A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

From Joseph Palmer
Palmer, Joseph RTP
Watertown, January 31st 1776 Dear Sir,

This moment recd. your favr. of the 16th curt.,1 & will now answr. such of your enquiries as I can, & will write again when opportunity presents. I think that we have happily obtained a competent knowledge of the method of making Saltpetre, but suppose it capable of great improvemts. The Qty. we have made, is to me uncertain; but I have reason to believe that there has been several Thousand Pounds weight made: At Newbury-Port, they have 5 or 6 Manufactories, & daily make, some say, 100 lb. wt. per day in the whole; I don’t know but ’tis so, but I think ’tis safer to take off 1/2. Other works are seting up, & something is doing in the Family way. A Comtee. is appointed to receive & pay for it. I think this an object worthy the attention of Govermt., but apprehend that the encouragemt. already offered, will not be sufficient to secure & establish the same against future Importations. Our encouragemt. now stands thus; 3/ per lb. price up to the 1st of Octor. next; & 4 / per lb. bounty up to the 1 of June next: I have proposed the following additions, the price of 3/ per lb. to be extended to Janry. 1st 1778; & after the 1st of Octor. next, the bounty to be 2/ per lb. up to Janry. 1st 1777; & 1/ per lb. bounty after that, up to Janry. 1st. 1778: also a Silver Medal of 8 oz. for the greatest Qty. up to Janry. 1st 1777, & 6 oz. for the 2d. Qty., & 4 oz. for the 3d Qty. to that time: If this addition to the encouragement was to be adopted, I think it wd. establish that Manufr., & also that of Powder in consequence. We have 1 Powder Mill building at Stoughton,2 & 1 at Andover.3 We have some considerable Qty. of foreign Sulphur now by us, & more sent for; & we find Pirites at several places, wh. are well charged with Sulphur; & the Books plainly describe the methods of obtaining it in several Countries.

I think with you, that it can’t be long before we shall see the worst of this controversy: I think it clear, that Quebeck & Boston, must both be reduced before the Spring opens: And as our Enemies intend to pour a dreadful Storm upon us as early in the Spring as possible; I wou’d ask, whether somthing ought not to be done? Whether self-preservation does not dictate, that somthing ought to be done to divert the Storm? & whether France & Spain, if they break with Great Britain, will not direct the Storm, or part of it, to other objects? & is it not better for us, 147being thus threatened, to enter into a Treaty with France & Spain, defensive & offensive, rather than suffer the whole Storm to fall upon us? I shou’d now, notwithstanding my connections in Britain: by blood & Friendship, most heartily rejoice to see a superior French & Spanish Fleet, enter the Harbour of Boston, & subdue our unnatural enemies. We doubt not but you will do all in your power to assist us; but you must not depend upon our present prospects of Petre & Powder for our present military exertions, & our Eyes are upon the Congress for further speedy supplies of Powder; a number of Vessels are out for that Article; but their arrival is too uncertain for our present dependance. The exigencys of the day, require dispatch & Strength; not a moment to be lost.

Of the Judges appointed to the Superior Bench, Mr. Adams & Mr. Cushing have signified their acceptance; no answer from Mr. Read; Mr. Sergeant has declined; & Mr. Paine not yet having had sufficient time to weigh the matter, ’tis hoped that he will accept, notwithstanding any thing he may have written, seemingly to the contrary, & the place will be kept open for his final answer.

We have passed a Militia Bill, not altogether such as we best liked, but ’twas necessary to have one; Mr. Gerry will give you a particular a/c of it.4

I forgot to tell you, that the general objection against the proposed additional encouragemt. to the Saltpetre Manufr. is, that it will bring in more Petre than we can pay for.

We have it now in contemplation to build upon our own a/c, 2 Vessels, of 36 & 32 Guns: The Estimate for ’em, including 6 months wages & provisions, 2 Suits Sails, 2 Sets of Anchors & Cables, & every thing else as nearly equal to Brit. Men of War as possible; its amo. is nearly £22000, & £19000, L mo. & I believe its not far from right: The Report is not yet made; how it will be received I cannot say. Pray my very respectful Compts. to all Friends, & believe me to remain, Dr. Sr yr. Frd. & hble. Servt.,


RC ; addressed: “The Honble. Robert Treat Paine Esq. Philadelphia”; endorsed.


Not located.


On Dec. 12, 1775, the General Court authorized a committee to purchase sufficient land in the town of Sutton for the erection of a powder mill and also “to purchase the remains of a Powder-Mill in the Town of Stoughton.” By Jan. 6, 1776, the House impatiently passed another resolution to the same effect, but later in the month determined to abandon the Sutton site and to build a mill only in Stoughton under the direction of Thomas Harling, “the Master Workman of the Powder-Mill.” 148On May 9, Thomas Crane was appointed to be in charge of manufacturing at Stoughton (Journals of the House of Representatives, 51, pt. 2:36, 67, 119, 173, 244; 51, pt. 3:242).


Samuel Phillips, Jr. (1752–1802), a 1771 graduate of Harvard and representative from Andover, proposed building a powder mill. On Jan. 8, 1776, the General Court contracted with him to purchase as “many Pounds of good merchantable Gun-Powder, as he shall be able to manufacture of the Salt-Petre which he shall receive from the Colony” at the rate of eight pence per pound. On June 1, 1778, the Andover powder mill blew up, “not owing to any Imprudence in Mr. Phillips, but to meer Accident,” and the General Court voted to renew its contract. After the war, Phillips was a judge, president of the state senate, and lieutenant governor. He was also the founder of Phillips Academy in Andover (Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, 53, pt. 2: 124–125, 54:26; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 17:593–605).


The Militia Act concerning the formation and regulation of local military companies was passed by the legislature on Jan. 22. One thousand copies of the act were printed, widely distributed, and well received popularly. The text is printed in The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay (Boston, 1886), 5:445–454.

From Bernard Romans
Romans, Bernard RTP
Philadelphia 3 Feby: 1776

A Plan of a 32 Pr. of modern Construction, together with that of a nine pounder on the Same plan; which will weigh 15 or 16 C being near 8 Cwt: Less than those now in use.

The Subscriber had nothing to guide him in this plan save the remembrance that 14 1/2 diameters of the Shot were the Length of the piece, & that the trunnions are one diameter & placed Six diameters before the Breech. Large Errors have not taken place in this, But should any Small ones have crept in they must be attributed to the imperfection of human memory, So common to us all! & an indulgent allowance is therefore craved.

NB a Little inspection will Shew that one general principle Leads to casting cannon of any proposed Caliber.

From Bernard Romans, “Plan of a 32 pounder,” Feb. 3, 1776, Robert Treat Paine Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

AB Cascabel
BC Breech or Solid metal
CD Vent Field
BE First reinforce
FFF Trunnions
EG Second reinforce
GH Chace Girdle
I Chace astragal & fillets
GK Chace
L Swelling of the muzzle
M Muzzle mouldings
NK Muzzle
O Muzzle astragal & fillets
PQ First reinforce ring & ogee
RS Second reinforce ring & ogee
TU Base ring & ogee
BV Breech mouldings
W Vent astragal & fillets

Done at the Desire of R.T. Paine Esqr:, by B: Romans Engr.


RC ; endorsed: AB Romans’ plan of a 32 pounder-Feb. 1776.”