28 March 2009

George T. Barrentine, Cotton Mill Worker

George T. Barrentine was my uncle's great-grandfather. Since this particular uncle is technically an "in-law," Mr. George T. Barrentine is of no relation to me. I like to work on this family's history for my young cousin...

Here is an entry in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census for George T. Barrentine:

Ward 4, Macon, M.D. 716, Bibb County, Georgia
Sheet 13B
11 April 1930
Maple Street
Dwelling 239 (line 75)
Barrentine, George T. (head) age 68 - widowed - 1st m. age 27 - b. Georgia - mother b. Georgia - occ. Gate Watcher at Cotton Mill
Jackson, William A. (son-in-law) age 35 - 1st m. age 26 - b. Georgia - occ. Runs Machinery at Cotton Mill
Jackson, Pearl M. (dau) age 33 - 1st m. age 18 - b. Georgia - parents b. Georgia - occ. Runs Frames[?] at Cotton Mill
Fountain, Nellie M. (granddau) age 14 - b. Georgia - parents b. Georgia

Three members in the household working at the cotton mill got me curious. A little research led me to a cotton mill located off of Vineville Avenue in a part of Macon known as Payne City (the mill was named Payne, and the mill village that surrounded it was Payne City). Maple Street, where the Barrentines lived in 1930, is less than five miles away from the Payne Mill. I wonder if this is the mill they worked?

A little Georgia Cotton Mill history from the Georgia Encyclopedia:

Georgia has always been part of the textile industry, from colonial days forward, beginning in 1734 with silk production. In less than fifty years, however, cotton was the king crop for plantation owners.

After the War of 1812, cotton mills were on the rise. The earliest mills in Georgia were Antioch Factory in Morgan County and Bolton Factory in Wilkes County. They were both built around 1810 and were failing by 1820. The idea of cotton mills for profit resurfaced a decade later.

Georgia's first successful mills were Georgia Factory in Athens and Richmond Factory in Augusta. The first mill village was in Athens, connected to the Georgia Factory. By 1840, nineteen mills were in production in Georgia.

By 1850, Georgia had 38 mills. By 1900, 98 mills were in operation.

After 1900, the profitablility of mills continued to rise, and companies began branching out into new types of textiles. By 1908, the Bibb Manufacturing Company of Macon was operating seven mills producing hosiery, carpet yarn, twine, spooled cotton, and tire fabric. Bibb Manufacturing Company would eventually be the owners of the Payne Mill in which George Barrentine and family might've worked.

Bibb Manufacturing Company was one of Georgia largest employers in the mid-1950s. It originated in Macon in 1876. Their second mill, Macon Manufacturing Company, was acquired in 1878.

By 1895, Bibb Manufacturing Company employed 700 workers. By 1898, more mills were acquired -- Macon Knitting Company, Taylor Manufacturing, Cordele Manufacturing Company, and two mills at Porterdale.

In 1900, the Columbus Mill was built. The surrounding community was called "Bibb City." This would become the largest cotton mill in the country, In 1905, the Payne Mill in the Vineville community in Macon was open.

Bibb Manufacturing Company continued to expand after both World Wars. By 1966, there were fourteen operating mills.

In 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act was passed as part of F.D.R.'s New Deal. It required mill operators to follow rules related to workday hours and wages. When some mill operators ignored the rules, workers protested.

Protests increased and, in September 1934, the workers called a strike. Approximately 44,000 Georgia workers participated.

Violence sometimes broke out between picketers and mill guards. Instances of this were recorded in Cedartown, Columbus, Macon, Porterdale, Trion, and Augusta.

I wonder of George, his daughter, and/or his son-in-law were part of this strike? Did they witness any violence? Further research suggests that even when the strike was over, the workers thought the mill owners had won. I wonder what kind of working conditions the Barrentines endured.

George T. Barrentine at the very least witnessed the shaping of Textile Unions in this country. At age 68, during the depression, I wonder if George was able to take the time to realize he was witnessing history.

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