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Labor

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The ropewalk was the largest employer in town.  The employees’ names were common in the Old Colony of Plymouth: Doten, Osgood, Savery, Slocum, Wadsworth, Cobb and Holmes. Generations of families worked at Cordage.

The company created an apprenticeship program to educate and train young boys.  The apprentice system started in 1826 and lasted a little more than ten years. The first boys signed the traditional indentures by which the apprentice promised, "said Master well and faithfully to serve, his secrets keep, his lawful Commands duly obey." Apprentices had to follow a strict code of conduct.  They were not allowed to frequent alehouses or taverns, play cards or dice, contract matrimony or commit acts of vice and immorality.

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Apprentices were provided room and board and given $35 a year. Some apprentices boarded at a neighboring farm for $2 a week, including washing and mending, at the expense of the Company. Boys participated in the apprenticeship program until the age of 21. Once 21, they transitioned to full employment in the factory.

 

There were a couple of apprentices of note.  John Smith began his apprenticeship in 1829 and was present at the 75th anniversary celebration in 1899. John Donley became an apprentice in 1830 at the age of sixteen and remained with the Company for 66 years.

The earliest wages paid at the ropewalk were 85 Cents a day for common labor and $1.16 a day for hand spinners. It took some time before these wages were raised, and apparently for some time they were lowered since in 1836 there was a brief strike that was settled back to the $1.16 a day. In the early eighteen-forties, $1.35 was the usual pay.

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Families could make their salaries go far. Families could live off $1.35 per day, for a six-day work week. Pork cost $0.08 a pound, a barrel of flour was $6.25, butter cost $0.19 a pound, molasses was just $0.45 and New England rum cost $0.48 a gallon. The nearby wood oaks supplied families with fuel at just the cost of their labor.  Fishing was abundant; alewives ran up the brooks in the spring in such numbers that every family caught enough to salt, dry and pack a "kentle" of salt codfish. A barrel of salt halibut fins and napes, and a bin of potatoes went far towards carrying a large family through the winter.

Plymouth Cordage continued to build employee housing throughout the early 1900s.  By 1924, the company owned 125 homes housing 351 tenants.  Rent ranged from $1.20 - $4.50 per week.

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