Tuesday, July 15, 2014

James Leonard and the Puritan Ironworks

About James Leonard

James Leonard was born in 1620 in Pontypool, Monmouthshire, Wales. He died in 1691 in Plymouth and was buried in 1691 in Raynham, Bristol, Massachusetts. James came with his brother Henry from Pontypool, Monmouthshire to Providence in 1645. He moved to Taunton 1652. He built his house about 1670, although the weather vane on it was dated 1700, and when the house was torn down before 1850 it was reputedly the oldest in New England. He was a friend of King Philip but his house was used as a garrison during King Philip's War, in about 1676, and it is said that the head of the Indian leader was kept in the cellar of the house for at time. His second wife, Margaret, bore him no children and died c. 1701. His estate was settled Nov. 5, 1691. (The preceding is from Ancestry.com)

The following text is an excerpt from the book by Stephen Innes, Creating the Commonwealth. New York: Norton, 1995. pp. 263-268.

The Puritan Ironworks

The same pattern of reformation describes the fortunes of New England's premier ironworking family: the Leonards. During the seventeenth century, the Leonards were known for two things, ironworking and troublemaking. More than any other ironworking family, the Leonards illustrate the gulf between the culture of discipline and the culture of the hearth. The Leonard s may have been recruited from kinsman Richard Lennard's furnace in Brede, Sussex (in the Weald). Soon after their arrival at Hammersmith during the mid-1640s, the family-in fact an extended clan-established a reputation as the leading group of ironworkers in New England. "Where you find iron-works," ran a local saying, "there you will find a Leonard."

The constancy with which the Leonards stuck to ironworking over successive generations was extraordinary. For over seven generations-from the 1640s until the 1780s-the Leonards manned the furnace s and forges of New England's increasingly dispersed ironworks industry. From the Hammersmith works the Leonards spread out across Massachusetts, Plymouth, New Haven, and New Jersey to set up furnaces and forges, fineries and chaferies. The Leonards labored at, and in some cases built and owned, ironworks in Lynn, Topsfield, New Haven, Taunton, and Rynam during this period, leaving their stamp on units with such names as Hammersmith, Bromigum Forge, Two Mile River, Whittenton Forge, Chartley Forge, King's Furnace, and Brummagem Forge. Some of these enterprises were short-lived, but most lasted much longer-in some cases astonishingly so. The Whittenton Forge in Taunton, established in the late 1660s, remained in the possession of Leonards until 1807. Nearby Chartley Forge, founded in the 1690s by third-generation members of the family, continued in operation until the 1790s. In the early eighteenth century, the Two Mile unit in Rayman (Raynham) was already being described as the "Ancient Iron Works which be gatt most of the Ironworks of this Province." It would continue in operation until 1876.



Stephen Innes, Creating the Commonwealth. New York: Norton, 1995

Indeed, the Leonard-controlled Taunton ironworks exemplify the fate of many later plants after Hammersmith. In the fall of 1652 Henry Leonard and his brother James, along with forge worker Ralph Russell, received an official invitation from the town of Taunton (then in Plymouth Colony) for the purpose of erecting a "bloomary work on the Two Mile River." While all three men received offers of land grants as inducements, only James Leonard actually took up residence in Taunton. He managed to set up a furnace there and a forge in nearby Rayman (Raynham), and eventually became the "sire of a mighty clan."

Taunton, in a policy similar to that adopted by other towns, went to some lengths to help James Leonard get started. Bog ore and timber were provided from the town's common lands. Two Mile River was dammed for the purpose of providing water power for the furnace... Fully operational by 1656, the Two Mile ironworks produced between 20 and 30 tons of iron annually, worth-depending on price levels-between £400 and £675.


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

Two Mile ironworks proved to be a financial success for the stockholders [note: one of them was Richard Williams] as well as the Leonards themselves. It returned a consistent (although modest) profit to the investors and provided Plymouth Colony with badly needed ironwares. Over fifty-seven years, from 1656 to 1713, the furnace returned dividends of approximately 12 percent per annum. During the next thirty years, this figure rose to 15 percent.... [T]he entire region benefited as well. In addition to providing agricultural tools and ship-building supplies, iron bars found use as a medium of exchange.

As the success of the Taunton ironworks reveals, the Leonards eventually achieved both prosperity and respectability in New England. Indeed, according to Hartley, the Leonards became the "very epitome of the American success story." James Leonard patriarch of the (more respectable) Taunton Leonards, established Whittenton Forge on Mill River during the 1660s and used profits from the ironworks to become a wealthy and influential landowner. His son Thomas, part-owner of the Three Mile ironworks, left an estate valued at £2,500 when he died in 1717. Thomas took up land speculation as well as ironworking, and on a large scale.

There can also be little doubt that this success [establishing British North America's cast - and wrought-iron industry] came at a considerable cost to social peace. Surely among the most unlikely migrants to the Bible commonwealth, the Leonards-particularly those on Henry Leonard's side of the family in Essex County-made it clear from the beginning that they were no Puritans. During the middle decades of the seventeenth century, the some half-dozen males among the Essex county Leonards were accused at various times of armed robbery, rape, arson, assault, battery, lewdness, profanity, and chronic drunkenness. The Leonard females, not be outdone, were cited for fist fighting, indecent exposure, singing bawdy songs, and that ubiquitous Leonard offense, contempt of authority.



Although sheer contrariness rather than the brutal misogyny of Richard Pray or Nicholas Pinion marked the Leonard's style, for over thirty years they were arguably the most troublesome family in Essex County. Earthy, high-spirited, and contumacious, the Essex Leonards showed their contempt for Puritan sensibilities at every turn: running naked footraces by the millpond, drunkenly accosting local women, singing ribald sons (often under the leadership of Mary Leonard, the family matriarch), and as one scandalized neighbor testified, using "very bad words, as Divell and Damn thee and many words which [the deponent had] been ashamed to heare, which wicked Expressions have been very Frequent with them." When reproached for "Talking so vilely," one Leonard male replied that "he would not care if he were in hell a fort-night, and he did not care if the devil plucked the soul out of him, and a pox take him, he did not care." In virtually every way possible, the Leonards made it clear that they "did not care."



Yet despite their many violations of both the law and the religious sensibilities of their neighbors, the Leonards were not harried out of the land. Indeed, quite the opposite. As Hartley declares: "The Leonards rose in the world. They took on offices in government, militia, and church. In many, indeed most cases, they acquired more and more property and became "first families' of the towns to which their works carried them." When in 1813 John Adams wished to illustrate to Thomas Jefferson that reverence for old families was as strong in Massachusetts as in Virginia, he declared: "our Winthrops, Winslows, Bradfords, Saltonstalls, Quincys, Chandlers, Leonards, Hutchinsons, Olivers, Sewells, etc are precisely in the Situation o f your Randolphs, Carters and Burwells, and Harrisons... [being preferred] to all others." Even the Essex Leonards eventually earned a measure of acceptance from their orthodox Puritan neighbors.

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