Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
William D. Metz
The object of this study is to relate the activities of the Providence Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers, evaluate its effectiveness in relation to its alms as a society, and assess its importance as a factor in molding Rhode Island history during this period.
The United States in the 1790’s was confronted with the task of rebuilding and expanding its domestic manufacturing. It was natural for a group of citizens such as those who gathered at the home of Captain Elijah Bacon on February 2, 1789, in Providence, Rhode Island to organize in order to stimulate domestic manufacturing. They hoped to encourage one another in the pursuit of their trades and publicly attack "fraudulent" activities Which might degrade the reputation of American industry. They hoped they could aid in stabilizing the national credit, build a reputation for democratic products, and prevent the loss of American specie to European creditors. Another major aim of the group was the relief and comfort of the needy members in times of hardship and death. It was for these reasons that the Providence Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers was founded.
During the thirty years which followed the association grew in size and wealth out its membership remained almost entirely artisan with a decided absence of wealthy manufacturers. It accomplished much of value during this period. Members repeatedly studied the nature of manufacturing around Providence, making their findings available to Congress, and sent memorials requesting the protection of American manufacturers through higher taxes. They were encouraged to employ other members when services of their trade were needed, and were admonished to seek community respect.
A consciousness of public duty was prevalent. In conjunction with Rhode Island's acceptance into the Union members were reminded of their duty to support and observe the laws. They were especially encouraged in the case of smuggling to report information to the proper authorities. They protested against the efforts of employers to control the exercise of the franchise by their employees, supported the establishment of free schools, and sponsored monthly lectures on the improvement of manufacturing.
Membership grew with the increasing size of Providence. census reports revealed 6,380 inhabitants in 1790, 7,614 in 1800, and 10,071 in 1820 while membership lists indicate the group was comprised of 281 members in 1798 and 530 members in 1822. An analysis of membership showed the absence of many wealthy manufacturers.
Frequent investments were made. Money was loaned to promote manufacturing and financial aid was extended to needy families of deceased members.
To write this paper it has been necessary to rely primarily upon the Minutes of the Association and the Select Committee and several boxes of correspondence available at the Rhode Island Historical Society. Financial records, tax lists, and a city directory also provided useful material. An analysis of advertisements from the Rhode Island American and Providence Gazette and the acts of incorporation of some local banks and turnpike companies provided an insight into the nature of the society’s membership. From these sources a picture of the society’s activities and their effect upon the community has been drawn.
Tormey, Dorothea Jane, "The Providence Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers: The First Thirty Years" (1957). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 2080.