A Yeovil lad who took his gloving skills to America
The following is based on "The History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania" published by Warner & Co in Philadelphia in 1887.
William Hawkins, manufacturer, was born in Yeovil Marsh, Somersetshire, England, 22 March 1814, and was the second son of William and Lydia Hawkins. He received but two weeks’ schooling and his early years were spent in caring for his little sisters. His parents had fifteen children, nine of whom grew up, were married, and in 1842 all settled in America. The father died at the age of 62 and the mother at 77.
At the age of seven years William began to work for his support. When eleven years old he was put to learn the trade of kid-glove cutting. After serving six months for one shilling per week, he was, in 1825, apprenticed for eight years. The first year he received 18 pence per week, and was advanced 6 pence per week each year until the close of his apprenticeship. The hours for work were in summer from 6am till 8pm, and in winter from daylight till 9pm. His master was William Snook, for whom he worked about six months after his apprenticeship expired.
Afterward he worked for Mr C Foan about five and one half years, at the end of which time he had saved about one hundred pounds [using the 'historic standard of living' algorithm, this is about £8,000 at 2017's value]. He then worked six months for Mr Keddle [that is, glove manufacturers and brothers John and William Kiddle].
On 4 August 1840, he was married [at Yeovil] to Sarah Gilbert, daughter of a respectable family, and a milliner and dressmaker. William and Sarah sailed for America on 9 September 1840 and landed in New York after a voyage of five weeks and three days.
Not obtaining work William went to Boonton, New Jersey, where his brother John was living. Here Sarah opened a millinery and dressmaking establishment, and soon did a good business. On 28 June 1841, a son was born, who died in infancy.
In 1841 William went to Philadelphia and engaged in business for six months with a partner, and afterward alone, being the first manufacturer of white kid in that city. Prejudice was strong against American made goods, but William by patience and perseverance overcame the difficulty. In 1850 he experienced a great loss by fire. Later on (1855) he increased his business by dressing calf skins. During the first year of the civil war (1861), he purchased a lot, and in the following year erected a factory where he remained. The loft of this factory was first used in drilling recruits for the army. This place was at 206 Willow street.
In 1875 he associated with him Lawrence Hawkins and James F. Radford. The firm then assumed the name of Hawkins & Co. The firm took the skins in the hair and finished them complete. They manufactured gloves, English kid, white and black calf, kid gloves, etc. Hawkins & Co. sold their goods in all parts of the country and had a well-earned reputation.
At the age of 21 William became a member of the Independent church, and continued with that denomination until he went to America. When they went to Philadelphia he and Sarah joined the First Presbyterian church of Northern Liberties. In the summer of 1843 they went to Montgomery, Pennsylvania, and were baptized by Rev. William Mathews. On 25 January 1846 they were united with the Second Baptist church of Philadelphia, and in October 1859, William was ordained deacon. In 1872 they removed to New Britain township, Bucks county. Sarah Hawkins died in 1877. William gave eleven sets of Dr Gill's Commentaries to different churches, and over $50,000 in money to churches and benevolent objects. In politics he was a republican.
At the time the "The History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania" was published in 1887, William was still alive, aged 73.
In the 1841 census of Yeovil Marsh, William Snr and Lidia were listed with their children Rebecca (b1817), Ann (b 1825), Lawrence (v1833) and Sarah (b1836). William Snr gave his occupation as an agricultural labourer while daughters Rebecca and Ann both gave theirs as 'Gloving'. By the time of the census William Jnr and his new bride, Sarah, had already left Yeovil Marsh for a new life in America.