|The Saugus Iron
||The Scots at
by Steven Carlson
Among the many employees of the company of undertakers of the iron works
in New England where a group of Scots as prisoners in the English civil war and sold to
the colonies as indentured servants. Only a few learned one of the skilled trades
needed by industrial complexes at Lynn and Braintree, but all eventually became members of
the New England community to which they had been involuntary introduced.
| On September 4, 1650, the English Parliamentary forces under
Oliver Cromwell defeated the army of King Charles 11 and the Scottish Parliament under
Lieutenant General David Leslie at Dunbar, on the east coast of Scotland. In the
fierce fighting some 3000 Scots died, and about 9000 were taken prisoner. The
English immediately released 5100 men because they were wounded and felt to be
"disabled for future Service." The remaining prisoners were sent first to
Newcastle and then to Durham, under the common of Sir Arthur Haselrigge. During the
course of their removal and confinement over 1600 prisoners died, "and few of any
other Disease than the Flux," or dysentery, caused by the poor conditions to which
they had been subjected.
The disposition of such a large number of prisoners presented the English authorities
with a dilemma: to maintain them as prisoners would prove costly, and to release
them could prove dangerous to the security of the Commonwealth. One week after the
battle the Council of State, England's governing body, referred the problem to a committee
and informed Haselrigge that he could dispose of as many prisoners as he felt proper for
work in the coal mines. Under that authority Haselrigge sent forty men to work as
indentured servants at the salt works at Shields, sold an additional forty as general
laborers, and set up "a trade of Linen Cloth: with twelve prisoners as weavers.
In the meantime, the Council had received several petitions from individuals who
desired to transport the Scots overseas as indentured servants. On September 16 it
directed its secretary, Gualter Frost, to confer with the petitioners as to the terms
under which they would undertake the project. Two of the men with whom Frost talked
were among his partners in the Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England,
John Becx and Joshua Foote. Three days later the Council directed Haselrigge to
deliver 150 prisoners to Becx and Foote for shipment to New England.
Becx and Foote specified that the prisoners selected be "well and sound, and
free from wounds." Since Haselrigge feared that although seemingly healthy
"they are all infected," the Scots were shipped to London by water. By
October 23, when the Council ordered the project stopped "until assurance be given of
their not being carried where they may be dangerous, " the Scots were awaiting
passage to America in the Thames. On November 11 the Council, which had exempted the
New England shipment from its earlier order "as their ship is ready and the place is
without danger," issued sailing orders to the master of the Unity, on which the Scots
were embarked, after receiving reports concerning "the ill-usage of the Scotch
prisoners now on board as ship." Augustine Walker probably weighed anchor immediately
upon receiving those orders.
The voyage from London to Boston normally took six weeks, and most likely was an
unpleasant experience for the Scots. While the dimensions of the Unity are unknown,
the accommodations that it afforded the Scots would have been far from spacious.
Commanded by Augustine Walker, who had settled at Charlestown in 1640, the Unity had been
built at Boston around 1646 by shipwright Benjamin Gillam and regularly engaged in trade
with England. No list of the Scots has survived, making the determination of how
many died during the passage impossible, although a death rate approaching ten percent
would not have been unreasonable given the crowded conditions and their general state
after two months of confinement in England.
Becx and Foote had taken on the Scots as a commercial venture, since the twenty to
thirty pounds for which the men could be sold would more than cover the approximately five
pounds per man expense involved. The majority of them, however, were consigned to
two businesses in which John Becx had a major interest. From fifteen to twenty-five
went to Richard Leader for service at his sawmill on the piscataqua River in Maine, while
sixty-two went to John Giffard, the agent for the undertakers of the iron works, at Lynn.
The remainder of the servants were sold to local residents. Like other
indentured servants, the Scot's term of service was seven years.
Exactly when they reached the Lynn plant is unknown, but Giffard's books record the
initial payments for the Scot's food in April 1651. They came from Boston by boat,
and arrived in poor health, as payments for medicine and medical assistance attest.
Indeed, one person by the name of Davidson died. But all of the sixty-one men
remaining stayed at the iron works. Seventeen were returned to Boston to work for
William Awbrey, the company's factor, in the warehouse he maintained there. Three
went to the company's local commissioners, and at least two and possibly as many as seven
were sold to other colonists.
While the number of Scots stayed at twenty-eight through at least August of the
following year, it had risen to thirty-seven by September 1653. As the latter figure
represented the number of men indentured to the company, while the former dealth only with
those fed by it, the difference is in accounting procedures rather than the actual number
of Scots. Some had been rented to iron works employees, who subsequently had to pay
the cost of their food, clothing and shelter. In May 1651, for example, collier
William Tingle hired four men for three years, for which the company would deduct six
pence from the price of every load of charcoal Tingle produced.
The Scots were used for a variety of tasks at the plant. John Toish had the job
of taking in the stock of ore and charcoal and seeing that each load was of full
measure. James Mackall, John Mackshane, and Thomas Tower became forge hands under
the tutelage of John Vinton, John Turner, JR, and Henry Leonard and Quentin Pray,
respectively. Samuel Hart taught the blacksmith's trade to John Clarke, at a cost to
the company of four pounds. The payment to Hart was unusual, since most training
took place at no cost to the company. John Giffard employed John Steward as a servant in
his house for two years before putting him out to a blacksmith. James Gourdan became
a miner, while James Adams went with Giffard's cart and team. Most of the Scots hired out
to other employees went to colliers, and , since charcoal was the most expensive item in
the ironmaking process, the company directed Giffard to employ most of the Scots as
full-time woodcutters to supply the colliers. A number of Scots worked on the
company's farm under Daniel Salmon and kept the community's cattle. The possibility
cannot be overlooked that the workers put out to a skilled trade had some background in
that field in Scotland.
The employment of the Scots by Giffard met with little approval from the undertakers,
who expressed their complaints to him in a letter dated April 26, 1652. "The
company would have you to inform them more particularly of the state and condition of
there affairs". they wrote, "as for instance how many Scotts you have in
your employment...as also what is become of all the rest that were indisposed
over." They continued that if Giffard had sold half of the Scots sent to him
"you should have as yet 30 more remaining at the works to have done your business's
complete that you could not have wants of coming hands nor stock." They went on
to instruct him that "you should have no less then 24 Scots men to cut constantly
wood, " and that the Scots "being placed with other workmen will learn
The majority of the Scots resided in a single structure called the
"Scotsmen's house" about a mile from the Lynn plant. Framed
by Samuel Bennett, a master carpenter who had built a great part of the iron works, it was
, in the words of the undertakers, "very unadvisedly" built on Bennett's land.
As the company refused to pay Bennett, it presumably passed to him in 1654
as partial payment of debts owed him by it. The house probably consisted of
two rooms arranged around a central chimney, and had a cellar oven. In 1653
there were twice as many coverlets and blankets, they possibly slept two to
a bed. The remaining scots lived with other workers, although one account
item refers to the purchase of nails for "the scots cabbins" indicating that
the company had other quarters for them as well as the scotsmen's house.