Home » EC250 – Ellicott City, Maryland at 250 Years » The Poor Man to His Son

The Poor Man to His Son

Ellicott City has never shied from hard work. From when laborers first cleared the banks of the Patapsco River for flour mills to when volunteers and merchants shoveled out after recent floods, workers have long toiled to make this town a center of industry and commerce.

In 1772, the Ellicott brothers floated milling equipment from the Chesapeake Bay up the Patapsco River to Elk Ridge Landing, a commercial port in those days. Joseph, John, and Andrew Ellicott hired workers and began clearing for a rough road to the land they had bought for about three dollars an acre.
In just a few years, with the help of hired laborers, the three brothers built their grist mill, a quarry, a saw mill, and a wagon trail through wilderness.

Eliza Cook’s stirring poem, “The Poor Man to His Son,” urges laborers like the brothers and their hired hands to see the nobility of their efforts.

Cook, the daughter of a brass-worker born in England in 1818, was known as a poet of and advocate for the working class. Her family moved from London to a farm when she was 7. Self- educated, she published her first poetry collection at age 17.

A fierce advocate for women’s rights and social justice, Cook was a popular poet who started a penny biweekly called Eliza Cooks’ Journal with essays and poetry aimed at women. But she was criticized for wearing men’s clothing and having relationships with women.

Her poetry was part of the Chartist political movement in Great Britain, which called for eliminating corruption and granting voting rights to workers, not just landowners.

The Poor Man to His Son
by Eliza Cook

Work, work, my boy, be not afraid;
Look Labour boldly in the face;
Take up the hammer or the spade,
And blush not for your humble place.
Earth was first conquer’d by the power
Of daily sweat and peasant toil;
And where would kings have found their dower
If poor men had not trod the soil?
Hold up your brow in honest pride
Though rough and swarth your hands may be:
Such hands are sap-veins that provide
The life-blood of the Nation’s tree.
There’s honour in the toiling part
That finds us in the furrow’d fields;
It stamps a crest upon the heart
Worth more than all your quarter’d shields.
There’s glory in the shuttle’s song;
There’s triumph in the anvil’s stroke:
There’s merit in the brave and strong
Who dig the mine or fell the oak.
Work, work, my boy, and murmur not,
The fustian garb betrays no shame;
The grime of forge-soot leaves no blot,
And labour gilds the meanest name.
An excerpt from “The Poor Man to His Son,”

published in Poems by Eliza Cook, 1861. This poem is in the public domain.

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