreys estate had to pay for the house.

Absalom’s rather sad end added to the complexity of the administration of the Henry Humphreys’ estate by adding the claims of Absalom’s widow, to whom he left one-third of his inheritance from his father. She proceeded to further complicate matters a year later by marrying Dr. David Weir, a physician and Greensborough’s only pharmacist.lxxx Susan Humphreys had already petitioned the Court for her Widow’s Year Allowance,”lxxxi but her new husband soon began to push, not just for her share of Absalom’s estate, but for distribution of her portion of the Henry Humphreys estate. A suit was instituted in the Guilford County Court of Equity, captioned “David P. Weir and wife vs. Thomas R. Tate, Executor of the Estate of Henry Humphreys, deceased, et. al.,” which resulted in a Jarndyce v. Jarndyce-style Victorian civil action that wended its way through court for the next five years.lxxxii Lesser assets of the Humphreys estate were fought over and sold piecemeal, until at last the factory itself was the subject of extensive litigation.lxxxiii

In February 1848, Thomas R. Tate purchased the factory with all its outbuildings, shops and machinery, together with the housing and associated land, at auction for the sum of $15,845.00. Unfortunately, final approval of the sale was delayed until all of the other Humphreys assets were divided, including his 29 slaves. The Tates finally received a deed to the property on October 27, 1849.lxxxiv David and Susan Weir received $1,052.35.lxxxv

Mountain Island.

While the final report on the Testamentary Trust of Henry Humphreys by the Clerk and Master in Equity was not filed until 1850, Thomas Tate was effectively the master of Mt. Hecla after the auction in February, 1848. With that settled, he could finally make decisions free of his sisters-in-law, and what he decided to do, was leave town.

Henry Humphreys had owned property in Rutherford and Lincoln counties, which may have allowed Thomas Tate to become familiar with the assets of western North Carolina. Tate discovered and purchased a tract of land near Mountain Island in Gaston Countylxxxvi which featured the remains of a canal; originally meant to open the Catawba River to navigation down to Charleston, SC, it was perfect for conversion into a mill race.lxxxvii Construction of a four-story brick factory was complete by the fall of 1848, when Tate closed Mt. Hecla in Greensboro and began to move the machinery west to Gaston County. Water-powered textile production began at Mountain Island in the fall of 1849 and continued profitably for generations. Mountain Island was operated by Thomas Tate until his death in 1872, and by members of his family until 1894. It was completely destroyed by a flood in 1916.lxxxviii The relocated factory was the first cotton mill in Gaston County, which within fifty years was destined to become the home of some of the largest factories in North Carolina.lxxxix

The prime factor traditionally cited as the reason for the move was that the Catawba River’s waterpower was free and plentiful.xc This certainly must have been a financial factor; the annual cost of fuel for Mt. Hecla in 1836 was reported to be $4,000,xci and a similar expense was reported in 1849 for the Rowan Factory in Salisbury.xcii The reporter noted more significantly that these additional expenses made the difference between profit and loss: “Although the Rowan Factory appears to be doing a flourishing business; and doubtless, upon the present investment which is, perhaps, not one third of the original cost, the profits are large; yet we have no idea that it will be able to compete with those driven by water power.”xciii When the cost of fuel was combined with the impact of competition, the reason for Tate’s removal to Mountain Island is clear. While Mt. Hecla was the Piedmont’s pioneer cotton factory, it rapidly saw itself surrounded by competitors. As early as 1841, the clerk of the Salem Manufacturing Company noted “that the local market was glutted with yarn.”xciv The Directors of the Company noted in 1849 that “Owing to erection of a number of cotton factories in western part of the state the trade in coarse yarn has been overstocked.”xcv In 1852, after several unsuccessful attempts to sell the factory, they explained the lack of offers as “because we are situated beyond the limits of the cotton growing country, and because our factory is propelled by steam.”xcvi Fuel costs, yes, may have led to the move, but the stiff competition of other Piedmont manufacturers and the lure of open markets in western North Carolina undoubtedly promised an improved bottom line.


Impact on the Industry.

The legacy of Henry Humphreys lies not just with his son-in-law and grandchildren of Mountain Island, and their pioneer efforts in opening Gaston County to manufacturing. Though perhaps inadvertently, Humphreys’example in creating from nothing and successfully operating the Mt. Hecla factory trained an entire generation of North Carolina’s industrial pioneers. Edwin M. Holt, a young farmer on Alamance Creek east of Greensborough, began his education there in 1836:

Following the natural inclination of his mind for mechanical pursuits, my father made it convenient to visit Greensboro often, and as often he went there he always made it his business and pleasure to call on Mr. Humphries. The two began to like each other very much, and soon became good friends, and the more my father examined and saw into the working of Mr. Humphries’ mill, the more he determined to go into the business himself.xcvii

Holt and his partner/ brother-in-law William A. Carrigan established the first of five antebellum cotton mills in what would become Alamance County.xcviii

Humphreys exerted a similar influence on his own step-son-in-law, John Motley Morehead. In 1828 Morehead, son of a Leaksville blacksmith, purchased an interest in the wooden dam and a 4,200-foot canal powering the overshot wheel of a grist mill at Island Ford on the Smith River in Rockingham County. xcix By 1831 he was sole owner and operator of a grist mill, oil mill, saw mill, carding machine, cotton gin, and general store there, and determined to add a cotton factory. In 1837 he determined to add a cotton mill in partnership with William A. Carrigan, the same partner of Edwin Holt in the Alamance Factory.c In 1839 they hired John Hall Bullard (1808-1870), a textile mechanic and Massachusetts native, to build and manage the mill, and by 1840 a three-story stone factory was in operation, powered by a large iron water wheel,ci and employing 40 people.cii Morehead’s cotton mill, the first in Rockingham County, became known as the Leaksville Factory.ciii

Mt. Hecla inspired a run of steam-powered mills in other Piedmont county seats. Thomas McNeely built the Mocksville Cotton Factory in Davie County in 1836.civ The Lexington Manufacturing Company in Davidson County, incorporated in 1839, was another urban mill built around steam power. cv One of its nine incorporators was James P. Humphreys, almost certainly a relative of Henry Humphreys and perhaps the manager of the Humphreys store in Lexington.cvi The Lexington factory flourished until it was destroyed by fire in September 1844.cvii The Concord Manufacturing Company was established in 1840 in Cabarrus County; capitalized at $30,000 it included looms and twisters to produce cotton twine, all powered by a sixty-horsepower engine.cviii Also in 1840, a three-story brick factory was built in Salisbury housing 3,000 spindles and 70 looms made by the Matteawan Company of New York, and powered by a fifty-horsepower engine.cix

Less documented, but undoubtedly present, was Humphreys’ influence on other Piedmont industrialists. Certainly the nearby example of Mt. Hecla must have been instructive for merchants such Benjamin and Henry Elliott when they started their Cedar Falls factory in 1836; as also upon the Quaker entrepreneurs who in the mid-1830s, founded the factories on Cane Creek and at Franklinsville and Union Factory on Deep River in Randolph County. Henry Humphreys and his example of industrial entrepreneurship was a primary influence in the creation of a positive attitude toward industrialization in antebellum North Carolina.



Diffee W. Standard and Richard W. Griffin, “The Cotton Textile Industry in Ante-Bellum North Carolina, Part 1: Origin and Growth to 1830.” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 34, No. 1 (January, 1957).

Diffee W. Standard and Richard W. Griffin, “The Cotton Textile Industry in Ante-Bellum North Carolina, Part II: An Era of Boom and Consolidation, 1830-1860.” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 34, No. 2 (April, 1957).

Thomas D. Clark, The Southern Country Store. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1944.

“The History of Guilford County, North Carolina,” by Sallie W. Stockard, L. B. (1897, Guilford College), A. B. (1898, University of North Carolina), A. M. (1900, University of North Carolina.) Knoxville, Tenn.: Gaut-Ogburn Co., Printers and Book Binders, 1902.

Sallie W. Stockard, The History of Alamance: Work for the Degree of M.A. at the University of North Carolina. Raleigh: Capital Printing Company, 1900.

Bettie D. Caldwell, ed., Founders and Builders of Greensboro, 1808-1908; Greensboro: Jos. J. Stone and Co., 1925.

Beatty, Bess. “Lowells of the South: Northern Influences on Nineteenth-Century North Carolina Textile Industry.” Journal of Southern History 53, no. 37 (1987).

Blackwell P. Robinson and Alex Stoessen, History of Guilford County

Lindley S. Butler, Rockingham County: A Brief History. Raleigh: N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1982.

Walter Whitaker, Centennial History of Alamance County 1849 – 1949.” Charlotte, N.C. : The Dowd Press, Inc., 1949.



Greensboro Patriot, 10-11-1826; 11-1-1826

Cheap Fall Goods.

The Subscriber returns his thanks to his friends and customers for the very liberal support heretofore received, and begs leave to inform them, that he has just received from the North, an additional supply of Staple and Fancy GOODS, which added to his former Stock, will make his assortment equal, if not superior, to any that has ever been opened in the place.

The Assortment consist in part of the following articles:

Superfine, middling, and low priced Cloths and Cassimeres, assorted colours,

Double and single milled Drab for Great Coats,

Swansdown, Valentia and Toilinet vestings,

Red, green and white Flannels, Bockings and Baize

Rose, Duffle and Point Blankets

Tartan and Sacatian Plaids

Green, red and black Tabby Velvets,

Lambs wool and worsted Hose,

Cassimere Shawls and Points,

Merino Shawls, an elegant article,

Canton Crapes, a variety of patterns,

Madarine Crape Robes and shawls,

Levanteen, Sattin, Florence and Grudenap Silks, plain and figured,

10 pieces well assorted Irish Linen and long Lawn,

3-4 and 4-4 apron Checks, Indigo dye,

3-3, 4-4 and 5-4 brown Shirtings and Sheeting

3-4 and 4-4 Bleached Shirtings and Sheetings, part Sea Island

Olive and light coloured bangup Cord.

Black and Brown Bombazetts, plain and figured,

Green and Crimson Mareens, for lining Carriage tops,

3-4 and 5-4 Cambrie Muslins and Dimities,

3-4 and 5-4 Jaconet and Mull Muslin,

Bandanna and flag hankerchiefs,

Fancy Prints, part Indigo dye, well assorted,

Gentlemen’s Woodstock Gloves of the best kind,

Book Muslin, plain and figured,

Black, green and white Italian Crapes,

Bobbinet and Thule Lace, plain and figured,

Bobbinet Veils and thread Laces,

Green and white Florence silks for Bonnets,

Grodenap Bonnet Ribbands in setts, latest fashion,

Window curtain and Cosell Fringe,

Cotton and Silk Hose assorted,

Whittemore’s Cotton and Wool Cards,

Leghorn and Straw Flats, elegant assortment,

Silk Velvet Bonnets, latest fashion for Winter,

Ladies’ Walking Shoes and Pumps,

Misses and Children’s Shoes and Bootees,

Russia Rabbit Skins, of an excellent quality, a good assortment of Hardware, Cutlery, Sadlery, Crockery, Groceries, Paints, Dye Stuffs, Hatters Materials, Pearl ash, &c. &c.

Wishing to close my Mercantile concerns, I shall sell Goods in future for CASH alone; those who have open accounts standing with me, are therefore requested to call and close them as soon as convenient, and those that have bonds in my hands, that were not taken as Guardian bonds in my hands, are requested to call and renew them, otherwise they will be put out for collection.


Greensboro’, Oct. 11, 1826


i The biographical sketch by his grandson Thomas H. Tate for Bettie Caldwell about 1908 is the primary source for details of his life, and in it Tate admitted that “only vague traditions enable us to trace our forebears.” Humphreys’ only named relative, his brother John or “Jack,” died before 1860 in Vancouver, B.C., “after a life partially spent on the sea.” Bettie D. Caldwell, ed., Founders and Builders of Greensboro, 1808-1908; Greensboro: Jos. J. Stone and Co., 1925, p. 33. A William Humphreys is listed adjacent to Henry Humphreys in the 1820 Guilford County census, and may have been a relative. A James P. Humphreys of Lexington deeded property to Henry Humphreys in 1836, and may also have been a relative.

ii Id.

iii Id., p. 36.

iv Guilford Genealogist, Vol 24, No. 1, page 19: “William, aged about 15, son of John Baldwin, deceased, is bound to Henry Humphreys.” The relationship of John and William Baldwin to Humphrey’s wife Mary Baldwin is undetermined. Greensborough was not incorporated until a year later. Humphreys’ first home in Guilford is said by his grandson to have been in Jamestown. Caldwell, p. 33.

v Robinson/ Stoessen, page 69, quoting Ethel Stephens Arnett. The other commissioners were David Gillespie, Dr. David Caldwell, Jr., Simeon Green, Joseph Davis, and Abraham Geren.

vi NC Department of Archives and History, Guilford County Records, Muster Rolls 1812-1814.

vii NC Department of Archives and History, Guilford County records.

viii Robinson/Stoessen, op.cit., p. 70. Of course, Morehead did own considerably more property in his native Rockingham County.

ix Caldwell, op.cit. p. 34. “Chairman” of the town council would be considered “Mayor” today.

x The Patriot, 6-23-32.

xi The Patriot, March 29, 1833, page 2, Col. 3.

xii Samuel M. Rankin, The History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro: Joseph Stone and Co., 1925), p.98. Dr. David Caldwell was the first pastor of Buffalo Church, which was organized in 1756. Humphreys would be buried there in 1840.

xiii Cadwell, op.cit., p.37.

xiv Her tombstone at Buffalo Presbyterian Church says “Mary B. Humphreys/ Who Departed This Life on the 30th of April 1820/ in the 35th Year of Her Life.”

xv Id. Ann L Humphreys, commonly called “Nancy,” was born about 1817 and married Thomas R. Tate of Caswell County. Another daughter by Mary Baldwin, Louisa, died young.

xvi Letitia was the daughter of Col. Jeduthan Harper, former Register of Deeds of Randolph County, and builder of a house in the Trinity area now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

xvii Thomas H. Tate says “two Humphreys children grew to maturity,” Henry, another son, died in childhood. Absalom T., Humphreys’ surviving son, was born in 1822; a daughter Sarah Letitia (a/k/a “Sallie”) was born about the year 1828. Letitia Harper Lindsay Humphreys died on July 15, 1835.

xviii Guilford County Deed Book 18, Page 115; Deed from Thomas Caldwell to Henry Humphreys, Feb. 1, 1822.

xix Guilford County Deed Book 18, Page 131, dated August 15, 1827.

xx Humphreys acquired “Lot 1, Southwest” April 12, 1821. Guilford Deed Book 15, Page 261, paying $3,800. A previous deed dated July 14, 1817, cited the tract as “being the Lott whereon the Tavern House now stands and whereon the said [Robert A.] Carson now lives.” Deed Book 12, Page 545. It appears that the four corner lots facing the courthouse square in Greensboro were the most valuable in Town. Lot 1, Northwest was purchased by Humphreys in 1829 for $4,000 from his former partner Abraham Geren (Deed Book 18, Page 384); Lot 1 Southeast was purchased by Humphreys from Jacob Hubbard for $3,000 in 1830 (Deed Book 19, Page 412). This was at a time when other lots were selling for less than $100.

xxi The high sales price of the property when Humphreys purchased the lot in 1821 indicates a substantial structure stood there at the time. It is unknown whether he cleared the lot and built anew, or whether he remodeled an existing building. Older members of the Greensboro preservation community may recall faint echoes of protest when the remnants of Humphrey’s townhouse, then known as the Guilford Drug Store at 100 South Elm Street (the southeast corner of Elm and Market) were demolished in the 1970s for the construction of First Citizens bank.

xxii “ I give to my son Absalom T. Humphreys, my large brick dwelling house in the Town of Greensborough, together with the lot on which it stands and the other houses thereto attached… I also give unto the said Absalom my house clock and all the furniture belonging to my hall room, and I also direct the store room, counting room and cellar to be rented out…” Will of “Henry Humphrey” [sic], NC State Archives, C.R. 046.801.102 (Guilford County Wills, 1771-1968; Will Book C, Page 55, dated Feb. 18, 1840; Probated May Term 1840.

xxiii Thomas D. Clark, The Southern Country Store. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1944, p. 60.

xxiv The Patriot, 4-7-1830.

xxv The Patriot, Greensborough, 10-11-1826; 11-1-1826.

xxvi The inventory of the property of Henry Humphreys, filed with the clerk of superior court in August, 1840. See NC State Archives CR 046.501.6, “Guilford County Estate Book X-10, 1835-1842,” p. 350.

xxvii See deed books 12, pages 412 and 546; 14, page 240; 15, pages 7, 107 and 135.

xxviii The Patriot, 12-29-1829. “NOTICE. HUMPHREYS & LONG, wishing to close their books for the present year, request their customers to call and settle, by cash or notes;– those failing to comply with this request, may expect to find their accounts in the hands of officers for collection.”

xxix James P. Humphreys, a cousin or brother, evidently ran the Lexington store for Humphreys. Another cousin or brother, William Humphreys, may have run the second Greensboro shop. See Guilford Deed Book 13, Page 48.

xxx The Statesville partnership was called “Humphreys and Stockton” in an inventory dated April 25, 1831. Caldwell, p. 34.

xxxi The Patriot, 4-7-1830.

xxxii NC State Archives, CR 046.501.6, “Guilford County Estate Book X-10, 1835-1842.

xxxiii John Motley Morehead and his partner William Barnett advertised in September 1833 that “Our great Saw and Oil Mills are all in exceeding fine, and in full operation. So also are our Carding Machines, Cotton Gin and Blacksmith Shop, ready to dispatch all kind of work daily.” See The Patriot, Greensborough, 3-26-1834. Their extensive operation on the Smith River in Rockingham County grew into Morehead’s Leaksville Factory.

xxxiv Guilford County Deed Book 18, Page 115- a 10.75 acre tract adjoining “the lot where Humphreys cotton machine now stands… adjoining the tract where Humphreys now lives.” Cotton gins at the time were wooden boxes no more than four feet square, and usually run by horse power. Humphreys’ gin followed him from dwelling to dwelling until it was finally located near the factory. In 1829 adjoined the residence of Robert A. Carson, “on the lot which Humphreys’ machine and stables now stands.” Guilford Deed Book 18, Page 491, December 21, 1829.

xxxv Guilford County Deed Book 18, Page 384, March 10, 1829.

xxxvi Diffee W. Standard and Richard W. Griffin, “The Cotton Textile Industry in Ante-Bellum North Carolina, Part 1: “Origin and Growth to 1830.” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 34, No. 1 (January, 1957), p. 21.

xxxvii Id., p. 23.

xxxviii Id., p. 24.

xxxix Id., p. 26, citing the Raleigh Register of 9-23-34.

xl By 1850, Petersburg had nine cotton factories, and Fayetteville had eight, the largest concentration of manufacturing in each state.

xli Id., p. 27, citing the popular Baltimore magazine Niles Weekly Register XXX (July 1, 1826), 321, while in turn was citing The Newbern Spectator and Literary Journal.

xlii A review of his purchases shows he owned property on Deep River, Mears Fork and Reedy Fork of Haw River, North and South Buffalo Creek, and “Bull Run”.

xliii In 1836 Colonel Benjamin Elliott and his son Henry chose the same entry route into manufacturing. Colonel Elliott, the Randolph County Clerk of Court, ran a store on the Asheboro courthouse square and operated a grist mill on Deep River at Cedar Falls. Henry Elliott installed spinning frames in that mill that were in “successful operation” by 1837.

xliv Acts passed by the GA, 1828-29, 78; Charles Fisher, “A Report on the Establishment of Cotton and Woolen Manufactures and on the Growing of Wool,” Legislative Papers, 1828.

xlv Standard and Griffin, Part 1, page 32.

xlvi Belfort Cotton Mfg. Co. (W.A. Blount, John Myers, William Ellison organizing a new Fayetteville factory); Egdecombe Mfg. Co. (Joel Battle reorganizing and expanding his original factory); Fayetteville Mfg. Co. (Henry Donaldson reorganizing his initial factory); Randolph Mfg. Co. (incorporated by Hugh McCain, Jesse Walker, Benjamin Elliott, Jonathan Worth, but never accumulating sufficient capital to open); and Rockingham (proposed by the members of the Leak and Crawford families, but not a direct ancestor of the Leaksville factory.)

xlvii The Patriot, 10-25-1828, Page 3, col. 4. “P.S. They have also purchased the Cotton Gin formerly owned by Henry Humphreys, Esq.”

xlviii The Patriot, 10-25-1828, Page 3, col. 4: See the advertisement of “Lindsay, Hoskins & Gorrell” who “would inform their friends and inhabitants of Guilford generally, that in addition to the very extensive assortment of GOODS which they recently received from the cities of New York and Philadelphia, that they have purchased from Henry Humphreys Esq. All his Stock of GOODS, which added to their former stock makes it very heavy and full, embracing almost every variety of Goods usually called for. They will keep up business at their old stand on the North East Corner in Greensborough; and on the South East Corner where Henry Humphreys done business.”

xlix Bettie Caldwell, op.cit., p.35.

l Stockard, History of Guilford, p. 63.

li The first use of industrial steam was to power boats. The “Henrietta Steamboat Company” began operations on the Cape Fear from Fayetteville to Wilmington in July 1834, and it was not the first steam navigation company on the river at that. (See The Patriot, September 3, 1834). I’m not aware of any study tracing the introduction of steam power into North Carolina, and my research has uncovered no earlier use than at Mt. Hecla.

lii Mount Hekla is surrounded by geysers and unique black sand and black lava and was called “the Gateway to Hell” by the Vikings. It did not erupt in Humphrey’s lifetime, but was possibly known from William Blake’s poem “To Winter,” published in 1783 in his first book Poetical Sketches: “–till heaven smiles, and the monster/ Is driv’n yelling to his caves beneath mount Hecla.”

liii Standard and Griffin, Part 2, page 132.

liv “Inventory and Account of the Cotton Factory Stock,” circa June 1840; N.C. State Archives CR 046.501.6: “Guilford County Estate Book X-10, 1835-1842,” pages 355 et. seq.

lv The exact location of the factory building has been lost, but archeological investigation under the parking lots of 301 Battleground and Preservation Greensboro’s architectural salvage store at 300 Bellemeade would undoubtedly uncover evidence of the foundations of the structure.

lvi The Patriot, November 20, 1847; the legal notice of J.A. Mebane, Clerk and Master in Equity, advertised for sale “the large and extensive brick building…sufficient for the accommodation of eighty-five hundred spindles…”

lvii Deed Book 30, Page 696, James T. Morehead to Thomas R. Tate, dated November 22, 1849.

lviii Standard and Griffin, Part 2, Page 132, quoting the Raleigh Register of July 18, 1838. The identity of just one of the Rogers, Ketcham & Growner employees is known: James Danforth. Charles Danforth invented and patented several important textile innovations, such as the “ring” spinning frame, and in 1852 founded his own “Danforth, Cooke & Company.” James Danforth was obviously a relative. James evidently spent years in North Carolina, and was probably the “Danforth” who advised both Francis Fries and Edwin Holt about fitting out their factories. He was probably also a member of the “Danforth and McCuiston” partnership that founded the first factory in Alamance County, the High Falls (now Hopedale) factory (see Raleigh Register, 11-22-1836). On September 10, 1835, the Rev. Eli Caruthers married James M. Danforth and “Ellen Humphrey” in Guilford County. Her relationship to Henry Humphreys is unknown, but intriguing. See Guilford County Genealogical Society, Guilford Marriage Bonds, 1771-1868 (Greensboro, 1981).

lix The Patriot, 11-28-1832, page 2, column 5.

lx In the 1810 census he is listed with no slaves; in 1820 with one older black woman. US Federal Census Records.

lxi According to the inventories made of Humphreys’ estate he owned 29 slaves at the time of his death, the largest number he is ever shown to own. Sixteen were male and more than half appear to be children. They appear to be members of four or five large families, and Humphreys’ will asks that all family members be transferred together. (Nineteen were awarded to Thomas and Nancy Tate and ten to Sarah Humphreys.) It is unclear whether all of these individuals lived in Greensborough, or whether some of them lived on some of his numerous agricultural properties. There is no indication which of them worked in the homes of Humphreys and his children, and which of them may have worked in the factory. N.C. State Archives, CR 046.508.126, Estate file of Henry Humphreys, 1840.

lxii Sallie Stockard, in the 1890s, asserted that “The hands were white people from the neighborhood.” History of Guilford, p. 63.

lxiii The Patriot, September 30, 1843. There is at least one record of a boy being apprenticed to Humphreys “to live with him in the manner of a Servant Boy about his Cotton Factory.” Robinson/Stoessen, op.cit., p. 75.

lxiv The whole area of Humphreys’ currency bears further exploration. Tom Brawner, writing in The Guilford Genealogist, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer 1999, Issue No. 86, uncovered the North Carolina Supreme Court case “State of North Carolina v. Henry Humphreys,” 19 N.C. 555 (Dec. term, 1837), where “On 10 Oct. 1837, Henry Humphreys, Guilford County resident and proprietor of the Mount Hecla Steam Mills in Guilford County, issued to an unnamed person a promissory note for 25 cents, payable to “the bearer on demand.” The state charged him with a criminal violation (essentially counterfeiting), and he was found guilty. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, finding no evidence that the note “was part of a series, was made from a plate impression or otherwise was intended to substitute for money.” Yet fifty-cent, Dollar, and Three Dollar denominations of the printed bills are known to exist, and in 1908 grandson Thomas R. Tate stated that “These steel [printing] plates are still in possession of the family.” Caldwell, p. 36.

lxvInventory and Account of the Cotton Factory Stock,” op.cit.

lxvi The Patriot, August 2, 1834, page 4, column 4.

lxvii Caldwell, p. 36.

lxviii Standard and Griffin, Part 2, page 132.

lxix Fries, One Hundred Years of Textiles in Salem, p. 11

lxx Id.

lxxi Fries, op. cit. “Spindles were put into operation as fast as the workers could be taught the art of machine spinning. There was such a good market for yarn that it was some time before enough could be spared to supply the thirty-six looms.”

lxxii Bess Beatty, Lowells of the South, p. 50, citing the Francis Fries Letterbook , Oct. 11, 1838.

lxxiii Beatty, op. cit., p. 42.

lxxiv His tombstone at Buffalo Presbyterian Church is beside his first wife Mary Baldwin and near his second wife Letitia Harper Lindsay and her first husband. It says, “SACRED/ to the memory of/ Henry Humphreys/Who Departed this Life/ March 26, 1840/ Aged 53 Years.”

lxxv Sarah Letitia Humphreys, a/k/a “Sallie,” ultimately married Thomas Brown at Carthage, Tenn. See The Patriot, May 12, 1849, page 3, col. 6.

lxxvi Thomas and Anne Tate would ultimately have 9 children. At the time of her father’s death they had six, with her oldest aged 13 and the youngest, 2. U.S. Census of 1860, Gaston County, NC.

lxxvii CR 046.801.102: Guilford County Wills, 1771-1968; Will of Henry Humphrey [sic]; Shuck #0790; Will Book C, Page 55 (1840); Prob. May Term 1840

lxxviii “Married: Absalom T. Humphreys, son of the late Henry Humphreys, to Susan Dick, daughter of John M. Dick. The Patriot, 1842.

lxxix The Patriot, 9 November 1844: “DIED. In this place on Wednesday the 6th inst., Absalom T. Humphreys, in the 22d year of his age.” His will is dated September 24, 1844. N.C. State Archives, CR 046.801.102: Will of Absalom T. Humphreys; Shuck #0877, Will Book C, P. 200 (1844).

lxxx The Patriot, October 18, 1845: “Married, on Thursday evening last, Dr. David P. Weir to Mrs. Susan Humphreys.”

lxxxi N.C. State Archives CR 046.508.126: Estate of Absalom T. Humphreys, 1844. “Petition for Widow’s Yearly Allowance, Feb. 1845 by Susan T. Humphreys. John A. Mebane, J.A. McLean, Wm. T. Rankin, Wm. L. Gilmer, appointed Commissioners and they approve an Order to pay $300 to the widow.

lxxxii See, for example, the Patriot legal ad in The Guilford Genealogist, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2002, Issue No. 96, p. 17: “State of North Carolina, Guilford County. Order- October Term, 1846. D.P. Weir & wife & others, vs. Thomas R. Tate, Ex’r & others. In pursuance of an order made in the above case at October Term, 1846, I shall expose to public sale…six likely slaves. J.A. Mebane, C.M.E. 7 November 1846.” Or, the Patriot ad in The Guilford Genealogist, Vol. 29, No.4, Fall 2002, Issue No. 99, p. 196: “18 March 1848 Notice. I will sell in Greensboro’ on the 18th day of April next, being Tuesday of April Court, the following property, viz: 1 Tract of land of 100 acres, called the Phil Mitchell place; 1 Negro girl…Thos. Tate, Exr. of H. Humphreys, dec’d. At the same time and place I will sell the balance of the personal property of A.T.H. Humphreys, dec’d, viz:…Thos R. Tate, Exr. of A.T.H. Humphreys, dec’d.”

lxxxiii See The Guilford Genealogist, Vol. 29, No.3, Summer 2002, Issue No. 98, p. 148: “13 November 1847 State of North Carolina- Guilford County. Court of Equity, October Term 1847. Thos. R. Tate and others vs. David P. Weir and others. Petition to sell Real Estate. By virtue of a Decree, made in the above case, I shall expose to public Sale in the Town of Greensborough, N.C. on Monday the 21st day of February, 1848, upon a credit of one, two and three years, the Lot of and on which the Cotton Factory Stands, erected by the late Henry Humphries… At the same time and place I shall sell the following tracts of and belonging to said estate, to wit: One tract of 30 acres, adjoining Crowson and others, bought of Washington Adams; One tract of 60 acres joining John Morehead and others… The handsome Lot and Grove west of the Factory, improved by Thomas R. Tate. J.A. Mebane, C.M.E.”

lxxxiv Guilford County Deed Book 30, Page 696. The Tate family continued to own the factory property even after the removal of the factory to Gaston County. There is some evidence that it was used during and after the Civil War as a tobacco factory or warehouse. The date of its destruction is unknown. After the death of Thomas R. Tate in 1872, his son and executor deeded the cotton factory and “the brick building and lot known as the Tate Building” (i.e., the Humphreys Townhouse) to H.H. Tate and his wife Harriett Eliza Tate, for $8,000 (Deed Book 61, Page 80). The “Tate Building”, a/k/a “Humphreys’ Folly,” was deeded to W.H. Ragan and J.H. Millis on March 1, 1887. (Deed Book 72, Page 109). Ragan and Millis were High Point merchants, but veterans of the textile industry through early training in the factory in Franklinsville.

lxxxv Final Report of J.A. Mebane, Clerk and Master in Equity, 1850. N.C. State Archives, Humphreys estate file.

lxxxvi Gaston County was formed in December 1846 from Lincoln County.

lxxxvii Standard and Griffin, part 2, page 152, citing the Charlotte Journal, 3-23-49 and the Carolina Watchman, 3-29-1849.

lxxxviii www.carolinastamps.com/mountainisland.html .

lxxxix The Woodlawn Company, opened by members of the Lineberger and Rhyne families in 1852, was second. It was located on the South Fork of the Catawba near what is now McAdenville. Id.

xc “The shortage of wood around Greensborough and the excellent water power available at the new location led Tate to select Mountain Island as a superior mill site.” Id.

xci Standard and Griffin, Part 2, page 132.

xcii The Carolina Republican, Lincolnton, June 22, 1849: “The machinery is propelled by a Steam Engine, of 50 Horse-power, which consumes from 5 to 6 loads of wood per day… The expenses of the propelling power alone, over and above the wear and tear of Machinery, cannot, at present, be less than from $10 to $15 a day, amounting, in a year, to a large sum, not less than $3,000-4,000, no inconsiderable item in the annual expenses.”

xciii Id. In fact, the Salisbury factory had closed in bankruptcy by the time of the Civil War, when the factory building was transformed by the Confederate government into the Salisbury military prison.

xciv Fries, op.cit., p. 12.

xcv Id., p.13.

xcvi Id.

xcvii Stockard, History of Alamance County, p. — (Chapter 17).

xcviii Their tiny factory on Alamance Creek opened in 1837, beginning with just six 88-spindle spinning frames in a wooden grist mill-type structure. Following the Humphreys pattern, the Paterson, New Jersey machinery manufacturer sent a mechanic to Alamance to set up the factory, and he stayed for 18 months. The mill ran twelve hours a day, and between the cotton factory, “the grist-mill and saw-mill exhausted all the power of Alamance creek.” Stockard, op.cit. The firm of Holt and Carrigan operated the Alamance mill until the death of Holt’s wife and Carrigan’s sister Nancy Holt in 1851, after which Carrigan sold out to Edwin Holt and moved his family to Arkansas. Whitaker, Centennial History of Alamance County, pp. 100-101.

xcix Lindley Butler, Rockingham County, p. 31.

c Id., p. 32.

ci Id., p. 43.

cii Id., p.43. In 1860 the factory was valued at $70,000 [id., p. 42] and employed 25 men and 80 women and converted 350,000 lbs. of raw cotton into 120,000 yards of osnaburg, 150,000 yards of sheeting, and 240 pounds of bundle yarn. [id.] In 1845, 40 bunches of Morehead’s cotton yarn were valued at $31.38. [id., p. 43.]

ciii Id., p. 42, which shows a photograph of the factory published in the State Magazine, Vol. XVI, p. 4 (November 6, 1948).

civ Standard and Griffin, part 2, page 140.

cv Charter issued January 3, 1839. Davidson County, North Carolina: Pathfinders Past and Present, p. 288.

cvi James P. Humphreys sold a lot on the Lexington Courthouse Square to Henry Humphreys on November 7, 1836. Davidson County Deed Book 5, Page 502.

cvii Davidson County, op.cit., p.289. The property was advertised for sale in The Patriot, December 28, 1844: “The main Factory building, the walls of which stand almost as perfect as before the fire, with all the houses occupied by the hands, Store houses and Cotton House, &c.; a large 30 or 40 horse power Engine, with the pumps attached; 15 or 20 tons of Cast Metal, several tons of shafting iron, a quantity of Steel, an iron slide Lathe and a cutting Engine (both valuable Machines) with all the other Machines and parts of machinery, saved from the fire.”

cviii Standard and Griffin, part 2, p. 149.

cix The Carolina Republican, Lincolnton, NC, June 22, 1849. “Not less than 60 barrels of Flour are used in Starch; and 1000 Bales of Cotton are worked up in a year. The Cloth which weighs 3 yards to the pound, and appears to be of an excellent quality, is made of No. 14 and 15 Yarn; it is called 4-4 Sheetings. Besides supplying the home demand, there were shipped, in five months, to the Northern market, 249,000 yards of Cloth, and 6,400 pounds of Batts. A spinning frame in the Factory, made by the Mattewan Company of New York, produces nine skeins per spindle per day. Another article from the same newspaper, dated November 30, 1849, reported that “The Spinning ‘Mules,’ extending from one end of the lengthy building to another, were driven by steam and attended only by a few little boys and girls to mend the broken threads.” Semi-automated mules were designed to spin the finest counts of yarn, and this appears to be the first North Carolina factory known to have installed them.




Boston Tomorrow

May 16, 2007

Roman and I will be flying to Boston tomorrow. Boston waterfront I’ve been elected to the Board of Trustees of the American Textile History Museum ATHMin Lowell (see http://www.athm.org ) and the museum’s annual meeting is Friday. I’ve been working with them for many years, first in research, then with their historic machinery collection. Last fall, they decided to truck most of it here to NC, where the warehouse rents are cheaper and the possibilities exist to open a branch of the museum that might use the equipment to actually weave fabric for sale in museum shops.

After the meeting at the Museum, we’ll look through the National Park Boott Mill(http://www.nps.gov/lowe/), including the Boott Mill Museum Boott Mill Weave Room(http://www.cr.nps.gov/NR/TWHP/wwwlps/lessons/21boott/21boott.htm ). Saturday I have tickets for the afternoon Red Sox/ Atlanta Braves game at Fenway Park Fenway Aerial(getting the tickets was an education and a financial shock!). Sunday we’ll drive to Hyannis (a rental car came with the airline tickets), and catch the ferry Nantucket Location to Nantucket, Nantucket Mapwhere we’ll spend the day, Nantucket Postcardcatch the ferry back, and spend the night in Hyannis (MUCH cheaper!). Then Monday we’ll go to Fanueil Hall and the Aquarium, and catch the flight home Monday afternoon.

Roman will miss 3 days of school, after having a perfect record this spring, but I think this trip is probably more educational than any of the last 3 weeks of high school in NC. The prices for plane tickets on Thursday and Monday were half of what they are for flights on Friday and Sunday, so that’s why it’s a 5 day trip instead of 3.

Anyway, it will be our last big trip together, and probably my last real vacation trip for a while, given how much I’ve spent travelling since February. But I probably would have gone to Boston this spring even if Roman weren’t here or the Museum hadn’t put me on their board, since this is the 30th reunion of my graduating class from Harvard. 77 BannerThere’s a big deal made about that, of course, and it’s even bigger this year since Bill GatesGates Mug Shot is giving the commencement address and Harvard is finally giving him the degree he skipped out on 32 years ago. But Harvard’s graduation is the same Thursday (June 7th) that Roman graduates from Eastern Randolph; so I’ll be in Ramseur at 6PM, not in Cambridge.

So, expect more posts on our Boston trip.