William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

History of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) online

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In 1793, after the incorporation of the parish, it was found
that the town of Easton had about three hundred pounds' worth
of unappropriated property. An attempt was made to increase
the parish fund by adding to it this property, after deducting
from it and allowing to " people of other denominations being
inhabitants of the Town " such proportion as should appear to
be their due according to the amounts assessed upon them for
taxes, and allowing them to use it as they saw fit. It does
not appear whether this plan was proposed or opposed by the
parish, but it was voted; and the Baptist Society which was
just dying, and the Methodist Society which was just being
born, might hope for some advantage by having town funds
thus divided. But their hopes were dashed ; for in April of
the next year the vote was rescinded, and the unappropriated



property of the town was turned over to the payment of regular
town charges. In October, 1792, the following proceedings are
recorded : —

" It is observable that the People of this Town are very irregular as
to the time of attending Publick worship. To prevent this Disorder,
We, the subscribers, are desireous of procuring a Bell to the Meeting-
house, and promise to pay the sums affixed to our Names for that
purpose," etc.

Nearly fifty pounds were subscribed, Mr. Reed giving the
largest sum (;^3, 18s.), his parishioners refraining with singular
delicacy from exceeding the amount given by their minister.
The bell was cast by Ezekiel Reed. The metal put into it was
one old bell of 346 pounds weight, and 274^ pounds of copper
and block tin, a total of 620^^ pounds. It cost £48, Ss., $d.
August 15, 1793, it was voted to give the new bell for the use
of the parish, " And the Town, or any inhabitant of The Town
of Easton, shall not be Prohibited the use of said Bell on any
Necessary Occasion." On the 2d of September the parish voted
to accept the bell of the donors, and to build a belfry from the
garret beams to hang the bell in. The work does not appear
to have been done, nor the bell to have been hung until nearly
June, 1794. It was voted, June 23, that any individual might
have the bell tolled on the death of a friend, provided he would
bear the expense of tolling it. The access to the belfry, that is
to the platform on which the bell frame was placed, was by one
or two flights of stairs to a floor, and there a ladder about six
feet in length admitted one to the fioor of the belfry. A spire
surmounted the belfry, and at this time a porch was added to the

It has already been stated that the salary of Mr. Reed was
fixed at eighty pounds a year, an addition of twenty pounds
yearly being made for the first four years for his " settlement."
This money for many years succeeding the Revolutionary War
had a very uncertain value, as we have already shown, — a value
considerably less than the present worth of the English pound
sterling. With his family growing up about him, and with the
large demands of hospitality which a country clergyman at that
time must meet, his salary proved too small. This became



known, and in 1796 the parish voted that a committee be chosen
to " take into consideration the surcumstances of the Rev. Mr.
Reed," and to name what would be the proper sum to pay him
for a salary. The committee reported that one hundred pounds
was about the right sum, and this was voted. The real value of
this salary at that date was only three hundred dollars. Of course
the necessaries of life then were cheaper than they are now, and
Mr. Reed was able to get something from the unwilling soil.
But it was a hard struggle. To meet the growing demands of a
large family and the claims of hospitality required on that salary
such toil in the field by the goodman, and at the spinning-wheel
and loom by the prudent housewife, such economy and self-
sacrifice, as the present generation knows little of. There were
some in the society who saw and appreciated the situation, and
in 1801, through their influence, a vote was passed to make Mr.
Reed's salary one hundred and twenty pounds, the exact value
of which then was four hundred dollars. Instantly the parish was
in a ferment. It would not do to encourage such extravagance.
Numbers actually withdrew from the parish ; others threatened
to do so. Daniel VVheaton headed a petition, " Viewing with
concern the state of the affairs of said parish," and proposing,
first, to sell enough of the parish land as would increase the in-
come of the parish fund sufficiently to pay parish charges ; or,
if this were negatived, to add the four hundred dollars voted for
Mr. Reed's salary to the parish fund, making its interest about
ninety pounds, or three hundred dollars, provided Mr. Reed
would accept that amount for his salary if he could receive it
semi-annually. The meeting was called. The parish voted not to
sell any of the parish land. The yeas and nays were taken as to
whether the parish wished Mr. Reed to relinquish any part of
the salary of four hundred dollars they had voted him. There
were twenty-eight yeas and thirty-eight nays. The situation was
critical with votes so nearly equal. The meeting adjourned for
ten days to give time to think over the situation. The disaffec-
tion at the increased salary grew, and a compromise became
necessary. At the adjourned meeting the parish voted that if
he would allow the four hundred dollars voted him to be added
to the parish fund, he should have three hundred and fifty
dollars payable in two instalments, and if the price of labor


rose above three shillings a day his salary should rise in like
proportion. They also voted that " he shall have the privilege
of a free public contribution twice a year." This last proposi-
tion must have been hard to accept ; it seemed to make their
faithful servant, to whom they were bound to give an adequate
support in an honorable manner, an object of semi-annual
charity. But Mr. Reed was a prudent man ; and if a sense of
proper, manly independence tempted him to refuse the disagree-
able proffer the sight of his large family made him control and
conceal his feelings, and submit to receive as a charity what was
due him for service well rendered. When we consider that the
interest of the parish fund was now three hundred dollars, and
that expenses other than the minister's salary were very light
(less than one hundred dollars), this action of the parish forces
upon us one of two conclusions, — either that the people were
very poor, or that they meant to adopt as far as possible the
Scriptural suggestion of getting the truth " without money and
without price." Mr. Reed did not, however, long receive the
amount granted him. The parish fund increased to $5,773.86,
and he was voted the interest of it for his salary. For several
years this interest amounted to $327.36. Once they voted that
wood enough be sold from the parish land " to pay for ringing the
bell, sweeping the meeting-house, and shovelling snow from the
meeting-house doors;" and thus with the salary paid from the
interest of the parish fund and other expenses from the sale of
wood, the Scriptural promise alluded to seems almost literally to
have been fulfilled.

It is not pleasant to report such facts, but the writer did not
invent them, and truth to history forbids him to suppress them.
Those whose ancestors were represented in the parish of that
date are at liberty to imagine that they belonged to the more
generous majority, who for the sake of retaining the disaffected
among their number made up to their minister by private gifts
the deficiency already mentioned. The parish voted him the
next year a gift of one hundred dollars to allow for past loss by
depreciation of currency. It must also in justice be said that
the town was poor at this time. The court records at Taunton
show an astonishing number of lawsuits growing out of the fail-
ures and troubles of a depressed and unsettled business condition.


Everything then was conceived and executed upon a different
scale from the present, and we may easily err in applying to
another time the standards of judgment current and appropriate
to this.

The Rev. Mr. Reed's sermons are curious-looking little manu-
scripts, six inches long by three and three quarters inches wide,
being written when paper was costly and money scarce. Con-
trary to our traditional ideas of the sermons of a century ago,
these are short, and, unless Mr. Reed's delivery was exception-
ally slow, would not average over fifteen minutes in their preach-
ing. It is probable, however, that he may have extemporized
the " improvement" or application at the end. After the main
statements in some of them there is the word " Enlarge," — a
word that seriously endangers the brevity of a sermon. These
sermons are just such as a moderate Calvinist of that time,
with an even temperament and practical good sense, might be
expected to write. They are wanting in originality of thought,
in fertility of imagination, and in fervent feeling. They are
calm, commonplace, and, unless relieved by extemporaneous
additions, dull. They do not show the least sign of departure
from the prevailing Calvinism of the period. They abound in
statements that are technical reproductions of the then current
theories of God, man, and human destiny. There is nothing
harrowing to the feelings in them ; but this peculiarity results
rather from deficiency of imagination than from any apparent
lack of sturdy belief in Calvinistic doctrines. For he, too, can
preach about the " wrath of an incensed God." He also repeats
the absurdity that sin deserves an infinite penalty because it is
sin against an infinite being, and gives as a reason for the resur-
rection of the body, that the body, being the soul's partner in
sin, deserves to suffer with the soul the penalties of hell-fire !
In sermon No. 136 (for his sermons are all carefully numbered
and labelled), a sermon from the text " No man can come unto
me except the Father draw him," he argues that while man is
utterly unable to come to Christ, he is no less culpable because
of his inability. After stating that men are wholly blind to all
spiritual things in the natural state he reasons as follows : —

" Our understandings are darkened so that we cannot see the excel-
lency and beauty of the divine character. We have lost the image



of our God, which consisted in knowledge, righteousness, and holi-
ness ; and it is not in our power again to restore the image of God,
for by this loss we are become weak and impotent ; and what is still
worse we are insensible of our weakness, wretchedness, and misery.
By our apostasy from God we have lost our strength (Romans, v. 6) ;
for when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for
the ungodly. Had not Christ have died, there would have been no
possible way for us to have been saved, — for without shedding of
blood there could be no remission of sins. Now the way of life and
salvation is opened by the blood of Christ ; but we have no strength
to return. In the first place we are blind in a spiritual sense and
unable to see the necessity of returning to God from whom we have
revolted ; and without the illumination of the divine Spirit we should
all forever remain in this state of blindness and opposition to God.
It is not in the power of man to open the eyes of his understanding ;
and therefore it is impossible for them to discover the beauties and
excellencies of a Savior, and consequently they cannot come and
heartily embrace and receive him. For persons that come and receive
the Lord Jesus Christ as their redeemer and Savior are always ravished
with his beauty and charmed with his excellencies."

The above is an average specimen of Mr. Reed's sermons, —
calm, clear, rehearsing the commonplaces of the Calvinistic sys-
tem without really penetrating to its marrow and essence.

We gladly turn, however, to another side of the picture.
What gave Mr. Reed his real power and influence were the moral
earnestness, the unquestioning faith, the serious purpose and
spirit that pervaded his discourses. It is these that tell in the
long run, in pulpit ministrations, more than originality of thought
or oratorical power. Behind these sermons was an earnest, up-
right, high-minded life ; and this life told upon the character and
conduct of others, commanding respect, inviting imitation. Mr.
Reed died November i6, 1809, at the age of fifty-four, having
been pastor of the Congregational Society in Easton over twenty-
five years. Forty years later, March 26, 1850, his widow died at
the age of eighty-three, beloved and respected by all for her gen-
tleness, serenity, and peace-loving spirit. At her funeral her
eight children gathered in one company at the old homestead to
mingle their tears and prayers at their mother's bier, and to lay
her precious dust away tenderly by their father's side.





The Randalls build the first Saw-Mill. — Clement Briggs
STARTS the first Grist-Mill. — Eliphalet Leonard erects
Brummagem Forge. — Other Iron Industries. — Firearms Man-
ufactured AT THE "Quaker Leonard Place." — Easton said
TO Manufacture the first Steel made in this Country.
— Miscellaneous Industries.

ONE of the necessities of a settlement in the old New-
England times was a saw-mill. The first dwellings of
the early settlers were built of hewn logs, the interstices be-
ing filled with clay or mud. In some cases the floor was the
ground, smoothed for the purpose. These quarters were small,
and all conveniences of the rudest kind. The transportation
for long distances of boards and other lumber must have been,
in the absence of roads, nearly out of the question. Yet such
lumber became an immediate necessity ; and therefore an eli-
gible site for a mill had to be selected at once, a dam con-
structed, a mill erected, saws and other apparatus set in place,
and work begun. No music was more delightful to the ears
of those pioneers than the harsh humming of the saw as it cut
its way through the logs.

It might seem more systematic to group similar industries to-
gether in the following account ; but the writer prefers to present
them in chronological order, that the reader may understand the
gradual development of the business enterprises of Easton.

The first settlement in this town was made at what is now
South Easton village. This was in 1694. Thomas Randall, Sr.,
located a few rods northeast of the stream, upon which J. O.
& T. H. Dean's mill now stands. He was a man of some means,
and his son Thomas Randall, Jr., was soon worth more than
his father. They were the principal builders and owners of the


original mill. This is put beyond question by old deeds at
Taunton ; by these it appears that Thomas Randall, Jr., was a
half owner, Thomas Randall, Sr., a quarter owner, and Nathaniel
Packard, of Bridgewater, brother-in-law of the latter, was also a
quarter owner. The exact date of the building of this mill can-
not now be determined. It was an accepted fact in March,
1703, at which time it is referred to in the North-Purchase re-
cords in the laying out of a road.^ It was without doubt erected
before 1700, and probably quite near the date of settlement
given above. This mill stood close by the north end of the
present dam. In 17 13 Thomas Randall, 2d, his father being
dead, sold one quarter of the mill-privilege to Timothy Cooper,
and another quarter to John Daily, who at once deeded it, either
as a sale or as security, to Timothy Cooper. Ephraim and Israel
Randall, who inherited a quarter of it from their father, sold their
share of it to Clement Briggs, who sold it to Timothy Cooper.
The latter owned it at the time of his death in 1726.

A grist-mill had been built at the same place by Clement
Briggs, prior to 171 3. How long before this date it may have
been in operation there is no means of determining. But in-
asmuch as a grist-mill was a prime necessity to a young settle-
ment, it is very probable that this one was erected not long
after the settlement was begun, perhaps even before 1700. Cle-
ment Briggs, the first settler, was dead as early as June, 1720;
and the oldest son, Clement, in February, 1723, sold the grist-
mill to Timothy Cooper. In 1729 the grist-mill appears to have
been in the possession of Ephraim Randall, passing afterward into
the ownership of his son Timothy. The old mill was torn down
in 1750, and another was built, — Robert Ripley being the car-
penter who did the work. Timothy Randall owned it as late
as February, 1781, when he died. It then became the prop-
erty of his son Timothy, who owned it until 1803. The saw-
mill had disappeared long before this time ; it does not, at least,
appear in the valuation for 1771.

We have seen that the first business enterprise in what is

now Easton was the Randall saw-mill at South Easton village,

and the second was Clement Briggs's grist-mill at the same

dam. It cannot be positively determined which was the third.

^ See First Book of Surveys, p. 21.


The third to be positively knozvn is the Leonard forge at the
foot of Stone's Pond, now so called ; that we know to have
been in operation in October, 1723. But it is probable that
Josiah Keith's saw-mill was built a little earlier than this forge.
May 24, 1 71 7, he bought of Nathaniel Ames, of Bridgewater, one
hundred and eight acres of land where the farm of Edward D.
Williams is situated. In 1724 he was sued by William Britton,
who with his brother seems to have worked for Mr. Keith, and
he was forced to deliver to the plaintiff twenty-one thousand
shingles, besides paying the cost of suit. Reference is made in
another suit against Mr. Keith to the " saw-mill near his now
dwelling-house." There being no saw-mill in that part of the
town before, it is very probable that this one was erected soon
after Mr. Keith's settlement there, which was as early as 1718 ;
the site of this mill may still be found west of the residence of
Mr. Williams. Josiah Keith soon became involved, and other
persons became owners in the mill. George Hall, living at the
Daniel Heath place, became half owner, and finally sold his share
to James Williams, of Taunton. In 1734 Mr. Keith sold a
quarter-share of the mill to George Leonard, of Norton, and in
1735 he sold another quarter to Eleazer Keith, together with
the farm and buildings, his ownership of mill and homestead
then ceasing. James Williams sold a quarter share of the mill
to Silas Williams, in 1738. Another quarter was owned by
Thomas Manley, Sr., when he made his will in 1743, in which
it was called " Keith's old saw-mill." How much or how long
it was used after this time is not known, but it was abandoned
before 1 771, as it does not then appear upon the valuation of
the town.

The discovery of bog-iron ore in the northeast part of the
town, which has already been mentioned, induced Capt. James
Leonard to start the iron business there. In December, 1716,
he purchased of Nathaniel Manley thirty-five acres upon both
sides of " Trought-hole Brook," as it was called and misspelled.
In June, 1720, he made a further purchase of eight and a half
acres at the same place. These purchases included the present
location of the Red Factory in North Easton village, and land
on both sides of the stream north of that location. The exact
date of the building of the dam to make the pond, and of the


erection of the forge, cannot be given ; it was however in full
operation before October, 1723, and was probably begun in 1720,
as that was the date of the last purchase, and as Capt. Leonard's
son Eliphalet, who always managed the business, had just then
reached an age when he could look after this work. It was the
first forge built within the limits of what soon after became
the town of Easton. It was christened the Brummagem Forge.
The word Brummagem is a corruption of Birmingham, the
famous iron-working place in England ; and it gave the clerks
and surveyors of the North-Purchase Company much trouble,
they in their efforts to master it showing great originality in
their spelling. It was written Bramingium, Bromajam, Brum-
majam, etc. This name was for a time applied alike to the
stream and the pond. But the forge was soon known as Eli-
phalet Leonard's Forge. Here the bog-iron ore was brought
from the lot near Lincoln Spring and from other places, and by
fire and hammer was reduced to malleable iron of an excellent
quality. In October, 1723, Thomas Manley, Sr., became a quar-
ter owner of the forge, but sold out his share in June, 1728, to
Eliphalet Leonard. In August, 1742, Eliphalet's father, James
Leonard, gave him the entire ownership. This Captain Eliphalet
carried on the business until 1782, when he deeded it to his son
Jacob. It does not appear to have been very prosperous at any
time. The property passed into the hands of Isaac Leonard,
son of Jacob, who was its owner in 1800. In September, 1802,
he sold the forge, coal-house, grist-mill, etc., to Timothy Mitchell
and Giles Leach. In February, 1805, Leach sold out his in-
terest in this property to his partner. Isaac Leonard the year
before this, April, 1804, sold his homestead, now the F. L. Ames
farm-place, to Richard Wild ; and thus the Leonard ownership
of this property ceased.

Some time before 1771 Eliphalet Leonard, Jr., had erected
a forge at what is now called the Marshall place, on the road
east of the Washington Street Methodist Meeting-house. It
appears on the valuation of the above date. Eliphalet, Jr.,
was deeded the land where his house stood at the Marshall
place in 1765, and this forge was erected without doubt not long
afterward. It is a point of great interest to be told by good
authority that he was the first person to attempt the making of


steel in this country. We are aware that claims like this must
be received with caution ; but it was made by the well-known
Jonathan Leonard, of the firm of Leonard & Kinsley, of Canton.
He was a son of this second Eliphalet, was well informed in
such matters, and in a letter dated February 23, 1826,^ he writes
as follows : —

"As to the making of steely the first attempt made in this country,
so far as my knowledge goes, was by my father, Eliphalet Leonard, of
Easton, about the year 1775 or 1776. He was led to that attempt by
the extreme scarcity of steel, and the difficulty of procuring it for his
manufactury of firearms, then in great demand for the defence of the
country. He constructed several furnaces, and so far succeeded as
to supply himself and some of the most urgent wants of his neigh-
bors. In 1787 I obtained further insight into the business, and
erected at Easton a furnace capable of making three tons at a batch.
This was continued until 1808, when in consequence of commercial
restrictions I erected another in the same place capable of making
ten tons at a batch, and afterwards from twenty to thirty tons a year.
In 1813 I erected another furnace at Canton, where I now (1826)
live, where I made at times about one hundred tons of steel a year."

These are very interesting statements. The one concerning
the manufacture of firearms by Eliphalet Leonard, Jr., at the
Marshall place about the time of the Revolution, does not rest
wholly upon the statement of his son. Samuel Simpson has
informed the writer that he once owned one of these Leonard
muskets ; other old citizens used them with fatal execution
in defence of their country. The steel furnace first alluded to
was connected with the forge at the Marshall place. It was
there, also, that Jonathan Leonard erected a steel furnace in
1787, and another in 1808. As to the manner in which he "ob-
tained further insight into the business," curious things are told.
Hearing that steel was manufactured by an improved process
in Pennsylvania, he went there, and when he came to the fur-
nace where it was made he assumed the ways of a simpleton ;
gradually however exciting the pitying or humorous interest of
the workmen, he received some menial employment about the
furnace, meanwhile keeping his eyes wide open, and profiting

1 N. E. Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. xi. pp. 289-290.


later by the knowledge he thus surreptitiously gained by ap-
plying it on his return in his own manufacture of steel. Jona-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 26 of 78)