The town of Calais was charted on August 15, 1781, but settlers did not arrive until 1787. Unlike many other towns, Calais did not have a central public area. Instead scattered neighborhoods and villages developed—East Calais, North Calais, Maple Corner, Kents’ Corner, and Pekin. The village of Kents Corner got its name from Remember Kent and his descendants. Remember settled in Calais in 1798. After his marriage to Rachel Bliss, Remember began accumulating pieces of land in the section of Calais that eventually became known as Kents’ Corner. He chose his land for farming. Agriculture appears to be the means through which Kent attained his economic status.
Abdiel Kent, Remember and Rachel’s son born in 1805, returned to Calais after working as a mason in New Hampshire and as a shoemaker in Massachusetts. In 1829, he opened a shoe and boot manufacturing shop in Calais. The Kent shoe and boot shop is a good example of rural industry that represented the growth of small manufacturing for local consumption.
What was it like to work at the shoe and boot shop?
Exactly what Kent’s earliest shoe and boot shop looked like is not known. He probably organized his shop according to methods he learned while in Massachusetts. Shops of this operating size typically had one open room ranging in size from ten to fourteen feet square. The ceiling was only six and a half feet high, with the garret or upper attic space unfinished and used for storage. Between 4-6 men could work at one time.
Each worker had a bench or seat and needed space enough to be able to move his arms while sewing. In the winter a stove was moved into the room. Daylight was an important light source, but in addition there also would have been candles and oil lamps. The shop contained all sizes and types of leather, as well as a variety of sizes of wooden shoe and boot lasts. Tools for cutting, punching holes, and sewing, as well as threads, polish, and wax, would have been close at hand for each worker. During working hours the floor would have been littered with scraps of leather, pieces of leather, and water buckets. The room would have smelled of smoke, leather, and sweat.
Who worked there?
Young, unmarried men from Calais or from within a day’s travel distance from home worked as wage earners. Kent’s records do show that a few women worked for him, usually taking piecework home with them.
How much were they paid?
Although workers earned an average of $5.00 a week, employees were not usually paid in cash. They could buy what they needed from Kent’s store on credit. Accounts were settled every few months or when a worker left.
What was their schedule like?
The rigid factory system often associated with America’s early industry never came to Kents Corner. Their schedules were flexible and allowed time off for planting, harvesting, militia service, public holidays, or other family commitments.
Where did they live?
Many of the men lived within the Calais community, while some of the men boarded with Kent in what must have been tight quarters by today’s standards.