York County, PA in 1828–What’s a Fulling Mill?
We know York County had a lot of different mills. Click here to read about the many mills of York County.
Sawmills sawed trees into boards, and grist mills ground grain. What purpose did a fulling mill serve?
In a recent post about York County runaways in the 18th century, I mentioned that it was pretty easy to describe what the person who ran away was wearing. They probably only had one or two sets of clothing. Click here to read about the runaway blacksmith apprentice.
Even well-to-do people didn’t have that many clothes. You have toured historic houses–how many closets do they have? A few pegs on the bedroom wall would do nicely. Why?
How did you come by your apparel in the 18th and 19th century? There were some ready-made fabrics available for you to purchase and then have sewn into garments by tailors or dressmakers. Otherwise you would have to sew them, unless you were lucky and affluent enough to have a skilled servant. Click here for a selection of material you could buy in Revolutionary era York.
You could actually “grow” much of your everyday clothing yourself. For example, sow some flax seed and go through a lengthy process of preparation to end up with linen cloth. I’ll go more into that another time.
Right now, let’s talk about wool, another labor-intensive fabric. First, your sheep had to be sheared and then the raw wool cleaned, carded (combed), spun, and woven into cloth. Then, to get a really durable material you needed to send it to a fulling mill, such as the one advertised in the October 21, 1828 York Gazette:
“FULLING & DYING.
The subscriber respectfully informs the public that he has rented the Fulling Mill of George Anstine, in Windsor township, and intends there to carry on the Fulling and Dying Business, in all its branches. He hopes by attention to business, by good work and low charges, to merit and receive a share of the public patronage.
Cloth will be received for him, in York, at the house of Thomas Smith, inn-keeper, near the Main-Street bridge; in Strinestown, at the store of George Anstine; in Washington, Lancaster county at Mr. Green’s store; and in Windsor township, at the house of Henry Ruby–to which places it will be regularly returned when finished.
N.B.–Written instructions should accompany each piece of Cloth, stating how it is desired to have it finished, and containing the owner’s name.
October 21, 1828.”
A fulling mill was a water operated mill with big wooden hammers that pounded the cloth as it was being washed. Fuller’s earth was used to help the cleansing process. The finished fabric was shrunken into a tighter, tougher cloth. It was similar to today’s boiled wool. You can get a comparable effect by throwing a wool sweater in a washing machine with hot water and high agitation. I don’t recommend it unless you know someone much smaller who would like a sweater.