Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cow Manure and Cannon

Molly Pitchur manning a Revolutionary War cannon during a battle

When the troubles between the British and the Colonists broke into open warfare on April 19, 1775 one of the first acts of the then Governor of Connecticut, Jonathon Trumbull was ti send a dispatch rider to Salisbury in the northwest corner of Connecticut seizing the iron furnace at Salisbury under the name of the Committee of Public Safety.  The furnace by that time belonged to Richard Smith an English entrepreneur who was a suspected Tory.  Smith at the time was in England on a business trip where the outbreak of war left him stranded until the war was over in 1783.  Included in the dispatches sent to Salisbury was another to Squire Samuel Forbes of East Canaan urging him to come out of retirement to operate the furnace for the Colonials.

Samuel Forbes at the time was the only man in the colonies capable of casting canon without bursting. When George Washington took command of the colonial forces besieging Boston the number of cannon possessed by the colonials could be counted on one hand. Their opponents, the British Army was well supplied with all kinds of artillery that came from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. In a daring raid led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold they succeeded in capturing 59 cannon weighing sixty tons.  They were dragged all the way from Ft. Ticonderoga 300 miles to Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston. The threat presented by these cannon drove the British out of Boston getting the colonials their first taste of victory. Most of these cannon were lost later during the Battle of Long Island, but by then George Washington was being supplied by cannon cast by Squire Forbes at Salisbury.

When the war broke out the furnace at Salisbury had passed into the hands of Richard Smith from which its supplied pig iron to Smith's finery and Robertsville Connecticut that produced wrought iron and crucible steel. The crucible steel was a real secret weapon in the hands of the colonials because they were able to make cutters for the boring mill that produced the cannon cast in Salisbury. The finery in Robertsville marked the beginning of the United States steel industry.

From the iron furnace at Salisbury Squire Forbes was able to cast 150 tons of cannon during the first six months of the Revolutionary war. Throughout the war to Salisbury canon was able to produce over 850 cannon ranging from 4 to 34 pounders. It was these cannon that gave Washington's army's enough edge so they were able to meet the British on equal terms, and combined with the artillery supplied by the French were able to find the defeat the British at Yorktown Virginia.

In the process of casting these cannon for sent to make use of several innovations. For instance it was necessary to bore the cannon in a vertical position by suspending them from a framework over the boring mill, and lowering them down out of the cutter had until the cannon was bored to its finished depth.

The process actually began by making a wooden pattern of the cannon that was covered with oil and coated with a mixture made from clay, cow manure, straw and strips of old cloth. This was removed from the pattern that was made in pieces so it could be taken apart like a puzzle to release the mold. The mold was alone to thoroughly dry before it was used.

After the mold was completely dry it was buried in the sand of the casting floor clear up to the muzzle. The furnace was breached allowing the cast iron to flow out through a series of channels into the molds. It was the practice of Squire Forbes to cast several cannon in one pour.

The cannon were then suspended over the boring mill sold their bores could be made. After that they were test fired in an area of Lakeville that is even today known as the ordinance grounds where it is still possible to find an occasional cannonball leftover from the Revolutionary war.

When the cannon were finished and mounted they were shipped off to war usually by way of Poughkeepsie New York. These cannon found many uses aside from accompanying the Army; they were also used in coastal defense and onboard some of the ships used by the colonials during the war.

It was the casting of these cannon returned for Connecticut the name, “Arsenal of Democracy.” It is passing strange that there are hardly any historical monuments to this period of American history; so they Salisbury Connecticut is known as a home for New Yorkers. In its day however, Northwestern Connecticut and Salisbury were well on their way to becoming the iron and steel producing center of the United States. For almost 2 centuries they were to play this role until the last furnace went out of blow in 1923.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How the Ironmaster, Samuel Forbes Ran His Marriage

It seems that in every young man's life eventually comes the thoughts of romance and marriage, so be it with Samuel Forbes who later in his life became known as Squire Forbes the Ironmaster that teamed up with Ethan Allen and John Hazeltine to build the second blast furnace in Connecticut in the town of Salisbury. Although he had already worked for some time in his father's bloomery forge Sam finally reached the point in life where he thought he should be married. The object of his affections was a one Lucy Pierce the daughter of Amos Pierce and a great strapping lass was she.

When he broached the subject of marriage to her father he wouldn't hear anything of it considering Samuel to be a wastrel, so not being one to take no for an answer they eloped to Poughkeepsie New York writing on a single horse. Can't you just imagine the headlines on the “Canaan Post-Dispatch” the following morning, “Heiress Elopes with Ne’r do Well!” Meanwhile the poor horse was all tuckered out from carrying them all away from Canaan to Poughkeepsie a distance around 40 miles that included climbing some rather respectable mountains.

Once the happy couple returned from their wedding and told her father and Amos they were married no doubt Amos Pierce took his hat off, threw it on the ground and stomped on it he was so mad as he bit his cigar in two. It didn't do any good however because the deed had already been done.

Lucy Forbes was supposed to be as much of a Titan as her husband Samuel, so you could just about imagine this coy couple writing off to Poughkeepsie on the same long-suffering horse. When they got back from Poughkeepsie you could just about imagine the horror saying, “Thank goodness that's over!”

Now all I had to be done was designed who was going to rule the roost in the new Forbes house. Being a man of action Samuel Forbes took a long rope and through one end of the rope over the roof of his barn, and told his new bride Lucy that whoever could pull the other over the roof of the barn to the other side would be the ruler of the Forbes household.

He actually said, “And now my sweet, do you draw down on your end and I will draw down on the other end, whichever draws the other over the roof is to rule this roost!”

With that, they each took a hold of the rope on opposite sides of the barn and started pulling. After several hours of this labor of love neither of them could pull the other over the roof of the barn. In the end they both gave up and decided that was how Forbes household was to be run.

Samuel Lucy Adams only had one child a girl named Abigail, but they went on to found an iron dynasty in northwestern Connecticut that lasted for over 150 years with some of their descendents still living at the old homestead in East Canaan, Connecticut.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ethan Allen and his Partners sell the Salisbury Iron Furnace

One thing that can be said about Ethan Allen is that he never did anything in half way measures. A good example of this is how his marriage went, his wife was five years older then he was, and having a sharp tongue she was always on Ethan’s case. Ethan like many other men took to drowning his sorrows in a brown bottle, so much so his friends were beside themselves with his drinking. Like good friends they decided to do something about Ethan’s nocturnal habits like drinking all night.

They decided the best way to cure Ethan was by scaring the Devil out of him by disguising themselves as ghosts and come leaping out of the bushes to scare Ethan. With that decision they dressed themselves up in ghost suits with their wives bedsheets.

Now can’t you just imagine some of the town fathers dressed up in percales! Well, at least you couldn’t accuse them of belonging to the Klu Klux Klan that came along more then 100 years later. Besides that they had a different agenda, namely to make Ethan stop drinking so much, so one dark night in the wee hours in the morning they all got on their percales, and laid in wait for Ethan on the road leading from Salisbury to Lakeville. This road is now Rt. 44, but in those days it was little more then dirt track.

About half way between Salisbury and Lakeville that was known in those days as Furnace Village the road passed through a low, swampy area that was perfect for the “ghosts” to accost Ethan. He had spent the night at the local inn, and had fallen asleep in his saddle while his horse took him home.

As he rode sound asleep in the saddle his friends leaped from the fog that had settled over the swamp a whooping and hollering, and making ghostly noises they succeeded in waking Ethan. He looked out at these apparitions with bleary eyes and declared, “If you are angels of the Lord you are welcome to my soul, but if you are angels of the Devil go tell your master I am married to his sister!”

What happened when he sold his share of the Iron Furnace made the official notices of the Town of Salisbury where the records still are there in the town hall for all to see. The buyers of the furnace were two brothers from Hartford named Caldwell. After all the papers were signed and notarized one of the Caldwell brothers went off drinking with Ethan that lasted all afternoon, and into the evening. Finally they got into a fistfight in the middle of Salisbury. Thereupon Ethan Allen took off all his clothes, and made a good job of the battle with the Caldwell Brother.

That is how Ethan Allen sold the furnace; Squire Forbes retired to East Canaan. Ethan and his family removed to Westfield, Massachusetts where he stayed for a few months before going to New Connecticut as Vermont was known in those days.

In turn the Caldwell Brothers sold the furnace to Richard Smith an English merchant who also owned the “finery” for making steel that was located in the Robertsville section of Colebrook. The steel made there was the beginning of the steel industry in the future United States. The same steel was the Colonists secret weapon in the coming Revolutionary War providing the steel cutters used to bore out the more then 850 cannon cast by the furnace Ethan Allen built. Ethan Allen is rightly one of the great hero’s of the Revolutionary War for which he shall always be remembered, but even without Ft. Ticonderoga Allen would be remembered as a pioneer of American Industry.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ethan Allen Iron Maker and Patriot

One of the early figures that had a prominant plaqce in the iron industry in Salisbury was Ethan Allen who became famous for lwading the Green Mountain Boys to take Fort Ticonderoga in the early days of the Revolutionary War on Lake Champlain. If Allen hadn't taken Fort Ticonderoga he would still be remembered as aa pioneer of American Industry for the blast furnace that he built in Lakeville at the outlet of Lake Wononskopomuc. At the time the furnace was erected Lakeville was known by the name Furnace Village after the iron furnace built by Allen and his partners.

Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on January 21, 1738 to Joseph and Mary Baker Allen. Two years later the Allen family moved to Cornwell where Joseph Allen became a prosperous farmer. In addition to Ethan who was their oldest child the Allen's had an additional seven children. Ethan was the oldest, and he used to call his younger brothers and sisters the "Seven little devils."

Ethan was slated to go on to Yale College in New Haven when his father died unexpectedly ending Ethan's chances of going to Yale. For the next few years he had to return to Cornwell to run the family farm for his mother until some of his younger brothers were able to take over the job of operating the farm. When that happened he was free to undertake other projects. The first thing he did was establish a forge in the Lime Rock District of Salisbury. Later in 1763 with Samuel Forbes of East Canaan and John Hazeltine of Hartford he built a blast furnace in what is now Lakeville. Allen owned one-eighth share of the furnace with John Hazeltine being the largest stockholder and principle financier.

Ethan Allen stood according to reports six feet four inches tall, and like many big men he often entertained big thoughts or took place in big projects the iron furnace in Lakeville was only the first of them. The furnace built by Allen was the first to be built in Connecticut for more then eighty years after the one built by Connecticut's forst governor at the outlet of Lake Saltonstall in West Haven went out of blow for lack of ore. The furnce produced pig iron that was converted into wrought iron by blacksmiths as well as other cast iron products used on the farm or in the kitchen. One of these were large cauldrons used to boil wood ashes for extracting potash used to make soap.

The idea for a blast furnace was actually a product of Samuel Forbes based on the tremendous amount of rich ore available, the potential demand for iron products in the colonies, and the facts that there were several furnaces in blow in eastern Massachusetts that had been producing iron for the past 115 years from inferior ore, and no ready supply of limestone for flux. The iron furnaces at Saugus, Massachusetts and others used as flux an igenous rock that was rich in calcium that acted as flux, but not very well.

Forbes was already producing many products from his forge in East Canaan were mill irons including cranks, spindles, gears and screws. The list went on to the manufacture of ship's anchors, bellows pipes, hinges, logging chains, gun barrels, nail rods and nails. Beside that with his brother he had interests in Ore Hill in Salisbury. This was an iron mine in its almost 200 yar history produced more then 7,000,000 tons of iron ore.

It was in 1761 that Forbes met Ethan Allen a young giant from Cornwell that the idea for a blast furnace started to gell. At the time Allen was already a successful real estate speculator, an excellent orator with the ability to raise money. The member was John Hazeltine a prosperous merchant from Uxbridge, Massachusetts that also owned an iron forge. Hazeltine sent his son, Paul to look over the Salisbury area as a possible place to invest his father's money, and build a blast furnace.

By January 1762 John Hazeltine himself came to Salisbury where he met with Allen and the Forbses the upshot was an agreement to build the furnace. Allen and the Forbses built the furnace after obtaining the necessary water rights and a location for the new furnace. The ownership of the furnace was to Allen one eighth, to the Forbses one eighth and one half of an eighth anf to Hazeltine four eights. This agreement was dated January 18, 1762 and justice of the peace John Whitney signed the document attesting that the parties to the agreement had appeared before him.
Work continued apace through the spring and summer with Allen and the Forbes brothers finally putting the first blast furnace in northeastern Connecticut into blow.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Iron refining begins on the Blackberry River in East Canaan, Connecticut

Although the Forbes family was the moving force in creating an iron industry along the Blackberry River in East Canaan and Norfolk they weren’t the ones who began refining iron along the Blackberry River. The credit for that was Richard Seymour who built a bloomery on the south bank of the Blackberry in East Canaan during 1736. Seymour’s operation attracted the attention of John Forbes, a blacksmith, who came from Simsbury, Connecticut to work at Seymour’s Forge. In turn he attracted his son Samuel Forbes who moved from Simsbury to first live in Sheffield, Massachusetts to join his father at Seymour’s forge in 1743. Samuel Forbes later became famous as an early industrialist, and was the iron master that cast the cannon during the Revolution for George Washington.

Although they were making iron from iron ore in East Canaan over two and a half centuries ago Mother Nature beat them to the punch by several hundred million years by producing native iron in the area. This is one of the few places where native iron exists on the face of the earth. The only other locality in the western hemisphere where it is found is in Greenland.

The Forbes family originally came from Taunton, Massachusetts an early iron center in the eastern part of the state where iron had been produced from bog iron in the early part of the 1600s. John Forbes had worked there in his youth and following the dictum, Go West young man, he did eventually finding himself in East Canaan. In 1746 he built his own forge alongside the Blackberry and by 1751 had bought half interest in Seymour’s forge.

By 1759, his son Samuel built his own forge on the Blackberry the second one that was located in East Canaan. By 1760 Samuel and his brother Elisha owned a one-eighth interest in the Iron Mine at Ore Hill in Salisbury, Connecticut. That marked the beginning of Salisbury Iron gaining a worldwide reputation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Timeline for the Production of Iron in the Salisbury Area

This is a timeline produced by the University of Connecticut in conjunction with the “Iron Works” project.

1728 Surveyors from the Hartford Colony note evidence of iron in Salisbury and Sharon.
1731 Discovery of a large deposit of iron ore at Old Hill (later Ore Hill) in Salisbury by John Pell and Ezekiel Ashley.
1735 Thomas Lamb begins smelting iron at his forge in Lime Rock.
1740 Joseph Skinner begins operation of a forge alondg the stream running south from Mudge Pond in Sharon.
1744 Ebenezzer Barnum maks the first iron in Kent at a forge on the stream flowing south from North Spectacle Lake.
1770 Wilson's Forge begins operation in the Macedonia section of Kent.
1779 Hunt's Forge in Canaan begins operation.
1780 Sedgewick's Forge in Cornwall Hollow begins operation.
1810 The Mt. Riga Furnace begins iron production at the outlet of South Pond, under the leadrship of ironmaster Joseph Pettee.
1812 Production begins at Leman Bradley's furnace on the west bank of the Housatonic River below Great Falls (then Canaan Falls).
1825 The Sharon Valley Furnace is put into blast by Leman Bradley on the est bank of Webutuck Creek.
1826 The Kent Furnace is put into blast on the east bank of Webutuk Creek.
1830 John Milton Holley and John Churchill Coffing construct a blast furnace on the Salmon Kill in Lime Rock near the site of Lamb's Forge.
1832 - The Ames Iron Worksbegins production upstream of Canaan Falls.
- The Cornwall Iron Company begins production at blast furnace on Mill Brook, east of West Cornwall village.
1833 The Cornwall Bridge Iron Company furnace begins production on Furnace Brook.
1839 The first hot blast system in the Salisbury District is installed in the Lenox, MA Furnace.
1844 Dogtown Furnace in Huntsville, Falls Village, is put into blast by the Lyman Hunt Iron Company.
1845 Weed's Furnace is put into blast in Sharon.
1847 - Lee Canfield and Samuel Robbins purchase the Holley/Coffing furnace in Lime Rock (Lime Rock #1) from heirs of John Milton Holley.
- Scoville and Church's Furnace (later the Buena Vista Furnace) is put into blast on the Hollenbeck River in the Lower City section of Falls Village.
1856 - Canfield and Robbins' furnace (Lime Rock #1) in the Upper Hollow section of Lime Rock, goes out of blast.
- Mt. Riga Furnace closes.
1863 Sharon Valley Furnace (then the Landon Furnace) is rebuilt.
1892 Kent Furnace closes after 67 years of production.
1897 Cornwall Bridge Furnace closes after 64 years of production.
1923 - East Canaan Furnace #3 closes after 51 year.
- The Richmond Furnace closes after 94 years in blast.
Forbes & Adams
1739 Richard Seymour constructs bloomery forge on South bank of Blackberry River in East Canaan. John Forbes, a blacksmith, comes from Simsbury and works with Semour at the forge.
1943 Samuel Forbes of Simsbury, son of John Forbes, moves to Sheffield, MA and works at the Seymour Forge in East Canaan.
1746 John Forbes constructs a blacksmith shop on the Blackberry River.
1751 John Forbes purchases a one-half interest in the East Canaan forge.
1759 Samuel Forbes builds a second bloomery forge on the Blackberry River.
1760 Samuel Forbes and brother Elisha hold a one-eighth interest in the Ore Hill mine. At this time, the Forbeses own two East Canaan forges and a foundry.
1761 Samuel and Elisha Forbes acquire the rights to the Chatfield ore bed in Salisbury.
1762 Samuel and Elisha Forbes, Col.John Hazeltine,and Ethan Allen begin operation of northwestern Connecticut's first blast furnace near the exit of Lake Wonoscopomuc in the Lakeville section of Salisbury. Samuel Forbes is the first ironmaster.
1777 Samuel Forbes experiments with rolling and slitting at East Canaan. Forbes shortly returns to the Salisbury Furnace as ironmaster to produce cannon for the American REvolution.
1780 John Adam, Jr. moves to Canaan. John marries Abigail Forbes, the only child of Samuel and Lucy Pierce Forbes. Soon after, the partnership of Forbes and Adams is formd.
1785 Forbes and Adam begin the operation of a rolling ans slitting ill.
1794 Forbes and Adam introduce a finery process and make gun iron for the Springfield Armory.
1827 Samuel Forbes dies at age 98.
1832 Samuel Forbes Adam, grandson of Samuel Forbes, builds the first blast furnace in East Canaan (Forbes Furnace/East Canaan #1).
1847 John Adam Beckley, great-grandson of Samuel Forbes, builds the second furnace (Beckley Furnace; Furnace #2) in East Canaan.
1858 Beckley Furnace is sold to Barnum & Richardson.
1883 East Canaan Furnace #1 closes.
Barnum & Richardson
1820 Milo Barnum moves to Lime Rock and opens a store. Within a few years he is in the iron business with his son-in-law, Leonard Richardson.
1840 Milo Barnum's son, William Henry Barnum, joins the partnership of Barnum and Richardson.
1858 Beckley Furnace is acquired.
1865 The Lime Rock Furnace (Lime Rock #2) is put into blast in lower Furnace Hollow by the Lime Rock Iron Company. Later furnace is purchased by the Barnum & Richardson Company.
1872 East Canaan Furnace #3 ("Furnace in a Field") is built by the Barnum & Richardson Company.
1880 Beckley Furnace is updated.
1896 Fire almost completely destroys the structures of the Beckley Furnace. The furnace is rebuilt with the stack height increased to forty feet.
1898 Company operates only three of their eight blast furnaces.
1916 Lime Rock Furnace is closed.
1918 Construction of a new furnace (Furnace #4) begins but is abandoned the following year.
1918-1919 Beckley Furnace closes after 72 years of operation.
1925 Company goes into receivership.
Source: adapted from Kirby, E. (1998). Echoes of Iron. Sharon, CT: Sharon Historical Society.

Research funded in part by the Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, the Connecticut Humanities Council , Locally Grown History and the University of Connecticut. Supporters of Locally Grown History.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thomas Lamb, and the Beginning of the Iron Industry

The first person to discover its importance after the discovery of iron ore in 1731 at Ore Hill, that was named Old Hill at the time was Thomas Lamb, a clever entrepreneur from Springfield, Massachusetts. He established the first iron forge in the Lime Rock district of Salisbury. This was the first bloomery forge for producing wrought-iron in the town of Salisbury. Iron that is produced in this fashion ore is heated to a white heat by use of charcoal causing the iron to separate from its ores. It has to be beaten with a heavy hammer to drive the particles of slag out of the iron to produce wrought iron.

Because the owners of land were nobles that were granted their lands by the king who never came out from England they did not know the true value of their land. Thomas Lamb was able to buy 5,000 acres of land, and the water rights for $137 on several of the rivers and streams flowing through Salisbury.

Lamb’s purchases were the basis of the iron industry in Salisbury. Among the streams he got water rights on was the Salmon Fell Kill that runs through Line Rock before it enters the Housatonic River. It was on the Salmon Kill that he established his forge, because it was 4.4 miles from the location of the money to forge the iron ore was carried to the forge in saddlebags on horses. He erected his forge in 1734 after he been awarded the water rights on the Salmon Fell Kill.

He had several workers that were mining iron ore from a mind at a time was called “Lamb’s three acre grant.” This was eventually renamed Hendrik’s ore bed, and still later the Davis ore bed or Davis mine.

With the passing of time Thomas Lamb's forge employed several men working there too produce wrought iron. For the most part the output of this forge was making household utensils or other iron parts that were used on farms.

A few years later Thomas Lamb sold off all of his Salisbury holdings for $1000. He then Moved to North Carolina where he became a sea captain, and never had any further dealings with the Salisbury area.

The development of the district would have to wait for other people like Squire Samuel Forbes and Ethan Allen who would become famous later for the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain during the Revolutionary war.