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This Day in History: Seth Capron, the first cotton mill, & American entrepreneurs

On this day in 1762, Seth Capron is born in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He served as a soldier with George Washington, yet his most important contribution was in an entirely different field. It was something surprisingly ordinary—and yet still very remarkable!

How interesting that we know that much, given the difficulty in researching Dr. Capron’s family.

According to his son, the Caprons were descended from Banfield Capron, a man who fled France to escape religious persecution. But Capron’s daughter disagreed. She claimed that Banfield came to America as a 14-year old stowaway on a boat. Banfield wanted to seek his fortune in America.

I cannot tell you which story is true. But the latter version suggests a daring, entrepreneurial spirit. Sounds perfect for our shores, doesn’t it?

Either way, Seth Capron was a 5th-generation American. When the American Revolution started, he was too young and too short to enlist. However, at the age of 19, he reportedly passed inspection to enter the army by standing on his toes!

Capron spent his time in the war serving either under the Marquis de Lafayette or at George Washington’s headquarters. On one occasion, a cannon ball that was aimed at LaFayette grazed Capron’s head! But, despite these experiences, Capron’s most notable service to our country may have come after the war, in the early 1800s, when tensions between Britain and the United States were again increasing.

At the time, American was still dependent upon England for much of its clothing. Capron was then a doctor and may have seemed like an unlikely candidate to change that situation. But he wanted to make the “country independent of England for a supply of clothing,” so he decided to act. He began the nation’s first cotton mill in New York, along with some business partners. Later, they started the first wool factory, even importing the first merino sheep into the country.

Soldiers fought in our Revolution and earned our independence, of course. But the American dream was also built upon entrepreneurs like Capron—the men and women who continued on, after the war. Our ancestors undoubtedly faced many practical issues as they worked to get a new country up and running. These “problems” became opportunities for American entrepreneurs to achieve something new and something better.

In some ways, Capron isn’t a hero at all. He simply did what ordinary Americans have done for decades: He began and grew a small business! And yet isn’t his life also a small snapshot into the kind of spirit that has always made America unique and full of endless possibilities?