(for “Pre-American Ancestry of Our Leonard Ironworkers”)


Up to the 1640s, ironworking in the New World was essentially nil.  As early as 1628, bog iron ore had been discovered at various sites around Boston, but skilled ironworkers were not available to produce such desperately needed forged items as nails, hammers, axes, saws, reinforcing bands for plows, horse shoes and fireplace equipment. Until the development of the political crisis in England between Charles I and Parliament, the colonists had received supplies via the numerous ships bringing immigrants.  But with the ascendancy of the Long Parliament in England in 1640, emigration dwindled drastically and the settlers experienced their first depression.  Prices of land and provisions dropped when the rate of population growth declined and there was little to exchange for such commodities as still came into this country. Thus there was good incentive to turn to the region’s own resources.[1]


To this end, John Winthrop, Jr., son of the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sailed in the summer of 1641 to England where he succeeded in forming a “Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England.”  Some two dozen influential Englishmen purchased interests in this company. (See, for example, fig. 1, “Agreement of John Winthrop, Jr., and others with Nicholas Bond,” in which Winthrop, Rev. Hugh Peter, stepfather of Winthrop’s wife, and Emmanuel Downing, Winthrop’s uncle, together gave their bond to secure Nicholas Bond’s investment in the proposed ironworks).[2]


Besides raising funds in the magnitude of £1,000, Winthrop recruited workmen and took on a stock of materials.  The recruitment of skilled workmen was not easy.  (See fig. 2, “Joshua Foote to John Winthrop, Jr.” in which Foote, a London ironmonger, reported that he had secured three workmen, one  founder accompanied by his son, but that three others had run away).[3]  Subsequent to Winthrop’s departure from England, Foote wrote him that no bloomery man[4] was available at all (see fig. 3, “Joshua Foote to John Winthrop, Jr.).[5] In this second letter Foote’s facetious suggestion was that Winthrop “join all [his] workmen’s heads together and see to build up bloomeries.  A smith after a little teaching will make a bloomer man.”[6]


Winthrop also experienced difficulties in assembling a stock of tools and materials.  For instance, Foote had written 20 May 1643 that he had not arranged for provision of suitable stones (see fig. 2).  Dr. Robert Child, another shareholder, was able later to obtain and ship five tons of stone (see fig. 4, “Robert Child to John Winthrop, Jr.”).[7] This stone was destined for the furnace hearth and stack lining.[8]


Winthrop’s activities at this time were not limited to ironworks business.  For his own home furnishings he purchased the following bedding:




Sould vnto Mr. John Winthrop By Thomas Hiller At the thre leges in the Poultrey the 10th of May 1643






4 flockes Beds and boulsters large




2 lesser flock beds and boulsters




5 plaine Rougs




3 pare of fine midell blankets




1 border




3 plaine mats




Paid the porters









And he engaged a girl named Mary Gore as an indentured servant (see fig. 5, “Articles of Apprenticeship”).[10]


Finally, Winthrop had his affairs well enough in hand to engage passage on a part-payment basis:




Received 5th May 1643 of Mr. Jno. Winthrop the some of Fifty pounds in part for passage of men and goods to New England

                                                                                    Nehemiah Bourne


Prof. E. N. Hartley states: “On those workers who actually sailed, we have essentially no data.  We cannot tell how many there were or, except for the founder, what special trades they practice.”[12] Thus we have no basis for assuming that any Leonard was a member of Winthrop’s original cadre of  ironworkers.


It was not until the latter part of May, 1643, that Winthrop loaded what equipment and personnel he had aboard the London merchantman “An Cleeve” at Gravesend and embarked upon a voyage which proved disastrous. Detained “many daies” at the outset by custom-house formalities, they lost a favorable wind, hovered on the English coast for more than six weeks, and did not reach Boston till autumn, after a passage of almost unprecedented duration – the result being that the workmen, unaccustomed to the sea and prostrated by midsummer heat in close quarters, were so weakened by fevers as to be utterly unfit for duty when they landed.[13] Winthrop was so angered by the detention at Gravesend by a port official that he drew up a petition to Parliament, citing details and soliciting £1,000 damages for subsequent losses (see fig. 6, “Petition of John Winthrop, Jr., to Parliament”).[14] There is no record of action on the petition.[15]


In spite of all the difficulties, Winthrop and his men promptly set out upon a reconnaissance of every major bog between Marshfield in Plymouth Colony and Cape Elizabeth in the present state of Maine (see fig. 7, “Report of John Winthrop, Jr., on Possible Sites for Ironworks”).[16] Winthrop suspected from the beginning that his ultimate choice would fall upon a tract of swamp and brook close beneath the Blue Hills and within the limits of Braintree some ten miles south of Boston, but he nevertheless took care to investigate every prospector’s rumor over the whole extent of coast, digging into marshes, picking over glacial hillocks, and critically assessing their respective merits.  He managed to complete the survey before winter, and Braintree was indeed his selection.[17]


It is not clear that the Undertakers expressed their concurrence with his selection.  Nevertheless, Winthrop proceeded to erect a blast furnace on Furnace Brook during 1644 at a site which is today on Crescent Street, West Quincy.  In conjunction with three local investors referred to as “Assistants in the Iron worke,” he purchased land from Edward Hutchinson[18] (see fig. 8, “Certificate of John Winthrop, Jr.”).[19] On this land his imported craftsmen built a furnace which made iron, and so must qualify as the first successful blast furnace set up within the present limits of the United States.[20] It was not to take long, however, to discover that the selected location was poor.  The bog iron ore did not meet expectations and sufficient water could not be stored in a pond created by damming Furnace Brook to adequately power the furnace water wheel.[21]


Winthrop and his craftsmen accomplished a major feat in short order.  To supplement the five tons of imported stone arranged for by Dr. Child, vastly greater quantities of the native granite of which the furnace mass was built had to be hauled, cut and laid.  Another major job was getting in and working up the timber for the charging bridge, the bellows, their frames and the water wheel which was to drive them.  A dam had to be built on Furnace Brook.  Winthrop and his men must have been busy indeed as they pushed construction, felled timber, made charcoal and gathered in the bog iron.[22]


William Osborne, Winthrop’s clerk of the ironworks at Braintree, was not a man of pronounced literacy.[23] Nevertheless, we can conclude from his accounts dated 7 Dec. 1644 (see fig. 9, “William Osborne to John Winthrop, Jr.”),[24] that by that date only a single furnace was ready.  Local investments were meager, with a deficit of about £30.  Messrs. Tinge, Huise and Sedgwick were the three “Assistants” of the basic land purchase at Braintree.[25] Also note that at this date we still do not know the names of any of the ironworkers themselves.


By May, 1645, operations at the furnace were underway.  However, the divergence of viewpoint between the absentee English investors and the local interests of the Massachusetts government had reached the boiling point.  Initially, Winthrop had petitioned the General Court only for the elementary needs of the company: the right to search for and to dispose of ores, to make certain necessary uses of private property with suitable recompense to the owners, freedom from taxation, ownership of needed wastelands, and the “preveleges of a plantacion” at the appropriate stage in the development of the works (see fig. 10, “Petition of John Winthrop, Jr., to the Massachusetts General Court”).[26] These requests caused no trouble and Massachusetts was prepared to grant them.  Before doing so, however, the Court made it clear that it favored the works insofar as it served the vital needs of the settlers for an independent supply of iron products.  The unclaimed wasteland that the company selected was not to be used merely for the production of crude iron to be exported and refined overseas.  The magistrates insisted that within ten years the Undertakers set up on their sites “an iron furnace forge in each of the places, and not a bloomery onely.”[27] On 13 Nov. 1644 the Undertakers presented the Court seven more propositions. In reply the Court, in addition to its former grants, allowed them three years “for the perfecting of their worke, and furnishing of the country with all sorts of barr iron.”  They gave any of the inhabitants liberty to share in the work, by the “bringing in within one year, no less than £100 a person, with allowance for the adventurers, etc., for £1,000 already disbursed;” if they would complete the finery and forge, as well as the furnace, which “is already set up.” They gave them liberty, in all waste places, “to make use of all yron ston, or yron oare,” to cut wood, and to make ponds and highways.  They likewise granted them immunities, civil and religious, equal with any in the jurisdiction; and recommended them to provide religious instruction for the families of their workmen, who were to be free from all watching against Indians, and from all trainings.[28]


Unquestionably the company was serving its purpose in providing a local supply of ironware.  But if the General court was satisfied, the English investors were not.  For them the company was providing only endless trouble and expense.  Losses, not profits, were rising with production and the Undertakers, mystified and troubled, searched for the root of the difficulty as they dunned the stockholders for larger advances to maintain and expand the works. Part of the trouble, they undoubtedly reasoned, was the result of sheer bumbling in handling company affairs.[29] Winthrop, on his part, was apparently not too well pleased with his new business venture.  He must have felt some awkwardness in the squeeze position in which the Undertaker’s demands for more and more favors and privileges had pushed a man who happened to be both their agent and the son of the Governor of Massachusetts, committed to the Colony’s general religious and social principles.  Besides, he was experiencing the tugs of alternative fields of interest.[30] Accordingly he commissioned Emmanuel Downing, his lawyer uncle, to report to the Company that he wanted to be replaced, either by Downing or by another suitable man.


When Downing reached London with the news early in 1645, he learned that the Undertakers had been doing some pondering of their own and had independently reached the conclusion that Winthrop was not the man for the job.  They announced that they had resolved to send over Richard Leader as their agent.  Of him Downing reported to his nephew, “You know the man.  He lived in Ireland, he is a perfect Accountant, hath skill in mynes, and tryall of mettals. . . .” Then, after summarizing the terms on which Leader was to be hired, Downing gave Winthrop the closest thing we have to an explanation for the supplanting by a new agent of the original promoter of the ironworks: [31]


“when I perceiued they were resolved vpon him; and that yt would be noe advantadge to you for me to haue experessed by dislike of theire way herein, but haue putt more Jeolosies into their heads of you; and when they asked me what I thought thereof, I answeared that you had travayled from East to West from North to South sparing noe Costs or paynes for the discouerie of mynes and fitt places for the erecting of Ironworks; and how you obteyned 3000 acres of Boston, 1500 of Dorchester, wherein you haue deserved well from them, and that there wilbe great neede of your helpe though they replyed that they resolved to satisfie you for the tyme past, and to desire your assistance for tyme to come. Then I told them I was well assured, mr. Leder should be a welcome man vnto you, for at my coming thence you expressed your disire to me that my selfe or some other would vndertake the buisines; then mr. Leder told them that he would not medle with any vndertaking of theire buisines without your free consent and Contentment for soe in private he had promised me to expresse himselfe before them all, which he performed verie honestly. soe in the end wee concluded of a letter to be sent vnto you vnder all our hands in way of thankfulness and engagement to give you satisfaction;”[32]


Richard Leader’s qualifications as a “perfect Accountant” doubtless derived from a background of experience as a small merchant working mainly in the Irish trade.  Where Leader obtained the “skill in mynes and tryall of metals” referred to in Downing’s letter to Winthrop is a mystery.  He may have been employed in one of various ventures in which English capitalists endeavored to develop Ireland’s mineral resources during the 1630s and 1640s.  It is conceivable, too, that in his youth he had had contact with ironmaking in Sussex.  Somewhere Leader had become something of a scientist.  This was probably the initial basis of his friendship with Winthrop and Dr. Child.  There was, however, quite a gulf between the work of a scientist and that of a practical metallurgical engineer.  The Undertakers may have thought that they were getting an experienced metals man but in some respects they were getting another Winthrop.  Basically, Winthrop and Leader were simultaneously scientists and entrepreneurs.  It is clear, however, that Leader’s position with the company of Undertakers was different from Winthrop’s.  the latter had been the promoter of the whole venture, had been well connected in the old country and in the Colony, had been part owner as well as agent, quite on a par with the English investors.  Leader, by contrast, was a salaried manager, a hired employee subject to the Undertakers’ orders.  They had agreed to pay him £100 per year, to pay for his transportation and that of his wife, two children, and three servants, to build him a house and allow him ground for the use of his horse and a few cows.  In return, Leader was to take charge of the Company’s affairs for seven years.[33] In midsummer 1645 Winthrop was instructed to turn over to Leader the affairs of the ironworks (see fig. 11, “The Promoters of the Ironworks to John Winthrop, Jr.”).[34]


One of Leader’s first tasks was to agree upon final terms for the charter.  In May, 1645, the Undertakers had pled for further privileges, including removal of the clause in the charter which prohibited exports of iron until the needs of the inhabitants were satisfied. Since there was almost no currency in the colony, local purchases could only be made in agricultural produce or cattle.  What were the Undertakers supposed to do with such commodities?  Surely, the adventurers argued, they deserved the right to export as they chose and to demand cash for the iron they sold locally. To these arguments the Court replied by acknowledging the public service the company was performing, especially in regard to the cheapness of the iron.  But no matter how cheap it was, the settlers could not be asked to buy only for cash: “as wee vse to say, if a man live where an oxe is worth but 12d, yet it is nevr the cheaper to him who cannot gett 12d to buy one, so if your iron may not be had here without ready money, what advantage will yt be to vs, if wee have to money to purchase it?” Thus the Undertakers soon came to realize how little their prior losses could in fairness be attributed to Winthrop’s agency.[35]


Apropos the currency shortage situation in the Colony, fig. 12, “John Clark to John Winthrop, Jr.”[36] is an example of how a merchant was willing to accept payment of an account in beef.  Note also that Winthrop used wampum and butter as exchange media.


What Leader saw when he arrived at Braintree was the furnace, finished, stocked, and even perhaps going – but badly situated.  With it went a small group of workers, probably quartered in the homes of neighboring farmers, the vast land grants still largely wilderness, and little else.  Since even a properly situated furnace would have been a poor thing minus its complementary forge facilities, the first job ws to build the forge.  This Leader did at a site on the Monatiquot River within the limits of Braintree, then and now.  The forge was situated some two miles from the furnace, and the intervening terrain seems not too well suited for the carting of sows[37] from the furnace.  Nevertheless, the location of a forge was mainly determined by the availability of water power and that the Monatiquot could supply.  Ideally, of course, the close proximity of furnace and forge would have been strongly desirable.  Leader, however, was not wholly free to choose.  He had inherited an already standing furnace.  If it had run short of water, to build a forge on Furnace Brook would have been insane.  To pick up altogether and move to a wholly new location was out of the question.


We know next to nothing of construction activities: it is not even clear when Braintree Forge was completed and put into service.  Leader had to drain the river, construct three waterwheels, set up a finery and a chafery[38] and their bellows, and, last but not least, erect a heavy power-driven hammer set in   a massive frame.  In all likelihood, however, the forge unit was ready for business in the spring of 1646. While we have no production data on the Braintree Forge and no index as to the quality of its product during the whole of Leader’s tenure, we must assume that it operated successfully as long as the furnace was providing its supply of crude iron.[39]


Urged on by shortcomings of the furnace at Braintree, Leader sought out a likelier spot for ironworking even as he rushed completion of the Braintree forge.  A furnace without a forge was of little value; a forge without a dependable supply of crude iron to be worked up into the bar iron which was the ironwork’s chief sales item was at best no more than a precarious industrial unit.  Clearly, it behooved Leader to extricate himself and the Undertakers from the awkward position he had seemingly inherited from Winthrop.


Ten miles north of Boston, on the banks of the Saugus River, in that section of old Lynn which is now Saugus, Leader found a spot which had been overlooked in Winthrop’s survey but which clearly had distinct advantages.  In the general vicinity were low-lying meadows and swamps containing bog iron ore of good quality.  The stream would provide adequate waterpower and a natural elevation would facilitate charging the furnace.  At high tide the Saugus River was navigable right up to the proposed site.  Handy as the place was to the growing towns of Salem, Lynn, Charlestown and Boston, it was not far from the common lands of Lynn, much of them covered with stands of virgin timber promising an almost inexhaustible store of wood for charcoal and for construction.


Leader set to work to buy this land from Thomas Dexter and his numerous creditors.  In January, 1646 he bought for £40 “All that parcel of land neere adjacent to the Grantor’s house wch shall necessarily be overflowed by reason of a pond of water there intended to be stopped vnto the height agreed on betwixt them, and also convenient land & sufficient for a water course intended to be erected together wth the land lyeing betweene the ould water course and the new one.  As also fyve Acres & halfe in the Cornfield next the Grantors house, & twoe convenient Cart wayes one on the one side of the bargained premises & another on the other side thereof….” Eventually he secured six-hundred-odd acres which formed the major part of the land which was to become Hammersmith.[40]


When building operations began is not clear but, presumably, Leader’s men went to work as soon as the 5 ½ acres of cornfield and the land needed for the watercourse construction was in the Company’s possession.  Prof. Hartley found little reason to doubt that Hammersmith dates from 1646 but that work of building the integrated ironworks ran over into the following year.  Certainly by 1650 Hammersmith consisted of a blast furnace, two fineries, a chafery, a big machine hammer, a slitting mill and a smith’s forge.  Its waterpower system was quite sophisticated.  Water, stored in a large pond created by throwing a heavy earth and stone dam across Saugus River, ran through a 1,600-foot canal to a central reservoir, which in turn was tapped through wooden flumes that ran to the furnace, forge and slitting mill to provide the power for no less than seven water wheels.[41]


As with Braintree, early records of the Hammersmith ironworking operation are meager.  The Lynn local records are lost.  The first mention of Hammersmith workers in the Essex Court records is in Dec. 1647.  It is not until 1650 that we find extensive documentation.[42]

[1] Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, 3 vols., 1929, vol. I, 129-130.


[2] “Winthrop Papers,” vol.  IV, 371-2.


[3] Ibid., 379-80.


[4] A bloomery man was a forgeman who produced iron blooms (including sponge iron) from which bar iron was drawn (hammered), per Kenneth T. Howell & Einar W. Carlson, Men of Iron, Forbes and Adam, 1980, 153.


[5] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 415-6.


[6] E. N. Hartley, Ironworks on Saugus, 1957, 57.


[7] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 395.


[8] Hartley, op. cit., 103.


[9] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 377.


[10] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 375.


[11] Thomas Franklin Waters, A sketch of the Life of John Winthrop the Younger, 1899, 32-33.


[12] Hartley, op. cit., 57.


[13] Thomas Franklin Waters, A Sketch of the Life of John Winthrop the Younger, 1899, 32-33.


[14] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 424-425.


[15] Hartley, op. cit., 58.


[16] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 425-426.


[17] Robert C. Black, The Younger John Winthrop, 1966, 120.


[18] Son of the famous Anne Hutchinson.


[19] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 359.


[20] Hartley, op. cit., 101-102.


[21] This wheel drove by cams the huge bellows to supply the forced air without which the high temperatures required in the smelting would have been impossible.


[22] Hartley, op. cit., 103.


[23] Black, op. cit., 123.


[24] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 498-499.


[25] Hartley, op. cit., 104.


[26] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. IV, 422-423.


[27] Bernard Bailyn, New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, 1955, 63.


[28] Alonzo Lewis and James R. Newhall, History of Lynn, vol. I, 212.


[29] Bailyn, op. cit., 65.


[30] Hartley, op. cit., 105.


[31] Hartley, op. cit., 107.


[32] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. V, 7.


[33] Hartley, op. cit., 117-120.


[34] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. V, 27.


[35] Bailyn, op. cit., 64.


[36] “Winthrop Papers,” vol. V, 372-373.


[37] A sow is an ingot of cast iron.  When cast in smaller molds, it is called a “pig.”  Hence, pig iron.


[38] In the Walloon indirect process of ironmaking a finery hearth was used to melt down the pigs, decarburize the iron by oxidation, and provide the heat for bringing the wrought iron to a semi-finished stage.  In the chafery hearth the malleable iron got reheated for further welding and drawing out into finished bars.


[39] Hartley, op. cit., 122.


[40] It was called Hammersmith because some of the principal workmen came from a place of that name in England, per E. P., Robinson, Sketches of Saugus, Historical Collection of Essex Inst., vol. XVIII (1881), 241-254.


[41] Hartley, op. cit., 123-126.


[42] “Lynn Iron Works, 1650-1685,” mss. 301, Baker Library, Harvard University.