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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: An Ironworks Community

Soon after the ironworks opened, its shareholders developed the village of Hammersmith to house the approximately 100 people they employed. Named after the town in England from which many of the ironworkers had come, Hammersmith was a "factory town." Located just off the main road between Salem and Boston, Hammersmith was within easy traveling distance of the more than 20 communities then existing in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although officially a part of Lynn (Saugus was a Native American settlement that the English originally called Lynn and then later changed back to Saugus), Hammersmith was three miles from the Puritan meeting house and center of town, and therefore an independent settlement in many ways.

On the east side of the Saugus River stood small houses that housed the ironworkers and their families. The ironworks itself included a farm, blacksmith shop, warehouse, pottery shop, charcoal house, and other facilities. Food produced from the farm was used to feed the ironworkers during the workday. The manager of the ironworks, first Richard Leader and later John Gifford, lived in a house adjacent to the ironworks. Although there is a restored 17th-century house on the site of the ironworks, there is no definite evidence that it was actually the home of the managers. It is the right size, however. The manager’s house would have been large compared with those of the workers because managers often entertained guests, including investors, merchants, and local gentry.

The ironworkers who lived at Hammersmith knew the intensity of labor, and the discomfort of the heat and noise associated with the iron industry. They worked 12 hour shifts at dangerous and dirty tasks. Women, whose time typically was devoted to household duties, normally did not work in the ironworks. Sometimes, however, they were expected to act as "deputy husbands." That meant that when needed, they took their husbands’ place to negotiate and handle trade, fill orders, and supervise field hands. With few doctors in Colonial America, women also were responsible for growing and preparing herbs for medicinal purposes. Herbs also were important for textile dyes, insect repellents, and rat poisons; for preserving meat; and for dispelling odors in the home.

Because most of Hammersmith’s workers and their wives were illiterate, there are no letters or diaries to help us develop a more clear and detailed account of their personal lives. We will never have their own words to tell us what they thought about working at the ironworks. Instead, we must piece together an impression of their lives from many sources.

Some information about the people of Hammersmith comes from church and government records, which indicate that only a few of the Hammersmith villagers were Puritans. Although this may have caused some problems with their Puritan neighbors, many of the ironworkers and their children did marry into local Puritan families. Colonists from nearby farms and communities performed unskilled labor in the building of the ironworks and in working at the iron factory. This interaction with other colonists suggests that Hammersmith residents probably behaved much like other citizens of Lynn.

Other historical records show that two groups of workers were different from the English settlers, however. In 1651 about 35 Scottish prisoners of war were brought to New England to work at the ironworks rather than being placed in English prisons. The Scots lived at Hammersmith or with colonists from nearby communities who also worked at the ironworks. They received clothing, food, and tobacco as a condition of employment. Many cut wood for charcoal. It is likely that by the second or third generation they were accepted in the same way as other settlers. The other group consisted of Native Americans who already lived in Saugus when the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established. Company records show that at least two Indians chopped wood for the same wages as other workers.

More information about the daily activities of Hammersmith workers comes from analysis of the artifacts found at the town site. These include axes, fish hooks, a bullet mold, hoes, kettles, pots, spoons, a pewter baby nipple, a jaw harp, a pot hanger, oxen shoes, clay pipes, hammers, nails, and countless other items. From analysis of these items and from historical data about how other early New England settlers lived, archeologists conclude that even though the ironworkers of Hammersmith took part in an important chapter of America’s industrial history, their daily lives were little different from those of the Puritan colonists around them.

Questions for Reading 2

1. Why could Hammersmith be described as a "factory town"?

2. How did women fit into the ironworks community?

3. Do you think the ironworkers would have gotten along with other settlers living near the ironworks? Why or why not?

4. Do you think the Scots felt they were better off to be in the colony rather than in English prisons?

5. What evidence suggests that people were paid for the work they did no matter who they were?

6. Can you imagine what daily life in the 17th century at Hammersmith was like? What do the artifacts the people left behind tell you?

Reading 2 was compiled from the National Park Service’s visitor’s guide for Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, 1981; E.N. Hartley, Ironworks on the Saugus (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1957); and Mary Stetson Clarke, Pioneer Iron Works (Philadelphia: Chilton Book Co., 1968).

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