Research Report
Courtesy Hagley Museum and Library


The Brandywine Cotton Industry


Roy M. Boatman

April, 1957

p 59 section IV Walker's Mill

    The land on which Walker's Mill -- originally called Simsville Mill-- was built was purchased of Peter Bauduy on August 14, 1813, by Joseph B. Sims, merchant of Philadelphia, whose "comptinghouses" was located at 155 South Water Street(1).  The mill, when completed, was leased to John Siddall & Co., a firm whose partners were Isasachar Thorp, James Thorp, and Joseph Siddall, of Philadelphia, George Hodgson, Thomas Hodgson, and Isaac Hodgson, or Rockford, Delaware, and John Siddatll of Simsville, Delaware.  The Thorps and Siddalls were calico printers of Philadelphia, and the Hodgsons were machine makers on the Brandywine at the "Rockford Factory, about one mile and a half above Wilmington"(2).

    John Siddall & Co. installed 3,000 spindles "for spinning cotton yarn" and operated, or used and discarded, power looms, for we find Thomas Siddall selling a "water loom" to Duplanty, McCall & Co. in the summer of 1815for $85.03(3).  The Siddall Co. manufactured and sold cotton yarn, muslin, check and plaid(4).

    Apparently the Hodgson brothers, machine makers by trade, were operating a machine shop in the upper end of the Simsville Mill, since the artist Charles Willson Peale's son, Franklin, who had been apprenticed to Hodgson for one year, ended his term on November 3, 1814 and his father wrote that "he will work at cotton business to be est. at lower end of factory by Mr. Sydel [Siddall]"(5).

    The Simsville mill seat was advertised for sale by Joseph B. Sims in March 1815.  The premises consisted of the stone mill, 60 feet by 40 feet, four stories high, and four dwelling houses, each two stories high(6).  Sims was unsuccessful in his attempt to sell the property.

    It was in this mill in 1816 that the Brandywine Manufacturer's Sunday School first met.  Instigated by an English workman who had attended a Robert Raikes Sunday School in his homeland, it was soon moved from the upper room of this mill to the upper floor of the Duplanty, McCall & Co. Mill.  Chartered by the state of Delaware in 1817, the Sunday School provided instruction in letters, spelling, reading, singing, and non-denominational religion.  About 1823 the school was moved to a building especially constructed for the purpose from subscriptions raised among the Brandywine manufacturers.  The land on Slitting Mill Road leading into the Hagley Yard was furnished by E. I. du Pont.  This structure was later used as a yard office and is now occupied as a residence.  The building of various churches nearby with their own Sunday schools caused the abandonment of the Brandywine Manufacturers Sunday School in 1848(7).

    A sheriff's sale was announced for October 24, 1817, at which time the property of George, Thomas and Isaac Hodgson was to be sold.  This consisted of "blowing machines, carding engines, drawing frames, roving frames, stretching frames, throstles, mules, press, turning lathes, &c. &c. " as well as horses, one cow, one hog, and houseshold and kitchen furniture(8).  Two days after the sheriff's sale, the John Siddall & Co. partnership was dissolved, the three Hodgson brothers dropping out, and Issachar Thorp, Joseph Siddall, and John Siddall continuing under the same firm name(9).

    In answer to the 1820 Census questions, John Siddall & Co. stated that it operated 1,800 of its 3,000 spindles to process an average of 1,500 pounds of cotton ("Sea Island, New Orleans, Surat") per week.  It employed 61 persons at a wages expense of $7,800 annually, and reported that cheap imported goods had placed the concern in a precarious position, that demand was then better than for some time past, but that it did not expect the demand to be of long duration(10).  In this period John Siddall & Co. paid an annual rent of $1,500 to Joseph B. Sims for the mill property, without machinery( 11).

    The freshet of Thursday, February 21, 1822, flooded part of the Simsville Mill, and John Siddall &Co. "suffered considerably, as a considerable part of his machinery was new, and is very much injured".  The firm sustained damages estimated at $1,000(12).

    They were sufficiently recovered to be operating 2,500 spindles and employing 70 to 80 persons by the summer of 1823.  But their creditors overtook them and a public sale of the machinery was announced for October 23, 1823, by John Torbert and Cyrus Lamborn, acting for the creditors(13).  Various carding, drawing, stretching, roving, picking, and willowing machines and 2,544 spindles, in addition to numerous other items were listed for sale.

    At the same time the mill machinery was announced for sale, Joseph B. Sims advertised the Simsville Mill for rent or sale. The mill was described as possessing one-half the water of the Brandywine, four stories, 61 by 42 feet, capable of containing 3,000 spindles, and all necessary outbuildings(14).  Sims continued to advertise the mill, but could find no buyers.  The property was "seized and taken in execution" by the sheriff, who announced an adjourned sale for June 10, 1825(15).  The property was next advertised for rent or sale by David C. Wilson and Joseph C. Gilpin in 1826(16).

            FOR SALE OR TO LET
            A COTTON FACTORY
    And a number of other buildings, on the east side of the Brandywine Creek, about two and a half miles from Wilmington, with 11 acres of land.  The Factory is of stone, built in 1814, being 65 feet front by 45 deep, fours stories high, besides a basement story, and two garret floors, capable of containing spindles, with all the necessary preparatory machinery; there are also on the premises, six dwelling houses for workmen, a smith's shop, &c.  There is an extensive bleaching ground, with a never failing spring of fine water on the hill back, which can be carried by spouts over it, and into the third floor of the factory if desired; the property possesses one half of the water power of the Brandywine, which power is much greater than what works are now erected require, the dam is new, of stone, having been rebuilt since the erection of the mill.  Inquire of

    Robert Hilton, William Hilton, and Thomas Hilton next owned and operated the Simsville Mill.  The property had been purchased by the Farmer's Bank of Delaware from Sheriff Peter B. Delaney on May 19, 1826, and the Hiltons bought it from the Farmer's Bank for $11,545 on November 17, 1827(17).  They reported in 1832 that they consumed 150,000 pounds of cotton to produce 135,000 pounds of cotton yarn, and 3,200 pounds of wool to produce 68,200 yards of Rouen cassimere, using 3,892 spindles and 28 power looms.  They employed 160 men, women,  and children at a wages expense of $13,152.25 annually(18).  The Hilton's machinery was announced for sheriff's sale on June 23, 1834, and the property was put up at a sheriff's sale on June 10, 1835(19).

    The chain of ownership is very confused for a few years.  The Hiltons had placed a mortgage against the property with the Farmer's Bank of Delaware on October 29, 1829(20).  Subsequent mortgages apparently were taken, subject to the first mortgage.  In 1835, Painter, Newman & Co. were operating the mill.  The property passed through the hands of John B. Newman, Andrew W. Adams, James Brown, Lea Pusey, and William Welsh, but Alfred du Pont purchased it from Sheriff Abraham Boys on November 15, 1840, under the first mortgage of October 29, 1829(21).

    On January 9, 844, Alfred du Pont made an agreement to rent the Simsville Mill to A. W. Adams & Co. of Philadelphia for $1,200 per year "until such date as the improvements to be made, buing furnished, shall warrant such an increased rent as may be agreed on between the Said Parties(22).  Joseph Walker, after whom the mill was later to be named, was a member of A. W. Adams & Co.  Alfred du Pont renovated the mill, which was to be for the spinning of yarn only, putting in new flooring, turbines and shafting(23).

    A. W. Adams & Co. probably occupied the Simsville Mill until the fire of 1848.  Their rent payments gradually increased until they amounted to $2,200 annually.  At this time A. W. Adams & Co. was also billed for the rent of the Henry Clay Mill, occupied by A. Stephens & Co(24).

    The Simsville Mill burned on March 23, 1848, and Alfred du Pont wrote that

     One of our large Cotton Mills was burnt down yesterday afternoon; as we are Covered to Some extent and did not own the machinery, the loss will be Comparatively small; the difficulty will be to find tenants who will fill the mill with machinery, when rebuilt & pay us $2200.  This will be pretty hard under a tariff like the present.  The mill must howerver be rebuilt & we must take our chances of renting it(25).

Scharf states that "Mr Walker of Philadelphia," was the lessee at this time and that he lost $25,000 on the machinery destroyed(26).

    J. Morton Poole furnished looms for the rebuilt mill, indicating that once again it was to be a textile factory, rather than solely a spinning mill.  Alexis I. du Pont was in charge of the Simsville Mill rebuilding operation(27).

    Joseph Walker in the mid-1850's was operating a cotton mill known as the "Irene Mill,"  but we do not know for certain that it was the Simsville Mill.  On January 15, 1855, he wrote Charles I. du Pont that he could supply him with willowed cotton (28).

    For several years the Simsville Mill apparently stood idle.  In February of 1859 an inquiry was received asking if the machinery in the "white mill" was for sale or if the mil was for rent(29).  A Jonval turbine was installed in the same year, which would indicate a prospective lessee, but there is no record of the mill having been rented until after the Civil War(30). [A working wet model of a Jonval turbine is on display in Philadelphia]

    Joseph Walker was renting the mill in the post-war years(31), and following him, there was a succession of lessees until the late 1930's--William Hunt, Barlow & Thatcher, Hodgson Brothers, and G. Josephs & Sons.  The mill is at present owned by the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation and used as  the preparator's laboratory.