Historic Hindsight

The Knight family


In a relatively short time, the firm of B.B. & R. Knight was able to use its considerable business skill to forge an even greater textile company than that of the Spragues. In 1883 the Knights purchased the four Natick mills for $200,000 from the Union Company, which represented the creditors of the Spragues. In the following year, the Knights bought the Spragues’ Arctic Mill, one of the finest in the state, for $175,000.

Along with the mills, the Knight brothers also purchased much of the land once owned by the Spragues. In 1875 the “mansion estate near the village of Natick” came into their possession. They converted the East Avenue homestead of Thomas Holden and “old” Governor Sprague into a model “gentleman’s farm” and showplace. A portion of this estate is now the Knight Campus of the Community College of Rhode Island.

The man responsible for this conversion was Robert Knight. It was he who first involved the family in the textile industry. His was the classic American story of the poor boy who worked hard and became rich. When John Clark decided to enter politics in 1850, he sold his mills to Robert Knight and Zachariah Parker for $40,000. Within a short time, Robert contacted his brother, Benjamin Brayton Knight, and offered him a partnership.

Their success was phenomenal, as they purchased many of the Sprague mills and consolidated and expanded. Benjamin attended to the firm’s finances while Robert took care of the actual manufacturing of cloth. His skills in this area contributed a great deal to the textile industry in terms of remodeling and modernizing. He placed the four Natick mills under one roof and converted the mills into the largest and most modern cotton factory in the world during the late 19th century.

Robert Knight’s sons and grandsons inherited his interests. His son, Webster Knight (1854-1933), learned the textile industry and gradually assumed control of B.B. & R. Kngiht Co. In 1881 Webster married Sarah W. Lippitt, also of a leading manufacturing family in the Pawtuxet Valley, and made his home in Warwick.

The prosperity of the Oriental Print Works, owned by the Reed family, declined in 1873/ This was the year of a very serious “panic” or “depression,” which had a devastating effect on Rhode Island. In addition to this, the man behind the success of the print works in Apponaug, Alfred A. Reed, died in 1879 and by 1883 the company had ceased to operate.

Fortunately for Apponaug, the company was able to continue in operation after 1896. At that time it was known as the Apponaug Print Works. Due to technical problems, this company was dissolved and a new company, called the Apponaug Bleaching, Dyeing and Print Works Co., was established and concentrated on the printing of staple cotton fabrics.


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