William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

. (page 27 of 78)
Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 27 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

than Leonard, who came to be known as Quaker Leonard,
the road past the Marshall place retaining this name, was
certainly eccentric and bright enough to have done what is
thus attributed to him. He paid his first poll-tax in Easton
in 1785, and after 1792 his name disappears for about ten
years, after which he was taxed as a non-resident, though he
continued running the business where he had erected his steel

About 1792 or 1793 the third Eliphalet Leonard, brother of
Jonathan, built the dam which made what is known as the Shovel-
shop Pond. The dam was not so high then as now, and the
pond was consequently smaller. He also put up a forge with a
trip-hammer, and a nailers' shop was built in the same place.
He subsequently built a house there, — esteemed a fine house
for those days. It was the first painted house in North Easton
village, exciting considerable notice on that account ; it is the
house in which Oakes Ames was born, and is still standing,
unsuspected of ever having excited wonder and envy by a coat
of paint. This third Eliphalet did not meet with success in
his business; he was a bankrupt in 1801, — Daniel Wheaton
being assignee of his property, which passed into the hands of
Abiezer Alger, of Bridgewater, who sold it, August i, 1803, to
Oliver Ames, as will be narrated in another chapter.

In this section of the town the iron business, prior to 1800,
was carried on exclusively by the Leonards, who acquired dis-
tinction as iron-workers. About the date named it passed out
of their hands, except that Jonathan Leonard continued it for
some years at the Marshall place.

There was a forge erected in 1724 at the present site of
the old Dean saw-mill at Cranberry Meadow. January 10 of
that year Timothy Cooper, John Dailey, Edward Hayward,
Jonathan Hayward, and Benjamin Fobes entered into an
agreement to build this forge. Some ore had been discovered
near by, and other similar discoveries were expected. Nearly
twenty years previous to this, Timothy Cooper had seen the
possibilities of the situation, and had purchased twenty-six acres
of land, of which the present mill-site was near the centre.


He saw that to raise a dam there would cause the water to over-
flow the south side of the meadow west of it, and he shrewdly ob-
tained possession of a long and very narrow strip of land by the
meadow's edge ; and then he bided his time. The time came
as above stated. The dam was built in its present location, and
to prevent the overflow southward a bank was raised by means
of logs covered with earth. It was called in the famous Dean
and Brett litigation, which will be noticed in due time, "the
log dam." Another dam, or an extension of the dam just no-
ticed, was made of slabs. The forge was erected and the busi-
ness started. But it did not pay. Timothy Cooper, the leading
man in the enterprise, soon died, and his heirs and the other
partners sold out in 1 727-1 729 to Josiah Winslow, of Bridge-
water, he finally owning all but one ninth. He did not make
a success of it, but he found a ready purchaser in Eliphalet
Leonard, who bought out his entire interest, with dwelling-
house, land, etc. But after owning it for ten years, with appa-
rently no profit, he sold out to Edward Hayvvard. The forge
was pulled down, and James Dean, a son-in-law of Mr. Hay-
ward, built a hammer-shop and carried on blacksmithing until
1750, when another change was made in the business, which will
be considered in the proper place.

June 9, 1724, William Thayer, then living near the mill-
site on the north road to Brockton, gave to eight persons as
much land as would be required to build a dam, flow a pond,
build a saw-mill, etc., with privilege of passing through land
with timber, provided they would build and maintain such a
saw-mill. These eight persons were Daniel Owen, William
Phillips, Samuel Waters, Thomas Manley, Jr., Jonathan Thayer,
Samuel Phillips, Clement Briggs, and Ebenezer Drake. They
went to work at once and soon completed the mill. Eliphalet
Leonard thereupon obtained possession of three eighths of it,
mortgaging his purchase in order to raise money for the pay-
ment. Two Boston men, Samuel Clark and William Lee, who
figured largely in such transactions in Easton in early times, fur-
nished Leonard the money. Subsequently the controlling in-
terest in the saw-mill came into the possession of Clark and Lee.
Praisever Littlefield became owner of three eighths and one six-
teenth of this property, and in 1743 sold his portion to Samuel


Stone, then of Stoughton, who settled near the mill. The latter
retained this part-ownership until his death in 1776, when his
son Samuel sold it to George Monk, of Stoughton, Mr. Monk
lived in Stoughton until about 1795, when he removed to Easton
and continued owner of the mill.

West of the Ames office in North Easton village there is a
cart-way leading southwest. This cart-way was once the location
of a mill-dam ; the pond spread over the meadow above the dam.
Here as early as 1728 was a saw-mill, which was built and
owned by Thomas Randall, 2d.^ It was doubtless built sev-
eral years earlier than this date, for the land where it was situ-
ated was taken up by Deacon Randall in 1718, and was probably
taken with reference to the erection of this mill. It may there-
fore have been built previous to the mill last mentioned, and even
previous to Josiah Keith's mill ; but the first positive knowl-
edge we have of its existence is at the beginning of 1729. By
his will Deacon Randall left this property and the land about
it to his sons John and Samuel, John living within a stone's
throw southeast of the mill, A grist-mill had been erected
there also previous to 1760, but the exact date is unknown.
About 1760 these mills seem to have changed ownership several
times. In 1761 Ephraim Randall, Jr., Samuel Phillips, and Israel
Woodward, — the former a half owner, the latter two quarter
owners of the grist-mill, — came to an agreement as to the
management of the same. But the next year it is owned by
Seth Manley and Ephraim Burr, who remain in partnership
for several years. The saw-mill does not seem to have amounted
to much at this time, as in the several agreements made
it is stipulated that the grist-mill shall have the use of the
water, and if any can be spared it shall be allowed for the

In 1764 Seth Manley and Ephraim Burr, the owners of this
" corn-mill," brought an action against David Gay, William Mer-
riam, and Nathan Drake, of Stoughton, because in May, 1763,
they, by building a dam on George Ferguson's land, injured
their mill privilege. This dam was built by these Stoughton
men for the purpose of flowing the meadows north of it. It
had the effect of turning a part of the stream away from its
^ North Purchase First Book of Surveys, p. 213.



natural course, so that it ran " partly through the land of one
Ephraim Randall and partly through the land of Jacob Hewins,"
that is, into the stream that flows through William King's land.
This was of course a serious loss to the Burr and Manley mill,
and they were awarded damages. The dam alluded to was the
same as the present dam at the lower end of Long Pond,
being now, however, much higher than it was then.

In 1771 the grist-mill we are considering was managed by
Ephraim Randall and others, though the real owner was Ben-
jamin Kinsley, who bought it of Abiah Manley in 1770. It
was known in 1780 as Benjamin Kinsley's grist-mill. March
15 of that year he sold it to Thomas Willis. The saw-mill
adjoining this grist-mill was bought in 1762 by Robert Ripley,
a carpenter, the ancestor of the Easton Ripleys. The scarcity
of water did not allow of much work being accomplished by it,
as the grist-mill had the precedence in the use of the stream ;
but he owned it until March 15, 1780, when he sold it to
Thomas Willis, this being the same date as the latter's purchase
of the grist-mill. The saw-mill was henceforth discontinued.
Mr. Willis owned the grist-mill for ten years, when, December
14, 1790, he sold it to Jonathan Randall, who carried on the
mill business until his death, which occurred November 1 1, 1805.
His widow, familiarly known as Aunt Lucy, was a strong, capa-
ble woman, and she ran the mill herself for several years.
Richard Wild, the guardian of Jonathan Randall's children,
sold the mill to Samuel Hodges, who on May 26, 181 3, sold it
to Oliver Ames.

In May, 1742, there was a saw-mill erected on Mulberry-
Meadow Brook at the Furnace Village, a short distance below
the furnace, by Eleazer Keith, Silas Williams, and Benjamin
Williams. This date is made known by a suit brought in 1749
against these parties by Mark Keith and John Manley, whose
lands had been damaged by being flowed,^ The case was re-
ferred to persons who met at the house of John Williams, inn-
keeper, and they gave it as their opinion that Mark Keith and
John Manley were "yearly damnified to the amount of four
pounds each, old tenor." The court allowed this amount of
damage. In 1765 this saw-mill had become a grist-mill, and at
1 Records of Court of Sessions, 1 746-1 767, p. 44.


this date was deeded to Lemuel Keith by his father Eleazer,
and continued in his possession until after 1800.

The first industry at the Morse privilege, South Easton village,
was a saw-milh In 1739 Daniel Williams bought a large piece
of land on the west side of Mill River at this place, with house,
barn, orchards, fences, etc. Between that time and 1747 this
saw-mill was erected. There is no trace of it prior to 1739;
but in 1747 Daniel Williams brought a suit against Daniel Keith
because the latter had promised, November 11, 1747 — but had
failed to fulfil the promise — to deliver to him "white oak Loggs
enough to make one thousand feet of good merchantable plank,
delivered on the Def 'ts homestead in Easton all ready cutt & butt
and easy to come at, at or before the last of November, 1747."
The case was won by Daniel Williams. He carried on the busi-
ness here for many years, probably until his death, which oc-
curred in 1782. In 1792 this property, or a portion of it including
the saw-mill and dwelling-house, was bought by Eliphalet Leon-
ard ; September 16, 1797, he sold it to Josiah Copeland. The
latter was then residing at Bridgewater, though he had lived in
Easton with his father until about two years before this time.

Some distance above the Morse privilege, about west of the
Macombers, another dam was built at one time. No definite
information can be given about the date of its construction or
its precise purpose. Samuel Simpson was told by Daniel Ran-
dall, Sr., many years ago, that three men named Orr, Barclay,
and Adams erected the dam. The Mr. Orr was probably Hugh
Orr, who came from Scotland in 1740, and settled in Bridge-
water, and engaged there in the iron manufacture ; the Barclay
was William Barclay, who settled in Easton ; and the Adams was
probably William Adams, who also settled here, and became an
artillery man in the Revolution. As to the time of the con-
struction of this dam, it may be said that William Barclay's
name does not appear upon a full list of the residents of Easton
in 1757, and it does appear on the oldest tax-list now preserved,
which is dated 1767. The dam was therefore probably built
between those two dates. The fact that Hugh Orr engaged in
Bridgewater in various kinds of iron manufacture, and that Wil-
liam Barclay worked for Eliphalet Leonard, Jr., in the manufac-
ture of firearms at the now named Marshall place, are sufficient


reasons for assuming that they meant to erect here a foundry or
furnace to carry on some description of the iron business.

Why this enterprise was abandoned when the dam was con-
structed is a matter of conjecture only. It may be that it in-
terfered with the Daniel Williams privilege below. It may be
also that Williams had the right to raise his dam, and so raised it
as to make the upper privilege untenable ; and that he thus drove
off the enterprising Scotchmen, who might have built up a flour-
ishing business to the great benefit of that neighborhood, — just
as Cyrus Alger was prevented about half a century later from
doing the same thing at the now Dean privilege below. One
thing however is certain, — the dam was constructed, and may
now be seen, with the site of its sluiceway, when Morse's Pond
is at low water. A road or travelled lane once went over this
dam, connecting Washington Street with Short Street, and run-
ning past the Lyman Wheelock house, which was for awhile an
inn. It was known as the Scotch dam.

The origin of the furnace business at the Furnace Village
came to light only after many days of patient investigation
among the thousands of deeds at the Register's office at Taun-
ton. At last in Book 41, p. 66, was found the "Articles of
agreement made and concluded upon the thirteenth day of De-
cember, in ye 25th year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord
George the second of Great Brittian, annoque Domini one Thou-
sand seven hundred & fifty-one ; witnesseth that John Williams,
gent., Daniel Williams, gent., Matthew Hayward, yeoman, Jo-
siah Keith, Jr., yeoman, Timothy Williams, yeoman, Josiah
Churchill, founder, Benjamin Wilhams, Jr., laborer, Jabez
Churchill, laborer, all of Easton ; and James Godfry, yeoman,
of Norton," etc. John Williams and Daniel Williams were to
own a quarter part each, Matthew Hayward one eighth part,
and each of the others one sixteenth part. The terms and con-
ditions of the contract, and the stipulations of the management,
etc., are very elaborately stated, the contractors evidently feeling
that the undertaking was one of immense importance. The
dam and furnace were to be erected on what was then called
Little Brook, now Beaver Brook, on land leased by Simeon
Williams. It was to be begun at once, and finished ready for a
blast November i the next year. No one was to sell his shares


to outsiders until he had given the other shareholders the privi-
lege of buying, etc. The Easton furnace was therefore begun
in December, 1751, and completed, ready for active business,
late in 1752. With various changes of ownership, and some
variations in the kind and method of business, it has been in
operation ever since.

It is the oldest industry now carried on in Easton, with the
exception of the grist-mill business at the Green. About ten
years before the Revolutionary War it became the property of
Capt. Zephaniah Keith. Capt. James Perry bought a quarter
ownership in April, 1773. He and Matthew Hay ward were
partners until June, 1776, when the latter sold out his interest,
and Captain Perry became sole owner. This furnace did good
service in the Revolution, turning out small cannon and cannon
balls. Not far from the village, in a depression between two
hills near the Sharon road, these cannon used to be tested ; and
many balls have since been dug out of one of the banks or hill-
sides there, and some fragments of a cannon that had burst
were taken from a brook. About 1783 the furnace building
became dilapidated, and a new one was erected in place of it.
Captain Perry became greatly involved in his business affairs
after the Revolution, owing to the depreciation of Continental
currency, and to other causes noticed in the sketch of his life.^
In 1784 several executions were served upon his estate, and his
property became heavily mortgaged. About 1780 he built a
forge on the same dam where the furnace was, and carried on the
forge as well as the furnace business. Before 1800 he sold
out the forge to Abisha Leach. Though his furnace was mort-
gaged to other parties he continued to manage the business ;
but September 29, 1798, the real owners, Samuel Leonard of
Taunton, Josiah Dean of Raynham, and Thomas Green, a store-
keeper of Easton, sold the property to John Brown, of Provi-
dence, in whose hands we will leave it until we consider the
industries of Easton after 1800.

In 1750 James Dean and Matthew Hay ward entered into
partnership to build a saw-mill at the Cranberry Meadow dam,
now known as the Dean place and owned by F. L. Ames. They
conducted the business together; but in 1769 Jonathan Pratt

1 See p. 245 et seq.


bought out Mr. Hayward, and the new partnership — Dean &
Pratt — built a new mill and carried on the business together.
This new mill lasted thirty years, when in 1800 it gave place
to another.

In 1757 Matthew Hayward bought of Simeon Williams the
right to erect a saw-mill upon the Furnace dam at the Furnace
Village. The mill was soon erected, and was managed by Mr.
Hayward until 1764, when he sold it to Abisha Leach.

In November, 1747, George Ferguson, then of Falmouth
(Portland), Maine, bought a large tract of land in the north part
of the town. Before 1759, but at just what date cannot be as-
certained, he had erected a saw-mill at what is now known as
the Picker place. Though it was somewhat encumbered by
mortgages, he retained ownership of it until about 1786, when
it passed into the possession of George Ferguson, Jr., who soon
rebuilt it. October 21, 1801, the latter sold it to Capt. Elisha
Harvey; and Capt. Harvey, November 12, 1802, sold a half
ownership in it to Ziba Randall. The saw-mill business was
discontinued here about 181 5.

As early as 1754 James Dean was making brick upon his
land not far from the present Finley place. This is evident
from various bills now in possession of the writer, which show
that the Rev. George Farrar purchased brick from Mr. Dean and
paid for hauling them from his brick-yard. Brick-clay is found
southeast of Mr. Finley's house. There was a brick-yard also
on land now owned by David Howard, and just northeast of
his house, there being many plain indications that brick-making
was carried on there.

During the last century, but at what date cannot be deter-
mined, a saw-mill was erected in Poquanticut either by the first
John Selee or by his son Nathan, — more probably by the former,
as the need of such a mill must have been very early felt in the
locality where he lived. It was not far from the old Selee place
and northeast of the house of John Selee now living. The
location of it may still be seen. Nathan Selee sawed lumber
there late in the century ; and strange stories were told, and
even believed by superstitious people, about the Devil or his
imps running the mill at night, Nathan Selee being reported
as knowing too much about magic arts, and being on too good


terms for awhile with their author. But sawing logs by water-
power on cold nights seems rather uncongenial work for his
Satanic Majesty ; it would be more easy to credit his running
a steam saw-mill, with a blazing furnace. It is wiser to acquit
Mr. Selee of any such questionable partnership, and to think
that the rolling and buzzing of wheel and saw, which the
belated passers-by supposed they heard, were all in their own
brains, and might easily be accounted for by the strength and
quantity of hard cider gr New England rum they had taken.
But it is said that more than one horseless Tam O'Shanter
made hot speed past the old mill, and got home breathless with
running and fright. This mill ceased doing service about fifty
years ago.

In the last quarter of the century the tanning business was
carried on by Edward Williams, an eighth of a mile west of the
Lemuel Keith mill at the Furnace Village. There was also a
tannery not far west of where Daniel Heath lives, carried on
by Mr. Pratt.

Lieut. Samuel Coney, who moved from Sharon to Easton
about 1770, built a saw-mill on the road running westward from
the No. 10 schoolhouse. It was on a brook then called Cooper's
Brook, in the hollow by the Stimpson Williams place. Lieu-
tenant Coney soon left town and went to Maine. The site of
the mill can still be found ; but the location did not admit of
a large collection of water, and the mill could have had a
water-supply for only a short time in ordinary seasons. In
1779 James Perry bought a two-thirds ownership in this mill,
and might have been sole owner without being any better off

There was a grist-mill at the foot of Stone's Pond close by
the forge before 1800, owned evidently at one time by Abiel
Mitchell, and at another by Capt. Jacob Leonard.

In 1760 Lieut. Joshua Howard built a dam on Gallows Brook
for the purpose of building a flax-mill, and he dug a ditch from
Cranberry Meadow in order to increase his supply of water.
But he was not allowed to keep the ditch open, because in tap-
ping the stream that supplied Dean's mill-pond he damaged that
privilege. In 1792, however, Josiah Copeland and Calvin Brett
built an oil-mill at the dam which was constructed thirty years


before by Joshua Howard, the mill being used to press the oil
out of flax-seed. In 1802 Mr. Copeland sold his half interest
in the oil-mill to his partner. In order to get sufficient water-
power, Mr. Brett opened the ditch to Cranberry Meadow again,
or dug a new one. It was closed by James Dean, and opened
again by Mr. Brett. The affair finally led to a long, vexing, and
expensive law-suit, costing the latter, who lost the case, over a
thousand dollars. Having no sufficient supply of water this
mill fell into disuse. Its site may be seen a few rods from the
Finley house.

We have thus described all the principal industries that were
in operation previous to 1 800. There were, in addition to what
have been noticed, other kinds of business, such as pot and
pearlash works, blacksmith shops, cooper shops, stores, and the
various trades that were needed to supply the wants of the
people. But to mention these would be to go into too much de-
tail. The later industries, beginning about 1800, will be treated
of in a separate chapter.





Struggles of Early Settlers. — A Trip through the North-
east Corner of the Town. — Old Places in and about North
Easton. — Down the old Meeting-house Road. — About Easton
Centre. — In South Easton. — On and near the Bay Road. —
In the Southwest Part of the Town.

ANY one who goes about the town of Easton with his eyes
open will see many indications of old homesteads now
abandoned, — old houses tumbling to decay, or cellars over which
a century or more ago dwellings stood that were homes of fami-
lies long since departed, about whose doors played little chil-
dren who grew to maturity and old age, and were long since
numbered with the dead. Going about in the woods one some-
times stumbles upon a small clearing where once the woodman's
axe was heard cutting away the primeval forest, where he reared
his log-house and brought his young wife, and struggled against
almost insuperable obstacles in his endeavor to draw from the
unwilling soil a support for his growing family. Many of these
attempts were failures : the return was often less than the out-
lay. One is at loss to understand how good judgment could
approve or courage be adequate to plant a homestead in many
places where may now be seen the indications of former habi-
tations, — especially in the north part of the town, where even
when a clearing was made (as for example at the two old Drake
places north of Avery Stone's) it only revealed a gravelly soil
covered with bowlders great and small. It is easy to under-
stand why these hardy settlers succumbed in the unequal struggle,
and why their homesteads were finally abandoned to the inhospi-
table Nature that gave them such poor welcome. It is the pur-
pose of this chapter to take the reader about the town, and
gratify his curiosity so far as possible concerning the former
settlers or dwellers in these abandoned places of habitation.


If one does not care for this trip, he may pass on to another
chapter ; but to those who have any curiosity about it the writer
offers his escort. In this search for old places we will take an
ancient road, to begin with. Not long after the incorporation of
the town a few settlements were made in the extreme northeast
quarter, and an old road ran (as the old map which is given
in the chapter on Highways in this volume will show) north-
erly from the village of North Easton nearly to the Stoughton
line, and thence easterly, and so round by Washington Street.
Starting on this road and going north as far as Simeon Ran-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 27 of 78)