Revolution of 1688 — Landing of the Dutch — Unexpected visitor — Soldiers billeted on me — Retirement from business — Calimanco — Profitable manufacture — Crippled weaver — Secret discovered — Visit Dublin and Cork — Send sons to 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 busy hanging and quartering when I landed in England.
The Prince of Orange marched with his army to Exeter, where he was welcomed by the same party that had declared for Monmouth. Three sorry-looking Dutchmen were sent to Taunton, and they were suffered to take possession of the place without the slightest show of resistance from any quarter. The common people hailed their arrival as a joyous event.
The Mayor and Aldermen were most decided Jacobites; they stood aloof to watch the course of events, and contented themselves, meanwhile, with noting down the names of all persons who appeared to favor the Dutch, in the expectation of having them hanged after awhile, as those had been who joined the Duke of Monmouth. I felt very 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 told 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 happened fortunately for me, that the Captain of this company was a French Protestant, who had taken refuge in Holland, and entered the army of the Prince of Orange. He was pleased with the idea of attacking a French Jesuit, and was determined to be the first to seize him, so he obtained a direction to his abode, and was posted opposite to the door of my house with a guard of soldiers, before any of the family were stirring, except a female domestic who was a Frenchwoman. The Captain asked her who lived in that house.
She replied, “Mr. Fontaine, a minister from Royan in France, lives here.”
The Captain immediately desired her to go up to my room and tell me that Captain Rabainières was below, anxious to embrace me. I only waited long enough to get on my dressing-gown, and went down to welcome a dear friend; for you must know, we had been intimately acquainted with each other in France, and our residences were only four or five miles apart. We embraced one another with the warmth of fraternal affection. I was then introduced to the rest of the officers, who were most kind in their offers of friendship. I cannot pass on without calling your attention to this fresh instance of the goodness of God, whose providence watched over and shielded me from threatened danger.
The street was crowded with people who had followed the soldiers, and some had even forced their way into my house after the Captain, to make sure of being near enough to enjoy the sport of seeing the Jesuit hung. When these witnessed the warmth of our salutations, they knew not what to make of it, and cried out that they were lost and ruined. “Those,” said they, “whom we hailed as our liberators must themselves be Papists.”
I had never attended the Parish Church in Taunton, which led many into the belief that I really was a Jesuit, and those who knew better studiously kept up the false impression, in order to injure me with the community at large.
The officers went to the door to disperse the crowd, which was not an easy matter, under the disappointment they felt at not seeing the Jesuit punished. They told them that their Captain knew Mr. Fontaine to be a good Protestant, better than they were in all probability. They manifested a bitterness of feeling that made my friend decide upon leaving a few soldiers at my door, as a precautionary measure, in case of violence.
When several more regiments belonging to King William’s army were quartered in Taunton, you may rest assured I was not forgotten in the billeting of them upon the inhabitants.
I went to complain to the Mayor and Sheriff because two soldiers had been billeted upon me, and it was not customary to quarter them on a minister. They heard me patiently, but I had scarcely reached home before two more soldiers presented themselves with a billet for me.
I complained a second time, and I was answered by an assurance, that I should receive full justice, and directly I got home, four more came upon me. I made no further complaint, lest I should draw upon myself sixteen instead of eight. I had to support them for three whole weeks, during which time I treated them as well as I could; and I explained my circumstances to them. The times were so ticklish, and the town magistrates showed so decided an inclination to put difficulties in my way, that I thought I had better examine into my affairs, pay my debts, and withdraw from all large transactions for the present. I was occupied during the day teaching French and Latin, so that I was obliged to steal many hours of the night from sleep, to find time to make an exact inventory of all that I possessed. I put down every thing at a low valuation, and I was pleased to find that there was enough to pay all that I owed, and a little to spare. I sent some of the stuffs of my own making to the wholesale dealers, from whom I had made purchases on credit, and I begged they would sell them as opportunity offered, repay themselves with the proceeds first, and then return to me any balance that should remain. This arrangement was equally satisfactory to both parties; I was able to pay my debts by it, and those from whom I had bought on credit, were very glad, in these hard times, to find themselves secured against possible loss.
As soon as it became known that I wished to dispose of my shop, and stock in trade, a young man came forward to be the purchaser, who expected to do wonders; he had heard such exaggerated accounts of the money I had made by the business. He took every thing as it stood, paying me the actual cost, as appeared from the entries in my books. The whole amounted to four hundred pounds, which sum he paid to me in cash, and I made use of it at once to pay the wholesale dealers; so that, after the sale of my manufactured stuffs, which I had already sent to them, they found themselves in debted to me. I requested them to keep the money in their hands for me at present, in order that I might have it as a little leaven, to begin again with renewed vigor, whenever the political troubles should be at an end.
When I looked upon the result of this winding up of my business, I could not but feel very grateful to my Maker for the blessing upon my labors, which had enabled me to pay every thing I owed, including the debt left after that last disastrous voyage, which had hung most heavily upon me ever since. Though I had not been pressed for payment by those who had lent me the in money my extremity, yet I now felt it a vast relief to be able to clear it all off, principal and interest. After all this, I was sole owner of the tools and utensils required in manufacturing the stuffs, I was the proprietor of good, comfortable household furniture, and had fourteen pounds in cash. Your mother and I had undergone much labor and fatigue of body, and considerable anxiety of mind, in accomplishing these great things, but it was for the sake of our dear children, and what will not parents do for their offspring! How much better was it for us all thus to struggle through difficulties together, than to have weakly followed the advice of the committee in London, and given children up my to be educated in their Institution! We always find that God assists those who put their trust in Him.
On the 12th April, 1690, my wife gave birth to a daughter, whom she and I presented for baptism the next day; and I baptized her myself, naming her Mary Anne: Mary, after my mother, and Anne, from the second name of my wife.
For several months I followed only the one employment of keeping a school, by which I did not make quite enough to maintain my family. I found it, too, a very ungrateful employment, and I became tired of it.
When James II had taken refuge in France, and William and Mary been received as King and Queen of England, things began to assume a settled aspect, and I thought I might venture to begin some sort of business again.
There was a sort of stuff, manufactured at Norwich at that time, called Calimanco, which was very substantial, and also fashionable, and I determined upon making the attempt to imitate it. I had never, you know, served any apprenticeship, so it was all the same to me what I undertook to make, I must call upon the ingenuity of my own brain to aid me. I therefore thought it would be better, when I began again, to try something new instead of going on in the old beaten track. The stuff called 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 as they worked altogether mechanically, and not with the understanding, they were really incapable of putting their hands to anything else. I was possessed of a large share of that sort of perseverance which some people call obstinacy, and without which I certainly could not have overcome the almost insurmountable difficulty which met me 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. I had never seen the machinery, but I saw that if money was to be gained by manufacturing, this was the stuff that ought to be produced. As I could not get the worsted spun fine enough to allow of retwisting and doubling it, I must try what could be done with a single thread.
I engaged a weaver for my experimental attempt, who was out of employment, and was apparently very docile; I made all the machinery, I put it up with my own hands, and spent a couple of hours every day trying to instruct him . This went on for three months, altering the threads and machinery for new trials 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.
Some little time after this, a young man came to solicit charity from me; he was in extreme distress, absolutely penniless, and his wife in hourly expectation of her confinement. He entreated me to give him some employment, and said that he would spare no pains to give me satisfaction; and he was sure that I never should see cause to repent of it, for his urgent need would be a spur to his assiduity in laboring for one who should help him at this pinch. I took him and his wife into my house, I fed the two, and soon three of them. I fitted up a loom for him, to try what he could do; and he kept his word, for he worked day and night, entering into all my plans, and never appearing wearied of making efforts. He was very grateful to me for maintaining him and his wife, and he tried to give proof of it by faithful industry. He also knew, that if he was successful, he would certainly be able to earn a comfortable subsistence. He tried seven or eight different plans during a fortnight, and at the end of it produced one yard of Calimanco, which looked very well; but being of single thread, it had no more substance than serge. Ι was obliged to set my wits to work once more, to try whether I could not discover some mode, by which a substantial fabric could be made out of the materials I had at command. I contrived it, at last, by the following process: 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 in a thick, compact thread. The second piece was begun, upon this new and successful plan, just two months after I received the family into my house. The one piece of twenty yards, which was all that we had to show for our labor, sold for threepence a yard, but we did not tell any one how long we had been employed in making it. I kept an exact account of all that I had expended in these fruitless attempts and the small proceeds resulting from the sale of the first piece made my inmate very discreet and considerate in his expenses. He never asked me for any money that he could possibly do without.
By degrees he became more expert in the work. He was soon able to make half-a-yard a-day, then a yard, and after more practice several yards. When the second piece was taken out of the frame it appeared really handsome, and was as strong and substantial as the Norwich Calimanco; but there was great disappointment when it came home from the mill where it had been pressed, it looked no better than a coarse cover let, for it had great strong hairs sticking out in all directions. I recollected that when I was at school I had often gone to warm myself in a hatter’s shop opposite to the school, and I used to watch the process of burning off the long hairs from the hats with a wisp of straw, so I thought that a similar plan might be adopted for remedying the defect in my Calimanco.
A hat can easily be turned round in the hand to apply the flame to all sides, not so a long piece of stuff. A machine would be required to apply it with certainty and regularity. I was too impatient to wait for the production of a machine, and determined to singe this first piece as well as I could by hand. I had to call in the aid of my wife and her sister Jane Boursiquot, who laughed so much at my dilemma that I almost felt discouraged. I made the stuff damp all over so that I might not burn it as well as the hairs, and they held it, one on each side, while I passed the blazing wisp of straw over it. At last the work was finished, and then I had the right to laugh, for, when washed and pressed, it looked really beautiful. I sent it to a draper at Exeter, who allowed me two shillings and sixpence a yard for it. I found I could make it for just half the sum, so I gained an ample reward for all my expenditure of time, labor and money.
My workman improved rapidly, he made it better and better every day, and he gained such facility by practice that at last he was able to turn out ten or twelve yards in a day. I had hitherto merely supplied him with what was absolutely necessary for himself and his wife, but I now promised to pay him four pence half-penny for every yard he made in future. I also took into my employ again the first weaver who had labored so long unsuccessfully, and he too acquired the art after a while.
I now hired a shop for the sale of my Calimanco; I took from my old tradesmen all the articles I wanted, and paid them with my own goods. I employed more workmen, and I bound each one, under a penalty of £10, not to work for any one else, or to teach the art to other workmen. They were all willing to make such terms, because they could earn three times as much by working for me as by making serge.
When I had planned a machine to singe off the hairs, I employed a different mechanic to make each part, so that not one of them knew the use of that which he was making, and when I had got the various parts ready I put the machine 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; when both side were singed it was washed in the river, then pressed, and it really had much the appearance of the true Calimanco; the strength of the course worsted gave it substance, and the fineness of the warp gave it lustre. I now gave up teaching entirely, and confined myself to my manufactory, which proved very great slavery, for it was absolutely necessary to keep secret the mode by which we removed the course hairs, and therefore I was obliged to do that part of the work myself. My wife or my sister-in-law turned the spit while I roasted the joint.
I succeeded so well, that in the course of seven or eight months I was able to keep from twelve to fifteen looms constantly going. I had not been long at work before the profitable nature of my new trade became known, and the old-fashioned manufacturers of serge were envious of it. Their astonishment at my inventive genius was very great, they almost looked upon it as sorcery; and it 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 weaving serge, because they and their fathers before them had made use of two feet to work the loom, they did not imagine it possible that anybody could weave with only one leg. The poor man had been supported by the parish for three years. I thought much about his distressed condition, and wondered within myself whether it would not be possible to devise some plan, whereby he could work at his old trade. I made many experiments, and at last I hit upon the right thing; I went without loss of time to see the poor fellow, who lived in the house of his brother. I asked him if he would not like to be able to weave once more.
“Alas!” said he, weeping, “God has been pleased to deprive me of my leg and it is impossible for me to weave.”
His brother was then working in a loom by his side; I turned to him, and asked him to get out of the frame and let me make some alterations in the treads. He allowed me to do so, and I then detached all the cords from the treads, and arranged them differently, and asked the cripple to enter the frame. I then showed him how his remaining leg was competent to all the work, directing him to put his foot first on the one tread and then on the other. In the course of an hour he made a quarter of a yard of serve, equal in every respect to the rest of the piece which had been woven by his brother who possessed two legs.
I then explained to him most particularly the manner in which he must make the preparation for weaving with one foot, so as not to run any risk of getting his work in confusion. I then left him in the act of calling upon God for blessings to be showered upon me and mine, in return for the benefit I had conferred upon him and his family, by enabling him to earn a livelihood by his labor. For several days afterwards the house was thronged with weavers who went to witness the extraordinary sight of a man weaving with but one leg.
The son of the Mayor, before whom I was formerly cited to appear, had a great desire to make Calimanco like mine, so he bribed one of my workmen to teach him how to do it, and guaranteed to him the £10 which he was bound to forfeit to me if he worked for any one else. I did not sue him for it, I thought the trouble would be more than it was worth.
The young man had not possessed himself of my whole secret by his underhand proceeding. The workman made the Calimanco for him as he had done for me, but he knew nothing of the mode by which I got rid of the long hairs that had perplexed me at the outset. When several pieces had been made and pressed, they proved utterly unsaleable, from the hairs upon them; so I stepped forward and made an offer of fifteen pence a yard, which was gladly accepted. I burnt off the hairs, and then resold them at two shillings and six pence a yard. The treacherous weaver was now thrown completely out of employment. He dared not show himself to me, and as he could not produce a profitable article for the man who had tempted him to betray my secret, he would not employ him any more, for he was not disposed to make stuff merely to sell it in an unfinished state to me. The wretched workman went off one morning with whatever he could lay hands on belonging to his late employer, and among other things, a handsome overcoat with very large silver gilt buttons upon it. He went to London, and I have heard he became a regular thief, and was eventually hanged.
The attempt to supplant me had proved so unfortunate to both master and workman, that a long time was allowed to elapse before any further effort of that kind was made. From the end of the year 1690 until the year 1693, I worked in peace, and retained for my own benefit the profit of my invention. During this interval the demand for serge gradually decreased, and trade became so bad that actual want seemed to sharpen the faculties of the serge manufacturers, and they determined to do their best to imitate my Calimanco. My secret was at length discovered by some pieces having inadvertently been sent to be pressed without having been sufficiently washed in the river first, and the smell of burning disclosed the mystery. Then it was recollected how many trusses of straw I had been in the habit of buying, and laying the two circumstances together, they could have no longer any doubt as to my plan of removing the hairs by fire. After a good deal of trouble they got rollers at work like mine, and every one left off making serge.
The coarse worsted had been despised before, and I purchased it at the rate of a penny half-penny a pound; the increased demand raised the price to four pence a pound. The market became overstocked with Calimancos, and the price fell to two shillings, then to eighteen pence, and at last to fifteen pence a yard.
I made mine spotted with a different color from the ground, and obtained a preference over theirs, but they soon imitated me. I then contrived fresh variations in the patterns, and made a kind of spotted serge, which sold at three times the price of the old-fashioned kind. I spent the whole of the year 1694 in this most vexatious occupation; all the time racking my brains to invent something new, and as soon as I had succeeded, I had the mortification of finding myself imitated and undersold. I became weary of the business, and seeing that I had now made £1000 in the course of three years, I thought I would leave the place and try whether I could not find a French Church in want of a minister. I knew that there were many French Protestant Refugees in Ireland, so I went to Dublin to make inquiries. I was there recommended to go to Cork, and I accordingly proceeded thither, and found that several French families were settled there, 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, and I felt myself independent, therefore this opportunity, of preaching the Gospel without remuneration, was most pleasing to me, and I I agreed to return to Cork and take charge of the Church, 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 in a state of starvation from want of employment; they were weavers by trade. My sympathy was much excited by their condition, and I was anxious to help them, and as the most feasible plan for doing so appeared to me to give them work in their own trades, I bought worsted and dyes for their use, and deposited £25 with Mr. Abelin, an Elder of our Church, and I directed him to expend it in whatever appeared requisite to enable them to manufacture such stuffs as they had been accustomed to make in France. He kept a shop, and I requested he would receive their work and sell it for them as fast as it was finished, and out of the proceeds furnish them with fresh materials, and at the same time keep a sort of general supervision over their families until my return. He attended to my wishes, and I had the satisfaction of finding, when I returned to Cork, 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 undiminished.
On my return to Taunton we set to work most vigorously to prepare for removing to Ireland, and the packing up our goods, and closing my manufacturing concerns, occupied about six weeks. We took twelve horse loads of furniture and baggage to Bristol, whence we intended to embark for Ireland. I purchased there a variety of drugs for dyeing, and large coppers for the same purpose, and screws, such as might be required for putting up presses, and, in short, everything that I thought would be of use in the manufactory which I proposed establishing at Cork. I knew that it would be absolutely necessary for me 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.
Before I embarked for Ireland I took my two oldest sons, James and Aaron, to London, and sent them thence to Amsterdam to be under the care of a relation settled there. My chief reason for this step was to avoid a sweeping catastrophe, like that which cut off the whole family of my brother-in law Sautreau, which I have already mentioned. By separating my family I hoped that some of them might be spared, in case of shipwreck.
I ought not to take leave of Taunton, without naming that, during our residence there, my wife had not been less fruitful than my brain; we were now the parents of six children; James, Aaron, Mary Anne, Peter, John and Moses.
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).