Mansfield Changes, 1810-1845

Historical Article Series March 30, 2020 > Mansfield Changes, 1810-1845

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 36, No. 2, April 2000

The following description of Mansfield appeared in A gazetteer of the states of Connecticut and Rhode-Island published in 1819 (Hartford: W. M. Marsh). It was written by John C. Pease and John M. Niles who, in the previous years, had visited every county and nearly every major town in Connecticut and Rhode Island. They collected information about geography, climate, population and economy for each town. Although published in 1819, the statistics are based on information gathered in 1810.

At that time Mansfield was clearly an agrarian community and the majority of its industries were related to agriculture. But change was coming! Compare this description to the one below, written twenty years later.

MANSFIELD IN 1810

“Mansfield, a considerable and flourishing post township, is situated upon the western border of the county, 28 miles east from Hartford; bounded on the north by Willington and Ashford, on the east by Hampton and Windham, on the south by Windham, and on the west by the Willimantic River, which separates it from Coventry…

The natural growth of timber is oak, walnut, chestnut elm, ash, maple, &c.

The agricultural productions are grass, rye, oats, Indian corn, butter, cheese, pork and beef. The white mulberry tree is cultivated in this town, for the making of silk; and it is estimated, that 2500 lbs. of raw silk are annually manufactured. The silk manufacture is a branch of industry unknown in most of our towns, and is confined principally to females, who are the guardians and attendants of the silk-worm, the most curious and useful of insects.

Besides the Willimantic, which washes the western border of the town, it is watered by Nachaug [sic] river and its tributary streams, the Mount Hope and Fenton, which unite their waters near the south part of town. These streams afford various sites for mills and other water works. In the first Society, there is a small pond, called Fish pond, comprising an area of about 30 acres.

The middle turnpike road from Hartford to Boston leads through this town, and also a turnpike from Norwich to Stafford, and another from Windham to Hartford.

The manufactures of the town consist of screw-augers, steelyards, horn combs the manufacture of which is carried on to considerable extent, sewing silk, cotton, of which there are two establishments, and woolen, of which there are 2 Factories. There are also 7 Grain Mills, 10 Saw Mills, 5 Carding Machines, 1 Oil Mill, 3 Tanneries, and 7 Merchantile Stores.

The population of the town, in 1810, was 2570; and there are 500 Electors, 172 Militia, and 360 Dwelling houses.

The amount of taxable properties, including polls, is $62,750.

The civil divisions of the town are 3 located Ecclesiastical Societies or Parishes and 19 School Districts. There is also 1 Society of Baptists and 1 of Methodists; each of these Societies is accommodated with a house for public worship; and in each of the School Districts there is a primary or common School maintained.

There are 3 Social Libraries, 4 Physicians and 2 Clergymen, 1 Congregationalist and 1 Baptist.”

MANSFIELD IN 1830

This description of Mansfield is taken from The New England Gazetteer, written by John Hayward and published in 1839. It contains profiles of all the states, counties and towns in New England. The description of Mansfield is based on information gathered in 1830.

By this time Mansfield led the country in silk production and silk manufacture has moved from the home to the factory. There are now two silk mills operating in town, with several more to follow. The industrial revolution has arrived in Mansfield!

“Tolland co. Mansfield, the Indian Nawbesetuck, was taken from Windham in 1703. It lies 27 miles E. from Hartford, 12 S.E. from Tolland, and 19 N.N.W. from Norwich. Population, 1830, 2,661. – The face of the town is uneven, and some of the hills have considerable elevation. The town is watered by Willimantic river, and the Natchaug and its tributaries – Mount Hope and Fenton.

A larger quantity of silk is manufactured here than in any other place in the United States. This branch of industry was introduced into the country by Dr. Aspinwall, of this place, above seventy years since, who established the raising of silk worms in New Haven, Long Island and Philadelphia. At this period half an ounce of mulberry seed was sent to every parish in Connecticut, and the legislature for a time offered a bounty on mulberry trees and raw silk; 265 lbs. were raised in 1793, and the quantity has been increasing ever since. In 1830, 3,200 lbs. were raised. Two small silk factories have been established in this town by an English manufacturer, with swifts for winding hard silk; 32 spindles for doubling; seven dozens of spindles for throwing; 32 spindles for soft silk winding; and 2 broad and one fringe silk looms. There is machinery enough to keep 30 broad silk looms and fifty hands in operation. There are in the town two cotton factories. Screw augers and steelyards are manufactured here.”

MANSFIELD IN 1845

By mid-century, industry in Mansfield was entering its boom years. The State Census for 1845 indicates that the number of silk mills had grown to five, employing 17 men and 59 women. Some 7,900 pounds of sewing silk were manufactured, but the production of raw silk was reduced to 317 pounds. A blight had devastated the mulberry orchards and fewer silkworms were being raised. With little local supply, manufacturers were forced to use imported raw silk. The 1845 Census also shows that there was one cotton mill that employed 30 people, a knitting mill that employed 14 people and a number of smaller enterprises.

How much Mansfield had changed in only 35 years!

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