New York State Historical Association. Meeting.

Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association : ... annual meeting with constitution and by-laws and list of members (Volume 23) online

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Thus was established the Columbia and West Point Foundries,
and the Tredegar and Fort Pitt Iron Works. The Foundry of Cy-
rus Alger, afterwards known as the South Boston Iron Works, al-
though in operation at that time, did not commence the manu-
facture of ordnance until 1839.

In accordance with the above, a contract was entered into
on the 14th day of December, 1816, between John Swarthout,
Robert Swarthout, Joseph G. Swift, James K. Rees, and Gouver-
neur Kemble, proprietors of iron works on the North river, in the
State of New York, and Admiral John Rogers, president of, and
acting for and in behalf of the Board of Navy Commissioners,
"that the above named gentlemen will, at their iron works in the
neighborhood of West Point, make every requisite preparation,
and cast for the use of the navy of the United States, 87 cannon,
130 tons of round shot, and 60 tons of grape shot ; same to be de-
livered within twelve months from date of contract at the navy
yard at New York; and in consideration of their stipulating, at
their own expense, to adopt such arrangements and plans at their



THE WEST POINT FOUNDRY 193

works as may, in the opinion and upon the requisition of the
Board of Navy Commissioners, tend to the improvement and per-
fection of ordnance, the said John Rogers doth further agree to
depart, in this special case, from the established rule of office
so far as to advance the sum of $15,000 upon their giving satisfac-
tory security for the faithful fulfillment in each and every particu-
lar of their part of this contract." This is evidently one-half of
the equipment of a 174-gun vessel, as, according to General Nor-
ton's work on "American Inventions and Improvements in Breech
Loading Small Arms and Heavy Ordnance," published ia 1882,
a similar contract was entered into with General Mason of the
Columbia Foundry, the price in each contract being the same,
namely, 42 pounders at $125 a ton, 32 pounders at $135 a ton,
round shot five cents a pound, and grape shot eight cents a pound,
with an additional charge of $8 a ton for turning and chiseling.

This contract which General Swift speaks of as a tentative
one, was, however, never fulfilled as far as the personnel of the
proprietors and the time of delivery were concerned, neither of
the Messrs. Swarthout nor Major Rees materializing from their
inability to secure the funds necessary to their admittance into
the concern, and General Swift himself, being connected with it
for only two years, owing to his having to sell out his interest to
meet the demands of a note which he had unfortunately indorsed
for a man named Shields.

John and Robert Swarthout, who deserve more than passing
notice, were very conspicuous figures in the financial, social and
political world of that time, although not so much so as their
younger brother Samuel. Sons of Colonel Abraham Swarthout,
of Dutchess county, who served under General Gansevoort at
Fort Stanwix, they were all born in Poughkeepsie, and all held
commissions of high rank in the militia and served in the War of
1812. All suffered politically because of their belief in and devo-
tion to Aaron Burr ; John having been removed from the office of
United States marshal, and having fought a duel with DeWitt
Clinton in consequence. Robert, although recently married, left
the house of his brother-in-law, Philip Hone, to meet Richard
Riker, afterwards recorder of the city, relative to some unpala-
table criticism ; for this was an era of personal responsibility and



19-1 NEW YORK STATE HISTORICAL. ASSOCIATION

men were held to a strict account for their criticism of contem-
poraries. This adjustment was of course a barbarity, but it led
to a remarkable politeness, and a discriminating choice of words
in public speech or written document, for although the statutes
were very strict against duelling, yet the moral law accepted it,
as evidenced by the funeral of Stephen Decatur, who fell in a duel
with Commodore Baron in 1819, his opponent not even being ar-
rested and both houses of the Legislature adjourning to attend his
funeral, togetlier with the President and his cabinet.

It is interesting to note that the reasons for these two gentle-
men, the Messrs. Swarthout, not joining the proposed association,
were that they had embarked all their available capital in reclaim-
ing the Hoboken meadows and making a truck farm out of it to
supply the city of New York with vegetables, eventually sinking
over $200,000 in this project.

General Swift and the two Swarthouts then endeavored to
interest John Jacob Astor in the undertaking, offering him a one-
fourth interest for $25,000 ; but he declined, stating that although
he had great faith in Mr. Kemble's judgment, yet this sort of
thing was entirely out of his line.

Mr. Kemble thereupon associated with himself and General
Swift, his uncle, Mr. Nicholas Gouverneur, Mr. Frederick Philipse
of Phillipse Manor, Mr. Poster Swift, father of General Swift,
General William Paulding, adjutant general of the State of New
York during the War of 1812, and afterwards mayor of the City
of New York, General John R. Fenwick of Baltimore, Captain
Hugh Graham, the commander of a Liverpool packet, Samuel L.
Gouverneur, son-in-law of President Monroe, Charles G. Smed-
berg, Henry Brevoort, William and James Renwick, Henry Cary,
Samuel Cooper, Christopher Vanderwenter, Dr. Alexander Ho-
sack and William Kemble, his younger brother; and stock was
issued to them in various amounts totaling seventy shares of $1,-
000 each, payable in monthly installments of 10 per cent.

I record these names with almost a feeling of reverence as an
association of gentlemen who by their courage and business acu-
men were willing to enter into an agreement which, if it failed,
might mean ruin and imprisonment. Only a few years previous
to this, an uncle of the founder failed for $50,000 ; he was obliged



THE WEST POINT FOUNDRY 195

to turn over to a commission appointed for that purpose every-
thing he owned, with the exception of his watch and his wife's
jewelry. He turned over, in consequence, deeds for 76 acres along
the Bloomingdale road on Manhattan island, 50 acres west and 26
acres east of said road, 1000 acres in Ontario county and 100 acres
near Morristown, New Jersey, one-third interest in 8000 acres of
land in what was afterwards the coal regions of Pennsylvania ; and
the sale of these barely enabled him to satisfy his creditors. Yet
these men rendered themselves liable for a business, the knowl-
edge and details of Avliich were unknown to them ; when at the
outset losses in the simplest kind of castings were continually
sustained even by the best workmen available, before a knowl-
edge of the properties of untried materials could be acquired.
Then again the scarcity of skilled mechanics in this country was
appalling. There then existed in Great Britain an act prohibiting
skilled mechanics from going into foreign parts to practice or
teach their trade, and providing that if he so contracted, he might
be obliged to give security at the discretion of the court that he
would not go beyond the seas, and might be committed to prison
until he gave such security. This prohibition was also made to
apply to tools used in the iron and steel industry. These laws were
rigidly enforced.

Notwithstanding these laws, Mr. William Young of Porth-
glone, Ireland, an iron founder of great merit and the brother of
John Young, the proprietor of a like industry at Belfast, Ireland,
was taken into the concern as its practical member, and he at once
went to work to secure skilled mechanics, with the aid of his
brother, and with Captain Graham to procure their transporta-
tion; but it required all the skill and enterprise of the three to
get them out of the kingdom. Tradition has it that a certain number of
laborers were shipped from Liverpool in a vessel, were replaced by
mechanics at Queenstown, and that this news having leaked out,
a war vessel was hurriedly dispatched to bring them back, but
without success; and there is another traditional story to the ef-
fect that in 1825, when Mr. Young again returned for skilled help,
he sailed from Liverpool in a small vessel, and a mutiny arising
on board, the captain put into a small harbor in Ireland, discharg-
ed the crew and enlisted half a dozen new men. Upon arrival at



196 NEW YOBK STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

New York, each one of this new crew turned out to be a first-class
molder.

In the memoirs of General Swift, it is stated that on April 21,
1817, in company with Mr. Gouverneur Kemble, he visited Cap-
tain Philipse, who resided on the opposite bank of the river from
West Point, and proposed to this worthy gentleman (the proprie-
tor of the manor of his name, whose honor this gentleman main-
tained with steady hospitality) that he should unite with them
in establishing a foundry, to which end they proposed to take
about two hundred of his acres on Margaret Brook as his share of
stock. He assented, and agreed that General Swift should survey
and plot the tract. Accordingly the general with his compass,
paced around a tract inclosing fully two hundred acres. To this
hasty survey Captain Philipse agreed, and set his hand and seal.

Ground was broken about June 1, 1817 at Cold Spring for
the erection of a molding house, boring mill and pattern shop, and
a dam erected to supply the power; also, just below the dam, a
charcoal furnace for smelting the ore, much of which was obtain-
ed from the mines of Putnam county. But the cost of mining,
etc., was found to be greater than purchasing it abroad in a state
fit for immediate use, and no ore was smelted there after 1844.
The locality of the furnace is still preserved by th



Online LibraryNew York State Historical Association. MeetingProceedings of the New York State Historical Association : ... annual meeting with constitution and by-laws and list of members (Volume 23) → online text (page 18 of 31)