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Friday, June 6, 2014

Francis Cooke, Mayflower Passenger, Wool Carder by Trade

Looking into my genealogy I have found mostly farmers, blacksmiths, sugar makers, florists, mechanics and factory workers in my past. I did find a potter connection in Vermont in the 1800s. Just recently, after 16 years of working on my family genealogy, I finally came across a Mayflower ancestor, Francis Cooke. His occupation was listed as a Wool Carder. What does that mean in 1620 New England?

Cute girls in linsey woolsey fabric dress

How much need for a wool carder was there in Plymouth MA in the 1620s? Born in England about 1583, Francis was living in Leiden by April 1603, when he worked there as a wool comber. 

The only animals for certain on the Mayflower were two dogs, an English mastiff and an English spaniel. There were probably a few chickens, there was talk of giving given chicken broth to an ill Wampanoag native American. Five more ships brought more Pilgrims and more supplies, including cattle to the Plymouth colony between the 1620 Mayflower till the mention of sheep in 1628. In 1623 there were listed on a following ship, six goats, fifty pigs and many chickens. No sheep. In 1628 there were exchanges of lambs for cows going on, but it is not certain when the lambs first showed up. 

Francis was there to show them all how to comb and card the wool. What is the difference between combing and carding.  When did people shift from combing to carding and why? 

"Before the arrival of hand-carders, only combs were in existence, and it is possible that short-staple wools were simply tease by hand before spinning. However it may also be that combs were used in a more general way on all fibres." 
"English Medieval Industries", edited by Blair and Ramsay
For worsted yarn, simple wood combs were used to separate and straighten the fibers. The teeth of the combs might be wooden or, as the Middle Ages progressed, iron. A pair of combs were used, and the wool would be transferred from one comb to the other and back again until fibers had been straightened and aligned.

In the central Middle Ages cards were introduced. These were flat boards with many rows of short, sharp metal hooks. By placing a handful of wool on one card and combing it until it had been transferred to the other, and then repeating the process several times, a light, airy fiber would result. Carding separated wools more effectively than combing, and it did so without losing the shorter fibers. It was also a good way to blend together different types of wool.


William Bradford wrote that there were ordered on board the Mayflower 125 yards of Kersey, 175 [ellons?] of linen cloth. In 1636 there was an order for every householder to plant one square rod of flax or hemp per year. Cotton was unknown in those days. It is not written, but we can assume at least one spinning wheel was on board, although perhaps, they only brought the necessary metal parts for wheels and looms and assembled them with Massachusetts wood when they were able.  Or maybe they brought or carved drop spindles? It is more likely that spinning wheels were brought over on the Fortune or Anne(1631 and 1623). In England and Holland, many pilgrims were engaged in the fiber trades and occupation. William Bradford was a weaver of a course fabric named Fustian. 

A coarse woolen cloth with a dense twill pattern and napped on one side.



flax plant

flax fiber

linen fabric

The Dutch made a light fabric out of hemp they called canefas, derived from the Latin word cannabis. It resulted in or word 'canvas". Canvas was originally a hemp product.

Hemp in the field
Hemp fibers
Canefas fabric

A fabric with a linen warp and woolen weft. The linen is a strong fiber and the wool is warm... a great combination for durability and warmth. (In the Torah, Jewish law forbid wearing it, so it has been around for a long time). I am sure that the Pilgrims started weaving this as soon as they started shearing the sheep. 

linsey woolsey

As far as I can research, is a textile blend of cotton and linen, a hard wearing stout fabric with a short nap.


Teasle for creating the nap

the teasel flower

And then came the looms. 

I feel pretty certain that the simple tape loom was soon carved out from a slab of New England wood. They are so easy to make, just the simple plank with holes and slots for the warp.  Soon pilgrims would be weaving narrow bands of cloth for clothing and bags from the wool, flax and hemp my ancestor Francis Cooke had carded. 

English tape loom, Deerfield MA

Want to learn more about tape looms? Search my blog at the top of the page for more of my tape looms blog pages and visit my web site, or Amazon to find my book on the history of tape looms and how to weave on them... "Tape Loom Weaving... simplified" 

And for fun... google images for Tape Looms and see the hundreds of individually carved tape looms from all over the world! They are all amazing works of folk art... that worked!

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