Spin for the Win

Prior to the nonimportation agreements, British imports accounted for about half of all cloth imports in the colonies” (Trunzo, 123).  However, Americans were perfectly capable of creating their own cloth due to the massive availability of wool and flax.

In rural areas, it was very common for women to know how to spin, and when the need for homespun clothing arose, many rural patriots boasted of their skills, even claiming that “some towns have more looms than houses” (Young, 116).  In commercial cities, though, spinning by women was a novelty.  However, the creation of the Daughters of Liberty greatly helped increase spinning through homes in all regions. homespun

Between March 1768 and October 1770, “New England newspapers reported more than sixty spinning meetings held all along the coast” (Ulrich, 176). 

 

A good majority of these meetings were held at the homes of ministers, so as women spun, they could listen to sermons or socialize with their fellow patriots.  Following their day of spinning, the women would donate all of their cloth to their minister to support his family or support the poor, which started the tradition of charity work of women among the congregation.  Through spinning, women were thus able to assert their “commitment to their country, God, and to the new version of an old ethic of productivity” (Ulrich, 176).

4E1020.29 COLONIAL CLOTH MAKERS, 18th C. Carding, Spinning, and weaving woolen cloth in an 18th century American household: drawing, 19th century.
Daughters of Liberty gathering to spin and socialize.

 

 

How did they involve even more people?

  •  Spinning schools were revived in Boston,
  • Hartford members offered a bounty of twelve pounds to whoever could manufacture the most cloth in a year,
  • Newspapers across the country trumpeted even the smallest successes (Ulrich, 177).
Skeptical if you would have been able to learn how to spin?
  • In Newport, Rhode Island a woman who had never spun a thread in her life was able to become a very good spinner.
  • Another woman was able to raise six thousand silk balls from a single mulberry tree.
  • One spinning competition between two women resulted in the winner having spun seven skeins and two knots of fine linen yard and her competitor almost the same by the end of the day (Ulrich, 177).   
image1 (3)British Loyalist, Peter Oliver, left detailed accounts on the women of Boston, but spinning drew the lengthiest and most caustic descriptions, signifying its importance.  Oliver claimed that women would spin for six days of the week, only to attend church on the seventh—“this was a new species of Enthusiasm. . .the Enthusiasm of the Spinning Wheel” (Young, 126).
Although women during this time couldn’t vote or speak in public, in such spinning meetings they “showed capacity for organization and a desire to make a difference in the world” (Ulrich, 181). 
Suggested Readings:
  • Cantu Trunzo, Jennifer M. “Buying into It”: Propaganda, Consumerism, and the American Revolution in Southeastern Connecticut. Diss. Brown U, 2008. N.p.: ProQuest LLC, 2008. Print.
  • Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth. New York: Knopf :, 2001.
  • Young, Alfred F., and Harvey J. Kaye. Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution. New York: New York University Press, 2006.