Eli Whitney orders supplies for his armory

Eli Whitney, best known for inventing the cotton gin, was also a pioneer in mass-producing firearms.  There is little documentation, however, about this aspect of his engineering prowess. In a letter CHS recently acquired, Whitney himself provides some specifics.

The letter was written to John Adam of the Forbes & Adam foundry in Canaan.  Whitney (through his secretary who wrote the missive) specifies that the trip hammer be “made about one inch wide and let it be left without hardening.”  He also requests that Adam “forward my gudgeons, stakes, husk, hammer &c to Litchfield.”  Next he asks for help building a workforce, including “one or two nailers who are expert workmen & masters of the business . . . It is my intention to employ them in forging some of the light limbs of the musket.”

Accompanying the letter is an order sheet, seemingly in Whitney’s own hand, with specifications for three pieces of rolled iron, two “gudgeons made to patterns”, a husk, socket, 10 stakes, and a hammer and “Half a ton of rolled iron . . .”  On the verso are pencil patterns of the gudgeon.  These two documents complement our Forbes & Adam account book collection and provide valuable insight into and documentation of Eli Whitney and his gun manufacture.


No matter how many I see, I still get the chills when reading and handling a bill of sale for a person.  We recently acquired just such a document.  Benjamin Payne of Hartford sold a Negro Woman named Minnah to Samuel Forbes of Canaan for fifty-two pounds, ten shillings.  This particular bill of sale caught our attention because Samuel Forbes, of the iron manufacturing firm Forbes & Adam, freed his slaves sometime around the Revolution, and his account books (which was recently acquired) are filled with customers he identified as “Negro”, individuals who were obviously freemen.  One cannot help but wonder why Forbes had such a dramatic change of heart about owning human beings in an apparently short span of time.