History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 623
Contract for Chaining the Hudson.- When it was resolved to chain the Hudson at West Point-as appears by the Gov. George Clinton papers in the State Library-Co1. Hugh Hughes, Deputy Quarter-Master-General, visited the Sterling Iron Works to contract, in behalf of the United States, with Messrs. Noble, Townsend & Company for its manufacture. In my account of this affair in 1845, I stated that Col. Pickering was the government agent, having been so informed by a descendant of the Townsend family, who, no doubt, inferred so, because Co1. Pickering was Quarter-Master-General later in the war, succeeding Gen. Greene in that office August 5, 1780. From the letter of Peter Townsend, of New York, to Franklin Townsend, of Albany, in 1845, I learned the following particulars about this transaction: Capt. Thomas Machin, Engineer, accompanied the Quarter-Master to the house of Peter Townsend, in Chester, where they arrived late on Saturday evening, February 1, 1778. There the contract was agreed upon by Mr. Townsend for the firm; and so great was their zeal in the popular cause, that the parties left Chester at midnight in a violent snow storm and rode to the Sterling works, a distance of fourteen miles, to commence the job. This enterprising furnace firm had all their forges in operation by daylight on Sunday morning, February 2d; the manufacture of the chain was begun and prosecuted without interruption, and the herculean task was finished and the chain carted in sections to New Windsor by New England teamsters, and there delivered-says the letter of Peter Townsend-in six weeks. The chain was delivered in an incredibly short period. Mr. Machin, in his bill of items for extra expenses that season, did not make a charge of going to Sterling at that date, and the presumption is that Quarter-Master Hughes defrayed his traveling expenses there and back.
This contract was dated on the 2d day of February (Sunday morning), having, no doubt, been drawn up at Mr. Townsend's house in Chester, and consummated at Sterling. The work was virtually to be warranted in every particular. In a published account in 1845, accrediting the statement to a geological report made by W. Horton some years before, I gave the weight of the chain at lS6 tons; but this was an estimate approximating more nearly to the weight of all the iron used in the river obstructions at West Point. I am prepared now to make a safer estimate upon the weight of the chain proper. November 20, l848, through the politeness of Col E. J. McCarthy, of Saugerties, Ulster county, I received a link of this chain, which was made of two and one-half inch square bar iron, was two and one-half feet long, and weighed 102 1/2 pounds. Having seen other links of the chain, I should average their length from two to three feet, weighing, say, from so to 120 pounds each. The river at the point spanned by the chain was 1,500 feet wide: 1,700 feet of it was forged, though possibly not all needed. Suppose the links to have averaged two and one-half feet in length, with a loss by the lap of two and one-half inches at each end, leaving the actual stretch 25 inches, then the. chain would require in the whole 1,700 feet (S16 links) ; and suppose those averaged 102 1/2 pounds, the whole weight would be 83,640 pounds, or something less than 42 tons. I have no doubt that 50 tons would quite cover the entire weight of the single chain outside of its anchorage.
The Sterling Iron Works were situated in the present town of Warwick, Orange county, nearly 25 miles back of West Point, and have been in successful operation since about 1750. The contract for the Great Chain specified that it should be made of the best Sterling iron, ever celebrated for its goodness; was, to be 500 yards in length (1,500 feet) ; each link about two feet long, two and one-quarter inches square, or as near so as possible, with a swivel at every 100 feet, and a clevis to every 1,000 feet; to be made in the same manner as those of the former, or Fort Montgomery chain. The contract also called for the manufacture of 12 tons of anchors of sizes to be specified. The United States were to pay £440 per ton for those articles, subject to a trade regulation that might reduce the obligation to £400 per ton. An exemption was also made in the contract in favor of the firm from military duty, for nine months from 'the date, for 60 artificers, to be steadily employed at the chain and anchors till completed. The teams of the company were to have the same - pay as other teams had, if any work they carted to destination, being exempted from liability to impressment. The company agreed to keep seven fires at forging and 10 at welding, if assisted, if necessary, and could be by hands from the army, in case other hands could not be procured, a deduction from the price being allowed for their labor.
Under the direction of Gov. Clinton, Capt. Machin had nearly the entire management of the manner of making the chain, and of supporting it in the river. In his anxiety for the public welfare at this critical time, he wrote the three following letters to local committees in his neighborhood at about the same date, copies of which he kept folded together. The first one here I given I published in 1845, the other two have never before been in type. That to the "New Marlborough committee," the reader will observe is a very important one:
To the Honorable Committee of New Windsor:
"GENTLEMEN-It will be needless for me to point out to you the great necessity of some speedy obstructions being made in Hudson's river, against gun-boats, galleys and small crafts that will probably come up at the first opening of the spring, and prevent our making such necessary works as may preserve the good people on the banks of the river, from the revenge of a merciless enemy (remember Kingston), towards effecting which, much time has already elapsed and but little done, which drives me to the necessity of applying to the Honorable Committee on this occasion.
"We shall want a large quantity of timber for the Chain, which cannot be got up the river on account of the frost; and when the frost breaks up it will be too late for our business. I shall not think it consistent with my duty to distress any individual by cutting all the timber off one man's land, and thereby render a good farm of little value; and I cannot always be with men in the woods; useless destruction may be made by them unless over-seen by somebody to prevent it. For this purpose I should be glad if the Honorable Committee will appoint a Wood Ranger to oversee the business, that the Master Carpenters may apply to him for such timber a8 they 8hall receive orders to get. It ought to be a person in disinterested circumstances, a man of honor, resolution and stability. A compliance with this will much forward the present business, and oblige, gentlemen,
Your humble servant,
New Windsor, 22d Feb., 1778.
the Honorable the Committee of Kingston:
"GENTLEMEN-[The first section in this letter omitted, because it is substantially like the first one in the preceding paper.]
" We are now stocking cannon at this post for the immediate defence of West Point: we have a number of stocks and carriages with the guns ready for fitting, which cannot be done without the wheels, which lie in a sloop at the strand, and as the river breaks up much sooner in the Highlands than at Kingston, it is a query whether the enemy will wait for our fitting them after the river is open. If the amount of forty wheels should bp. sent down by sleighs, we should be able to put ourselves in some state or posture of defence. Your advice or assistance in this will oblige
"Your Humble Serv't,
the Honorable the Committee of New Marlborough:
"GENTLEMEN-[The first clause of this epistle is also nearly a transcript of the first one in the two papers copied.]
"We shall want 60 white-wood logs 50 feet long and 18 inches diameter at the centre, and if large cannot be got that length, we shall want a larger quantity in proportion to the solidity of the above dimensions. The yellow sort of white-wood is much the best, it being six pounds les8 specific gravity-per cubic foot than the white sort. We shall also want 60 pieces of white oak scantling 12 feet long, 4 by 10 [inches]. The timber must all be pearched and dried [literally to be hewed and lifted from the ground]. The bearer, Mr. Ebenezer Young, will find a proper place to frame and dry them. A large quantity of fire Wood will be wanted to be cut and drawn to the place, which can best be done by people on the spot. I should be glad if you would fix the wages and collect hands for the same.
"A compliance will much forward the present business, and oblige, gentlemen; Your Humble Serv't, with due respect,
This letter calls for the cutting of the spars upon which the chain floated, and the oak scantling with which they were connected. Just how many were used for floating the chain is not known. The late Gen. Thomas Machin, a son of the engineer who gave the specifications for making the chain and manner of supporting it, assured me that the timbers were got out-so his father told him-as long as the largest trees would afford. Tradition has always made the floats from 40 to 50 feet in length; and it is not improbable the spars were scored full 50 feet. If a buoy was required at about every 100 feet, it would have taken 14 or 15, and one would suppose that for two or three tons of iron, one would be required for their support or use: as it was, the chain was usually out of sight much of the way, and this is probably the reason why Dr. Thacher and others described the boom for the chain.
The oak timber being 12 feet long would, with the 60 spars, make 15 floats, each to contain four timbers of one and a half feet diameter, leaving three spaces between them of two feet each for the flow of water. Those spars were cut to an angle or spear shape at each end, so as to afford the least resistance to the current or tide of thc water, and each float would seem to have been connected by four bars. The fire-wood required to be cut with the timber was used where the timber was drawn together in artificially drying it, at a place then known as "Jews' Creek," in New Marlborough. The timber must in some manner, to an extent, have been kiln-dried. I may observe that if the floats were not all required under the chain, the balance were, no doubt, used under the boom, which also required more or less, though possibly not all as long. The floats, says tradition, were also in some manner anchored to the bed of the river-probably by cassoons, or cribs of timber filled with stone, to which they were fastened with small chains.
Here is a copy of the original bill of the expenses for procuring the timber for the floats above mentioned, not before published.
"New Marlborough, in Ulster county, in t!he State of New York; Capt. Thomas Machin, superintendent, Dr. To SamueL Edmonds, for chopping of fire wood and cutting the same, and drying the logs for the chain, April 7, 1778 :
16 days, myself [Edmonds], at 16s. per day " . . ... £12 16 0.
To 21 days, William Lineson, at 8s. per day. . . .. . . .. . .8 8 0
To 10. days, Ananias Valentine, at 8s. per day . ... ....... 4 0. 0.
To 7 days, Samuel Edmonds, at 8s. per day. . . . .. . . . . 2 16 0.
To 2 days, Samuel Smith, at 8s. per day. . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 0.
To 5 days, John Wygant, at 8s. per day.. .. .. . . ............ 2 0 0.
To 6 days, James Van Blarekum, at 8s. per day.............. 2 8 0.
To 15 days, Benjamin Carpenter, foreman of the carpenters, at 12s per day. . . . 9 0 0
To 12 days, Richard Williams, at 12s. per day. . . .. . . . . .7 4 0
To 10. days, Thomas Campbell, at 12s. per day. . . .. .......6 0 0
To 4 days, Allen Lester, at 12s. per day. . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 8 0
[The following teams, no doubt, consisted each of two yoke of oxen.]
To 4 days, Solomon Waring, team and teamster, at 23s. per day ...4 12 0
To 3 days, Mathew Wigant, at 23s. per day. . . . . . . . . . . . 3 9 6
To 5 days, Terri! Lester. at 23s. per day. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 15 0
To 5 days, George Stanton, at 23s. per day. . . . . . . . . . . . .5 15 0
To 1 day, James Waring, at 23s. per day. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 3 0
To 2 days, John Bond, at 23s. per day.. ..............................2 6 0
To 1 day, John Wigant, at 23s. per day................................1 3 0
To 3 1/2 days, Nathaniel Celsea, at 23s. per day.. . ...............4 0 6.
Total..............................................................................£86 0. 0.
This paper, which is almost obliterated in some parts, is indorsed "Accounts of drying the Chain Logs at Jews' Creek. Signed and directed 17 April, 1778. The old Chere Man's Account."
The following letter from Gen. James Clinton to Capt. Machin, is of a private rather than public character; and shows that Borne men even at that early day, were rather above their business: or had conceived that sickly notion of its being dishonorable or disgraceful to labor. If it be honorable to disobey the commands of God, then indeed is it dishonorable to work--but if not-not:
"LITTLE BRITAIN, March 4th, 1778.
"DEAR SIR-I received your favor by Lieut. Strachan with a few lines from Col. Taylor inclosed, concerning a complaint that Capt. Young bas made against Capt. Mills, (both of tbe Artificers,) but as Col. Taylor does not set forth what injury Capt. Mills has done Capt. Young, I can't give you any advice about the matter.
"I think your letter seems to confirm the charge against both of them; for what can stain an officer's character more than not doing his duty? A captain of a company of artificers, if be does his duty, will have harder work than any of the privates, and I think you are answerable for their conduct, as you have the charge of the work; and if they don't do their duty you must arrest them, if nothing else will do.
"If they be gentlemen of such high spirits as to think it a scandal for them to work because they bear the title of captain, I think they might decide such disputes between themselves without troubling any officer with it. Inclosed you have Col. Taylor's report, and if I must give my opinion of the matter, let me know what stories Capt. Mills has propagated against Capt. Young.
am, Sir, Yours,
"JAMES CLINTON, B. G."
The next two papers will serve somewhat to show the varied duties performed in the Highlands by Capt. Machin; proving that Gen. Washington was right, when, in the midst of their troubles with engineer Romans, he assured Messrs. Deming and Sands, a committee from the Provincial Congress,* June 13, 1776, that he would send them an Engineer who would take the sole direction of the fortifications in the Highlands, and relieve the commissioners of further service in that direction ; for he it was who sent them Capt. Machin. Gen. Parsons succeeded. Gen. Putnam in his duties in the Highlands in the spring of 1778; and in his brief letter to Capt. Machin, he speaks of Col. Laradiere. This is the only French Engineer named as ever having been consulted in relation to any of the fortifications there, and he would seem to have done but little
* See Journal of Prov. Congress. P 493
in his brief stay at West Point. This letter proves that, although he may have planned some of the work; yet the local engineer was still consulted in its execution. Thaddeus Kosciusco, a Polander, says a biography of him in Drake's Dictionary of American Biography: "was the principal engineer in executing the works at West Point." Lossing says (in his Field Book, vol. 1, p. 704,) that Kosciusco arrived at West Point, March 20, 1778; but does not tell how long he remained there: but some of the most important works were. not only planned but well under way before that date. He no. doubt rendered some important service there, but it is very certain that Gen. Parsons, as well as Gen. Clinton, and Deputy Quarter-Master General Hugh Hughes, well knew what engineer to consult as the most at home in the Highlands.
"SIR-As Col. Laradiere has left us, I wish you, if you can, be absent from New Windsor for a day, to come to this port to-morrow or the day after, to advise about the proper method. of fortifying this place.
"From, Sir, your humble servant,
"SAM'L H. PARSONS.
"WEST POINR, 11th March, 1778."
AFTERNOON, March 11th, 1778.
"MY DEAR CAPTAIN- You will receive by the bearer some paper and all the white rope of the size mentioned we have. I. have sent off Charlie this minute to forward the cordage from Danbury, as well as from Fairfield, but cant say what size there is at the latter [place], as it is sent by Mr. Shaw, of New London, at the request of Gen. Putnam, who never told me the sizes he ordered. I believe there are no more cables to be expected of Mr. Ives till he gets more hemp-at least, I understood him so. In my letter to Gen. Putnam, I informed him while he was in Connecticut, that all sizes would be wanted, and advised that the whole cargo should be bought.
"He referred the matter to Governor Trumbull, (and I imagine) the Governor
to Mr. Shaw, who may, possibly, serve himself first. However, as I said
before, Charles is gone to learn the true state of what is on the road,
and forward it along.
When he returns, which will be in two or three days, I expect, you shall
hear further. I will wait on the general, and let you know his orders concerning
the hands. Inclosed you have the general's order for the men required.
" I am, Dear Captain,
" Yours in truth,
"P. S.-You have also an order on Sheaf at Wappinger's
BRITAIN, March 20th, 1778.
"DEAR SIR-I expected to have been to see you before now, but the riding was so bad I deferred it a little while, as I want to go to the West Point. I sent my boy for the papers if they are come.
"I suppose you begin to ketch [catch] some fish this fine weather; if so, I would be glad you would send a few up here -and you will oblige,
The following paper, which is without date or signature, is in the hand writing of Gov. Clinton, and was filed by Capt. Machin as received from him March 20th, 1778 :
"Mr. Machin will write to Samuel Bronson, at Goshen, to know if he has any knowledge of a lead mine in the mountains, about nine miles off the river, of which he once spoke to Thos. Smith, Esq.
Mr. Machin will also go to Wawarsink and see the mine there now working by one McDonald, and what prospect there is of working it to purpose. It is said there is a lead mine near Mamecottang [Mamakating, as now written], and one on this side the Shawangunk mountains, of which make inquiry of the latter from Col. Palmer, the former from everybody. Mr. Wisner has the samples of them; get those from him-in those of Wasink in Duchess and --." [Several words at the close of this paper are rendered unintelligible.]
"SIR-If 'tis possible to spare any timber from the creek, I beg you to order it rafted immediately for this place, where we are in the greatest need of it; it ought not to be delayed a moment, our information being of a nature which requires. immediate attention to completing the batteries. [Probably in the vicinity of West Point.]
"Your obedient serv't,
"SAML. H. PARSONS.
"3d April, 1778."
Here is a letter from Capt. Machin to Gen. McDougal, which shows the West Point chain finished at its forges, while the next one from Gov. Clinton proves it floating in the river, just three months from the day its iron work was contracted for; a wonderful dispatch of labor:
"HONORED SIR-Lieut. Woodward, who I told you was at Sterling iron works
inspecting the chain, is now returned, and informs me that seventeen hundred
feet of the Great Chain, which is more than equal to the breadth of the
river at the place last fixed upon, is now ready for use. The capson [capstan]
and docks are set up at the lower place; the mud blocks are launched and
only wait for good weather to carry them down: four cannon-twelve and nine
pounders-are at the beach, also waiting for weather to go down: four more
will be ready by Saturday ; and if no unforeseen accident should appear,
I shall be able to send down four cannon next week. If the weather should
be favorable, I am in hopes we shall be able to take the chain down all
fixed in about 6 days. Lieut. Woodward was ordered by Gen. Parsons to assist
me at those works, and as he is a gentleman well skilled in mechanical powers,
and a person of steady application, it will put me much out of the way to
have him removed at this time. Should therefore be glad if you will continue
him in the work, as somebody must be in his place, and to take an entire
stranger at this time will be onerous and dangerous.
"I am, dear sir,
" Your humble servant,
"The Honorable Maj.- Gen. McDougal. "APRIL 20th, 1778."
Explanation.-A, a battery on Constitution island. B, the great chain suspended across the Hudson. C, Fort Clinton on the West Point. The latter, which occupied nearly the present site.of the Military Academy, commanded a southern approach to the Point.
3d May, 1778.
"DEAR SIR-I received your letter of yesterday and am happy to learn that the chain is across the river, at1d that you had the good fortune to accomplish it so expeditiously and so much to your satisfaction.
"I am informed that old Mr. Teabout, who lives (or did lately) at Van
Deuzen's, near the Clove, has a phaeton that he will dispose of. If so,
and it is a neat, good one, as I am told it is, I wish to buy it, provided
it can be had at a reasonable price. A new one used to cost about £80.
I would be willing to give something more now. Will you call and take a
look at it-know the price, and if good and reasonable, purchase it for me.
The sooner you see it the better.
The following paper tells credibly for the skill, industry and character
of Capt. Machin:
" I hereby certify that about the middle of July, 1776, Capt. Machin, of the Artillery, came to Fort Montgomery, and by the direction of His Excellency, Gen. Washington, was there employed in laying out and erecting works for the defence of that place, and for securing the pass to Anthony's Nose, until towards the latter part of August, when Gen. James Clinton took the command of that post. That in December following, Capt. Machin was employed in constructing chevaux-de-frize for obstructing the navigation of Hudson's river, opposite Pollopel's island; and that he continued in that business, sinking the same, making the necessary preparations for fixing the chain across the river at Fort Montgomery, and occasionally superintending the works at that place, until some time in June, 1777, when Gen. Putnam took the command of t.he army in the neighborhood of the North river, and by his orders Capt. Machin was employed in constructing and making booms to draw across the river in front of the chain, till the reduction of that fort by the enemy, at which time he was badly wounded. And I have reason to believe that, upon his recovery, he has been steady employed to this time in the necessary preparations for fixing the new chain across the river, completing one of the booms, the chevaux-de-frize, and raising the. galley which was sunk on the enemy's advance up the river. In justice to Capt. Machin I am bound to add, that, while he was under my command he discovered great diligence and industry in forwarding the different works committed to his care, and that in the execution of them he experienced an uncommon share of labor and fatigue, being often necessarily exposed to work in the water in very cold weather.
" Given under my hand at Poughkeepsie, this 17th of August, 1778.