Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Granite Industry, Part 6A of 6 - Labor Portraits

In economics labor refers to all the physical and mental effort that produces goods and services. In industrial-age politics it suggests a class of 'workers' distinct from managers and owners. The political usage bears many more emotional drapery than the economic one because it is entwined with the wants of men rather than their abilities.

Loading Granite at Knowlton's Wharf, Rockport
detail of oil painting by Alfred J. Wiggin 1852 1
Labor accomplishes tasks. In the granite business many of those tasks are skilled, hazardous, and arduous to the point of inspiring a mystique on the part of outsiders. Some of the mystique has been cultivated by the stone workers themselves.

From its earliest days commercial quarrying depended on immigrant labor. A local newspaper in 1866 related that forty years previously, first-generation granite entrepreneur William Torrey "would hire stout rugged men from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Of a large number of applicants for labor, he would make his selection with as much pride as a stock fancier would select his pacer or draft horse." 2 The story carries a sense of adventure on all sides. It is echoed in the recollections of Dr. Lemuel Gott as gathered in the History of Rockport, 1888.
The most of them were young men, lively and full of fun; for the greater number of them, this was the first of their leaving home. They usually commenced coming about the first of March and by the first of April the gangs were full. It was no ten-hour system or weekly payments in those days; but an early breakfast and go to work; one hour for dinner, and then a late supper. Nearly all of the men worked by the month at a certain rate and board, receiving their pay at the end of the season except as they would occasionally call for a small amount of spending money. They were generally frugal and reliable.

Working the Bay State Quarry in Lanesville, 1870s 1
One young Vermonter named John Stimson came in those early days with the advantage of being a son-in-law of the founder of the Gloucester and Boston Granite Company and a stockholder in the firm. Within a few years he set himself up as an independent quarryman, then partnered with Ezra Eames in an enterprise that eventually incorporated in 1864 as the Rockport Granite Company with Stimson as treasurer. He continued on as quarry manager. 3

John Stimson poured powder into a seam and fired it off. Not a satisfactory blast so he proceeded to fill the seam again from a partly filled powder keg in his hand. Contents were exploded in a premature blast. He scorched his face. (1872) 4

John Stimson... was inspecting hoist at quarry when the chain parted and struck him. He fell face forward on ledge surface. No apparent wounds, no bones broken, but concussion. Advanced age. Tuesday and Wednesday still in stupor. (1878) 4

Stimson's physical day in the quarry blurred distinctions between owner, manager and laborer; but his entrepreneurial net worth did not.

In the middle part of the nineteenth century impoverished foreigners began arriving, or being imported, to displace the early generations of quarry workers who had themselves migrated to Cape Ann from northern New England states.

When the employment of Irishmen was proposed it met with vigorous opposition. The house which was being prepared for them to occupy was two or three times blown up with powder; and other means were employed to keep out the unwelcome immigrants. This prejudice, however, has long since died out, and all nationalities are allowed to work unmolested. 4

It was a pattern repeated in later decades when cheap labor came from Italy and Scandinavia.

Finnish paving cutters, Woodbury Hill, Lanesville, early 20th century
Barbara Erkkila collection, Cape Ann Museum
1. From collections of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
2. Cape Ann Advertiser, May 18, 1866.
3. Cape Ann Advertiser, September 9, 1872 and November 1, 1878. From the Erkkila files, Cape Ann Museum.
4. Lemuel Gott, History of Rockport, 1888.

1 comment:

  1. "The political usage bears many more emotional drapery than the economic one because it is entwined with the wants of men rather than their abilities." So perfectly put and so relevant to much of today's political use of the term. I would propose even the 'dreams' of men, when it comes to the heroic role hard labor can provide both to those who have had to endure it and those who look back on it nostalgically as a 'way of life'. Thank you for this blog. It's an inspiration.