The First Three Decades
The first entries in this section of the chronology cover a little over thirty years. Comparatively speaking this period of Ben Cotton's life is thinly documented. He was born in a community with changing political affiliations, along an equally vague state border separating Rhode Island from Massachusetts. Pawtucket - the site of the nation's first water-powered textile mill - held the local economic power. He was the eldest of 7 children. At a very young age he worked in a cotton mill. His first child was born when he was 20.
How Ben Cotton got his start as a professional is variously told and each version was told by Cotton himself. There is no doubt that his first break came in a burlesque of the European symphonic conductor, Jullien. Cotton was a member of the Jullien Serenaders when he came to the attention of Matt Peel, the headliner of a well-established minstrel band.