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Petersburg Benevolent Mechanics Association

Minute Book, 1825-1836. Manuscripts Mss4 P4426 a 1 Virginia Historical Society

Jan 4, 1825 - 32 men met at Richard F Hannon’s tavern on Bank St to ‘form themselves into a mechanic society’

Jan 15th 1825 – met to adopt a constitution; also agree to ask about ‘the practicality of procuring from the members of the ‘Speculative Society of Petersburg’ a relinquishment of their several interests in that society and that the funds in hand if any belonging to the said society…be appropriated towards purchasing a library for the use of the mechanics and apprentices or the town of Petersburg under such terms and conditions as may be agreed upon by the donors and the members of the Petersburg Benevolent Mechanic Association.

April 13, 1825 - Library committee report ‘the Library of the Association at this time consists of upwards of three hundred volumes independent of a very large and handsome collection of valuable pamphlets. In addition your library committee have presented to the School Committee for their disposal a large and valuable collection of useful school books. The committee appointed for the several wards to receive donations of books fro the establishment of the Apprentices Library take great pleasure in informing us that in the performance of their duty they have been treated with marked respect, and in no single instance has a donation been refused on the contrary a greater number then has been received and promised and may be expected in a short time, your committee has discovered on the part of our fellow citizens a very general expression of pleasure and a strong disposition to further the object in view. Your committee regards this as a proof that our fellow citizens have taken the same views as the association in considering the necessity and advantage of a free library to the young mechanics of our town. School Committee report that night school had been established ‘for the instruction of apprentices and children of members’, initially in the Lancasterian School room, but moved to Presbyterian Old Church. ‘It affords the committee great pleasure in being thus the agent of communicating to the meeting the very encouraging prospects which attend this labour of benevolence and love and which in a great degree proceeds from the very disinterested and unwearied service of the most distinguished teachers in our town many of whom although expected only one night in the week have attended every night since the school commenced’ says there are 76 pupils registered, 40-50 of whom attend regularly, taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Costs so far are $26 ‘a sum so inconsiderable when compared with the advantage to be derived by the rising generation that your committee cannot be anticipate the most cordial co-operation of the association in behalf of the school.’

July 12, 1825 School committee reports low attendance mainly because the short summer nights means apprentices being kept at their work longer and don’t have enough time to attend lessons, so school is suspended for summer. ‘You committee cannot refrain from expressing the great gratification they experience in the orderly conduct of the boys who attended’

Oct 11th 1825 School resumed on Sept 23rd, but ‘the school has been but thinly attended by the scholars and [we] very much fear many of them have no desire to embrace the opportunity afforded.’ Suggests reminding members to send their apprentices. Association paying $25 pr yr for board of Caleb Matlack son of deceased member, but Caleb’s uncle in Philadelphia assumes guardianship of all four children

Jan 10, 1826 Lib Com reports aims were ‘the improvement of the minds and morals of youth’ ‘our apprentices that are now trammeled by the fetters of ignorance will shine forth as bright stars in the literary world.

April 11, 1826 School Committee report ‘Thro’ the indefatigable exertions of that Gentleman [the teacher] the scholars have made considerable progress in their studies and have been taught to observe those principles of propriety which are the leading characteristics of a good life’

Charter, constitution and by-laws of the Petersburg benevolent mechanic association : Origin, January 4, 1825. [?Petersburg, 1826] General Collection HD6519.P4 P4 1868

Act of Incorporation ‘having seen and considered with sentiments of deep regret the too general neglect which prevails among persons exercising the various mechanic arts in regard to general improvement in useful knowledge, especially as respects the young and inexperienced apprenticed to those arts’ Preamble to Const: ‘To alleviate the wants of the unfortunate, to prevent poverty, by furnishing the means of employment to those who are becoming idle and poor for the want of those means; to discountenance immorality and vice, in whatever form it may appear; and to advance the peace and prosperity of the community, are duties enjoined on individuals, however well directed, are limited and partial; nor can government and laws provide a remedy for every evil, or protect from every calamity. To government and laws, the injured may confidently look for redress, and the weak for defence against the violence of the strong. But generally the frowns of providence cannot be speedily mitigated to any extensive degree without the aid of societies instituted for benevolent purposes. Societies of this kind, are numerous, in almost every civilized nation; they are countenanced by government, and have produced much good. In instituting a Society of Mechanics, charity should be the principal, but not the only object, for the infancy of manufacturers, like the infancy of man, requires a fostering care. Almost every branch of mechanical business is in some way depending, for its advancement, on the improvement of other branches. Without system, few, in any, can arrive at a state of perfection. Mechanics are all of one family; like brethren, they should life together in harmony, as far as circumstances will permit: they should be governed by the same rules: then, like the members of a well ordered household, they wil advance upon the stage, and become “useful in their day and generation” Actuated by the foregoing considerations, a number of mechanics, inhabitants of Petersburg, are induced to associate themselves together, in order to accomplish the foregoing object.’


Art 2, all members should be mechanics over 21, ‘of good moral character’

Art 9 duty ‘to give relief to unfortunate members – to the widows of those who may have died, and to their orphan children.

Art 14 Members pledge ‘to govern their apprentices by regular conduct in themselves, to teach and instruct them in all those principles of morality and religion, which have a tendency to make them useful and respectable among men, and increase their sense of the obligation they own to their creator. They will endeavor to gain the respect and esteem of their apprentices, by kind and humane treatment, by friendly advice & admonition, and by all reasonable indulgence. That they will encourage them to improve their minds, by reading useful books, in the Library, and attending the school for instruction. And, that we will guard against their keeping bad company, using profane language, improper amusement, and expenses incident thereunto. And should any apprentice of a member of this association be so lost to the sense of his welfare, and the duty he owes to his master, as to abscond from his service, the master may, at the succeeding meeting of the board, report the name of such apprentice, which may be entered on the records of the Association, if the board shall think proper.

Art 16 ‘To reward industry, sober habits, and fidelity, the society may grant to any apprentice on arrive at twenty one years of age, who shall produce a certificate from the person with whom he has served his apprenticeship, that he hath been attentive and faithful, and hath not essentially violate any engagement made with his master, it shall be duty of the board to direct that the applicant be furnished with a certificate’ which basically takes the form of a reference attesting to the above.

School regulations, - all members children and apprentices can attend free of charge

Rule 3 ‘ every member of the school shall abstain from using profane or obscene language, all immoral conduct, and shall go to and return from school decently and in good order’

8th Jan 1827 School committee feel ‘compelled to make known their regret at the little inducement held out by masters to their boys to attend: but we are happy to say that these instances are not common or many. Your committee being persuaded in their minds that a knowledge of the scriptures would have a good tendency in promoting the improvement of the morals of their charges have lately established a Sabbath evening school which promises happy consequences.

Jan 14th 1828 ‘William B Marks, having produced the certificate of Mr Thos Jordan of his uniform good conduct, whilst an apprentis leave is granted his having the diploma of a worthy apprentice, agreeably to the constitution’ $6 paid to family of a member School comm. Report good attendance of 40-50 boys until March 10th, ‘after which many of the boys became irregular, while many others entirely discontinued their attendance the number diminished to not more than from 10 to 15, owing it is believed to the circumstance that after that period the evening were their own, they not being required to work by candle light’

12th Jan 1829 ‘We have to state that which cannot fail to be a matter of pleasing reflection to all, namely that since the establishment of our association there has been but two or three calls for pecuniary aid from its members and widows of members or children, the only one for the last year was in the melancholy case of Luzon Whiting [1st chairman of PBMA in 1825] who all know and we doubt not regret, for none was more useful from the time the board was made acquainted with his situation to the time of his decease, he was under their charge, the expenses of medicine, nursing and interment was defrayed by draft on the treasurer.

Jan 10 1831 ‘Our funds are really prosperous and increasingly so, our school flourishingly and raising up youth to be an honor to their parents, their masters, and the society’

Jan 9, 1832 ‘There has been bit two instances during the past year of relief being wanted from the society which was immediately given, one of 5$ the other of 10$

Feb 12, 1835 Recommend purchase of ‘safe’ stocks.