John Bracewell by Rev. Geo. B. Spalding, D. D.
John Bracewell was born June 18, 1837, in Clitheroe,
England. Clitheroe is a busy cotton-manufacturing town on the Ribble,
and in the greatest cotton-manufacturing district of the world,
The father, Miles Bracewell, from his early boyhood had been engaged in
printing calico, having served his apprenticeship with James Thompson &
Sons, who owned and managed the Primrose Print-Works. James Thompson was
a famous manufacturer, his enterprise and liberality being known
throughout Europe. For many years Miles Bracewell had charge of the
"color department" in the Primrose Print-Works. He afterwards went into
business for himself, and at the time of his death was the senior
partner and principal owner of two print-works,—one at Oakenshaw and
another at Kersal Vale.
It was while the father was in the service of James Thompson, that John
Bracewell, then a very small boy, was regularly apprenticed to this
distinguished manufacturer. The institution of apprenticeship, in
anything like its English thoroughness, is little practiced in this
country. For a long period in England the term apprentice was applied
equally to such as were being taught a trade or a learned profession.
The term of seven years was regarded as much a necessity for the learner
in any craft, as for the scholar seeking to attain the degree of doctor,
or master in the liberal arts. Although the laws which formerly made the
apprenticeship compulsory have been abolished in England, yet the
principle is universally recognized there in the form of a voluntary
contract. Of its immense advantages in the way of securing the most
thorough knowledge, and highest skill in the learner, no one can doubt.
Mr. John Bracewell, who probably to-day holds the foremost place among
those engaged in his business in this country, is a living argument for
the excellence of the apprentice system. He began his tutelage as a lad.
He began at the lowest round in the ladder of his advancement, and was
long and rigidly held at each last until he could safely mount the
higher one. There was a very superior French chemist employed in the
Primrose Works, and no little of the boy's studies were under him.
When eighteen years of age, Mr. Bracewell had established such a
reputation for proficiency in the mysteries of color that he was offered
a fine position in a great carpet manufactory in France, but his father
advised him to decline this flattering offer, feeling that the
responsibility was too great for one so young. That subtle but
irresistible influence which for so many years has been drawing such
tides of population from Europe to America was already settling the
question as to the country where this young man was to work out his
great success. Only a month after he had declined to go to France, he
received and accepted the offer of a position as assistant manager in
the Merrimack Print-Works, Lowell, Mass. There he remained five years
and a half, winning for himself a distinguished reputation by the energy
and skill of his management. Certainly it argues some unusual qualities
in his work while there, some extraordinary gifts and capacities in his
nature, that could have led the Cocheco Manufacturing Company to call
this young man of twenty-three years of age to its most responsible
position, that of superintendent of its print-works. There were no less
than thirteen applicants for this office. The directors, with entire
unanimity, made choice of this youngest of them all, and gave to him the
unlimited charge of the most important department of their great
industry. Soon after entering upon his new duties, Mr. Bracewell took
advantage of the suspension of work in the manufactory, made necessary
at that period of the civil war, to enlarge his scientific knowledge by
attending lectures on analytic chemistry at Harvard College. He studied
with great thoroughness this science during a five months' course, and
at the same time directed the many repairs and changes which were being
made in the print-works at Dover. With the beginning of the year 1861,
Mr. Bracewell took up his residence in Dover. The remarkable enterprise
and judgment of the new manager made themselves at once felt. For just
twenty years he continued in his position. These years witnessed a
series of brilliant successes. He showed himself to be a genius in his
profession. To his originating, creative mind he joins an unusual power
of adapting to his own uses suggestions coming from whatever source. By
his sheer abilities, his indomitable energy, his quickness of insight,
his tireless perseverance, and his perfect command of the minute details
of every branch of his work, Mr. Bracewell soon lifted the Cocheco goods
to the very head of their class, and held them there to the last day of
his service. The production of the print-works very nearly quadrupled
during this period.
In 1864, Mr. Bracewell was married to Mary Harriet Hope, of Lowell,
Mass., whose noble character death has made the more precious to many
friends. There were born to them three daughters and one son, all of
whom are living.
During Mr. Bracewell's residence in Dover he endeared himself to all
classes of people by his large-hearted liberality, his great geniality,
and his keen personal interest in whatever affected the welfare of the
city or the condition of every individual in it. He was an ardent
supporter of his church, which he greatly loved, and every good cause in
the community. He was quick to suggest, and ready to lead any movement
which was helpful to the material and moral advancement of Dover. With a
view of benefiting the city, and also as a sound investment for his own
advantage, Mr. Bracewell built, in 1879, a substantial and attractive
block, consisting of nine stores, which spans the Cochecho river. It
bids long to stand, a fitting monument of his public spirit and wise
Though born and educated an Englishman, he became an ardent, patriotic
American citizen from the very day that he touched American soil. His
pride and hopes for America are as intense as any native son's. His love
for Dover is as tender and steadfast as though its air was the first he
breathed. The church with which he first united, he still regards as his
home. He long served her as a most efficient superintendent of its
Sunday-school, and when he was about to remove his residence from Dover,
out of a great desire to see the church freed from the burden of a debt
of thirteen thousand dollars, Mr. Bracewell, by his payment of a tenth
of the sum, led on others to such generous donations that the debt was
Mr. Bracewell may still be regarded as a New Hampshire son, and a
citizen of Dover. His nature will not allow him to lose elsewhere the
very great interest which twenty years' sojourn here has created in him.
It may well be expected that he will some time return to permanently
abide among friendships whose preciousness he and his host of friends so
In January, 1881, Mr. Bracewell received an offer to go into business at
North Adams, Mass., and as the physicians thought his wife's health
would be better there than in Dover, he decided to make the change. The
directors of the Cocheco Manufacturing Company, by offer of an increase
of salary of from ten thousand to fifteen thousand dollars a year, and
other inducements, sought to retain Mr. Bracewell in their employment;
Mr. Bracewell, however, removed to North Adams, purchasing a third
interest in the Freeman Manufacturing Company of that place, and the
same success which was acquired in Dover has followed his abilities into
the great business which he represents at North Adams. The Windsor
calicoes, and other products of the Freeman Manufacturing Company,
already stand in the market among the foremost of their class.
In 1877, Mr. Bracewell received the degree of Master of Arts from
Dartmouth College,—a distinction well earned and worthily bestowed.
During Gov. Prescott's term of office. Mr. Bracewell served as a member
of his staff, with rank of colonel.
Mr. Bracewell's remarkable activity has not been shut into his business.
The intensity of his nature comes out to an undiminished degree in his
politics, his friendships, his public spirit, and his religious faith.
His sympathies are quick and universal; his enthusiasms are
communicative and inspiring; his affections are tender and loyal.