Phinehas Adams by Arthur P. Dodge
Phinehas Adams was born in Medway, Mass., the twentieth day of June,
1814, and comes from the very best Revolutionary stock of New England.
His grandfather and great-grandfather participated in the battle of
Bunker Hill, and served through that memorable war. He had three
brothers and seven sisters, of whom the former all died previous to
1831. Three sisters are now living: Sarah Ann, born in 1816, the wife of
E. B. Hammond, M. D., of Nashua; Eliza P., born in 1820, widow of the
late Ira Stone, formerly an overseer in the Stark Mills; and Mary Jane,
born in 1822, widow of the late James Buncher, a former designer for the
Merrimack Print-Works at Lowell, Mass. Mrs. Buncher is the present
popular and very efficient librarian of the Manchester public library.
His father, Phinehas Adams, senior, married Sarah W. Barber, a native of
Holliston, Mass., in 1811. Her father was an Englishman, who came to
America from Warrenton, England, during the Revolutionary war, and
married in this country a Scottish lady who came from Edinburgh.
Phinehas Adams, the senior, was both a farmer and a mechanic, and became
quite an extensive manufacturer. At a very early date he constructed
hand-looms, which he employed girls to operate; and, subsequently,
started the first power-loom that was ever established in this country,
at Waltham, Mass., in the year 1814.
In this year and in the same town he became a mill overseer, and
afterwards gave his whole attention to manufacturing. He resided, when
Phinehas was a child, at different times in Waltham and Cambridge,
Mass., and in Nashua, to which latter place he removed later in life,
and became proprietor of a hotel, the Central House. This business was
more agreeable to him, since he had broken several of his ribs and
received other injuries from an unfortunate fall.
Hon. William P. Newell, of Manchester, who was agent of the Amoskeag
company from 1837 to 1846, was once a bobbin-boy for the elder Adams.
This was ten years before the son, who was attending a private school in
West Newton, Mass., until 1827, began to work in the mills. In the
last-named year, his father became agent of the Neponset Manufacturing
Company's mills—which were owned by himself, Dr. Oliver Dean, and
others—at Walpole, in the same state; and to this place he removed his
When quite young, the son disliked close confinement in school, the task
of poring over books being to him rather dry and irksome; but his father
said to him that he must either study or go to work in the mill. At the
latter place he was soon found engaged in a work well calculated to
dispel boyish romance in a summary manner. He almost repented making
this choice, but pluckily "stuck to the work" with the indomitable
perseverance so often displayed in after life, and was employed as a
bobbin-boy for a year by the company. He then entered Wrentham Academy,
where he remained, making progress in his studies, for a year and a
half, when his father was compelled to inform him that he had met with
serious losses by reason of the failure of the company, and that he,
Phinehas, would now leave the academy and go to work. The father very
much regretted feeling obliged to take this course, having cherished the
hope of being able to give his son a thorough education. The latter
readily accepted the situation, replied to his father that he was ready
and willing to work, but, that if he must go to work in a mill, he
preferred that it should be in a large one, and not in a "one-horse
concern;" for he desired a wide field and the best possible
opportunities to gain a knowledge of the business in its many details.
One of the greatest events in the commercial history of our country was
the founding of the "City of Spindles," in 1821. Very naturally, the
junior Adams was led to go there to gain his desired knowledge. On the
10th of November, 1829, he proceeded to Lowell, and at the age of
fifteen became employed as bobbin-boy in the mills of the Merrimack
company. At that time, the company had only about thirty thousand
spindles in its mills.
In these early days of manufacturing, the system was adhered to in
Lowell of keeping fierce bull-dogs—one, at least—in each mill. They
were liberally fed with fresh meat, not for the purpose of making them
less savage, and chained near the entrance to the mill, making
effectual sentinels while the watch-men were making their rounds. This
custom was followed until about 1831.
Mr. Adams was early possessed of an ambition to become an overseer; and
to this end he labored hard and faithfully, never thinking or dreaming,
however, that he would become agent of a large mill. This was his real
beginning, the wedding to his long and uninterrupted manufacturing life,
the "golden wedding" anniversary of which event occurred in November,
Soon after his commencement at Lowell, he was promoted to the position
of second overseer in the weaving department, a post he retained until
1831, when he passed to a similar position in the Methuen Company's
mill, of which his uncle was agent. In 1833 he made another change,
going to Hooksett, where he became overseer in the Hooksett
Manufacturing Company's mills, of which his father was then the agent.
Not long afterwards he assumed a similar position in the Pittsfield
Manufacturing Company's mill, at Pittsfield, then under the
administration of Ithamar A. Beard. Mr. Adams remained in Pittsfield
from December, 1834, until Mr. Beard resigned.
On the 7th of March, 1835, Mr. Adams, who had previously decided to
return to Lowell, left Pittsfield; embarked in the mail stage, and found
himself about noon of the next day at Nashua, where his parents then
resided. In those days there was no city of Manchester, neither was
there a splendid railroad service running through the fertile Merrimack
valley. But the waters of the Merrimack, though scarcely at all utilized
at that time to propel water-wheels, carried upon its bosom heavily
laden vessels from Boston, via the old Middlesex canal, which ran as
far north as Concord. Locks were in use at Garvin's Falls, Hooksett,
Manchester, Goffe's Falls, Nashua, and at other points. A passenger
steamer plied in those days between Lowell and Nashua upon the river.
Mr. Adams remained at home only until Monday. He was industriously
inclined, and proceeded immediately to the Merrimack Mills in Lowell,
the scene of his earlier labors, where he accepted the office of
overseer. He remained with this company until he came to Manchester, in
1846. In December, 1841, John Clark, the agent of the Merrimack Mills at
Lowell, proposed that Mr. Adams should enter the office as a clerk. This
idea was very distasteful to Mr. Adams, but he yielded to the wishes and
advice of Mr. Clark, to get acquainted with book-keeping and the general
business of the mills, to prepare for a higher position. For five years
he held this position.
In the year 1846, Mr. Adams left Lowell to assume the agency (succeeding
the Hon. William P. Newell) of the "Old Amoskeag Mills," then located on
the west side of the Merrimack River at Amoskeag Falls,—now a part of
the city of Manchester,—on the present site of ex-Governor P. C.
Cheney's paper-mill. The building of the Amoskeag mills was the
beginning of Manchester's wonderful career of prosperity, which has
developed to such great proportions. Her many mills, now running more
than three hundred thousand spindles, many looms, and many
cloth-printing machines, and the many other signs of industry, are
abundantly attesting to the truth of the statement. With the Amoskeag
company Mr. Adams remained until the 17th of November, 1847, when he
became agent of the Stark Mills.
Of the great manufactories of Manchester, that of the Stark Mills
company ranks third in magnitude and second in age. This company was
organized September 26, 1838, and began active operations during the
following year. During its forty years and more of busy existence, up to
April 30, 1881, when Mr. Adams resigned on account of ill health, it had
but two resident agents: John A. Burnham held the position from the
inception of the corporation until the 17th of November, 1847, the date
marking the commencement of the long term of service of the subject of
this sketch. At that time the capital of the Stark Mills company was the
same as now,—one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The
shares, the par value of which was one thousand dollars, were worth six
or seven hundred dollars when Colonel Adams was chosen agent; but they
had risen to fourteen or fifteen hundred dollars when he resigned.
In the early days of New England manufacturing, more labor was performed
by hand than is to-day; and, though substantially the same machinery was
employed, yet it had by no means attained its present capacity and
wonderful completeness. In December, 1863, Mr. Adams was commissioned by
the directors of the Stark Mills to go to Europe for the purpose of
securing machinery, and information relating to the manufacture of linen
goods. At that time, owing to the war, cotton goods were very scarce and
expensive. For unmanufactured cotton itself the Stark company paid as
high as one dollar and eighty-six cents per pound, and a higher price
than even that was paid by other companies. A bale of cotton brought
nine hundred and thirty dollars. Mr. Adams traveled extensively through
England, Scotland, and Ireland, and visited the city of Paris. He
ordered considerable machinery of the English manufacturers, who were
very busy with American orders at the time. So great, in fact, was the
demand upon them, that the Stark machinery did not arrive until the
September following, nearly a year after being ordered.
From choice, Colonel Adams has been quite clear of politics, having only
served as ward clerk when a young man in Lowell, and, later, as a
presidential elector for General Grant. He was Governor Straw's
chief-of-staff, which, by the way, it is believed never "turned out in a
body" as such. He was also four years a director in the Concord
Railroad, just after the decease of Governor Gilmore. About the year
1848 he was chosen one of the assistant engineers of the Manchester fire
department, in which capacity he served with peculiar fidelity for
twelve years. Mr. Adams and the other engineers resigned their positions
after two steamers had been obtained, thus giving the captains of the
old companies chances of promotion. Never being "up for office," as were
many of his friends, he could act with positive independence; and he
invariably did act, as he thought, for the best interests of the city.
Col. Adams has for a long time been closely identified with the moneyed
institutions of Manchester, having served as a director in the Merrimack
River Bank from 1857 to 1860, the same in the Manchester National Bank
from 1865 to the present time; and as a trustee in the Manchester
Savings Bank nearly all the time since it obtained its charter. Since
the decease of Hon. Herman Foster, Mr. Adams has been one of the
committee on loans for the latter institution. He is one of the
directors of the Gas-Light Company, and was for many years a trustee of
the public library. He was elected, in 1865, one of the original
directors of the New England Cotton Manufacturers' Association.
For many years, Mr. Adams has been engaged, as opportunity occurred, in
procuring rare coins and medals. Of the former, he now possesses very
complete collections of the various denominations in gold, silver,
nickel, and copper; and he has a great number of valuable medals. Many
of these antiquities command a very high price in the market, their
numbers being absolutely limited, and the demand for them steadily
During the administration of Colonel Adams, which covered a long series
of eventful years, a great many changes occurred. In what may be called,
more particularly, the manufacturing world is this especially true. He
is the oldest agent and the longest in such position in the city,—nay,
more, in the entire Merrimack valley; and most of those holding similar
positions thirty-two years ago are now passed from this life. That fine
old estate on Hanover street, for a long time known as the "Harris
estate," was formerly owned by the Stark company, who built the
commodious mansion now converted into a charitable institution,—the
"Orphans' Home,"—for the use of their agents. John A. Burnham was its
first occupant; and next, Mr. Adams, who resided there nine years,
beginning with 1847.
When Baldwin & Co.'s steam mill on Manchester street, where D. B.
Varney's brass foundry is located, was, with other structures, burned on
the 5th of July, 1852, that house, then occupied by Mr. Adams, was set
on fire by the flying sparks; but the fire was speedily extinguished.
Mr. Adams was at the time attending to his duties as engineer where the
fire raged the fiercest. Thus Mrs. Adams and those of her household were
without protection of the sterner sex in the early part of their peril.
Soon, however, aid was proffered by several men, of whom Mrs. Adams
admitted Mr. Walter Adriance and three others, friends of the family,
whereupon she securely barricaded the doors. The work of passing water
to the roof was very lively for a while.
In 1856, Mr. Adams moved into the house No. 2 Water street, where he
lived about nine years, when he purchased his present fine residence,
No. 18 Brook Street.
On the 24th of September, 1839, Mr. Adams was united in marriage with
Miss Elizabeth P. Simpson, daughter of the late Deacon Samuel Simpson,
of Deerfield, a veteran in the war of 1812. Mrs. Adams's paternal
grandfather, Major John Simpson, participated in the battle of Bunker
Hill, and, it is said upon good authority, fired the first shot, on the
American side, of that famous engagement.
It occurred in this wise: The men in his line were instructed by their
commander, Colonel Stark, not to fire a gun until the British had
arrived at a certain point, forty paces distant from the American works.
When the red-coated invaders had advanced to within that distance, the
major (who was then a private), an excellent marksman, being unable to
withstand so good an opportunity, fired before the order was given, and
dropped his man. The fire was then opened along the whole line. On being
reproved for disobeying orders, Mr. Simpson replied, "I never could help
firing when game which I was after came within gun-shot." He died
October 28, 1825.
From this happy union of Mr. Adams with Miss Simpson two children have
sprung: Elizabeth, born June 15, 1842, and Phinehas Adams, Jr., born
December 26, 1844,—both being born in the same house in the city of
Lowell. The former is the wife of Daniel C. Gould, paymaster of the
Stark Mills, and the popular tenor singer at the Franklin-street church,
to whom she was married the 10th of September, 1868. Mr. Gould is the
son of Deacon Daniel Gould, who was the first railroad-station agent in
Manchester, a position he held until succeeded by the late Henry
Hurlburt. Mr. Phinehas Adams, Jr., married Miss Anna P. Morrison, of
About a year after being married, Phinehas Adams joined the First
Congregational church in Lowell. Mrs. Adams was a member of the same
church. On removing to Manchester, both had their relation transferred
to the Franklin-street Congregational church.
At a business meeting of the Stark Corporation directors, in 1879, on
the suggestion of Edmund Dwight, it was voted to present Colonel Adams
with a suitable token, bearing testimony of the high respect in which he
is held by them. Therefore, on the 17th of November, 1879, that being
the date completing his thirty-two years of service as agent of that
corporation, they presented him with one of the most valuable gold
watches made by the Waltham company, together with a massive gold chain
and an elegant seal. Inside the watch-case is engraved the following:
"The Stark Mills to Phinehas Adams, November 17, 1847-1879. William
Amory. Edmund Dwight, treasurer." Accompanying these superb gifts was
the following letter, expressive of sentiments that any honorable man
would be justly proud to merit:—
"Boston, November 15, 1879.
"My Dear Sir,—I send you a watch and chain by request of the
directors of the Stark Mills. It will reach you on the
anniversary of the day on which you entered their service,
thirty-two years ago. Will you receive it as an expression of
their great respect for your character, and their high
appreciation of the service you have rendered the corporation
during the third part of a century?
"It is their sincere hope that the connection which has lasted
so long may long continue.
"With great regard, yours sincerely,
"EDMUND DWIGHT, Treasurer."
"Phinehas Adams, Esq."
This testimonial was eminently deserved, as no one is held in greater or
more universal respect than is the upright, courteous, and genial
Right here it may be as well to put on record the fact that Mr. Adams
has never used tobacco or intoxicating liquors during his life. The life
of Mr. Adams proves that tireless persistence and devotion to duty
accomplish much. The influence exerted by his life is far greater than
is commonly supposed or realized. It can hardly fail to stimulate young
men to honorable exertions, and to teach them that extensive notoriety
is not necessarily indicative of true greatness, and also that too eager
grasping after mere political distinction or after temporal riches is
far less desirable than linking their lives to immortal principles. No
sermon could be more potent than such a life as this, illustrating the
fact that exalted character is the choicest of all possessions, bearing
ever large interest in this life, and likewise in the life hereafter.