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Charles Tillinghast James (September 15, 1805 – October 17, 1862) famous consulting mechanical engineer, early proponent of the steam mill, and a United States Democratic Senator from the state of Rhode Island from 1851 to 1857.

Education and Early Experience[]

Charles T. James was born in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. He had a largely self taught knowledge of mathematics and mechanics. In the early 1830s he was working in small mills in the Quinebaug Valley of Connecticut and later he was supervising the startup of machinery in mills in the Providence area. His reputation had grown such that by 1834 Samuel Slater brought him to Providence to overhaul the first large American steam powered mill at the Steam Cotton Manufacturing Company which was built in 1828. This work made him realize the potential of steam mills and he became the leading advocate of steam mills and a pioneer engineer and promoter of coastal and Southern steam mills.

Mechanical Engineering Career[]

James, an avid coffee drinker, did a good business designing and promoting steam mills to small seaport towns which did not have any experience with mills and needed his expertise to advise on which equipment to buy and how to design the entire factory. James knew all the best equipment and their manufacturers and selected the pickers, breaker cards, drawing heads, Providence Machine fly frames, Mason finished cards, spinning equipment looms and steam engines from Providence's India Point Works run by Fairbanks, Bancroft and Company and later by Corliss, Nightengale and Company.

James promoted steam mills in seaports that has seen a great reduction in business because of the centralization of trade in bigger ports such as Boston due to the centralizing technology of the Middlesex Canal, the railroads, and bigger ships. These "decayed" smaller seaports such as Newburyport, Salem, and would be able to get coal and cotton supplies directly from the ships and export their steam mill products directly by ship again.

Between 1839-1846 Charle T. James owned the southern half of the Brewster-Coffin House (High St.) in Newburyport, Massachusetts.[1] During this time he worked on several steam mill projects in the area These included the Bartlett, James, and Globe(later called Peabody) Mills in Newburyport.

Steam Mills promoted by Charles T. James include the Barlett Mill, and later the James Steam Mill (built in 1843 with 17,000 spindles) and the Globe steam Mill (built in 1846 with 12,200 spindles) in Newburyport, Massachusetts; mills in Portsmouth NH 1845-6. Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill built in 1845-46 in Salem, Massachusetts. Also the Essex steam mill; the Conestoga Steam Mill in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1844-45. Later he was closely involved with the Graniteville Mill in South Carolina with William Gregg.

Civil War and Death[]

James developed a method of rifling artillery. Guns rifled with his system were used in the American Civil War. He died of wounds that he received from the explosion of a cannon shell with which he was experimenting, at Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York.


  1. Old Newburyport Houses By Albert Hale, published 1912, page 40.
  • Taunton and Mason: Cotton Machinery and Locomotive Manufacture in Taunton, Massachusetts, 1811-1861, by John William Lozier, Ph.d Dissertation Thesis at Ohio State University 1978. Charles T. James section pages 375-386. Copies also at Old Colony Historical Society in Taunton and at The Baker Business School Library at Harvard University.
  • Letters on the Culture and Manufacture on Cotton. By Charles Tillinghast James, published 1850. Originally published in:
  • Hunt's Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review By Thomas Prentice Kettell, volume 22 January-June 1850 pages 290-311. Article IV by Charles T. James entitled Culture and Manufacture of Cotton which rebuts an article by Amos Adams Lawrence.

External links[]

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