Worker Housing in the Vermont Copper Belt: Improving Life and Industry Through Paternalism and Resistance
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Ford, B. Int J Histor Archaeol (2011) 15: 725. doi:10.1007/s10761-011-0166-6
- 143 Views
During the mid-nineteenth century, east-central Vermont supported two major copper mines and their associated villages. In order to wrest thousands of tons of copper from the earth these mines, the Elizabeth and Ely mines, hired and housed thousands of miners, laborers, and their families. Both mines pursued the same resource in the same environment during the same period, but the Ely Mine developed a centralized village, while the Elizabeth Mine housed its workers in isolated housing clusters. The causes of these differences in worker housing can be traced to differences in scale, setting, and managerial philosophy, and can be analyzed within the larger historical context of Improvement and the larger ethnographic context of paternalism in mining communities.
KeywordsWorker housingCopper miningPaternalismImprovementNew England
Orange County was a major supplier of U.S. copper beginning in the 1830s. The county’s sulphide ores were the leading source of copper in the Northeast for much of the nineteenth century and the nation’s second largest source of copper during the 1870s, before competition from Michigan’s native deposits shifted the mining focus west. The ore body of the Orange County Copper Belt runs north–south through the rugged uplands of the county with major outcrops in three locations at approximately 10-mi (16-km) intervals. The southern outcrop in the town of South Strafford was the site of Elizabeth Mine; the Ely Mine was situated on the center outcrop in the town of Vershire; and the northern outcrop in the town of Corinth was the location of the Pike Hill and Union Mines. South Strafford (Elizabeth Mine) and Vershire (Ely Mine) were dominated by single large companies, while Corinth hosted multiple smaller concerns.
The Elizabeth and Ely mines were the most important copper producers in Orange County and housed the largest worker populations. These mines attracted a substantial number of miners and laborers from numerous ethnic backgrounds, including recently immigrated Welsh, Irish, and German workers, as well as members of the surrounding communities who had lived in the region for generations. These people lived and worked in an environment that was described in 1882 as: “sending out dense clouds of sulphurous smoke, with the smell of millions of sulphur matches, almost suffocating at times, and which were covered with gaunt trees . . . the grotesque horribleness of the scenery in every direction, partially obscured by the clouds of sulphur smoke which gave a satanic flavor to the whole” (quoted in Abbott 1994, pp. 52–53).
Despite these gloomy surroundings, however, thousands of miners, laborers, women, and children thrived. The inhabitants of the mines hosted fairs, picnics, glass blowing exhibitions, spelling bees, religious meetings (mostly Methodist and Catholic), baseball games, and horse trots, and participated in boxing and “collar and elbow” wrestling bouts (Abbott 1976). The miners and their families were also active participants in the wider world of commerce, evident in the variety of ceramics and personal items excavated from both mine villages. While the relationship between the “satanic” setting and the dynamic lives led by the inhabitants may appear to be a disjuncture, it speaks to the resilience of the communities, and to the ongoing negotiations between workers and owners and between their current situations and their desired situations. Specifically, the results of these negotiations will be explored in terms of the worker housing at the Ely and Elizabeth mines, and what the house foundations suggest about the development of paternalism at the mines and the worker responses to paternalism at Ely Mine.
In many ways the Elizabeth and Ely mines were remarkably similar: Both mines drew on a similar labor force, with many miners working for both mines during their careers. The mines also operated during the same period and were subject to the same technological, economic, and social developments. Both mines were pursuing the same resource that was bound up in similar sulphide bedrock. Both operated in the same climate and remote, rugged region, only 10mi (16 km) from each other. Similarly, both mines were dominated by successful industrialists: Smith Ely at Ely Mine and Isaac Tyson (later his son, James) at Elizabeth Mine. Despite these similarities, however, the mine owners took drastically different approaches to housing their workers during the mid-nineteenth century. The worker housing at Elizabeth Mine was arranged in small organic nodes throughout the site, while the Ely Mine village was composed of linear streets around a civic center.
Through an analysis of the specific layouts and histories of the two mines, as well as comparison with modern mining ethnography and the archaeology of Improvement in Britain, the variations in worker housing can be traced to inter-related issues of industrialization, improvement, paternalism, and conflict that extend beyond the borders of Orange County. None of these relationships are dichotomous; rather the Orange County mines clearly demonstrate the contradictions and conflicts that occur between the domestic sphere and the larger world in capitalist systems (McGuire 2006) and the unease that is inherent in many paternalistic systems.
Historical Development of the Ely and Elizabeth Mines
Formal mining began at the Elizabeth Mine in 1809 with the production of copperas (hydrated iron sulphate), an important multipurpose pre-twentieth century chemical used as a disinfectant, dye mordant, and astringent (Abbott 1986; Allen 2002; Johnsson 2002). The mine continued to produce copperas until 1882, dominating domestic production of the chemical for much of the nineteenth century. The ruins of the copperas factories at the Elizabeth Mine are two of the few known examples of such structures worldwide.
Mining campaigns at the Elizabeth Mine
Vermont Mineral Factory Company (merged with Green Mountain Manufacturing Company to form Vermont Copperas Company in1839)
Vermont Mineral Factory Company
Vermont Copperas Company
Elizabeth Mining Company
Judson & Rowand
Vermont Copper Corporation
Vermont Copper Corporation
American Metals Company
National Copper Company
Vermont Copper Company, Inc. and Appalachian Sulfides, Inc.
The mine was revived for a final campaign from 1941 to 1958, during which time it saw its greatest production, eventually producing more than 100 million pounds of copper, becoming one of the 20 most productive copper mines in the U.S. and the largest and most productive copper mine in New England (Abbott 1964, Appendix). Of the Orange County copper mines, Elizabeth Mine operated over the longest period of time, produced the highest tonnage of copper, and left the largest and most complex mining landscape, which includes waste rock piles, mine openings, and the remains of numerous mills, smelters, paint factories, transportation routes, and utilities (Ford et al. 2002).
Mining campaigns at the Ely Mine
Various itinerant miners
Vermont Copper Mining Company
Copperfield Mining and Smelting Company
Copperfield Mining and Smelting Company
After Smith Ely’s tenure, the Ely Mine was operated intermittently from 1883 until 1905 by a number of capitalists including George Westinghouse. Finally, in 1917 and 1918 waste rock deposited on the surface during previous mining campaigns was milled on site, and in 1949 and 1950 additional waste rock was trucked to Elizabeth Mine for milling (Abbott 1964; Cazin 1882a, b, 1889; Ely-Copperfield Associates 1918; Jacobs 1918; Johnsson 2002, p. 144; Rittler 1859a, b). The industrial component of the Ely Mine is visible today as foundations, mine openings, transportation routes, and vestiges of a water system (Kierstead et al. 2003).
With the exception of the 1876 population of Ely Mine village, families generally went uncounted, but the ratio between the number of workers (400) and the village population (1,200) at that time does give some indication of the size of these settlements (Anonymous 1876). Mine villages tended to develop with their populations, and their demographics shifted as the mine matured. The villages were initially primarily or entirely male, but as the villages and associated mines grew and became more permanent the genders began to balance. Mine owners preferred married men with their spouses because they led to a calmer, more permanent workforce (Ballard and Banks 2003, p. 297; Lankton 1991, p. 22). There is architectural evidence at both Ely Mine and Elizabeth Mine for the presence of families, but the ratio of single to married workers is unknown. Similarly, while artifacts, such as toys, were recovered that suggest the presence of women and children, it is unclear what percentage of the community was composed of these individuals.
The populations of both mines constituted peripheral work settlements, or “colonies established on islands of ore” in territories removed from population centers. The only housing consequently available to the workers was supplied or financed by the companies (Crawford 1995, p. 6; Van Bueren 2002, p. 2). Harsh winters, lack of reliable transportation, and remote locations forced these employers to build housing on their property because no one else would. Like other colonies, these settlements were separated from, but linked to, the heartland society. The variety of ceramics recovered from test units at both sites attest to the transportation, communication, and economic networks that connected the owners, workers, and their families to established centers. Both mines, additionally, had an established village located within a few miles that acted as a direct link to the outside world and provided goods and services not available in the company town. These established villages, however, were too distant to be a viable source of worker housing.
The most comparable periods of population growth and housing development were circa 1853 to 1883 at Ely Mine and circa 1809 to 1882 at Elizabeth Mine. The Ely Mine period traces the growth of the mine village from a few scattered buildings to a boomtown. The period concludes in 1883 when lack of payment caused a labor riot that effectively ended the growth of the mine (Abbott 1972). All subsequent mining and smelting campaigns at the Ely Mine utilized the existing housing stock with little if any new construction. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Mine had a longer period of development and did not reach maximum employment until the World War II era, but only the pre-1882 housing sites can be compared to the Ely Mine housing. During the World War II era, most of the housing was in large dormitories, rather than the smaller buildings that typified the earlier period, and the wide-spread availability of the automobile created a larger class of commuter labor. Housing associated with this later period can be distinguished from the circa 1809–82 structures because the trace of the ore body at Elizabeth Mine directed the center of mining activity to the north and east as time progressed. By the 1880s, most of the mining and milling had moved away from the original core of the site. It is likely that shortly after the end of copperas production in 1882 most of the original housing at the site, and the housing that was contemporary with the Ely Mine housing, was abandoned in favor of housing located farther to the northeast. The abandonment, and in some cases dismantlement, of the original mine housing during the late nineteenth century is supported by temporally diagnostic glass and ceramics and the condition of nails excavated in and around these foundations (Ford et al. 2002).
These differences in ultimate size and cohesiveness had a notable historiographical result in the relative paucity of information regarding the workers and their housing at the Elizabeth Mine during the nineteenth century. There are no known photographs or descriptions of the nineteenth century domestic buildings and the only known map of the village dates to 1874 (Anonymous 1874). In comparison to the substantial number of descriptions and photographs of the industrial components of the mine, the near total exclusion of the domestic structures is striking. This pattern of a wealth of information on industrial components and a dearth of information regarding the domestic components is not uncommon at industrial sites (Baxter 2002, p. 18); however, when compared to the multitude of photographs, traveler’s accounts, and newspaper articles detailing the Ely Mine workings and surrounding village, the historical record at Elizabeth seems lacking. Furthermore, the management of the Ely Mine took more interest in their village; it is mentioned in numerous official descriptions and depicted on all pre-1900 maps of the mine. While the archival record of both mines contains little regarding the everyday lives of workers, there is substantially more information about the Ely Mine village in general. This distinction is likely due to the differences in scale and managerial styles of the two operations. Ely was simply a larger village that drew more attention from the surrounding community. Ely hosted the Boston Opera and the New York Theatre, events that attracted visitors from throughout the region (Blaisdell 1982, p. 62). The owners of the Ely Mine had more workers, and consequently invested more in their housing. Because of the size of this investment, the houses figured more prominently in official descriptions of the mine. Additionally, Smith Ely adopted a more paternalistic and controlling management style (discussed further below), in which he likely perceived the town and the mine as a unified whole, so that the town received a rational share of his attention. The engagements of opera and theatre tours at the village may also relate to this ideology as one aspects of paternalism was the goal of creating an improved class of worker through environment and enculturation. The Ely Mine also had the benefit of a professional photographer in town and a mine agent who was an amateur shutterbug, both of whom contributed a valuable photographic record.
Despite the differences in available data, the archaeologically visible built environment clearly indicates that the two mines employed drastically different systems of housing workers. The difficulty, as Knapp and Pigott (1997, p. 302) have pointed out, is to advance from the mining settlement, visible through the archaeological record, to a discussion of the more abstract mining community. This always-challenging task is further confounded by the disparity of information between the two mines so that it is difficult to be certain why they developed so differently. Yet, the chronological, functional, and environmental similarities between the settlements suggest that economics and practicality alone cannot easily explain their differences; when faced with very similar situations Smith Ely and the Tysons chose strikingly different chaînes opératoires to achieve their ends. One possible explanation for this variance is the differential pressure of paternalistic philosophy; however, the application of paternalism was likely influenced by factors of scale and worker resistance as well as the ideologies of the mine owners.
Worker Housing Systems and Scales of Production at Ely and Elizabeth Mines
The early development at Ely Mine (prior to ca. 1860) closely resembled Elizabeth Mine prior to 1900, with small clusters of housing distributed across the site. At both mines these clusters were situated in the vicinity of work sites: at Ely Mine houses were situated near the mine openings and ore washhouse, while at Elizabeth the housing was clustered near the mine opening, copperas factories, and smelters. A similar organic approach to village development was common at textile mills in southern New England beginning in the late eighteenth century. Unorganized villages typified this system, called the Slater or Rhode Island System, in which houses, tenements, and boarding houses clustered in small groups around the industrial buildings, which were built in environmentally beneficial locations (Crawford 1995, p. 18). The houses were built under the direction of the mill owner and tended to be homogenous in order to save money, but each cluster was often different because it was built at a different time and the owner was not concerned with constructing a unified village (Crawford 1995, pp. 18–21). The Slater System was also common at many early industrial sites and peripheral work settlements outside of New England. For example, this pattern developed at early Michigan copper mines because the owners did not know where they would discover the most lucrative vein and the companies permitted workers to build their own homes leading to a variety of sizes and plans (Lankton 1991). Baxter (2002) also recorded a similar pattern at peripheral work camps in California where workers had a free hand in building their houses and were limited only by the supplies that the company provided.
In general, the Slater System of village development reflected a pre-modern approach to management, where the company did not dominate the workers’ lives and there was a direct relationship between the industrial and agricultural cycles (Crawford 1995, p. 21; Lankton 1991, p. 164). Because early industrial sites did not provide year-round employment, workers fluctuated between the industrial site and the farm, and home agriculture was integrated into the worker village through garden plots (Crawford 1995, p. 20). Seasonal fluctuations of this nature occurred at Elizabeth Mine, especially during the early years of operation, permitting many workers to return to agricultural and home industry production during slow periods at the mine (Morrill 1833). The Elizabeth Mine also ran a company farm until at least 1888 (Anonymous 1828, 1831; Child 1888, p. 117). The maintenance of a company farm is often associated with the early stages of development at an industrial village where the village was not large enough to attract outside suppliers (Lankton 1991, p. 164). The fact that the Elizabeth Mine operated such a farm throughout much of the nineteenth century supports the notion that the village continued in a pre-modern mode of operation.
While the Slater System persisted at smaller mills, the Lowell System rapidly replaced it by the mid-nineteenth century at large mills in southern New England. Initially, this system pertained only to the blocks of boardinghouses erected to house the workers at large textile mills, but its regimented layout and uniform (within employee class) housing eventually spread to other industrial villages throughout New England (Crawford 1995, pp. 22–28; Mrozowski et al. 1996). Copper mines in Michigan also adopted a similarly regimented approach to housing during the nineteenth century, with identical houses on identical lots (Lankton 1991, p. 152), as did coal mines in Pennsylvania. Generally, the more controlling the company the more structured the housing; as discussed below, these structured villages were often associated with a paternalistic management philosophy.
Both Elizabeth Mine and Ely Mine began by developing a modified Slater System village with small clusters of worker housing near work sites, but while Elizabeth continued this pattern throughout the nineteenth century, Ely quickly developed a more unified and structured village. An initial cause for this development was the growth in the scale and population at Ely Mine. While the Elizabeth Mine remained fairly constant at fewer than 400 workers at any one time during the nineteenth century, the Ely Mine continued to expand through 1880. The more organic village structure worked well at Elizabeth, because the need for housing was never exceptionally large and the workers were spread across the area at various work sites. Conversely, the Ely Mine quickly grew to a size that required its owners to take control of the town’s development so that it did not overrun the extractive and processing aspects of the facility.
Beginning as early as 1871, the owners of Ely hired outside carpenters to build company housing (Abbott 1976, 1990). In hiring these contractors the company directed where and how the houses were built and began to structure an organized town. The site of Ely Mine is hemmed in by hills on three sides, and while the industrial process depended on the gravity flow of these hills for ore-handling, there was limited space for housing, transportation routes, and industrial complexes. If the company had permitted workers’ housing to be built in an unorganized fashion it is likely that the domestic and industrial aspects of the mine would have begun to interfere with each other. By controlling the placement of housing and situating it along linear transportation routes adjacent to, and radiating from, the path of material flow, the company ensured that both the village and mine could continue to grow. The inclusion of the village on mine maps supports the idea that these buildings figured prominently in the owner’s planning. The village ultimately spread for almost 0.5mi (0.8 km) along the main street, so that workers no longer lived in houses that were directly associated with their work site. This condition varies directly with Elizabeth Mine and is indicative of a modern separation of work and home life. The Ely Mine village was so prosperous that it eventually attracted independent worker housing. A secondary independent village of 11 houses and tenements called Beanville was established by Alvah Bean east of the Ely Mine village. Beanville served workers who were not able to or did not desire to live in the company housing.
Worker Housing and Social Control in the Anthropological Record
While Beanville can be interpreted simply as overflow housing for a mine village with too few accommodations, similar secondary villages have been interpreted as sites of resistance that attracted workers who were unwilling to live under the yoke of paternalistic control (Goddard 2002, p. 85; Hardesty 1998, pp. 89–92). The presence of Beanville is only one line of evidence to suggest that while the role of scale was important in forming the Elizabeth and Ely Mine villages, differing managerial philosophies were also at work at the mines.
The philosophy of paternalism, which began to be applied to many U.S. company towns in the mid-nineteenth century, was designed to form a hierarchical link between the worker and the company (Alanen 1979b, p. 263; Lankton 1991, p. 23; Reps 1975, p. 272). Paternalistic managers believed that life and work were connected, so paternalistic companies provided more than a wage, they also involved themselves in workers’ private lives (Lankton 1991, p. 145). Paternalism seems to have been most prevalent in isolated communities with resident owners, such as Ely and Elizabeth mines. In these situations the interdependence between labor and capital was particularly strong, leading to an increased personal bond (Crawford 1995, p. 34).
The connections between housing, paternalism, obligation, and coercion varied from mine to mine. Many companies provided worker housing out of necessity, and at many, but not all, mines the ownership of this housing fostered varying levels of paternalism. Company housing was important to paternalism, because by providing clean, affordable housing to the workers the company hoped to gain their appreciation and a sense of obligation. This system of provision, however, could eventually lead from appreciation to a system of control, with housing as the cornerstone of this control because it provided the strongest form of dominion and leverage (Alanen 1979b, pp. 261, 263–264; Mrozowski 2006, p. 97). Company officials could dictate what went on in company housing, inspect worker’s houses, and evict workers who caused problems at work or at home (Lankton 1991, p. 147). The allotment of better housing to certain classes of workers could also be used as a carrot to encourage workers and a wedge between ethnicities or classes that was useful in limiting labor organization.
Company-owned worker housing within a paternalistic system tended to be organized in a structured village. Many employers felt that a clean, well-organized village was an intrinsic part of improving the lives of their workers (Tomaso et al. 2006) and an outward reflection of the integration of domestic and industrial life. With complete control over the land and building stock, the companies had the power to dictate the layout of villages and the nature of structures. Paternalistic companies also tended to build elaborate public buildings, such as town halls that included libraries, auditoriums, and meeting rooms for company-approved organizations. These buildings were visible evidence of the company’s philanthropy and were dedicated to the “improvement” of the workers (Crawford 1995, p. 36). This moral philosophy of improvement also caused many employers to found schools, support churches, and to frown on or ban the consumption of alcohol. Thus, paternalism allowed companies to control their workers while fulfilling what they saw as a moral obligation to create a better class of worker. However, the underlying motive of this town planning, regardless of any improvements to the lives of workers, was nearly always increased revenue. Owners believed that paternalistic systems encouraged efficiency and efficiency led to greater profits (Alanen 1979a, pp. 50, 53, 1979b, p. 256; Anonymous 1856).
Other managerial styles could lead to structured villages with public architecture, and issues of paternalism and social control are difficult to unambiguously identify in the archaeological record; however, the physical evidence of ordered villages with class-differentiated houses and central public buildings has been repeatedly linked with less tangible evidence of paternalism in both the archaeological and ethnographic literature.
Much of the current anthropological research on mining focuses on the islands of the South Pacific. The initial interest in this area, spurred by the explosion of mineral prospecting during the late 1970s and early 1980s, was bolstered by the 1988 Bougainville Rebellion in Papua New Guinea. This labor revolt attracted high levels of political and academic attention and greatly influenced the current scholarship on mining (Ballard and Banks 2003, p. 288; Filer and Macintyre 2006, p. 218). At many of these mines, as well as other examples from Nigeria (Freund 1981), paternalism was enacted through housing, access to amenities, and differential treatment of employees.
Housing, however, was seldom enough by itself. At only the village of Soroako in Sulawesi was the mining company able to effectively use the mere provision of housing as a means of social control (Robinson 1985). Elsewhere companies were unsuccessful at housing the majority of the workers. In Papua New Guinea the upper echelon employees lived in the mine town, but the majority of the miners fluctuated between living at the mine and dwelling in the surrounding villages (Imbun 2006, p. 328). Similarly, in Nigeria the company provided housing, but it was uncomfortable, so the workers preferred to walk long distances from their permanent homes (Freund 1981, p. 96). These examples differ from the historic United States data because the Papua New Guinean and Nigerian mines were primarily drawing on indigenous labor that fluctuated between mining and more traditional subsistence strategies. Thus, the modern mines drew on a large, if diffuse, existing population, while the historic U.S. mines were situated remote from a sufficient population.
While housing was not a major cog in the paternalistic system at many modern mines, access to amenities was. Mines provided schools, hospitals, hotels, stores, recreations halls, sports fields, churches, and mosques for the benefit of the employees. For example, one the primary attractions to workers at the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea was a company airstrip offering connections to Port Moresby (Jorgensen 2006, p. 235; Robinson 1985, pp. 24–25, 35). Ok Tedi also offered social programs, such as education and healthcare, as well as vegetable marketing services to provide mining households with additional income. In other instances, mining companies offered benevolent and improvement organizations and co-opted national holidays to serve company purposes. For example, the Soroako Mine drew connections between the struggle for Indonesian Independence and the struggle to develop the mine as a means to bind the miners to the company (Jorgensen 2006, p. 238; Robinson 1985, pp. 107, 269–279). Despite their outward appearance of benevolence, these actions were similar to the historic U.S. mines in that all civic improvements were subservient to the main economic goal of the mine (Robinson 1985, p. 105).
Additionally, access to these amenities was not evenly distributed throughout the workforce, allowing modern companies to divide workers and to use amenities as a means to encourage acquiescence. Higher-ranking employees were provided with larger and better-appointed homes, usually segregated geographically from the common laborer housing. Similarly, upper echelon employees were provided with access to amenities such as schools or the company store where goods could be purchased cheaply, while common laborers were denied access. Access to these amenities was often promised to laborers as a reward for loyal service (Robinson 1985, pp. 24–26). At the Ely Mine a similar pattern was evident in the greater variety of ceramics associated with the foundations of managers’ homes than was found in the rest of the site.
Position, and the related access to amenities, also had an ethnic or racial component at many modern installations. While the number of indigenous managers has been increasing, the pattern during the 1980s was of expatriates in the highest and most favored job categories, middle echelon managers and skilled laborers drawn from throughout the South Pacific, and indigenous laborers filling out the lowest and largest job categories. This ethnic stratification and its associated hierarchy of housing and amenities were found throughout South Pacific mining (Howard 1991, p. 19; Imbun 2006, p. 324; Knapp and Pigott 1997, p. 301; Robinson 1985, pp. 27, 240).
A similar pattern was evident at many historic U.S. mining villages where managers exploited racial and ethnic divisions between laborers by providing better housing, and often better jobs, to a particular group, in order to play on ethnic jealousy, divide the workforce, and stave off labor uprisings (Alanen 1979b, p. 265; Meyers 2005, p. 112; Warfel 1993, p. 14). One line of archaeological evidence for this practice is often the construction and distribution of domestic foundations. The houses of higher-ranking employees tended to be larger, more ornately decorated, and situated closer to the center of town than those of lower ranking workers. Additionally, the houses of higher-ranking employees were often set apart by physical cues, such as being positioned on a promontory or secluded on one side of a stream, to further distinguish them from other homes. Lower ranking employees often inhabited boarding houses and multi-family homes, while favored employees were given single-family structures. The ethnic component of these divisions is most often drawn from the historical record (Alanen 1979a, p. 53; Davies 2005, pp. 67–68; Meyers 2005, p. 112; Mrozowski 2006; Tomaso et al. 2006; Warfel 1993, p. 7).
Despite these various modes of control, the mechanisms of paternalism were not always perceived as negatives by historic or modern workers. Many preferred to focus on the improved and inexpensive housing, schools, hospitals, and social programs offered by the mines rather than the loss of their social and political rights (Alanen 1979b, pp. 270, 273; Filer and Macintyre 2006, p. 223; Jorgensen 2006, pp. 244–245; Pfaffenberger 1998, p. 297). Miners at the Ok Tedi Mine and others in Papua New Guinea viewed the mine as “their mine” and often opposed labor unions as detracting from the mine (Imbun 2006, p. 321; Jorgensen 2006, p. 242). The workers were being manipulated for the benefit of the company, but the benefits to the miners were substantial. The labor unrest of the 1980s, however, indicated that the paternalistic systems could not be maintained indefinitely.
Paternalism and Improvement
The recurring theme of perceived and real improvements to the lives of workers, and to the profits of the owners, at paternalistic mines links them to the broader philosophy of improvement. The germ of “improvement,” the notion of increasing efficiency, profits, and morality, developed in Britain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but did not blossom until the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Tarlow 2007, p. 12). By the mid-eighteenth century, the economic and moral meaning of “improvement” had become intertwined and was conscientiously applied to everything from railways to navies to wage labor, but is often recognized in relation to the land management approach known as “enclosure” (Newman 2001, p. 108; Tarlow 2007, pp. 12–18). Enclosure was the process of consolidating, reassigning, and enclosing fields with the goal of increasing efficiency, and often limiting access to common lands that had previously supported the poor and landless (Addy 1972). Efficiency was measured in increased gross yields, supposedly for both large and small landholders (Addy 1972, pp. 25–35; Frazer 1999a, p. 84).
Thus, enclosure was not conceived exclusively to oppress the small farmer, but was seen as a way to benefit all through more efficient farming, and in many ways parallels paternalistic management, supposedly an improvement for both worker and owner. In both cases, however, the benefits tended to decrease as you descended the socio-economic ladder (Frazer 1999a, p. 84; Tarlow 2007, p. 47). Traditional rights were eroded as rules and regulations became more formalized through laws, scientific farming practices associated with enclosure, and scientific management practices associated with paternalism. For both paternalism and enclosure, the notion of improvement seems to have come from the top down—the manor owner or company owner projected what he saw as a benefit onto the situation as a whole. The projection and acceptance of these benefits, however, were not evenly distributed in either case. For example, the timing and approach to enclosure, as well as the resistance of farmers varied throughout Britain (Frazer 1999b; Newman 2001, pp. 106, 110; Symonds 1999, pp. 111–112).
The Vermont mines therefore overlap in time and theory with the fluorescence of improvement in Britain; there are similar patterns working throughout. While paternalism and enclosure may not be explicitly linked, they do appear to be part of the same historical milieu that can be tied to earlier trends, and which became fully recognizable by the nineteenth century. Tarlow (2007, p. 11) has identified this as movement towards modernity. The relationship between the Vermont mines, paternalism, and improvement becomes apparent when Ely Mine is examined in detail and compared with Elizabeth Mine.
Paternalism, Social Control, and Improvement at Ely Mine
As noted earlier, the inclusion of the village on Ely Mine maps likely indicates the management’s concern with planning to limit the interference between the industrial and domestic components of the site. This inclusion can also be interpreted as reflecting the view that the village was an integral part of the mine, rather than simply where the miners lived when they were not at work. The later condition appears to be the case at Elizabeth Mine where there is nearly no documentation of worker housing nor mention of it in official documents. The former, however, suggests a system where both work and housing were controlled by the company. At Ely, the village was part of the mine.
The Elys may have also added their own unique aspect to paternalism in the Ely Mine village. Smith Ely’s grandson, Ely Ely-Goddard, served as a general manager of the mine and in 1876 erected a house near the center of the village immediately adjacent to the company store (see Fig. 5) (Abbott 1976, pp. 27–28). This 2.5-story building, named Elysium, was constructed in the then-popular Gothic Revival style. However, with its hipped roof, board and batten siding, nearly square plan, and second story wrap-around porch, the building bore an uncanny resemblance to a watchtower. The intent behind the exterior appearance of Elysium is unknown, but it may have served as an intentional or perceived reminder to the residents of the watchful, fatherly eye of their employer. The notion of “panopticon” as a means of social control was available to the Elys since it was actively promoted by Jeremy Bentham beginning in the 1790s and it may have directly or indirectly influenced them (Hilton 2006, p. 329). Bell towers and other structures often served similar dual functional and ideological purposes at mines (Alanen 1979a, p. 49), and Symonds (1999, p. 114) has made a similar argument in the context of Scottish tenants subjected to enclosure.
While there is clearly evidence of paternalism at Ely Mine, the mine was on both the figurative and literal frontier of industry, and as a frontier establishment it did not manifest the well-developed forms of social movements that were witnessed in more centrally located and commercially linked industrial centers. Rather, the paternalism at Ely appears to have been more tempered by local conditions and a balance of power between management and labor. This vernacular paternalism was consistent with the mine’s frontier character and is manifested in the built environment.
The construction and habitation of worker housing not only formed a tangible bond between worker and company but could also be emblematic of the social bartering between employers and employees at work settlements. In taking worker housing the workers lost individuality and freedom of choice and action, but gained comfortable, affordable housing near work. In establishing worker housing the mine lost capital because they seldom made a profit on worker housing and were forced to collect rents and make repairs, but gained a controllable, less transitory workforce (Lankton 1991, p. 148).
The mine owners were concerned with establishing a uniform exterior appearance, but left the builders to their own devices when it came to arranging the foundations. Given the numerous different approaches to constructing the foundations it is clear that the builders had their own conceptions of how the cellar of a building should be laid-out. The mine owners contracted out the construction of most of the worker housing to local carpenters, but it is unknown if mine employees were used as construction labor (as occurred at other industrial sites) and what, if any, influence the mine employees had over the interior layout of the foundations (Abbott 1990; Davies 2005, p. 67). The differences in arrangement may have been caused by different construction crews with only exterior dimensions to guide them, or it may have been a concession from the mine owners to the workers who had to live in the tenements. These foundations are evidence of Ballard and Banks’s (2003) argument that mining companies are neither as monolithic nor as cohesive as they are often portrayed. It is very possible that the Elys opted not to involve themselves in village planning beyond the number, position, and exterior appearance of structures. Similar interplay between owners and workers was noted at the Boott Mills where boardinghouses went from well-maintained to trash-strewn over time (Mrozowski et al. 1996, p. 48), and at Hacienda Tabi where the workers redefined the organized landscape in alternative ways (Meyers and Carlson 2002). The initial intentions of the owners were reflected in the built environment, but the workers had the final influence over its use. Thus, multiple meanings can be invested in a single aspect of a contested landscape. These tenements were both sites of conformity and individuality, paternalism and resistance.
The final evidence of paternalism on the part of the owners and counter-activity by the workers at Ely Mine occurred as a riot. In many instances paternalism ultimately heightens the tension between capital and labor, leading to increased disruption and counteracting the original intent of the philosophy. These disruptions occur particularly when one of the two anchors of paternalism, a sound economy and profits, come unmoored (Crawford 1995, p. 12; Godoy 1985, p. 207; Lankton 1991, p. 146). With a decline in profits and an associated inability to pay workers, Smith Ely was faced with a labor strike in 1883. Despite being nearly bloodless, the riot was known as the Ely War. Over the course of a week, the miners seized control of the village and the mine’s magazine, ransacked the company store, and threatened the mine owners. The Vermont State Militia was called out to quell the riot, one of the few times in the state’s history that the Militia was employed to suppress labor unrest. The riot was put down without a single shot being fired and the leaders were released 2 days later because no one would testify against them; however, the riot effectively ended the boom of the Ely Mine and shortly thereafter the Elys’ divested themselves of their holdings in the mine (Abbott 1972). The withdrawal of the Elys can be interpreted in economic terms or as a Pyrrhic labor victory (fewer jobs were available after the riot), but it can also be interpreted as further evidence of Smith Ely’s paternalism. He essentially rejected the mine and miners who had rejected his paternalism. If he perceived his management of the mine as improving the lives of workers as well as improving his profits then the riot may have been a bitter rejection of his benevolence. Paternalism was seldom a simple relationship.
Discussion and Conclusion
The Elizabeth and Ely mines span the development of company towns from premodern work habits to scientific management, and their differing levels of investment in village planning are clearly evident on the landscape (Gutman 1976). Many of the indicators of the transition to industrial capitalism that Mrozowski (2006) noted in his excellent comparison of eighteenth-century Newport and nineteenth-century Lowell are present at the Elizabeth and Ely mines. However, rather than being a temporal shift, the differences are visible at two contemporaneous and neighboring sites. The adoption of paternalism, scientific management, industrial capitalism, and improvement was spotty and driven by far more than the availability of a particular philosophy.
The exact cause for the development of paternalism at the Ely Mine, like so much about the worker’s lives at both sites, is unknown. It is similarly uncertain why the Elizabeth Mine did not develop as many paternalistic characteristics. Physical aspects such as geography, space, and scale likely influenced the development of the Elizabeth Mine, but the philosophy of the Tysons and the organization of the workers may have also had an effect. The relationship between workers and entrepreneurs also evolved over time, further compounding the difficulty of identifying causes for different development trajectories.
Similarly, the volition of the workers varied through time and between the mines. There were different needs for resistance depending on the goals and actions of the owners and the perceptions of the workers. The archaeological and historical evidence of resistance is visible at Ely Mine and absent or invisible at Elizabeth Mine. A similar scenario was recorded by Symonds (1999, pp. 111–112) who noted that the Highland Scots reacted very differently than the Irish when faced with similar land clearances between 1760 and 1860. Elizabeth and Ely mines, as well as the example of Scotland and Ireland, reinforce the idea that oppression and responses to oppression can be nuanced within relatively small temporal and geographical areas, while still operating within the same historical context. These were discourses held between local groups using a vocabulary that was familiar to a larger population.
As in any discourse, the relationship was recursive. A response by the workers required a response by the owners, even if that response was silence. Thus, the variations in Ely Mine tenements may have been an act of resistance by the workers, and the decision not to force interior conformity may have been a response by the owner; an attempt to retain the balance of improved profits and improved workers that was the foundation of paternalism. This relationship between workers and owners also has a precedent within the context of enclosure and improvement. Frazer’s (1999a, p. 93) study of Castleton, England, provided several instances of what he interprets as concessions from the gentry to small landholders and the landless that were based on customary rights rather than new laws. He notes that these concessions were made not as a result of resistance but out of fear of resistance. These negotiations were not expressly recorded in documents but can be inferred from the archaeological record as part of the conflicting and complicated nature of enclosure or paternalism.
Paternalism and enclosure are linked through a desire for efficiency and improvement, and both are fraught with struggles and contradictions, but were not always designed for outright oppression. Parallel themes within these movements allow for a discussion of larger historical trends but differences also point to important local variations. Thus, the Ely Mine can be viewed as part of the continuum of paternalism from eighteenth century British improvement to modern paternalism in Papua New Guinean mines, while Ely Mine’s variation from the Elizabeth Mine speaks to the patchiness of this management philosophy. Similarly, the comparison between the Elizabeth and Ely mines demonstrates that neither owners nor workers were homogenous. The differences in paternalism and resistance at the mines allude to the extreme polyvocality of the worker/capitalist relationship.
Unfortunately, in the absence of written documents recording the lives of the laborers or the philosophies of the owners, inferences based on the archaeology of these two sites is all that we have to describe the lives of the thousands of men and women who lived around the mines. Despite these gaps, the evidence from the Vermont mines has the potential to inform the larger anthropological literature on mining. Paternalism and dependency are concerns in much of the ethnographic mining literature, but they are often stated as undisputed facts without supporting evidence or are based exclusively on interviews. The leap from dependency to the physical effects of dependency is not often made. In part, this condition arises from the practice of studying modern trans-national businesses that limit the anthropologist’s access to specific aspects of the company and community. While many of the trends in mine management noted in the anthropological examples appear at Ely Mine, archaeology bears less of the political concerns of modern companies. The mining companies of the Vermont Copper Belt are now defunct, and so their company prerogative is no longer an issue. The archaeologist has the freedom to move about the mining village in a way that the anthropologist does not, and by linking the anthropological literature and the physical record it is possible to provide new information on social control and worker resistance within mining villages.
The archaeology of mining also has much to gain from ethnographic analogy. The ethnographic examples show that housing was seldom the only aspect of paternalism necessary to align the workers with the intent of the company. While the remains of houses and ceramics are among the clearest archaeological evidence for regulated living, preferential treatment, and centralized public buildings, the less tangible social system in which these artifacts existed needs to be remembered. Paternalism was a philosophy and as such had the potential to permeate every aspect of town life; ethnographic and historical evidence offer the surest means to reconstruct this life and stretch the archaeological record in meaningful ways.
The issues that surround mining communities clearly cross-cut time and space (Knapp et al. 1998); however, there is an important difference between the Vermont examples and the ethnographic cases. The ethnographies tend to focus on areas where mining and industrialism were introduced de novo, and where capitalism, if not new, was not the basis of traditional trade and commercial arrangements. The advent of the mines consequently initiated fundamental shifts in production and culture. The change for immigrants to the Vermont mines, conversely, was not as drastic. These miners, laborers, and their families were already part of a capitalistic system, one that had been influenced by the philosophy of improvement, and had experience with industrial nations; many were miners in their home country. In the ethnographic examples, the mine company had to either dominate the local culture or attempt to co-opt it. For example, in Nigeria the company recruited local headmen as contractors to lead unskilled and semi-skilled workers, incorporating the authority of the headmen into the company structure (Freund 1981, pp. 89–90). For the Vermont miners and managers, such machinations were not necessary, mining and capitalism were already accepted and understood concepts.
Since the documentary record of the Vermont mines has already been severely taxed, further discussion of the lives of workers, and those even more poorly recorded such as women and children, must rely on archaeology and comparisons with ethnographic and historical correlates. Cross-cultural and cross-historical comparisons can only contribute to the ethnology of mining.
I would like to acknowledge the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, New England District for funding this research, and PAL for giving me the opportunity to investigate these two sites. I am indebted to Matthew Kierstead and Suzanne Cherau for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Suzanne Cherau served as the Principal Investigator and Matt Kierstead was the Industrial Historian for both surveys. Matt provided invaluable information regarding the industrial development of the Ely and Elizabeth mines and without his assistance this article could not have been written. This research also builds on the thorough and scholarly work compiled by Collamer Abbott over the past half century. Charles Orser provided insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, which improved and focused the current article. William Burdick, Danielia Donohue, Michael Duffin, Jessi Halligan, Charles Langway, Fred Lumb, Ward McIntyre, and Paul White contributed to the fieldwork. Dana Richardi was responsible for digitizing all maps, and Tim Kardatzke and Timothy Ives catalogued and analyzed the cultural material. The conclusions and interpretations of the archaeological and historic records expressed in this article are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of my colleagues or the federal agencies who sponsored the surveys.