Iron industry in Litchfield County

There are so many topics for research in this collection, I don’t know where to start. We just acquired 48 account books that belonged to John Adam and Samuel Forbes, both individually and as the partnership Forbes & Adam. These two men were instrumental in developing the iron industry around East Canaan, Connecticut. Adam lived in Taunton, Mass. before moving to East Canaan where he married Samuel Forbes’ daughter. Forbes and Adam owned interest in several ore mines, a sawmill and a paper mill, a slitting mill, a “nailery” and a general (company?) store. The volumes we have date from 1748-1875.

Many of the entries in the ledgers include not only the person’s name but his occupation and town of residence as well. Some of the occupations mentioned are ore digger, ore carter, anchor maker, bloomer and iron turner. Those customers of African heritage are so noted in the volumes. There is a volume entitled “Woman’s book”, a ledger that put me in mind of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book Goodwives in that women, who are almost entirely identified by their relationship to men, paid their bills by nursing, spinning, making butter, and making and mending clothes.

The volume marked “Real Estate” includes notes about building a forge in Norfolk, 1760; to paying John Forbes for his 999-year lease of 1/32 of Salisbury Ore Hill; and the purchase of one whole right in the Susquehanna Purchase. Other entries give a fascinating look at the extent the iron industry impacted northwestern Connecticut–buying land for cord wood, investing in ore mines, hiring agents, investment in turnpikes, and on and on.

I got very frustrated reading through these accounts when I saw what I termed “scribbles” made by Charles S. Adam on the blank pages of the early volumes. However, I finally realized that, although he defaced the “sacred” 18th century volumes, he noted his financial transactions, local births and deaths, and national events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There is a lot to be mined from Charles’ scribbles with further examination. I have learned to not be so hasty in my judgments.

This collection is a rich resource we sincerely hope the scholarly community will mine.

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2 thoughts on “Iron industry in Litchfield County

  1. Does anyone know anything about Willcox & Co. in Hartford? The firm forged iron hardware for ovens. We have found their products at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY and are seeking information about the company’s years of operation.

    Regards,
    Jean Dunbar

    Historic Design Inc.
    108 W. Preston St.
    Lexington, VA 24450
    Historic interiors consultant to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site

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