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Mss:301 1650-1685 L989

Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England. Records of the iron works at Lynn, Mass., 1650-1685 (inclusive): A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

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Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Mss:301 1650-1685 L989
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Creator: Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England.
Title: Records of the iron works at Lynn, Mass.
Date(s): 1650-1685
Quantity: 3 linear feet (62 items)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The records of the Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England document the operation of the iron manufacturing works at Lynn, or Saugus, Massachusetts, 1650-1685.

Provenance:

Gift, circa 1927; purchase, 1943.

Conditions Governing Access:

This collection is stored onsite. Please contact histcollref@hbs.edu for more information regarding this collection.

Existence and Location of Copies:

The entire collection is available on microfilm (1 reel, 35mm.) from Historical Collections, Baker Library, Order no. 72-792.
A volume of typescript transcriptions of the sixty-two original documents, created by Richard Wormer in 1943, is available in the Historical Collections Reading Room, Baker Library.

Preferred Citation:

Cite as: Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England. Records of the iron works at Lynn, Mass., 1650-1685 (inclusive). Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

Historical Note:

The Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England was established in 1645 to develop an iron manufacturing operation in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The joint stock company was founded by John Winthrop, Jr., and several other colonial entrepreneurs, and their English investors, including John Becx, a leading English iron manufacturer. The enterprise began with a small iron works at Braintree, Massachusetts, by 1645. The company then established an iron works at Saugus, Massachusetts, which was then a part of the town of Lynn. The Company of Undertakers hired Richard Leader as its managing agent, and he began building the iron works on the Saugus River in 1646.
The company village, called Hammersmith, included the iron works and housing for the workers and their families. By 1653, the works employed thirty-five skilled workers, and many other part-time laborers who supported the operation in various ways. The workers included Scottish prisoners of war, who were bound to the company as indentured servants after the Scottish defeat at the battle of Dunbar in 1650. In 1653, thirty-seven Scottish men were listed as property of the iron works. The iron works produced pig iron, cast and hollow iron ware, and bar and rod iron.
The iron works reached the height of its success in the early 1650s. The relationship between the company's agents in Massachusetts and the investors in England became increasingly contentious, and sometimes litigious. John Gifford, who replaced Richard Leader as managing agent in 1650, frequently clashed with the company over management and auditing issues. By 1653, relations between Gifford and the investors were so bad that the company sued to remove the agent from his post. Gifford was arrested, and after his release, countersued for lost wages.
The litigation proved costly for the iron works, which languished as the legal battles continued. In 1658, the Company of Undertakers sold the works to its local creditors in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The business continued to decline during the 1660s, and the operation of the iron works at Saugus largely ceased by roughly 1670.

Scope and Content Note:

The records of the Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England consist of sixty-two documents, dating from 1650 to 1685. The records include correspondence and instructions from the Undertakers to their Massachusetts agents, 1650-1652, and the articles of agreement between John Gifford and the Undertakers from 1650. Also included are accounts for expenses incurred at the iron works for labor, equipment and supplies, circa 1651-1653. There are also inventories of equipment, facilities, and real estate at both the Saugus and Braintree works.
The bulk of the records document the legal dispute between the Undertakers and their agent John Gifford before the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The case involved questions of land ownership and of the payment of wages and other debts. The legal documents include attachments and returns on the goods of John Gifford (which led to his arrest), testimony and depositions of individuals called as witnesses in the case, and the jury's verdict, circa 1653-1654. The legal records also cover Gifford's lengthy battle to recoup his lost wages from the Undertakers after the company's failure. Gifford's countersuit commenced in 1658, and a letter to the court dated 1680 indicates that the matter was still unresolved.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Industries--Massachusetts--Lynn.
Industries--Massachusetts--Saugus.
Iron foundries--Massachusetts.
Iron industry and trade--Massachusetts.
Manufactures.
Metals.
Gifford, John.
Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England.
Lynn Iron Works.
Saugus Iron Works.

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