Trade Wars

Radical Mainers: From Race War to Class War on the Saco River

One spring day in 1831, inventor Samuel Batchelder arrived by stagecoach from Boston after a two-day trip to the roaring falls of the Saco River. Six years earlier, Batchelder had overseen the construction of the Hamilton Company factories in the bustling textile center of Lowell, Mass. After crossing the old covered bridge from Biddeford to the island in the middle of the Saco River, he inspected the wreckage of the burnt cotton mill at the site. Although the Saco Manufacturing Company’s textile factory failed, Batchelder saw great industrial potential on the island, and he had a good chunk of the investment capital to make his vision a reality.

From where he stood on the cliffs of Biddeford, Batchelder could still see the ruins of the old colonial fort built in 1693 to protect the English colony from Indian raids. Before the arrival of the English in the 1600s, the Sokoki (or Saco) and Pequawket tribes of the Abenaki people had lived, hunted and fished along the Saco River for thousands of years. Upstream from the Sokokis Trail in Pequawket (now Fryeburg), the Abenaki had a permanent settlement where they grew beans, squash and corn in the fertile soil.

When English speculators claimed large swathes of land in the Saco River Valley in the 1630s and settlers began to invade Indian territories, the region was repeatedly engulfed in violence and bloodshed , as the Abenaki and the French fought against the English settlers for land and resources. For the English there were lucrative opportunities to profit from the Saco River, and they fiercely upheld their claims. As an English engineer observed in 1699, “The fall of the waterfall makes such a loud noise that you can hardly hear yourself speak. This place is not so much a border [against Indians] as a place of defense for salmon fishing.

But for the natives, it was a fight to save their ancestral homeland and their way of life. The Pequawket / Sokoki warriors led by Warchief Squando began attacking the English colonies in 1675 during the King Philip War. In the early 1720s, heavy fighting broke out again in what is now southern Maine as the Abenakis and the French fought the British over the disputed border between the colony of Massachusetts Bay and New Brunswick. France, on the Kennebec river. In 1722, the colonial governor of Massachusetts, William Dummer, declared war on the Abenacki of the East, who led a guerrilla insurgency against the settlers, attacked the English colonies, killed their inhabitants and took captives before disappearing into the woods. .

After decades of untold violence and death in the region, generations of indigenous people and settlers have suffered intense trauma and fear. They developed a bitter hatred for each other, which led to even more brutal atrocities. When the Massachusetts Bay Colony began donating 100 pounds for the scalps of the Wabanaki people (members of a large confederation that included the Sokoki), scalping became a lucrative industry for hardscrabble white farmers who were otherwise generally inactive in winter, according to historians Alfred E Kayworth and Raymond G. Potvin.

“Private scalp hunting expeditions have been funded by the sale of shares to investors,” they wrote in The Scalp Hunters: Abenaki Ambush at Lovewell Pond – 1725. “Brothers, cousins ​​and friends got together as if on a turkey or deer hunt; it wasn’t just a way out of the house, it was patriotic, plus 100 pounds was a lot of money!

Colonist John Lovewell – a farmer from Nashua, NH – had grown up in colonial garrisons built to protect white families from Indian raids. Both of her grandparents, in addition to various relatives, friends and neighbors, had been killed in battles with the natives, and Lovewell learned to use a gun to fight them at a very young age. Enraged by the recent murders of local settlers by French-led St. Francis Indians of Canada, Lovewell led a series of scalp hunting parties in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and western Maine, killing and mutilating the Abenakis as they went along. In February 1725, his group tracked down and massacred a group of Abenaki raiders believed to be heading for the colonial settlements on the south coast of Maine. Lovewell wore a wig made from Abenaki scalp as he and his men proudly walked the streets of Boston, displaying their bloody generosity on poles.

A few months later, on May 9, 1725, Captain Lovewell led another private Massachusetts scalp hunt through Conway, NH and Maine to wipe out the Abenaki village of Pequawket, but they were surprised by an ambush led by The warchief of Pequawket Paugus. During the one-day battle on the shore of Saco Pond (now known as Lovewell Pond), the settlers suffered heavy casualties and Lovewell and Paugus were killed. The rest of the tribe deserted the village and fled to Canada, where they joined the Indians of Saint-François.

Lovewell and his men have been portrayed as heroes and martyrs in the New England lore and immortalized in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was, in the words of historian Robert E. Cray, “the first American version of the Alamo”. In 1764 Pequawket was renamed Fryeburg for Colonel Joseph Frye of Andover, Mass., Who obtained the township for his service in the French and Indian Wars.

With the Indians driven out and defeated, colonization began in earnest when ambitious colonial merchants and entrepreneurs took control of the land on and around Saco Island. The colony’s first industrial complex, a hydraulic sawmill and iron forge, was built in 1653, and for nearly 300 years the sawmill was an important industry. When the American Revolution began in 1775, the colony was incorporated as the town of Pepperellborough, named after English capitalist and slave trader William Pepperell. In 1805 it was renamed Saco, which more easily rolled over the tongue.

A local merchant and former Continental Army officer named Thomas Cutts was one of the most prominent members of the community at this time. Born into a wealthy Kittery family in 1736, Cutts used to live a privileged life on the family’s “seigneurial island” in the Piscataqua River. Her childhood included rides on the family’s pleasure boat and “invitation-only Sunday parties,” according to the Saco Museum. With a loan from his father, Cutts moved to Pepperellborough at the age of 22 and began buying land on the Isle of the River that separated what would become the towns of Biddeford and Saco. He first built a house and a store, then founded a sawmill, founded Saco Bank, and in 1811 co-founded the Saco Iron Works, which made barrel hoops, nails, and other iron products.

A real estate ad for the Saco Island auction.

By the time of his death, Cutts had left an industrial legacy that would shape the economic and cultural life of the region for many years to come. In 1825, when the 30 acres of Cutts Island (later known as Factory Island) were put up for sale, there were three sawmills, a flour mill, and a busy wharf. After purchasing the property, the Saco Manufacturing Company built a seven-story cotton textile mill, the largest of its kind in the United States at the time. Investors spent a quarter of a million dollars and built a canal to generate water power, but the mill failed and burned down in 1830.

A year after his visit in 1831, Batchelder founded the York Manufacturing Company on the island, and it paid its first dividends to shareholders three years later. According to the company’s official history, published in 1945, it never failed to pay a dividend over the next 100 years, even when finances forced management to force workers to make wage concessions.

By 1841, the business was capitalized at one million dollars and employed 800 women and 200 men operating 17,800 spindles and 500 looms. Three years later, the Maine legislature granted Batchelder the charter of the Pepperell Manufacturing Company of Biddeford. As Dane York wrote in the company’s history, shortly thereafter the first steam locomotive arrived in Biddeford at 20 miles per hour. The rail connection allowed locals to reach Boston in five hours, a fraction of the stagecoach travel time.

In the year Batchelder received Pepperell’s charter, the first telegraph line was strung between Washington and Baltimore, and the first formal trade treaty between the United States and China was signed after Britain’s victory in the first opium war. British and American smugglers notoriously inundated China with opium, which not only sickened its population, but also reversed its once favorable trade balance. When the Qing Dynasty attempted to abolish the drug trade, Britain used its military to protect the drug trade and ultimately forced China to open ports and offer favorable trade terms for it. export of sought-after products such as silk, porcelain and tea.

American traders like John Jacob Astor, one of the richest people in modern history, along with John Perkins Cushing of Boston made their fortunes by smuggling opium. A substantial portion of this drug money, along with the profits from the slave trade, was invested in the New England textile industry. A year after Pepperell Manufacturing’s first factory was built in Biddeford in 1850, the company began exporting blankets and sheets – bearing its iconic Chinese-inspired logo, Welsh Dragon – to China.

By this time, Batchelder had established five factories in Biddeford and Saco, employing 9,000 workers. Industrialization produced phenomenal economic growth for the region, but it brought with it a new system of exploitation that created social and wealth inequalities that had never existed before. Over the next century, there would be many bitter struggles between workers and capitalists in the Twin Cities.

Will Chapman is the Bethel Historical Society Museums Librarian and Archivist. Andy O’Brien is the Director of Communications for the AFL-CIO of Maine. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected]