Retired engineer and local historian James Johnston spoke with Sowans Heritage Area team member Dave Weed about the manufacture of iron in early Rehoboth and colonial America. James passed away a few months later and is remembered in this obituary.
While the New Palmer River Iron Forge was established in Rehoboth by 1722, though there’s no documentation, it’s quite likely that earlier forges were operating prior to 1700. Forges used bog ore found in local swamps to manufacture needed metal tools and implements.for the growing population in the Sowans Heritage Area. The iron forge established here by 1722 was probably a refinery for the shipbuilding trade in Swansea. It was equipped with the necessary helve hammers, anvils, coal or coke crucibles, and bellows. One of the owners, Robert Carr, was a Swansea shipwright, and the other owners were blacksmiths and builders. In later years, cart wheels were made at the iron works, and numerous wheel hoops were reported found years later when the business was dismantled in 1759.
Sketches by Joseph Carpenter, Jr. from the Guide to Historic Sites published by the Rehoboth Historical Commission show how bog ore was dug from swamps and transported to forges in Rehoboth where the ore was smelted into iron tools. The Leonard family of Taunton, famous colonial iron refiners, purchased the mine property in 1696.
Bog iron was dug from the swamp or along the Palmer River bank (photo above, left) in the form of iron-rich gravel and was transported to the Leonard iron works in Chartley Village (west Norton) for processing into raw iron. When the town rebuilt Tremont Street with a bridge across Mine Brook in 1720, the Leonards received extra land and the right to mine ore under the new road before its construction, as long as their operation did not damage the road or bridge. (Photo above, right) A piece of iron slag was found off of County Street along the Palmer River.
Dave Weed interviews retired engineer and local historian James Johnston at his home on Hillside Street in Rehoboth. Jim has a large collection of early bog iron tools and has written about the early history of forges and blast furnaces that operated in the area.