Revolution of 1688 — Landing of the Dutch — Unexpected visitor — Soldiers billeted upon me — Retire from business — Endeavour to make calimancoes — Profit upon them — Instruct a crippled weaver — Secret discovered — Visit Dublin and Cork — Shipwreck — Place sons in Holland — Increase of family
A short time after the prosecution related in the last chapter, the glorious Revolution of 1688 commenced. I felt very anxious about the effect it might have upon the welfare of me and mine. I had a vivid recollection of the end of the Monmouth rebellion, for they were still hanging and quartering when I landed in England.
The Prince of Orange was welcomed at Exeter by the same party that had declared for Monmouth. Three sorry-looking Dutchmen took possession of Taunton without the slightest show of resistance from any quarter; and the common people hailed their arrival as a joyous event.
The Mayor and Aldermen, who were most decided Jacobites, held aloof to watch the issue, contenting themselves with noting down all persons who appeared to favour the Dutch, expecting to have them hanged after a while, as those had been who joined the Duke of Monmouth.
I felt certain that whichever side I might espouse, my name would have a prominent place in the list of culprits, and I was the more convinced of this from the story that was propagated about me.
On the arrival of a company of soldiers at Taunton, they were informed that there was a French Jesuit in the place, who said mass in his house every Sunday. It so happened that the Captain of this company was a French Refugee, who had settled in Holland, and entered the army of the Prince of Orange; he determined to be the first to seize the French Jesuit, and being directed to my house, he was before the door with a guard of soldiers at so early an hour, that none of the family were stirring except a female domestic who was a Frenchwoman. From her the Captain enquired who lived in that house.
She replied — “Mr. Fontaine, a minister from Royan, lives here.”
The Captain immediately desired her to go to my room and and tell me that Captain Rabainieres was below, anxious to embrace me. I only waited long enough to put on my robe de chambre, and went down to welcome this dear friend who had lived within four or five miles of my residence in France. We embraced each other with the warmth of fraternal affection, and he introduced me to his brother- officers, who at once tendered their friendship with the assurance of any service in their power. I cannot pass on without calling your attention to this, as one of the many instances wherein the providence of God watched over and shielded me from threatened danger.
A crowd had collected to enjoy the sport of seeing the French Jesuit hung on the spot, and when they witnessed the warmth of our salutations, they cried out that they were ruined, for those whom they had looked upon as their liberators must be Papists also.
From my never attending the Parish Church, the idea had prevailed that I was really a Jesuit, and some of those persons who envied my prosperity had been at no small pains to confirm the impression, and many of the common people believed it so firmly that it was a great disappointment to them not to see me hanged.
The officers went to the door to disperse the populace, and told them that I was a good Protestant, probably better than most of them; and when they went away they left soldiers at my door as a precautionary measure for fear of violence.
When several more of King William’s regiments were quartered in the town, you may rest assured I was not forgotten in the billeting of them upon the inhabitants.
I complained to the Mayor that two had been sent to me, and that it was unusual to quarter soldiers upon a minister. He heard me patiently, but I had no sooner got home than two more soldiers presented me a billet.
I went to complain a second time and I was answered that full justice would be done by me; and directly I reached home four more came to me. I did not complain a third time for fear of having sixteen to feed instead of eight. They were with me three weeks, and I did the best I could by them, explaining to them my situation.
The times were so ticklish and the town Magistrates so decidedly anxious to put every difficulty in my way, that I thought I had better examine into my affairs, and withdraw from all large transactions for the present, and content myself with the school I kept. I worked hard for many nights making out an inventory and putting every thing down at a low valuation, and I was pleased to find that there was enough to pay every body, and a little to spare. I sent some of my manufactures to the wholesale dealers from whom I had bought on credit, and desired they would sell them, and pay themselves out of the proceeds, and return me any balance that there might be. This arrangement was satisfactory to all parties, for the times were very hard, and they had not felt quite certain of my stability.
As soon as it was understood that I wished to dispose of my shop and stock in trade, a young man came forward, expecting to do wonders from the exaggerated accounts he had received of my business. He took every thing at the cost price as entered on my books, and in March 1689, he paid me £400, for all and every thing. With this sum I at once paid the wholesale dealers as far as it would go, so that after they had sold my goods they were indebted to me, and I left the money in their hands until the troubles should be at an end, in order that I might then have a little leaven to begin again upon with renewed vigour.
I felt very grateful to my Maker for his blessing upon my labors, which had enabled me to pay every thing that I owed, including that disastrous voyage which had caused a debt that hung heavily upon me until I was able to pay it. And in addition to this, I was sole owner of all the tools and utensils necessary for manufacturing stuffs; we had comfortable furniture; and £14 in cash. This had not been accomplished without considerable fatigue and anxiety both to your mother and myself. But what will not parents do for their children!
I found keeping a school but an ungrateful employment, I was soon tired of it; and the more so, because it barely procured a maintenance for us, and would not be equal to the wants of our increasing family. James II having taken refuge in France, and the nation having received William and Mary as King and Queen; things began to assume a settled aspect, and I thought it was time for me to exert myself again.
At Norwich there was a sort of stuff made, which was very fashionable and substantial, called Calimanco, and I determined to make an attempt to imitate it; having never you know served any apprenticeship, it was all the same to me; and my brain must be drawn upon for whatever I undertook. I thought it better to try to make something new instead of going on in the old style; for the serge which we had made before was now out of fashion, and those who manufactured it scarcely earned salt to their porridge; but then they had served an apprenticeship to it, and working altogether mechanically and not with the understanding, they were really incapable of putting their hands to any thing else. I was assailed by an almost insurmountable difficulty at the outset. The Norwich stuff was made of extremely fine worsted double twisted; now there was not in Taunton a spinner who could spin so fine, nor a weaver who knew how to weave it, no machinery suitable for the manufacture, nor a person who knew how to construct it; and I had never seen any. I saw at the same time that if money was to be gained by manufacturing, this was the stuff that ought to be made. As I could not get the worsted spun fine enough to allow of doubling and retwisting it, I must try how it could be managed with a single thread.
I engaged a weaver who was out of employment, and apparently docile; I made all the machinery, and put it up with my own hands, and spent a couple of hours every day trying to instruct him; and for three months this went on, altering the thread and machinery about once a fortnight, and still not an inch of the desired fabric was produced; and I was paying the weaver his full wages all the time.
After this a young man came to solicit charity from me, he was in the greatest distress, his wife was hourly expecting her confinement, and they were absolutely penniless. He said if I would give him employment, I should never have reason to repent it, he would spare no pains to please me, and that his extreme need might convince me of the assiduity with which he would labor for anybody who would help him at this pinch. I took him and his wife into my house, and fed the two, and soon three of them. I fitted up a loom for him to try what he could do, and he entered into all my plans, working night and day with unceasing industry, for he knew that upon his success depended his earning a comfortable living for his wife and child.
At the end of a fortnight, after trying seven or eight different plans, we produced a yard of Calimanco which looked very well, but being made of single thread, it had no more substance than serge. It was necessary for me to set my wits to work again, to try to find some plan by which I could produce a substantial fabric out of the materials that were at my command, and thus I contrived it. I made the warp, which appeared all on the right side, of fine wool coarsely spun; and the weft of very coarse wool, combed like fine wool, and spun coarsely and compactly. The second piece was begun on this plan just two months after I took the family into my house. The first piece only sold for three pence a yard, but we did not tell any body how long we had been in making it.
I kept a most exact account of all that I expended in these fruitless attempts, and the first sale only served to make my inmate discreet, and he never asked for money but when it was absolutely necessary.
He was more expert with the second piece, having learnt the process; he was able to make half a yard, and then a yard in a day; and when it came out of the frame it appeared handsome, and as strong and substantial as the real Norwich; but when it came home from the mill where it was pressed it looked like nothing better than a coarse coverlid, great strong hairs sticking out in all directions. I recollected when I was at school often going to a hatter’s shop which was opposite to warm myself; and I used to see them burn off the long hairs from the hats with a wisp of straw; so I thought that would be the mode of remedying the defect in my calimanco. A hat can be easily turned round in the hand to apply the flame, not so a piece of stuff; a machine must be made for the purpose of doing it with certainty and regularity. This piece however I determined to singe as well as I could without waiting for a machine. I had to call in the aid of my wife and her sister, and they laughed so heartily at my dilemma that I felt almost discouraged. I wet the piece so as not to burn the stuff as well as the hairs, and my wife and sister held it, while I passed the blazing wisp of straw over it. At last we finished, and then I had the right to laugh, for after washing and pressing, it looked beautiful; I sent it to Exeter, and the draper allowed me two shillings and sixpence a yard for it, and I found I could make it for fifteen pence. Here was an ample reward for all my trouble and expense.
My workman improved and made it better and better every day, and I agreed to pay him four pence halfpenny for every yard he made in future, and he was soon able to produce ten or twelve yards in a day. I also employed again the man who had worked unsuccessfully for so long a time, and he accquired it after a while. I now hired a shop for the sale of my manufactures; and I took from my old tradesmen all the articles I wanted, paying them with my own goods. I took more workmen into my employment, binding them not to work for any one else, or to teach the art, under a penalty of £10. They were all willing to enter into such an agreement, because they could earn just three times as much by my work as by making serge.
When I had the machine made for singeing the hairs, I employed different mechanics to make the various parts, so that not one of them knew the use of that which he was making; and I put all together myself. It consisted of two large rollers, and the piece was wound gently, off the one, and upon the other, and fire applied during its passage; and when both sides were singed, it was washed in the river, and pressed, and really had much the appearance of the true calimancoes; the strength of the coarse worsted gave it substance, and the fineness of the warp gave it lustre. You will believe that this was great slavery to me, for as the secret must be kept, it was necessary that I should do this part myself. My wife turned the spit, and I roasted the joint.
In seven or eight months, I kept from twelve to fifteen looms constantly at work. The old fashioned nanufacturers of serge were rather envious, and looked upon me almost as a sorcerer. Their astonishment at my inventive genius was increased by an incident which I will relate.
I heard accidentally of a poor weaver who had lost a leg, and in consequence of it, he was, according to the general opinion, incapable of ever working again at his trade of serge weaving; because they and their fathers before them had never imagined it possible to weave serge with one foot; and the poor man and his family had been supported by the parish for three years. I thought much about him, and having discovered the way, I went to see him at his brother’s house where he lived. I asked the poor cripple if he would wish to weave again.
“Alas!” said he, weeping, “God has been pleased to deprive of my leg and it is impossible.”
I made his brother get out of the frame in which he was at work; I detached all the cords from the treads, and arranged them differently, and then asked the cripple to enter the frame, and showed him how he could use his remaining leg, first on one tread, and then on the other; and in an hour’s time he had made a quarter of a yard of serge in his brother’s frame, and equal in all respects to that woven by his brother. I explained to him particularly the way in which he must prepare for weaving, so as not to get his work into confusion; and I left him, after he had bestowed upon me many blessings and prayers for my prosperity. For several days the house was full of people to see the extraordinary sight of a man weaving with one leg.
The son of the Mayor before whom I had been cited bribed one of my workmen to teach him, and guaranteed him the £10 which he was under engagement to pay me if he worked for any one else. I did not sue him for it, I thought it would give me more trouble than it was worth.
When they had made the calimanco, they met with the same difficulty that I had done at the outset in the long hairs which stood out, and no one would purchase from them; so I stepped forward and offered fifteen pence a yard for their manufactures which they were glad to except of; I singed, and then resold them for two shillings and six pence. Of course they made no more; and the treacherous weaver, being thrown entirely out of employment, stole whatever he could lay his hands on from him who had tempted him to betray my secret, and left the neighbourhood.
This attempt to supplant me was so unpropitious to both master and workman, that a long time was allowed to elapse before another trial was made; and for three years I reaped the profit of my invention free from molestation. During this interval the demend for serge gradually decreased, and the people again tried to find out my secret, and this time with better success, for some pieces had inadvertently been sent to be pressed without being sufficiently washed, and the smell of burning disclosed the mystery; and then it was recollected how much straw I was in the habit of buying; and laying the two circumstances together, they had no doubt about the matter, and after a good deal of trouble they got rollers at work like mine, and every one left off making serge.
The increased demand for the coarse worsted raised the price from a penny halfpenny to fourpence per pound, and what was worse, the market became overstocked with calimancoes, and the price fell to two shillings, then to eighteen pence, and at last to fifteen pence a yard.
Then I made mine spotted, and obtained a preference over theirs; they soon imitated me, and then I contrived to make fresh variations in the patterns. It was very vexatious to be thus racking my brains to invent something new, and as soon as I had succeeded, to see myself imitated and undersold.
I was weary of the business, and seeing I was now worth £1,000, I thought I would try if I could not meet with a French Church; and knowing that there were many Refugees in Ireland, I went over to Dublin, and was there recommended to proceed to Cork, where I found that several French families were settled who were very desirous to have a minister, but they had hitherto hardly dared to make the attempt, because their means would not allow them to offer a sufficient stipend. God had vouchsafed to bless my labors, so that I felt myself independent; and this opportunity of preaching his Gospel without remuneration pleased me exceedingly; and I agreed to return to Cork as soon as I could wind up my affairs in Taunton and remove my family.
I met with two very poor French families in Cork who were almost starving from want of employment, they were weavers by trade; I felt much sympathy for them, and I bought worsted and dyes for their use, and left £25 with Mr. Abelin, an Elder of our Church, and directed him to expend it in whatever was necessary for them to manufacture such stuffs as they had been accustomed to make in France; and as fast as they finished the work, they were to bring it to him for sale, and he was to have a sort of supervision of their families until my return. I had the satisfaction of finding afterwards that they had been comfortably supported out of the profits upon their labor during my absence, and the little capital I had deposited with Mr. Abelin was unbroken.
On my return to Taunton we made immediate preparations for removing to Ireland, and the packing up our goods and closing my concerns occupied about six weeks. We took twelve horse-loads of furniture and baggage to Bristol, whence we intended to embark; and I purchased there a variety of drugs for dyeing, and large coppers, and screws, and in short every thing that I thought would be requisite for setting up a manufactory at Cork; because I knew that I should have to do something for the support of my family, or I should soon see the end of my thousand pounds, as the congregation for whom I was called to officiate were unable to pay me any stipend.
I have never mentioned the melancholy fate of my sister Elizabeth, one of the daughters of my father’s first marriage. She was married to Mr. Sautreau, minister of Saujon in Saintonge, and his Church being condemned some time before the great persecution, he determined to leave his native country without delay, and seek a home where he would have the full liberty of worshipping God in purity and sincerity. He, and his wife, and five children went to Ireland, and after a very short stay there, they embarked at Dublin in a vessel bound to Boston in North America. They were shipwrecked within sight of port and every soul on board perished. This awful event, by which a whole family was swept off at once, was much in my thoughts as the time approached for us to adventure by sea to Cork, and feeling unwilling to trust my whole family in one bark, I took my sons James and Aaron to Amsterdam, and placed them under the care of a near relation there, and I thought also that it might be advantageous to them to acquire the Dutch language.
I have neglected to name, that during our residence in Taunton my wife had not been less fruitful than my brain, for we were now the parents of six children, five sons and one daughter.
James Fontaine (1658) was the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Jared Smith (Editor of the AHB). He wrote an autobiography, the material of which was compiled and published by some of his descendants. The first publication is called, ”A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)” (1838). The second publication is called, “Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family” (1872).