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 Woven in Time - An Oral History of the Milltown (St. Croix) Cotton Mill by Bill Eagan

I wasn’t quite certain if Gram was babysitting me or I was sitting her.

Mum made it sound like I was being given a very responsible position as it so happened everyone was going to be away for the afternoon.

As usual Gram headed to the quilting frames where she needed an extra pair of hands to make a turn on the side board to give her room to quilt. I put the C-clamps back in the corners. She used the yard stick to draw straight lines with her pencil.

She pushed two chairs in position and placed two thimbles, two spools of threads and a package of needles on the work space. I inquired, “Who is coming to help you?”

Her reply caught me off guard, “Today is the day I am going to teach my granddaughter how to be a quilter as this is a lifetime skill.”

Since I was the only one there, it didn’t take me long to figure out, I was headed for trouble.

She placed the thimble on the finger of my right hand, showed me how to thread a needle and make a knot and then started me a row of making little tiny stitches.

Constant reminding to take little straight stitches didn’t seem to be working. Finally she suggested I could use the cardboard pattern to cut pieces for her next project - a Dresden Plate quilt. Each block would have 16 blades and one center circle. I was even allowed to go through the boxes of discarded clothing and pick whatever material I liked.

I was really proud of myself when I reached the 64 mark of blades with coordinated colours that would make four squares. Since red was my favourite colour, I cut all the circles from an old red blouse of Aunt Ethel’s.

As I busied myself, I wondered where and how the cotton material was made.

If I had lived in Milltown, this would have been familiar to me as many of the parents worked in the St. Croix Cotton Mill.

This week, I learned lots about the making of cotton and the people involved from “Woven in Time - An Oral History of the Milltown (St. Croix) Cotton Mill” by Bill Eagan that was published in 2004.

Cotton has a long history. The cloth could only be afforded by the rich.

In Milltown, five hundred pound bales of cotton arrived at the mill by rail. The picker machines separated the fibres and cleaned them.  The author gives detailed information on the procedures other machines performed and the improvements that were made over the years.

This mill had many kind and considerate employees, who even if it meant slowing down their payment for piecework, gave a helping hand and encouragement to the newcomers who were in need of a job to put food on their table.

Bill Eagan gives first-hand accounts from interviews with twenty-four former workers, who told him, their stories of working in the Cotton Mill.

Earle Young was born in Pennfield, and had seven siblings. His mother was a Trynor from Ireland. He and his wife were living in Saint John, when they made a visit to his brother-in-law in St. Stephen and he took a job with the mill. He went off to War and came back to the mill in 1945.

Madeline (McGlinchey) Hiltz was born in Canoose. She went out to work for people doing housework when she was fifteen. Her job at the mill started in the card room.

While in highschool Dot (Caswell) McIntee spent her six week summer holidays at the mill. Eight hour days with no break made for a long day. Once she finished school, her permanent job was as Clerk, working in the spinning office and the main office. One of her vivid memories was of Mr. Reid going to the bank and bringing back satchels of money which they used to fill the pay envelopes. 

Jim Heffernan’s great-grandfather, Patrick Heffernan was born in Duntrylague, Parish of Galby, Limerick County, Ireland in 1806. Jim was a Battery Hand, Weaver and Loom Fixer. He gives much detail of the type of work that was done by the employees.

Although wages were very poor to our standards of today at an average of $5.07 per week, many a weaver received a fine for flawed work, whether the fault was due to human error or the machine. Even illness from work meant loss of pay, and often a 25 cents a half day fine was levied.

Job security was not known in the early days. After the strike of 1886, about one hundred workers were brought from Scotland. The working day was usually eleven hours. Payday was the third week of each month, which meant the company always owed the employees for six weeks. Safety was not a priority and accidents happened. Gradually things changed for the better in some ways.

The author compiled a Glossary of terms used such as battery, beam, bobbin boy, combing, dobby head, doffing, heddle, mule spinning and warping to mention a few.

The closure in 1957 was a shock to the town. Somehow the people picked up the pieces of their lives and moved on. Many had lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

We have been given the opportunity, through the research for the publication and the “story tellers” to go inside a cotton mill, visiting with those who worked under adverse conditions to gain a pay envelope as well as seeing the changes brought about by “progress” and the “Union”.

Bill Eagan has put faces and personality to the many folk who walked through the doors of the Milltown (St. Croix) Cotton Mill to do a day’s work.

Query 1890
Stewart: We have found a newspaper article in the Daily Telegraph, dated November 17, 1887 that Thomas Hudson Stewart was taken into the pastorate of the Presbyterian Church of Sussex (Kings Co., NB).  I seek information and relationship on another Thomas Hudson Stewart who was born in 1889, who was possibly the son of B. B. Stewart, Richibucto, who possibly became a Chaplain in the Canadian Chaplain Service of World War I.

Query 1891
Vail - Thorne: Marcia Beatrice Ferris Vail, was the granddaughter of Thomas Gilbert Thorne. Who were the parents of Thomas Thorne? Is there a connection to Knowlesville, Carleton County?
Contact Virginia Vail

Query 1892
Christensen - Hale: The WW1 Draft Record of John Christen Christensen lists his birth place as New Denmark, Canada with date of birth as 7 Oct 1883. He married Lillian Hale in Caribou Maine and had at least four children.
Contact Melissa Stein

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