How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Separation

Note: The following is the eleventh and final post in a series that presents my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Separation

The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India ultimately failed due to a lack of organization and institutional structures to sustain it. But the American colonies were well positioned to carry out rebellion against the British government and rule themselves once they separated from England. Westborough and other towns in Massachusetts had their own sets of laws, self-rule in the form of town meetings, elected representatives to the House of Representatives, and their own militias. During the American Revolution, more than a hundred Committees of Correspondence were set up, including one in Westborough, which served as an informal shadow government to carry out rebellion and ultimately revolution. After both the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Americans on July 4, 1776 and British defeat in the resulting war, England turned its attention to defending its colonial interests in India and other colonies throughout the world.

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was formed to advocate for Indian home rule, and when Mahatma Gandhi became its leader in 1920 he began to mobilize it into a body of resistance under a doctrine of “non-cooperation.” Gandhi and other Indian nationalists studied the tactics and read the treatises that led to the American Revolution for inspiration when they organized boycotts, shutdowns, demonstrations, and tax protests.  Mahatma Gandhi’s famous “salt march” to the sea to collect salt in protest over its taxation by the British was one such protest. Gandhi also used the symbolism and economic significance of cotton to galvanize nationalist and anti-colonial sentiment by both writing a history of cotton in India and practicing the spinning of cotton on a wheel as a means of publicizing India’s potential to reclaim its dominant position in the global economy from its British oppressors.

In the end, the strains of World War II on Great Britain ultimately led to India’s separation from the British Empire and its independence. During negotiations over the future of Indian rule in 1947, the two dominant political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, could not agree on a common future. The League insisted on carving out part of India to create a separate Muslim nation, which ultimately became Pakistan. The inability to keep India together as one nation resulted in mass displacement, plunder, and revenge killings with over 1 million people dying and more than 12 million being forced from their homes before it was all over.

The Declaration of Independence copied into Westborough’s Town Records, 1776
(Westborough Town Clerk, http://repository.westborougharchive.org/files/original/700d82def53c4ac7be6098193541cdf0.jpg)

The Boston printing of the Declaration of Independence was circulated to towns across Massachusetts and included an order at the bottom for town clerks to copy the content of the document into their town records. Above is Westborough’s hand-written copy.

Gandhi during the Salt March, 1930
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_during_the_Salt_March.jpg)

In an act of civil disobedience against the heavy taxation of salt by the British, Gandhi organized a widespread protest march to the sea to collect salt through evaporation in violation of the salt laws.

Gandhi Spinning Cotton, 1940’s
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_spinning.jpg)

As a reminder of India’s history of once being the dominant producer of cotton cloth throughout the world, Gandhi held cotton spinning demonstrations and encouraged others throughout India to take up the practice.

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Social and political tensions created during British rule in both India and the United States continue to be felt today. In India, violent conflict played out almost immediately during the partitioning of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947, and struggle between the two countries over control of Kashmir continues to this day. In the United States, tensions over slavery lingered for decades until they finally came to a head with the outbreak of the American Civil War. But the social, political, and cultural differences that initially led to this conflict in many ways remain unresolved. Westborough and India no longer fall under British rule, but the common history we experienced under that rule continues to reverberate and connect us, even though geographically we sit at opposite sides of the globe.

This concludes the series of posts on “How Does History Connect Westborough and India?”

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Cotton

Note: The following is the tenth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Cotton

The leading cotton manufacturers from the beginning of history up until the early nineteenth century were from India, and the quality of their cotton fabrics was known throughout the world. Weavers in Bengal produced fine muslins, the southeastern coast of India was known for its chintzes and calicoes, and Surat in the western coast of India made strong but inexpensive fabrics. India was also at the forefront of innovation in cotton production. Indians invented the roller gin to remove seeds from raw cotton, the bow to clean and disentangle ginned cotton, the spinning wheel to produce thread, and a variety of looms, including the treadle loom, which allowed weavers to use their feet and free up their hands to move the horizontal weft across the vertical warp threads more economically. India’s skill in cloth production and its central location in global trade routes meant that it had the greatest impact in spreading cotton throughout the world and into Europe, where people mainly dressed in fur, wool, and linen before cotton came to its shores.

Europeans began the process of inserting themselves into the global cotton trade as soon as they landed by ship in India in the seventeenth century. With control of India, the British eventually wove a complex web of trade in cotton textiles across four continents: Indian weavers produced cloth that was used to pay for slaves in Africa; the slaves worked on plantations in the Americas to produce cotton that was used to make yarn in England; and that yarn was then shipped to India to be woven into cloth.

Before this trade loop was put in place, England first had to find vast quantities of raw cotton to keep its efficient industrial factories running full time. The American South ultimately fulfilled this need with its ideal climate for cultivating cotton, but the strand of cotton that grew best in the South was “upland cotton.” This strand had a shorter staple length than Indian cotton and the fibers tightly attached to the seeds so that Indian methods for removing the seeds were ineffective. But when Westborough native Eli Whitney invented a new kind of cotton gin in 1793, the machine led to a phenomenal increase in cotton production in the United States, rapidly expanded cotton land use, supplied British textile mills with practically unlimited supplies of raw cotton, and spread slavery across the South.

Indian Woman Ginning Cotton, 1815-1920
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indian_woman_gining_cotton.jpg)

Here, an Indian woman turns rollers to separate seeds from the fibers in Indian cotton.

Eli Whitney, 1822
by Samuel Morse
(Yale University Art Gallery, https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/31)
Eli Whitney s Cotton Gin Patent Drawing, 03/14/1794
(National Archives and Records Administration Records of the Patent and Trademark Office Record Group 241, Identifier: 305886, https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent)

After Westborough’s Eli Whitney patented an invention for a cotton gin that worked on the particular cotton strain grown in North America, cotton production soared and spread slavery throughout the South.

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Read the next post in the series: Separation.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

Westborough Spotlight: Horace Abbott By Paul Bebchick

Editor’s Note: “Westborough Spotlight” is a series of profiles of Westborough residents, new and old. Have an idea for a “Westborough Spotlight”? Let us know by e-mailing avaver@town.westborough.ma.us.

Horace Abbott, 1880

Did you know a Westborough resident played an important part in the American Civil War by building the iron clad war ship, the Monitor, for the U.S. Navy?

Horace Abbott (1806-1887) started his career in a small blacksmith shop on South Street in 1829. There he learned the trade of forging and before long took over the business. In 1834, Abbott was offered a position in Baltimore as foreman of a large iron forging plant that manufactured forgings for steamboats, locomotives, and car axles. By 1861 he owned the largest iron plate mill in the United States.

During the Civil War, the U.S. Government commissioned Capt. John Ericsson, a Swedish scientist, to draw up plans to build a war vessel with a revolving turret and armored construction. After Congress accepted Ericsson’s plans, a request went out for interested parties to offer bids to build the ship. The plans called for a vessel that was armored with five layers of one-inch iron plate, floated at the water line, and was powered by a steam engine driving screw. On her deck would be a single revolving turret with a canon. Abbott had the largest forging plant in the country at the time, and his company was the only one that could handle the forging and plating requirements within the designated timeframe of one year. In the end, this new design concept helped end the Civil War by preventing the South from destroying the comparatively helpless wooden ships of the North.

The Victorious Union Gunboat ‘Monitor’ (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

After the war, Abbott helped establish the First and Second National Bank of Baltimore. For the skill and energy he displayed in producing plating for the Monitor and many other ships, he received high commendations from the Navy Department.

Recently Discovered Items from the Historical Papers of Dr. Charles H. Reed

Note: This exhibit is currently on display in the Westborough Center for History and Culture through the months of September and October, 2018.

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Dr. Charles H. Reed was a Westborough veterinarian and devotee of local history. His collection of papers consists of correspondence, deeds, diaries, letters, maps, wills and other government documents pertaining to the early history of the Town of Westborough. Reed began gathering information on the Town’s history, land and people as a hobby, starting with the Town’s first 27 founding families. The collection grew to contain several hundred original documents, and a portion of journals and lists that were transcribed by Dr. Reed. All items contained in this collection describe the early culture, history and life of folks living and doing business in Westborough.

After Reed died, his daughter Rachel Deering carried on his work of collecting items relating to Westborough history. In 1985, she donated the collection to the Westborough Public Library for preservation and safekeeping.

Click here to learn more about the Historical Papers of Dr. Charles H. Reed and to start exploring the collection.

 

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Receipt from William Brinsmead to Thomas Beman [Beeman], December 18, 1690

This receipt is the oldest known document in the library’s archives.

 

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(Front)
(Back)

Appointment of Nathan Fisher, Esq, as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Second Regiment, signed by Governor John Hancock, 1787

Nathan Fisher eventually became Westborough’s first postmaster on March 6, 1811 and was the original owner of the “Nathan Fisher House,” which is now occupied by the Release Well-Being Center. The document is signed by John Hancock with the same flourish he used to sign the Declaration of Independence.

 

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A love letter from Joseph Woods to his wife while serving in the French and Indian War, 1757

Kenterhook May ye 14th 1757

Loving wife these Lines are to Inform you that I am got to Kenterhook and am In good helth and I Can give No account when or where I Shall march Next there is a [T reant[?] story that we are to go to the Lake But nothing sartain and I would acquaint you that all that Came from Westborough are in helth give my love to the children No more at present So I Remain Effectionate Husband hopeing that we Shall Live So whilst apart that if we Never meet here on Earth that at Last we Shall meet In heaven

Joseph Woods

Brother Tuller these may give you account of my Afairs So I give my Love to you and my Sister and Remain your Loving friend

Note: Joseph was killed in action shortly after writing this letter during the Battle of Lake George in the French and Indian War.

 

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(Front)
(Back)

Letter to Mrs. Mary Aldrich, December 26, 1861

Thank you letter to members of the Ladies Benevolent Society for sending sleeping caps to men during the American Civil War.

Camp Jackson, Md. Dec. 26/61

 

Mrs. Mary M. Aldrich

Sec. Ladies Benevolent Society of the

Unitarian Parish, Westboro. Mass.

Madam,

The package directed to my care for the distribution of its contents among our company arrived here last evening, and the Sleeping Caps contributed by the ladies of your Society formed a large and most useful part of it. A portion of this fore-noon has been devoted to fitting the various heads with caps of a proper size, and could you have seen the smiling faces that passed out from my tent under your gifts, you would not have doubted they were fully appreciated.

Your request regarding the disposal of any caps not needed by the Company, I shall take pleasure in fulfilling.

Captain Hovey & Lieut. Bacon desire to join with the company and [back of letter not shown:] myself in expressing our thanks for the continued interest taken in us by the ladies of Westboro’ and in conveying to them through you, this sincere regards and the best wishes of the New Year.

Trusting that the confidences now reposed in our company and the officers may never be disappointed I remain Respectfully

Chas. B. Fox

2d Lieut. Co. K