Linus Child (1802-1870) lived in the Kirk Streets Agents House from 1845-1862 while serving as the mill agent who oversaw the operations of the Boott Cotton Mills. Child actively participated in Lowell’s Whig party and was a strong supporter of anti-slavery causes. In 1844 Child helped lead a campaign to free Charles T. Torrey, a minister imprisoned in Baltimore for helping enslaved people reach freedom. Additionally, Child helped raise funds in 1851 to free Nathaniel Booth, a Black barber in Lowell whose former owner threatened to kidnap him.
However, Child also supported Zachary Taylor for President in 1848. Taylor was a known slave owner who forced over one hundred enslaved people to work on his plantations. This support for Taylor caused Child to be branded a “Cotton Whig,” a person who did not fight and at times actively supported slavery. By contrast, “Conscience Whigs” actively fought to end slavery in the United States.
Boott Cotton Mill Boardinghouse
Early mill workers residing in this boardinghouse (1837) lived in Lowell at a time when women were becoming politically active and forming groups such as the Lowell Female Anti-Slavery Society. Hundreds of women also chose to sign petitions demanding such reforms as the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia (1835-39) and protesting the annexation of Texas (1845). One of these anti-slavery petitions had 1,634 names and measured 27 feet in length.
In subsequent decades the fight over slavery became even more hostile and antagonistic. This violence spread to the capitol, when anti-slavery senator, Charles Sumner was beaten almost to death by pro-slavery congressman Preston S. Brooks on the Senate floor in 1856. Outraged factory girls sent Brooks thirty pieces of silver (3 cent pieces), a rope, a winding sheet woven in a Lowell factory, and a letter.
“[W]e, too, the factory girls ... detest …your late base, ‘murderous, brutal, cowardly’ attack upon one of New England's sons and noblemen, Massachusetts Senator Sumner, the champion of freedom for those who now wear Southern fetters...”
While comparing Brooks to Judas, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, they charge him with having “no innate sense of truth, right and justice[.]” Their calls for Brooks to “follow your illustrious predecessor Judas” illustrate the intensity of the growing animosity over “the slavery question.”