In a City of Mills and Canals: Mortality among Pre-teen and Teenage Irish Workers in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Industrial Lowell, Massachusetts

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Lowell, Massachusetts, is considered as the birthplace of the industrial revolution in the United States during the early nineteenth-century. Established in 1821 by a group of Bostonian entrepreneurs, the new textile factories harnessed the waters of the Merrimack River to power their waterwheels using a system of canals, dug and maintained by labourers. While this work employed many local Yankees, it also attracted groups of emigrant Irish workers from Boston, a process that continued into the middle of the century, particularly in the wake of the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852). In time, the Irish would begin to replace the Yankee female workers in the textile mills, the latter having grown increasingly discontent in the face of deteriorating working conditions. The Irish, in contrast, provided employers with a relatively cheap and easily satisfied workforce.

We are fortunate that two volumes known as the Hanavor Burial Records exist that provide a window into the lives and deaths of the early Irish settlers in Lowell. Some 1,450 entries dating to the period between 1849 and 1865 provide details of the occupation of the deceased as well as, in many instances, the cause of their death. This study will focus on the role of Irish pre-teen and teenage workers; their age-at-death profile, the nature of the work in which they were engaged, and the causes of their death will all be examined to explore the quality of their lives in this industrial powerhouse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalChildhood in the Past
Issue number2
Early online date15 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2019



  • industrial revolution, child labour, mill working, lung complaints, tuberculosis, accidents

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