Wilkinson Family

Portrait of David Wilkinson
Portrait of David Wilkinson

In 1665, the first members of the Wilkinson family arrived in Rhode Island. Lawrence Wilkinson, of Lancaster, England, immigrated to New England and settled in Providence in 1657. He gained prominence as a military and political leader. The younger members of the Wilkinson family moved to Cumberland and Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Several generations later, descendant Oziel Wilkinson was a successful blacksmith in Smithfield, Rhode Island. In the 1780s, Oziel moved his family to the growing village of Pawtucket, located in North Providence. There, he began making anchors for the community’s growing shipbuilding industry. His son, David, proved himself a skilled machinist and inventor.

As fate would have it, the Wilkinson’s story crossed paths with a young Samuel Slater in 1790. As Slater attempted to rework the faulty equipment Almy and Brown purchased, he relied on local craftsmen. David Wilkinson became one of Slater’s most valuable assistants.

However, the bonds between the Wilkinsons and Slater were more than just business acquaintances. The Wilkinsons became a second family to Slater. He courted and married their daughter Hannah. The Wilkinson family and Slater were close friends and confidants.

Screw Threading Machine
Screw Threading Machine

David Wilkinson’s work as an inventor and machinist were among some of his most important achievements. The screw cutting lathe was probably his most important invention. This machine standardized the cutting of screw threads. This meant people could use just one type of screw. This was a big advancement for helping people when making machines.

His steam powered inventions were used in the cotton and woolen industries. These allowed shops and mills to be built anywhere, not just along waterways. Wilkinson also invented power looms. These looms were manufactured earlier than the more famous Draper Looms. He also designed parts of the Middlesex Canal and other canal systems in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

In 1829, an economic depression forced David to sell off his mills. He resettled in New York shortly after. The legacy of the Wilkinson family is still felt on the property of Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark. There the 1810 Wilkinson Mill remains as a testament to an important family who helped usher in the American Industrial Revolution.


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Last updated: December 14, 2021

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

67 Roosevelt Ave
Pawtucket, RI 02860



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