By Kathryn Hall | June 1, 2008
Fireback, Sussex Ironworks Collection, Sussex Archaelogical Society at Lewes.
“This 17th Century fireback represents a Sussex ironfounder and the implements of his trade. Inscription reads: ‘Richard Leonard, at Brede Fournis, 1636.’ ” from Kipling’s Sussex by Robert Thornton Hopkins. Photo provided courtesy of Brad Leonard. Note: no connection to the Taunton Leonards has been proven.
The following introduction to the Old Iron Works of Taunton, Massachusetts was written by Bristol County historian Maryan Nowak, who has kindly given his permission to reprint here. This introduction originally appeared on the site of The Taunton River. George Hall was an important player in the history of the Old Iron Works of Taunton. I will soon be posting old records documenting his role.
IRON MAKING IN COLONIAL TAUNTON
The beginnings of the iron industry came to the present Taunton area by the middle of the 17th century (1652) when Henry and James Leonard and Ralph Russell of Braintree were invited by the inhabitants “to set up a Bloomery Work on the Two Mile River”. It took some four years to accumulate sufficient capital, a dam to be built and heavy machinery to be imported for the iron works to become a reality. The records are not clear whether Henry Leonard and Ralph Russell were actually engaged in this works, for history finds them involved in iron workings in Dartmouth and Lynn during this period. However, the records are quite clear that James Leonard was a proprietor in the organization of the works in 1653-54. In 1656, the production of limited quantities of iron was finally begun.
In 1683, Captain Thomas Leonard, son of James, became the “clearke and manager” of the expanding works. It is through his ledgers that the history of Taunton iron making has been preserved from 1655 until his death in 1713.
James and Leonard, his sons, and their sons all engaged in iron manufacturing and became involved in the various works in and about the Taunton area. It appears that a “bloomerie” or forge was established at any location where good grade bog iron, a sizable river and an abundance of timber for charcoal was readily available. Some four works were operational in the Taunton area before 1700. It is to be remembered that early Taunton encompassed Raynham, Norton, Dighton and Berkley.
Iron became so important to the early settlers that not only shareholders and workers were paid in iron of various manufacture, but it served as a medium of exchange well into the 18th century. It is recorded that as late as 1751 Reverend John Wales of Raynham, received a third of his salary in bar iron.
As Taunton grew and iron works occupied main rivers and surrounding bogs, the search for suitable conditions expanded outward to where damnable streams with nearby bogs and timber stands began to be utilized.