Troops came to Natick and Pontiac to quell the riots
The strike that began on January 21, 1922 lasted for eight months and
did irreparable damage to both the mills and the mill villages. When
the strike finally came to an end, the paternalistic relationship of
mill owners and workers had disintegrated and the textile industry no
longer ruled supreme in Rhode Island.
Before the strike was over, there was a great deal of violence, bitterness and hardship inflicted on both strikers and management. Natick, Pontiac and the Pawtuxet Valley would never again enjoy the harmony and good feeling of the nineteenth century.
Michael B. Lynch-Sheriff of Kent County
Despite efforts by the police of Warwick, West Warwick, and Coventry, the intensity of the strike and the mounting anger brought rioting and strike-breaking activities into the Pawtuxet Valley. Warwick resident Michael B. Lynch, High Sheriff of Kent County, was given the task of "overseeing the local police forces and coordinating their activities...," according to a Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times special report issued in 1963. The article comments that, "County sheriffs have seldom been called upon to perform such dangerous and critical duties, and Sheriff Lynch endangered his own life many times in an effort to preserve some semblance of order in the midst of emotion, tension, and violence."
Undisciplined and violent law enforcers
Very serious charges of police brutality and other crimes brought about more bitterness between the workers and government officials. Unfortunately, in many cases the extra constables added to the police forces were untrained and at times even more undisciplined than the rioters. On several occasions, union officials claimed the strike breakers brought about the very violence they were there to suppress. Union leaders pointed out sadistic behavior of both the part of the strike-breakers and newly appointed constables, all to no avail.
Pressure on Governor San Souci
Mill owners, while lauding the efforts of Lynch and the police, believed that the calling out the state's militia would bring an immediate end to the strike. Political pressure was applied upon Governor Emory J. San Souci to order the troops to the Pawtuxet Valley to protect the mills and force the strikers back to work. San Souci, who had great optimism for a peaceful settlement at the beginning of the strike, was now stunned by the turn of events. Reluctantly he bowed to the wishes of the mill owners, who were powerful supporters of the Republican Party, and sent the Mounted Command of the National Guard to the villages of Pontiac and Natick. Over 150 troops, many of them on horseback, arrived at Brown Square in Natick to stop a riot at the mill during the last week in February 1922.
For a very short time it appeared that Rhode Island would be faced with its most serious rebellion when over 1000 men, women, and children gathered to face the troops. The Times article relates that, "Father Tirrocchi of St. Joseph's Church came running out of the rectory and pleaded with the crowd in Italian to go home and avoid bloodshed."
His plea was heeded and gradually, as cool heads prevailed, the crowd disappeared from the square, allowing the troops to turn their attention to the rioting at the mill. Reports of the strike tell us, "...strikers had laid siege against workers and owners barricaded inside, bombarding the windows with rocks." One account states, "They managed to break inside, and wrecked the offices and a supply room." Fortunately no one was seriously injured as the rioters fled before the troops arrived on the scene.
The Natick Mill
A machine gun was mounted on the roof of the Natick Mill and National Guardsmen manned the weapon and patrolled the streets. Villagers in Pontiac and other mill towns in the Valley found militiamen stationed in the area. Fear and anger resulted and, as the Times article indicates, "most of the strikers and their families detested their presence and resented their authority."
The story of the Strike of 1922 and its effect will be continued.
Natick Mill, once the pride of the Knights, saw a great deal of rioting
and eventually, the National Guard was called in to restore order. A
possible rebellion was averted when Father Tirocchi left the rectory
next to St. Joseph’s Church in Natick and convinced the crowd’s leaders
From the Henry A. L. Brown collection