Historically Speaking: Nathan Frederick English

Nathan English was the son of Eli, 1789-1852, of Norwich, Vt.  Nathan with his wife, Emily Stocker moved to Hartland in about 1834.

Nathan English was a remarkable man with a remarkable family. He was an inventor as were his sons, Euler, Analdo and Ernest. He also had some inventions with his brother-in-law, Benjamin Livermore.

A kindly man who carried raisins in his pockets to give to the children, N.F. spent countless hours in his shop on Lull Brook inventing things such as a machine to bind or wrap horse whips, and he made a drill that would drill cast iron. The Foundry people wanted to buy it but he wouldn’t sell. Told them to come over when they wanted something bored and he would do it for them.

The following is from Analdo and Ernest’s reminiscence recorded by Howland Atwood.

Back in 1847 or 1848 Nathan and his brother-in-law got up a line of shoe machinery-press and dinking machines, etc. They went to Milford, Ma and hired a loft with power and he was a pioneer in introducing shoe machinery. Formerly a shoe factory was merely a warehouse. The materials were accumulated and dealt out to men who cut out shoes - though in those days, boots were mostly made. The people used to come there and they were given so many pegs and various shoe parts, which they took home. They lived on little farms and had a room or two in their homes which was used as a shop where they worked on or made the shoes. The people did not all do the same thing. There would be a team of stitchers who would go get their materials and take them home and stitch them. The bottomers pegged or sewed on the bottoms - did lasting. The news leaked out that English and Livermore were making shoes by machinery. English used to hire teams of men to work for him and the people, being jealous, would mob the men and disable them so they couldn’t work for a few days. Of course, when the men weren’t able to work, English and Livermore used to work in their places and Mr. English got very tired. Milford was sort of a malaria city and Mr. English got very sick and he and Livermore gave up the business as things didn’t go right. Mr. English came home, poorer than when he left, when Analdo was a baby. Mr. English was sick for 2 or 3 years and wasn’t able to do much. A partner in their business had absorbed what was left.

A daguerreotype had not been out a great while and along in 1850 Mr. English made them. After awhile he dropped that and began experimenting with machinery. Mr. English made a turning machine in his round top shop which would cut an irregular last. There were two lathes and a pattern was put in and there was a saw which cut in unison with the turning of the last. He carried on the last business for a few years. He wouldn’t make a fashionable last so that is probably why he lost the business. He made several of these turning machines. Hammond and Merritt had one in their factory on the Mill Gorge. There was a gristmill with several runs of stone and below that a sawmill with machinery for making other things out of wood. There was one of Mr. English’s turning machines over in the foundry where they turned out wagon spokes, etc.

Along about 1858-59 Mr. English got up a sort of photographic apparatus, so that he took pictures around the area. He had a room in his house for working with daguerreotypes and one for sensitizing and developing “amber types”. By the time the Civil War broke out he had completed a daguerreotype machine and used it for a year or so.

In 1862, Nathan made up a portable “amber type” machine. It was a box 10 inches square and 20 inches long. This was the wet process. Mr. English made quite a few of these apparatus’s and he used to fit men out with them. He outfitted a boy studying to be a doctor who put himself through college by taking pictures during vacations - at the seashore and elsewhere. Mr. Milliken of the Brattleboro Reporter bought the patent right. Mr. English took hundreds of pictures, many of them portraits.

N.F.’s last years were spent making microscopes, telescopes, etc. He ground thousands of lenses and had rather a craze for making them. He spent months making powerful microscopes. He had one with such a wonderful lens that doctors used to come from all over to use his microscope, as it was so much better than theirs.

Reprinted from the Vermont Standard, “Historically Speaking” by Carol Mowry.

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