Michael Schenck

Michael Schenck, the first cotton manufacturer in North Carolina, led the way to the growth of the entire industry.  He was born in Lancaster County, PA, February 15, 1771.  In about 1790, he left Pennsylvania with his brothers John and Henry and traveled to western North Carolina.  He located in Lincolnton, Lincoln County.  He married Barbara, daughter of Daniel Warlick of Lincoln County on May 11, 1801.  They had three sons and four daughters before Barbara died in 1815. He began a career as a merchant, purchasing goods in Pennsylvania and bringing them to North Carolina over the wagon road.  In 1813, on a small creek about 1½ miles east of town, he erected the first cotton factory to be built south of the Potomac River and located in a cotton growing region.  Some of the machinery with which he equipped the mill, he purchased in Providence, R. I., but most was made by his brother-in-law, David Warlick, who was a blacksmith and tool maker, and by Michael Beam, a carpenter and builder. The mill was completed and the first yarn spun in 1815.  Yarn was produced by a mule spinner, the threads being drawn out horizontally and wound on broaches, from whence it was reeled into bunches or skeins, and sold at 50 cents per pound.  The venture was a success, and Mr. Schenck’s factory a curiosity to the people who, while cotton growers, now first witnessed the manipulation into yarn.

Schenck Mill of 1813
First Cotton Mill in North Carolina.

Source: Lamb’s Textile Industries of the United States 1916

In 1816, a second mill was built lower down the stream, and Absolom Warlick, another brother-in-law, became a partner.  In 1818, Schenck went by wagon to Wilmington, N.C., and by boat to Providence, R.I., where he purchased improved machinery to equip the mill, which he had enlarged.  On his return in 1819, he admitted into partnership Dr, Bivings and Col. John Hoke, ancestor of a Confederate leader.  The firm subsequently put up the Lincoln Cotton factory, with about three thousand spindles, on the south bank of the south fork of the Catawba River, two and a half miles south of Lincolnton.  To this factory, customers came in wagons over a hundred miles to trade for spun cotton.  In 1835, Michael Schenck and Dr. Bivings sold out to Col. John Hoke, and Mr. Schenck retired from business, which, besides the cotton mill, consisted of a branch store at Sherrill’s Ford and a partnership with Messrs. McBee and Reinhardt in Rutherford, N.C.  The mill was burned during the Civil War and was never rebuilt, although it had been run at a profit.

After relinquishing business, this pioneer cotton mill proprietor engaged in farming and lived a retired life.   Michael Schenck died in Lincolnton, N.C. March 6, 1849.


Source: Lamb’s Textile Industries of the United States, E. Everton Foster, Editor, 1916, Vol. II, James H. Lamb Boston