Whitin Family

The Brick Mill and Forge and the Whitin Brothers
The Brick Mill and Forge and the Whitin Brothers

After his service in the Revolutionary War, Colonel Paul Whitin served as an apprentice in an iron forge in the small community of South Northbridge. James Fletcher owned the forge along the Mumford River. Paul married Fletcher’s daughter, Betsy, with whom he had five sons and a daughter. The Whitin-Fletcher alliance was solidified in 1809 with the establishment of the Northbridge Cotton Mill.

Whitin went into partnership with his sons in 1826. Paul, Jr. and John C. were founding members with their father. The company was named Paul Whitin and Sons. John’s inventiveness and marketing acumen led to the development of the Whitin Machine Works. Eventually this overshadowed the family cotton mills. The developing machine works became the world’s largest textile machine shop.

After Paul’s death in 1831, his wife, Betsy Whitin maintained nominal control of the company. But by 1864, she decided to split the family’s businesses among her four sons. Paul, Jr. received the Rockdale and Riverdale Mills. Charles received the Whitinsville Cotton Mill and the 1826 brick mill. James got the Crown and Eagle Mill, and he eventually would build the Linwood Mill in partnership with his brother Charles. And John received the Whitin Machine Shop, the crown jewel of the family’s holdings.

Whitin Machine Works
Whitin Machine Works

By 1948, over 5,600 people worked for the Whitins. To house these workers, the Whitins built nearly 1,000 worker dwellings between the 1820s and 1920s. The Whitins also built or subsidized the town’s schools, churches, town hall, library, and recreational facilities. The Whitins constructed grand homes in the community. From these homes they dictated many aspects of the town’s political and social life. They utilized a system of benevolent paternalism. They provided job security and an orderly environment in exchange for worker loyalty.

By the late 1940s, worker loyalty was neutralized by a tide of labor unrest. When employees voted to unionize, company president E. Kent Swift resigned. Swift was the last of six generations of Whitins to run the company. The Whitins sold their interests in Whitin Machine Works along with their town properties.


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Last updated: December 14, 2021

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