Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
Great Britain discouraged her American colonies from manufacturing textiles as she wanted that market for her own goods. Even after the United States won independence, Americans bought British products, including fine wool fabrics for men's wear, as home production could not meet demand. George Washington, however, made a political statement by wearing a suit of domestically-manufactured wool broadcloth for his 1789 inauguration. His Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, saw the need to wean Americans from foreign manufactures. He therefore encouraged Congress to enact tariffs on imported fabrics to stimulate domestic manufacturing and raise revenue. (Hamilton's policies sowed the seeds of partisan politics as they met opposition from Thomas Jefferson and fellow proponents of the agrarian way of life.) This paper surveys the fledging American wool industry and related domestic wool production. The manufacture of fine fabrics required high-quality raw wool, and much of this, too, was imported. George Washington Parke Custis (Washington's step-grandson) held sheep shearing fairs to encourage improvement of native breeds. Elsewhere in the U.S., others imported Merinos, which produced top quality wool, from abroad. Politics intervened again as first Jefferson and then James Madison advocated embargoes on foreign trade that cut off the supply of British textiles. The 1812 declaration of war not only put an end to trade with Great Britain but also increased demand for wool fabrics for military uniforms and equipment. The story continues through the war years as these developments impacted production of the raw material and the finished product.