Records of the iron works at Lynn, Mass., 1650-1686

About this Collection

Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England
Accounts.Correspondence.Inventories.Legal instruments.
Collection Title
Records of the iron works at Lynn, Mass., 1650-1686
3 linear feet (2 boxes)
Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

Content Notes

The records of the Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England consist of sixty-two documents, dating from 1650 to 1686. 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 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.
  • Entire collection is available on microfilm (1 reel, 35mm.) from Historical Collections, Baker Library, Order no. 72-792.|is also available at Historical Collections, Baker Library.

Biographical Notes

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 the Younger (1606-1676), and several other colonial entrepreneurs, and their English investors, including John Becx, a leading English iron manufacturer. The company established the first integrated iron making plant in colonial America, 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. 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. The iron works was successful, but relations 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, the company sued to remove the agent from his post. Gifford was arrested, and after his release, counter sued 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.