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  • Ann D. Watson

52 Ancestors Week One: First Watson to escape from textile mill work

Daniel Watson age 27

Daniel Watson (1850–1919), age about 27

Working in a woolen mill in the 1800s was rough, to say the least. It was hot, dirty, physically taxing, and dangerous. Water cascading through the mill race, leather belts and pulleys slapping, gears knocking, and the clattering racket of looms and other machines, all combined to produce an overwhelming din. The air was filled with dust and fibers which got into workers' lungs. Windows were kept closed tight even in summer, to maintain humidity so that threads wouldn't break. Workers were on their feet all day, and many did hard physical labor, lifting heavy rolls and lengths of woolen cloth. If you weren't careful, a machine could mangle an arm or cut off a hand or finger.

View a film of machinery operating in a textile mill:

Link to movie of mill machinery

My great grandfather, Daniel Watson (1850–1919), was the first Watson man to leave the arduous textile mill work and move into a gentler occupation. Born in 1850 and the son and grandson of millhands, Daniel began his working life alongside his father, William, in a Conway, Massachusetts woolen mill. He was employed there by the time he was twenty, along with his brothers, Edwin, 18, and Thomas, 15. Daniel may have started as young as age sixteen. The family was not wealthy and when Daniel was thirteen, his father went off to fight in the the Civil War and returned eleven months later an invalid who often could not work.

1900 U.S. census. Daniel is a creamery salesman.

Daniel continued in the mill at least until he was thirty years old. But in 1899, he purchased a house in Monson, Massachusetts for himself, his wife Lucinda (Moody) and their two children Mabel and Ernest. By 1900 Daniel was working in his son-in-law Will Moulton's creamery in Monson. The 1900 U.S. census lists him as a creamery salesman.

And so Daniel changed the family work pattern. His son, Ernest William Watson, went even further, graduating from Monson Academy in 1906 and becoming an artist and teacher.

Pencil portrait of Daniel, by Ernest W. Watson

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