Samuel Fielden: An English worker’s place in the origins of May Day

A vivid account of the horrors and poverty that abounded in working-class life on both sides of the Atlantic when capital had free reign and workers no rights.

Having entered the Lancashire cotton mills at the age of eight, Sam Fielden commented: ‘I think that if the devil had a particular enemy whom he wished to unmercifully torture, the best thing for him to do would be to put his soul into the body of a Lancashire factory child and keep him as a child in a factory the rest of his days.’ This willingness to sap the lifeblood of its workers, no matter their age or sex, in the pursuit of profit is what has characterised capital from its earliest inception until today.

May Day, the day of annual celebration of the international working-class movement, originated in the United States, where it was particularly associated with the struggle for the working day to be reduced to eight hours.

Especially militant were the workers of Chicago, whose militancy struck such terror into the hearts of the exploiters that the military were called out to try to suppress them. On 3 May 1886, at the McCormick Reaper works, striking workers were fired on, leaving six killed and many others wounded. A public protest meeting was called at short notice for the following day in an area of the city called the Haymarket.

Although it was an entirely peaceful meeting, with a relatively modest attendance of only some 3,000 because of the short notice, as it was reaching its conclusion the police moved in to demand – quite unnecessarily as most people had drifted away because of the late hour and bad weather – that all participants should immediately disperse.

While the speaker on the platform, the socialist Samuel Fielden, was reassuring police that the meeting was peaceful and would shortly come to an end anyway, some unknown person detonated a bomb among the police ranks, causing a number of deaths.

Although it was never established who had thrown the bomb, and it had certainly been done without the knowledge or consent of the organisers or speakers, the US authorities, as crude and brutal then as they are now, arrested eight people associated with calling the meeting or speaking at it (Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg).

They were all leading members of the International Working People’s Association, an organisation very popular among America’s hard-pressed workers, who had in the previous few years been subjected to two economic recessions causing widespread indigence and despair. The organisation was extremely active in organising many very effective strikes, so the American bourgeoisie moved to destroy it.

Despite a complete lack of evidence, all eight of the leaders were convicted, by a jury made up entirely of employers, and sentenced to death. On 11 November 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were executed by hanging. Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison.

The egregious injustice of the convictions, however, gave rise to major protests. Six years later the protests finally secured the release of the three surviving prisoners, one of whom was the only born Briton among the eight – the Lancastrian Samuel Fielden of Todmorden.

Autobiography of Samuel Fielden

We reproduce here extracts from a letter written by Samuel Fielden, which illustrate the dire conditions that impelled the working masses towards socialism in the latter part of the 19th century, in Britain as much as in America, as well as recounting his eye witness account of the Haymarket events that led to the establishment of May Day as International Workers’ Day.

I was born in the town of Todmorden, part of which is in the West Riding of Yorkshire and part in the East Riding of Lancashire, England. I was born in the Lancashire part. The town is like all towns in Lancashire – a manufacturing one.

It lies in a beautiful valley, and on the hillsides are small farms; back about a mile are the moorlands, which could be made into fine farms, as the topography of the moors is more level generally than the enclosed land.

But though thousands of starving Englishmen would be very glad to work them, they must be kept for the grouse and the gamekeeper and the gentry. Grouse sport for the privileged classes being esteemed of more importance than the happiness of thousands of human beings.

The enclosed lands rent for about £2 an acre (about $10). The farms are small, running from 10 acres to 60 acres, hardly any being larger than the latter figure. The farms are all dairy, the milk all being sold in town. There are numerous large mills in the town, Fielden Bros being the largest; it contains about 2,000 looms.


Here I was born in the year 1847, on the 25th day of February. My father’s name was Abram Fielden, he was one of a family of four sons and three daughters. They were of very powerful physique; my father stood nearly six feet in height; they were a family of hand-loom weavers, until the application of steam to weaving.

This occurred when my father was hardly out of teens, and then they became steam-loom workers. My father became a foreman when quite young in the mill of Fielden Bros, where he worked until incapacitated by infirmities and age. He was a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and was generally acknowledged ‘to know a thing or two’ …

My father was a peculiarly eloquent conversationalist, and the recital of the most ordinary incident from his lips bore the charm of romance. When the ten-hour movement was being agitated in England my father was on the committee of agitation in my native town, and I have heard him tell of sitting on the platform with Earl Shaftesbury, John Fielden, Richard Otler, and other advocates of that cause.

I always thought he put a little sarcasm into the word earl, at any rate he had but little respect for aristocracy and royalty. He was also a Chartist, and I have heard him tell of many incidents connected with the Chartist agitation and movement …

If he ever had studied socialism I believe his strict sense of justice would have led him to adopt it; as it was he was a hater of all forms of affectation, deceit and hypocrisy; in politics of late years he was ostensibly a liberal – in reality a republican.

He took a great deal of interest in the political agitations which have been going on, and having a fairly good memory he could discuss intelligently the political problems that have agitated his country during his lifetime. He was always a staunch supporter of every measure for the relief of the Irish peasantry from the greed of the foreign bloodsucker – the English landlord …

Of my mother I cannot remember so much, as she died when I was a child of ten years of age. I can remember her as small of stature, with dark eyes and hair, and with pleasing and regular features. I remember in the later years of her life she was a very devoted member of the primitive Methodist church.

Her maiden name was Alice Jackson; the family to which she belonged was very poor, and I have often heard her and father tell on the cold winter nights, when the wind would shriek around the corners of the house, of the first meeting of herself and father. How that she was walking in her bare feet through the snow, carrying a basket which contained sand, which she was trying to sell to the poor people to sprinkle upon their stoneflag floors.

You can imagine how poor a family must be when I tell you that this sand was sold for one-halfpenny (1 cent) a quart, and how much a child could carry in a basket, but they were compelled to put their children to this means of earning a few cents …

Child labourer

When I arrived at the mature age of eight years I, as was usual with the poor people’s children in Lancashire, went to work in a cotton mill, and if there is any of the exuberance of childhood about the life of a Lancashire mill-hand’s child it is in spite of his surroundings and conditions, and not in consequence of it.

As I look back at my experience at the tender age I am filled with admiration at the wonderful vitality of these children. I think that if the devil had a particular enemy whom he wished to unmercifully torture, the best thing for him to do would be to put his soul into the body of a Lancashire factory child and keep him as a child in a factory the rest of his days. I think that would satisfy the love of cruelty of his satanic majesty.

The mill into which I was put was the mill established by John Fielden MP, who fought so valiantly in the ten-hour movement. It was then and is now conducted by his sons, Samual, John and Joshua. The last was for some time member of parliament for the West Riding of Yorkshire.

I have read of John Fielden’s description of the treatment of the pauper children that were shipped into the Lancashire mills from the unions of the large cities when Lancashire received its first great impetus as a cotton manufacturing centre. And, horrible as it reads, it was hardly any worse than the treatment that was meted out to the innocents when I became acquainted with the sober side of life as a factory child.

The infants, when first introduced to these abodes of torture, are put at stripping the full spools from the spinning jennies and replacing them with empty spools. They are put to work in a long room where there are about 20 machines. Each child is furnished with a little stool on which to sit. There will be from eight to ten children on each side of the machine. They begin at one end of the room and strip the full spool off, then from there to the next machine, and so on until they get to the other end of the room. When they get there the machine at which they started will be full again.

The spindles are apportioned to each child, and woe be to the child who shall be behind in doing its allotted work. The machine will be started and the poor child’s fingers will be bruised and skinned with the revolving spools. While the children try to catch up to their comrades by doing their work with the speed of the machine running, the brutal overlooker will frequently beat them unmercifully, and I have frequently seen them strike the children, knocking them off their stools and sending them spinning several feet on the greasy floor.

Hell, or the Spanish inquisition, never witnessed more heartless barbarity than is practised upon these poor innocents. It is a pitiful sight to see these children, as they rush from one machine to another trying to recover their lost ground, the tears streaming down their cheeks and sobbing as though their little hearts would break; a sight one would think that would melt the heart of a savage; and all that these children have done to merit this is to be born poor.

Such is the penalty of poverty in Lancashire.

I toiled at this work enduring all its horrors and barbarities for about two years. About that time, being about ten years of age, I was out to tending the elevator, my work being to take the spools that came up from the carding room to the machines on the floor on which I worked, and to take the full spools, after they had undergone the process of being spun into a condition for the warpers to take them and make the warps of them for the weavers, and load them onto the elevator car and send them up to the warpers.

This was heavy work for a boy, but as I was thought a stout boy I was put to this, and, notwithstanding that it was heavier work, I liked it better, and I worked at it till I was 18 years of age, when I became, according to law, a full-timer. The children under that age at that time not being allowed to work had a half a day at the mill and were compelled to go to school the other half.

The factory act of England compels each employer of half-timers to keep a school for them to go to the other half day; they are very strict about this; so much so that no child could stay away from school a half-day without being compelled to lose a half-day in the mill also. This, when you take in consideration the importance that the child’s wages are to the family, is practically compulsory education.

For this work we used to get from one shilling and six pence (36 cents) to two shillings and six pence (60 cents) a week.

If I remember rightly, when I first became a full-timer, I received six shillings ($1.50) per week. At this time I was given work in the warehouse or filling-room, where the weavers received their filling. I worked here two years, when I went to learn to weave.

I learned to weave under my father. I worked at this branch of factory-work until I became 20 years of age, when I went to work as a beamer. That is, I wound warps onto beams, and at this I continued until I came to the United States, at the age of 21, in 1868 …

On slavery

There had appeared in my native town at different times, several coloured lecturers who spoke on the slavery question in America. I went frequently to hear them describe the inhumanity of that horrible system, sometimes with my father, and at other times with my sister.

One of these gentlemen called himself Henry Box Brown; this gentlemen brought with him a panorama, by means of which he described places and incidents in his slave life, and also the means of his escape. He used to march through the streets in front of a brass band, clad in a highly-coloured and fantastic garb, with an immense drawn sword in his hand.

He claimed that he had been boxed up in a large box in which were stowed an amount of provisions, the box having holes bored in the top for air, and marked “This side up with care”. Thus he was shipped to Philadelphia via the underground railroad, to friends there, and this was why he called himself Henry Box Brown. He was a very good speaker and his entertainment was very interesting.

Another one of these gentlemen was called, if I remember right, Henry Green; he was a very fiery orator. I heard him very often. These lectures had a very great effect on my mind, and I could hardly divest myself of their impressions, and I used to frequently find myself among my playmates dilating much upon the horrors of slavery.

I read much of the system from the books of travellers. I remember to have read at a very early age the travels of Harriet Martineau. I also read ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. When the American civil war broke out I was an enthusiastic champion among my fellows of the cause of the north, and, in fact, so were all the family, my sister not being undone by any of us.

During all that terrible struggle intense interest was manifested by the people of Lancashire, and all during the summer months every night in the week there would be seen groups of men collected in the streets, and at the prominent corners, discussing the latest news and forecasting the next, and in these groups there was always to be heard the advocates and champions of both sides. I used to listen to these orators with a great deal of interest …

But the struggle [against slavery in America] continued, and its effect upon the people became more and more apparent. Mills began to run short time, then no time at all. Then when they could get a little Surat cotton from India, they would run a few days a week. This Surat cotton was terrible stuff to weave; it was full of little chips, and the threads were always breaking, so that the weavers were compelled to have all their looms stopped at once, until they could get time to go from one loom to the other to tie up the threads.

How the people prayed for the “war to cease”. Famine, gaunt and fierce, stalked abroad in the land, and in many cases brought death to end the sufferings of the wretched Lancashire operative. The finances of the relief system was exhausted, private charity was taxed until it could expend no more.

Tramps filled the streets and highways, young women went from town to town, and when they would come to some town they would walk slowly over the streets, holding each other by the hand, and singing some song, which it was hoped would bring some gift of succour to appease their hunger and preserve their weary lives. Many in their desperation were compelled to barter their honour for their lives. Such is the penalty of poverty.

During the panic, as we called it, the mill in which I, my father, sister and brother worked, shut down entirely several times. I went to work assisting to drain some land on which one of my employers has since built a magnificent castle, which is called Dobroyd castle.

I was put to work carrying tiles to the men who laid them; it was in the winter time, and I had to pick the tiles up out of the ice and water. One day I became chilled to the marrow; I began to grow dizzy, then it grew dark and I fell to the ground insensible. I was carried home and thawed out, and the next day I had to go out to the same work again.

My elder brother had for some time been working as undergardener for one of our employers. He was a young man of more than ordinary intelligence, and much of the information which I was enabled to pick up I gleaned from his books. He was also quite radical in his views, and therefore it was a constant torment to him to have to debase himself before his master as lackeys were compelled to do in England.

Now one of these means of debasement was being compelled to put his hand to his cap, in fact, to bow down to Gasler. He endured this as long as he could bear it, when one day he met his master in the town accompanied by his brother. My brother walked past him, pretending not to see him, and therefore did not pay his obedience to his master.

The next day, as he was working in the garden, his master came to him and asked him if he had met him the night before on the street and why he had not made his manners to him. My brother told him that he did not think of it. His highness then fixed his eye upon him and replied, “I thought of it, and so did others,” meaning his brother, and added, “you must be a boor.”

This was too much; and my brother telling me about it after we had retired at night, said he would never humble himself before him again, as it would be harder than ever to do it after what had occurred. He soon after left Mr Fielden’s employment.

Thus must the proletariat bow the knee to the bourgeoisie or starve, and some people call this liberty of contract. There was no work to be had in the town, and he was compelled to go on a tramp.

Having heard that there were fine gardens about Edinburgh, Scotland, he tried to work his way thither, walking all the way and trying to get work on the road; sometimes he would get a little to do; sometimes he had to ask for bread; sometimes he had to apply to the town authorities for lodging, for which he had to break stone on the turnpike to pay for it.

Arriving at Edinburgh he found it impossible to get work there; off again he pursued his fruitless search, until one morning he found himself within 40 miles of home. He felt that he must make home that day or die. He therefore with the resolution of despair set out at night.

He came into the house emaciated, hungry and sick, a mere shadow of himself. After eating his supper he tried to make his way to bed, but his legs refused to carry him. The next morning a violent fever had taken possession of him; for weeks he lay between life and death, and this was the penalty of refusing to bow the knee to Gesler.

All these horrors we suffered, as did thousands of others, and be it remembered the Lancashire operatives never passed a resolution to recognise the south as a belligerent, never dreamed of interfering in any way, morally or otherwise, though they were the only sufferers, and those who did in England were those who were placed above the possibility of being affected by the war.

But the war at last came to a close, and New Orleans cotton arrived. It was a time of thanksgiving, and remarkable scenes were witnessed in some of the Lancashire towns when the first instalment of cotton arrived. The operatives gathered about the depots, brass bands were in readiness, and men with patched clothes and thin features, and women with haggard looks and draggled garments, holding their children in their arms or leading them by the hand, according to their size, crowded around.

Eyes that seemed but a short time before had lost their lustre, now beamed with a light which had seemed to have left them forever but a short time before; forms whose every motion had seemed for months to speak of despair, were now animated by elasticity and eager hope had come again to the despairing, and work would now be had; and this was the open sesame to heaven and earth. At least the gates of the yards are thrown open and large lumbering draught horses are seen moving slowly toward the gates, while piled high into the air behind is seen that which to those poor starving people meant the staff of life-cotton, American cotton.

A shout goes up which is almost enough to shake the bales from their foundations; men shake each other’s hands; the tears of gladness are seen in the eyes of the women; such hilarity, such congratulation, such quaint jokes are thrown around when amidst the confusion the band strikes up an air which had become as familiar in England as in America – John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.

The men joined in, the women joined in, and the children joined in, while the players tried in vain to make themselves heard except at intervals. And thus they marched in front of the great loads of cotton to the mills. Work immediately became more plentiful, and as nothing prospers when workingmen are poor, so everybody soon became happy and comparatively prosperous …

Departure for America

I had frequently talked to my father of my desire to come to America. My father had tried to dissuade me from doing so, but seeing that I was determined to go, he told me that when I became of age, that is 21 years of age, he would have no more control over me, but until then he refused to give me consent to leave the parental roof.

I accordingly remained until the month of July 1868 … I arrived in New York in the latter part of July 1868, with £3 in my pocket.

A stint of work in the south

I worked [for a time] in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, and I took every opportunity I could get to learn about the condition of the negro, and I learned that in many cases he was as much a bondsman as ever he was, and in many cases worse.

I inquired particularly into the share system, which took the place of the much dreamed of ten acres and a mule, which [the former slave] had so confidently looked forward to possessing after his emancipation. I found that this system was nothing more or less than a species of robbery, and that by its means the negro was held in as absolute bondage as he was before the war.

The share system operated in this wise: It is well known that the result of the rebellion left the southern planter generally stripped of everything in the shape of property but his land. That property which he had held in human beings had been taken from him by a strong arm of force. It also left the negro without a master, and the first thing [the latter] had to do was find a master, and the first thing the former slave owner had to do was to turn the only means in his possession to some account, and he might possibly have thought that it was worth the considering how he should get possession of the property which had been taken away from him, and the brilliant idea may have entered his head that the remaining property might be utilised for that purpose.

Be that as it may, if he did not think of this then it certainly occurred to him afterward and he did not fail to take advantage of it in the near future, but at the present the old master or his residuary legatees had the land, but had no slaves to work it whereby it might be made to support its owner in idleness, the southern slaveholder having constitutionally as much of an objection to work as Harry L Gilmer has of the truth.

[The former slave] had the necessary qualification, that is a willingness to work, but he had nothing to work with or upon. Thus it came that the old master said to [the former slave], how would you like to rent ten acres of land from me and raise a crop of cotton for yourself? [The former slave] thought he saw visions of a condition beside which the ten acres and a mule faded into insignificance.

Arrangements were at once entered into, and [the former slave] being furnished with a mule, and having agreed that half of the crop of cotton should pay for the use of the land, and that he should have a certain amount of rations advanced for his support and the mule’s, and that out of his share of the proceeds of the experiment he should reimburse the landlord for the advance of rations to himself, family and mule, a careful account of which should be kept by his benefactor, the landlord.

These things having all been satisfactorily arranged, especially to the satisfaction of the landlord, [the former slave] started the mule and started on the road to fortune and glory. All through the hot summer he worked with a light heart and visions of future greatness before him, on into the fall when the bolls of cotton plant burst open, and before the eyes of the delighted [former slave] is exposed the realisation of all his dreams.

The cotton is picked and baled, and to the nearest market or landing is the cotton hauled, in many cases [the former slave] taking all the family in his enthusiasm. … [He] is delighted when he is told that his share amounts to $150 or $200. He immediately begins to think about buying the old master out, but he whistles on the other side of his mouth when the little bill which the master presents for advanced rations and the loan of the mule is brought forward, and which amounts to more than his share of the crop.

There is a terrible disappointment but there is no getting over it. The master having pocketed all the share of the same, and having realised as he had foreseen that it has been a profitable arrangement, has another scheme ready for this emergency. He has a large tract of timber land, which, if he can get cut up into cord wood, will furnish him with fuel and also bring in some money at the adjacent landing, and seeing the despondent attitude of [the former slave], he magnanimously comes forward with a proposition to allow him the privilege of paying his indebtedness to his kind benefactor by clearing this land.

This scheme and others of a similar character have been played very successfully upon the so-called freedmen of the south. In cases where the unfortunate victim has tried to escape this form of slavery by attempting to leave the country, he has been arrested and imprisoned, and sometimes as a prisoner of the county he has been hired out to planters or contractors.

Thus did the latter kind of slavery becomes worse than the former. I have received in every state that I visited in the south incontrovertible proof that this prevailed, not only from the statements of the victims themselves, but I have heard the perpetrators boast of it, and this was the chief cause of the exodus of the negro from the south to the west and north.

The south has been blessed by nature with a soil that is calculated to support a vaster population than would or could settle in it for the next hundred years if it were not for the blighting curse of human avarice which there, as everywhere else, makes the bounteous gifts of nature to her children to produce, instead of happiness and comfort, which they are naturally calculated to produce, in their stead misery, want, degradation and crime.

Return to Chicago

After my return to Chicago in May I worked upon the dredge I had worked upon the year before, and which was finishing up the deepening of the canal at Sagbridge. I worked there until the work was all finished. Soon after that three west parks were commenced, Douglas, Central and Humboldt parks …

I pass over the next few years as containing but little that would be of interest to the average reader. During those years I worked almost entirely in stone yards up to 1879. I worked at all kinds of work in these yards, including driving team.

During those years I was somewhat studious in my habits. I spent a considerable part of my spare time in the reading room of the public library. I attended quite a number of lectures, hearing Mr Bradlaugh, the English reformer and freethinker, Tilton, Bayard Taylor, Robert Collier, James Freeman Clarke, Joaquin Miller, Robert Ingersoll, James Parton and many others.


In the fall of 1879 I paid a visit to England. I had intended for years to visit my native home, but financial embarrassments had interposed insurmountable obstacles. My principal reason for going was to fulfill a matrimonial engagement which I had entered into 11 years before …

I fulfilled the engagement referred to above and returned to the United States in February 1880. The fruit of my marriage has been two children, one a girl of two and a half years age, the other a boy who has been born since my imprisonment …

About this time, in the fall of 1880, I was informed of the calling of a meeting for the reorganisation of the Liberal League, the principal object of which organisation was the total separation of church and state. I attended the meeting at 54 West Lake Street, and after listening to the proceedings and the statement of the objects of the proposed society, I joined the society then and there.

A hall was rented at the corner of Halsted and Madison streets, and the society entered upon its mission. Lectures and discussions were the feature of the exercises. Theology, science, philosophy of every quantity and quality; political economy, social economy, domestic economy and, in fact, every kind of economy, and perhaps a little extravagance thrown in once in a while as a condiment, the diet being of a rather heavy character.

However, I became acquainted with a very intelligent, as well, I believe, as a very conscientious class of people. I took part in the discussions and became more or less prominent in the society, being elected financial secretary, vice-president and delegate to the national congress held at Milwaukee in the fall of 1889, which I attended, taking part in the proceedings and supporting the adoption of a labour plank in the platform or constitution of the society.

During the year 1883 labour meetings were held on the lake front and I was invited to speak there. I hesitated and asked what was the object. The person who asked me replied, “You are not afraid to speak in the cause of labour, are you?” I replied “No!” and I accordingly spoke there several times that fall, as well as at other parts of the city in the open air.

I had not at that time any preference for any labour organisation but thought the subject of labour offered a broad enough field for agitation. I spoke on the general question of the wrongs of labour. I continued my connection with the Liberal League.

In the following summer, having become a socialist by conviction, through listening to and taking part in the discussions at the Labor League, I became connected with the International Working People’s Association … I was a member of the American group, which held meetings in different halls in the city for the discussion of social and industrial economy …

May Day

I worked all … day … the 4th of May, taking a load of stone to Waldheim cemetery, which is a day’s work. I returned home, getting to the stable about half-past five in the evening, when I took care of my horses and went home to my supper, intending to go to [a] meeting at 368 West Twelfth Street.

Just before going into the house I brought an Evening News, and looking over the announcement column, I saw that there was a call there for the American group to meet at 107 Fifth Avenue. I hardly knew what to do. I knew that I ought to attend the American group, as I was treasurer of the group, and it was the period for election of officers, and I also knew that if it was a meeting that would require any money I ought to be there. I finally concluded to go there.

I left home about 7:20 … [and] it was close to 8 o’clock .., and yet at that time I did not know that there was going to be, or had been, a meeting called at the Haymarket that night … I found out after entering the room that the meeting had been called for the purpose of considering whether the American group should attempt the organisation of the sewing girls of the city, whose wages were pitilessly low.

[A] Mr and Mrs Parsons had anticipated that the group would vote in the affirmative and had taken the responsibility of having a number of hand-bills printed, which hand-bills were present at the meeting, or some of them. On asking what the meeting was called for, I was shown one of these bills, and was told that was what the meeting was called for … I therefore sat down and waited until Mr and Mrs Parsons should come.

After waiting some time they came, and we decided to try to organise the sewing girls of the city. Mr Parsons made a motion that the treasurer should pay over to the ladies the sum of $5, which should pay for the bills which had been printed, $4, and the other dollar should go for the car-fare and incidental expenses in looking around for halls, etc. This was agreed to. I paid the money and received a receipt for the same …

About this time [a] Mr Rau came in and said that he had been over to the Haymarket and there was a large crowd over there and no one to address them but [a] Mr Spies, and that he wanted Mr Parsons and I to go over there and assist him. We went over there, and Mr Spies, who was speaking, stopped in a short time after we arrived and introduced Mr Parsons. Mr Parsons spoke at considerable length, as has been reported.

When I was introduced by Mr Spies, the audience was getting smaller and I had told Mr Spies that it was hardly worth while for me to speak. He said I might make a short speech. I spoke for about fifteen to twenty minutes, when, without the slightest intimation or thought of such a thing, on turning my face to the south, I saw the police approaching.

They were, in fact, very close to me when I first saw them. I stopped talking and was undecided what to do. The meeting had been a more than ordinarily peaceable one, and had been getting smaller and more quiet up to that time, so that there were not more than two or three hundred at the most, in my opinion, when the police arrived.

A few minutes before this the weather had become somewhat threatening; a very large black cloud had rolled up from the north, causing quite a stampede. On this account Mr Parsons called out from the crowd that the meeting had better adjourn to Zepfs hall on the next corner. Someone replied that this hall was occupied, and then I said to the audience that I would be through in a minute or two and we would all go home.

I then began to draw my remarks to a close. Before I could do this, however, the meeting was invaded by the police, and Captain Ward, in a very loud voice cried out: “In the name of the people of the state of Illinois I command this meeting to peaceably disperse.”

Whatever had been my doubts at the intention of the police, they were at once removed and I at once thought that I would try to prevent any trouble between the meeting and the police. This was my object in staying on the wagon after I saw the police on the ground, and as Captain Ward uttered the above expression I stepped down toward him and replied: “Why captain, this is a peaceable meeting.”

I did this for the purpose, more than anything else, of trying to allay the excitement and nervousness under which he was labouring, and thus, by this conciliatory manner, showing to him that we were not disposed to be quarrelsome. Had the captain at the time met me in the same manner, even though he had still insisted on the dispersal of the meeting, I myself would have dispersed it, and believe all would have been well, but the captain, in a very violent manner, altogether ignoring my pacific attitude, turned to the police, saying as near as I can remember: “I command this meeting to disperse, and I call on you to disperse it now.” …

[As] the captain began to give the second command, I stepped from the wagon, leaping down at the south end of the wagon. As soon as I reached the ground I said: “All right, we’ll go,” or “Well then; we’ll go,” and walked towards the sidewalk. I think I had just stepped on the sidewalk when I saw the flash in the middle of the street and heard the explosion of the bomb. Almost if not entirely simultaneously with this explosion the police began to fire into the crowd.

The crowd ran in every direction. I happened to have my face turned to the south at the time of the explosion, and I ran in that direction. Immediately after the explosion, I was struck in the knee by a bullet, which after striking the bone, travelled upward and slightly across, and then came out making two holes. I felt the blow, but did not know what it was.

I continued … running as fast as I could, for the crowd who were falling down and crawling on the sidewalk, and calling: “O, God! O, God! Save us,” while volley after volley of bullets were poured into the wildly flying and unresisting mass. I finally reached the corner and ran east.

As soon as I felt myself safe I felt of my knee and found that my knee was wet. I knew that I was wounded. After going over to the south side to look for some of my companions of the evening, being anxious to discover what had become of them, I went and had my knee dressed.

The next morning I was arrested. On the afternoon of the same day, 5th of May, without having had an opportunity of seeing a friend or a lawyer, I, with A Parsons, A Spies, and Mr Schwab, was railroaded through a coroner’s jury, at which jury the assistant state’s attorney stood between the coroner and the several witnesses and, in whispers, prompted them what to say …

Of my subsequent trial and conviction the public are aware.

This is a truthful narrative of my life and my connection with the Haymarket affair, for which I am held as accessory to the act of a person with whom I have no connection or knowledge, and with whom no witness had ever during the whole of this trial, stated that I knew of his existence, and, as far as this record goes, who is as much a stranger to me as he is to Judge Gary or the state’s attorney.

Hoping the reader of this will calmly and dispassionately consider those facts, and feeling sure that whoever does so will feel that if any person can be connected and convicted as accessory to the act of some person unknown to the accused, the innocence of a crime is no shield or security to any member of society.

If this conviction is just, then whenever any crime is committed all that is necessary for the authorities to do is to find some persons obnoxious to them, present them to the jury and tell the jury that though they may not have committed the crime they are charged with, yet it is the opinion of the prosecution that it will be a good thing to get rid of them anyway, and this is the handy way of doing it.

Patient reader, I remain faithfully yours, Samuel Fielden.