Governor Endecott's attempt at mining copper is the
earliest record we have of the mining of this metal in the English colonies
of North America. The Indians had made some use of copper for personal
adornment, long years before the advent of the white man; but the eastern
tribes had obtained it in barter from the tribes living nearer the great
lakes where copper could be found nearly pure in its crude state.
"Mr. Endecott hath found a copper mine in his own ground, Mr. Leader hath tried it." so wrote Governor John Winthrop to his son on Sept. 30th, 1648.
This outcrop of what was thought to be copper had been found on land that Endecott assumed had been granted to him by the General Court, Nov. 5, 1639. This grant was for 550 acres and it was to be "upon the north of Salem bounds." This vaguely established location was reaffirmed by the Court, Oct. 7, 1640, when it was ordered that Rowley should have "so much land in another place, lying conveniently to the end of their bounds," should it appear that the 550 acre grant to Endecott lay within Rowley bounds. It was on this grant that indications of an outcrop of copper were found, it is very likely, found by Richard Leader the man in charge of the Saugus Iron Works, who had "skill in mynes and tryall of metalls." It is quite conceivable that Endecott employed Leader to prospect his grant in search of the "Mynes and Myneralls, as well as royal mynes of Gould and Silver" included in the Royal charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company.
Less than three weeks after Governor Winthrop had written to his son announcing the discovery of the mine, Endecott appeared before the General Court and petitioned that the bounds of his grant of 550 acres be established more definitely, and Lieutenant Walker and Sergeant Marshall, both of Reading, were appointed on Oct. 27, 1648 to lay out the grant and make return to the Court. Time went by and in May 1656. Endecott. then "our present honored Governor" again requested the Court to lay out his grant on Ipswich river, "the others formerly appointed not having donne by reason of their distance," etc. The men appointed were Ensigne Thomas Howlett and Lieutenant William Howlett, both of Topsfield, the latter being the town clerk. Strange as it may seem these men failed to perform the work and a year later (May 15, 1657), the Court appointed Mr. Thomas Danforth of Cambridge and Robert Hale of Charlestown, to lay out the grant and see to it "that the Governor shall not suffer damage that it hath not been layed out formerly." Two years later, on April 25, 1659, they returned their layout and with it a plan showing the location and the bounds. This plan is now preserved in the State Archives. The grant, as laid out, was "bounded with a brook (Fish Brook) anent Goodman Gould's land in the east, Blind Hole on the south, and the wilderness elsewhere surrounding sayd farme, taking into the bounds thereof the swampy meadow land that lieth on the south side of the river."
By the time the Governor had discovered that his copper mine did not exist he was content to obtain good forest land, suitalbe for further cultivation, that lay largely within the bounds of Rowley Village (now Boxford). While yet in hopes of opening a productive mine he had petitioned the Court for a grant of 300 acres of woodland, lying near the "place he intends to sett up his works, named Blind Hole, neere to a farme formerly graunted him, not being graunted to any other, on this condition, that he sett up his workes within seven years." This occurred Oct. 14, 1651. As the contemplated "workes" were never set up the layout of this grant never was made, but the Governor in his petition to the Court stated that he already had been to some charges for the finding and smelting of copper ore and was still in prosecution of bringing it to perfection by sending to Sweden and Germany for persons well skilled in the art, to assist him.
There are two mile lots, so called, which for convenience may be called the upper and the lower. The upper lot is a field of about four acres, now owned by James Duncan Phillips, situated on the left of Hill Street a short distance before it meets Rowley Bridge Street. The lower lot is beyond the first and at the left hand corner of the Rowley Bridge Street and the Copper Mine Road which leads to Middleton. This lot, now owned by Thomas Sanders, contains betwee three and four acres of rough pasture land.
Samuel S. Mackenzie writing in 1861 in an article in the Essex Institute Proceedings, Vol. III, states there are three different locations where shafts were sunk; one near the meadow on land owned by David Towne (in recent years known as the Peterson place), near the house of Elisha Towne, and now owned by Richard Wheatland. This was the original opening prospected by Richard Leader. No trace of this shaft has been found in recent years. The approximate location is near Nichols brook meadow northwesterly from the site of the Liddy and Betty Towne house on the westerly side of Copper Mine Road. Of the two other shafts mentioned we have a very connected history.
The traditionary story relating to the reopening of the search for copper in Topsfield, as told by Mr. Mackenzie in 1861 and repeated by Prof.
Nehemiah Cleaveland at a field meeting of the Essex Institute held in Topsfield, Sept. 3, 1868, runs as follows: - About the year 1770, an Englishman named Buntin, discovered evidences of copper ore, some of which was obtained by escavating. He made known his discovery to the owner of the land and entered into an agreement to work it at his own cost, giving the owner one-sixteenth of what was obtained. A vessel load was dug and shipped to England, but Buntin, who accompanied it, was taken sick and died, and noone knew what became of the ore.
William Buntin existed, in fact, and came from Worksworth in Derbyshire. The land on which he found evidences of copper was owned by Capt. Benjamin Towne and the following deed indicates that Buntin had been able to obtain the copperation of monied interests in his mining venture.
We Benjamin Towne, Gentleman, Jacob and Joseph Towne,
yeoman, all of Topsfield, in consideration Five shillings and for divers
other good considerations from Edmund Quincy of the District of Stoughtonham,
in the county of Suffolk, Gentleman, have sold to Edmund Quincy, all mines,
mine ores, minerals and other hidden treasurees of the Earth lying in the
land or farm of mine, the said Benjamin Towne, partly, and partly in Land
of us and the said Jacob and Joseph Towne, which we purchased jointly of
John Leach of Beverly, Esqr., bounded as follos, viz: Southerly on
the Land of Nehemiah Herrick there measuring sixty two rods from the corner
leading from Danvers road to a white Oak tree near the wall betwixt said
Herrick's land and us the said grantors, then Northerly from said white
Oak tree to a certain spring enclosed with a stone wall there measuring
about twenty rods, then running still Northerly from said spring about
twenty rods more along side with said spring to a certain stone bridge
across the road within the gate leading from Danvers to Middleton, and
from said Bridge on the road as it
runs through the said gate from Middleton to Topsfield, there measuring sixty two rods, and from thence within the stone wall leading from the parting road toward said Herricks house on the corner leading from said Danvers road first mentioned, there measruing about eighteeen rods, enclosing in said bounds certain shaft or Mine Hole which is commonly known by the name of Towne's copper Mine, also granting unto the said Edmund Quincy Right of Ingress and Regress upon the land and premises and his workmen and Labourers, Pitts ? Shafts, to sink Levells and Drift ways and all other necessarys meet for working the Mines within the premises, Engine or Engines, Mill or Mills or any other Edifices and Erect on the premises and the use and benefits of all water or watercourses for the working said Mines and for cleaning the ores got within the premises and further we the said Benjamin Towne, Jacob Towne and Joseph Towne do hereby agree with the said Edmund Quincy that in case he should discover any Veins or mines or mine ores, extending beyond the afore mentioned premises by us granted into any Parcel of Land to us belonging at this date that the said Edmund Quincy shall hold and enjoy the same on demand provided the said Demand is made within the term of one year from the discovery of such vein of mine ore and paying unto the said Benjamin, Jacob and Joseph Towne, one sixteenth part of all such mines, mine ores, minerals and other Hidden Treasures of the Earth that shall be found and dug up in our land or got up by any ways or means whatsoever. Provided, nevertheless, that whereas the said Edmund Quincy has commenced to work on the premises at the date of those presents and shall cease working on the same by the space of Twenty one years next ensueing, this Instrument, at the expiration of said twenty one years, shall be null and void.
Dated June 1, 1771
Quincy evidently knew what he was about when he engaged
in speculative mining ventures, for ten days after the Townes had sold
him the land for five shillings and a sixteenth interest in the proposed
mine, he deeded to Samuel Turner of London for 1500 pounds all the ores
and minerals that might be found in the farm of the Townes, excepting the
one sixteenth part reserved to them for which he had given a penal bond
This transaction must have fallen through as we find Quincy, on Feb. 3, 1772, deeding to John Bradford of Boston, merchant, for 500 pounds, "one sixteenth of my share or right in the mine in Topsfield, being the same I purchased of Benjamin, Jacob and Joseph Towne." The deed states that "one sixteenth part of the output is to be paid to said Townes' as often as sixteen tons are mined, before distributing to the other shares."
Two months later, on April 27, 1772, Quincy was able to work off two sixteenths more, this time to Richard Gridley, and Joseph Jackson, merchants, both of Boston. The value of shares had gone down in the interval and this time he sold at 250 pounds, a sixteenth. However, he cleaned up a tidy sum on his investment of five shillings.
In the Essex Register, Oct. 1-8, 1771, is this item:- "We hear from Topsfield that the Copper Mine, sometimes since opened there at 12 or 15 feet depth, affords such samples of fine lively ore, extending in spattering all over the pit that experienced miners have declared the appearance preferable to any yet discovered in America."
Having placed in responsible hands the lower mine, located at the corner of the road to Middleton, Buntin next planned to gain control of other land on which he had discovered evidences of copper ore. This was the four acre piece we have designated as the upper mine lot. At the present time this is a cultivated field with no evidences of ledge or mineral outcrop. Moreover, when the mining shaft on this land was reopened in 1839 it is said the well shaped shaft just passed through the surface earth and did not penetrate bed rock. Whatever the original evidence of copper ore may have been, Buntin induced Elijah Porter to buy the land. The deed was dated Feb. 7, 1772.
This land was undoubtedly a part of the original two hundred acre Porter grant. Buntin's interest in the mine was preserved in a paper dated Mar. 6, 1772 in which Porter gives Buntin one eigth part of the mine with priviledges of working it, in consideration of five shillings and one full sixteenth part of all ores dug up.
Neither mine produced ore of value and shortly they were abandoned. Nearly seventy years went by and then a descendant of Buntin appeared in Topsfield in search of the copper mine opened by his ancestor. The Salem Gazette of Aug. 9, 1839, relates the story on considerable detail. "There has been opened, within a few wee,s a Copper Mine in the neighboring town of Topsfield, in this county. It is in the southwest side of the town near the Danvers and Middleston lines. It promises thus far, we understand, to yield a good quantity of this metal.
"This mine is not a recent discovery, but the revival of an old one. The history of it is substantially thus: Some seventy years back, there was living in the town of Topsfield, or its near vicinity, an Englishman by the name of Bunting. He was of a scientific turn, solitary and meditative in his habits, and spent much of his time in wandering about the then extensive woods of that region. In one of his rambles, in passing over the location of the mine in question, he conceived that he saw evidence of the presence of copper ore. This led him to further investigation. An excavation was made, and some ore obtained, which upon the process of smelting was found to yield copper. He then made known his discovery to the owner of the land, and entered into an agreement with him for the working of the mine upon the condition that Bunting should do it at his own cost, and give the proprietor of the field one sixteenth part of the copper obtained. Accordingly a pit was opened to a considerable depth, which not yielding very abundantly, was abandoned, and a second tried, which produced more freely. A large quantityof the ore was thus cug - enough to lade one vessel of considerable size, and shipped for England, from this very port we believe, there tobe smelted. Bunting arrived in England with his ore, but was taken sick, and died very shortly after his arrival. What was done with the ore, of how it renumerated the expense of so long transportation,does not appear. The project seems to have died there with the projector.
Bunting not returning to this country, and no tidings being heard of him, it was very naturally supposed to have resulted in a total failure. Accordingly, the mine was neglected, bushes sprang up on the spot, and it was soon forgotten. It has always gone by the name of the "Mine Lot", and has frequently changed owners.
"The history of the affair was in the process of years forgotten, or lay dormant in the memory of a few individuals. There was a sort of misty tradition handed down concerning the "Mine Lot", which was, that a strange foreigner once undertook to dig gold or money there; and that he suddenly disappeared, and, as supposed, was swallowed up in the earth. This was believed by a few timid and superstitious of a later generation; and some had a dread of going through the "Mine Lot" by night, as it had been reported that an unearthly, grim looking figure had been seen walking guard there armed with a huge branch of an old oak which had been scattered by lightening in the vicinity. Few, however, believed this story.
"Within a very few years past, a descendant of Bunting, in England, inherited some property of his, and among other things, some of his papers came into his hands. Among them he discovered the very agreement relating to the working of the Copper Mine, describing it as situated in the Colony of Massachusetts, North America, etc. The young man not knowing but that an immense fortune was here buried in the earth for him undertook with his papers, a voyage to the United States. He visited the Office of the Registry of Deeds in this city, to ascertain by ancient records the location and identity of the mine which was the object of his search. Upon inquiry concerning the matter being made in Topsfield a recollection of the old affair and person was awakened in the memory of an aged indiviual there.
Suffice it to say, that traces of the two pits were discovered, almost obliterated by time. Whether the agreement was not still binding, or whether the young Englishman did not consider the object worth further pursuit- or whether he sold his right and title, we do not know. He shortly after left the country. Some enterprising individuals of late have purchased the lot, and the digging of the ore is now going on with flattering prospects."
A current story about Topsfield had it that the mine had caved in one night in 1772, and everything that remained as it was when the workmen left work. Evidently the mine never caved in and probably the only reason why the tools had not been removed was the accumulated debris and the water with which the mine was filled except in very dry seasons.
The advent of the young Englishman aroused interest in the abandoned mines and Ralph H. French, the Register of Deeds of Salem, and David Pulsiffer, 3rd, also of Salem, obtained from the heirs of Benjamin, Jacob, and Joseph Towne, a renewal of the deed made in 1771 with Edmund Quincy. French and Pulsifer then formed a company to work the mines and were joined by David Pingree, Timothy Bryant and Thomas P. Pingree, also of Salem. The company had Dr. Jackson of Boston down to test the ore, but hiss verdict was unfavorable. The upper mine not yielding very abundantly, the shaft in the lower lot was opened to a greater depth but here the water was very troublesome and an attempt was made to drain it by running a tunnel to the low ground near by. This proved difficult and the mine was again abandoned.
There is a tradition that only enough copper was removed to make the headof a cane for one of the directors.
Mineralogical analysis has shown that the minerals, mine ores, and other hidden treasures of the earth found at the old mine were composed of the folllowing: Carbonate of copper, malachite, in part; chalcopyrite, copper pyrite, iron pyrite, manitite and limonite dyke of melephyre. The stratified beds of slate limestone and quartzite that the melephyre dyke cut, are of Lower Carboniferous age. The rock is of a greenish color and very hard when first broken up. After exposure to the air it crumbles into slatey fragments. From these mine sites the formation can be traced in an easterly direction. It passes under the river at the old fordway, sometimes called the "Old Weirs" and about half way between the Turnpike and High Street, in the railroad cut, in the rear of the site of the David Granville Perkins' house, this greenish rock shows.
When the shaft of the upper mine was opened in 1839 certain tools, left there when the mine was abandoned in 1772, were found. These tools were presented to the East India Marine Society in 1843, with the following paper which is now in the custody of the Essex Institute.
TOPSFIELD COPPER MINE
These tools or implements were found by the subscribers in the spring of 1830 on opening a Copper mine in the Town of Topsfield in the County of Essex, where they were left by one Samuel Turner, an Englishman, in the year 1771-2 when , the Revolutionary War coming on, he was obliged to abandon the enterprise and return to England, where he died.
The main shaft is fifty feet perpendicular depth, about 10 feet square, well planked on the sides to the bottom, thence extending in ahorizontal direction through a rocky substance 32 feet, called by miners an exploring chamber, at the end of which these tools were found very carefully placed away.
The descent into the Chamber was by a ladder fastened to the side of the main shaft which was made of the same substance or wood as the handle of this Pickaxe and in a like state of preservation.
There was also a wooden box or tube through which to carry off the smoke of the lamps while working in the exploring chamber.
These tools were presented in June 1843 by R. H. French, Esq., and consist of shovels, pickaxes, drills ? other mining tools.
The ore from this mine has ben examined by the most learned geologists and skillful chemists of the State and pronounced to contain little or no copper.
signed: R. H. French
Thos. P. Pingree
David Pulsifer, 3rd Proprietors
After the death of their father, Capt. Benjamin Towne,
Jacob and Joseph owned the mine lot together until Joseph died in 1789,
when his share fell to his daughter Lydia. She was not of age and
her uncle Jacob was appointed her guardian. It is said that he gave
his share of the lot to her. Of this gift there is no record, but
in 1839 Lydia Towne was in full possession.
After her death it passed through the hands of John C. Balch, Lorenzo P. Towne, William Rea, and William Batchelder to its present owner, Thomas Sanders.
At the death of Elijah Porter the four acre lot fell to his son Thomas, who sold the lot to Nehemiah Herrick for 40 pounds on Nov. 3, 1784. The Herrick family lived here until Sept. 24, 1791 when they sold their farm to Susannah Hathorne of Salem for 300 pounds. It is said by their descendants that the family moved away because they considered the vicinity of the copper mine unhealthy and attributed to this source a number of sudden deaths that had occurred in the family. Susannah Hathorne sold to Thomas Emerson, Apr. 1, 1792, for 300 [ounds and Mr. Emerson sold to Thomas Tenney of Rowley May 20, 1795 for 460 pounds. Mr. Tenney was discontented and sold to Nathaniel Porter of Middleton and at his death it was bought by Ezra Batchelder, the father of William Batchelder. The present owner is James Duncan Phillips.
Nothing now exists to show the exact location of the shaft of the upper mine, but the shaft of the lower mine may yet be seen. A jagged hole in the rock resembling a well nearly filled with water with a fence around it to safeguard wandering cows. Below it, on the slope of the hillside, is the opening where a feeble attempt was made to open a lateral drain to free the shaft from water.
Graves of Jacob and Elizabeth Perkins Towne
Pine Grove Cemetery, Topsfield, MA
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