A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

From William Whiting
Whiting, William RTP
Watertown Octr. 6 1775 Hond. Sir,

Your Favour of the 8th. Septr. ult Came Duly To hand. Am Very Sorry to hear of Such ill Success in The Salt petre manufactory at philadelphia, but Can With pleasure inform you that we have better Success here. The Day after I1 parted with you I set out for Gt. Barrington. When I arived there I Got 93a bushel of Earth from under our meetinghouse which had stood about 30 years on a Light Sandy Land. This I Leetched boiled and filtered agreable to Doctr. Grahams process and Got from it half a Pound of pure Nitre. I Tryed several other Like Experiments With Earth from under other Buildings With Success but None yielded So Largely as the meeting house Earth. I then procured a Quantity of Earth from Under the meetinghouse. Set up 6 half hogshed Vats and Leaving the Care of working them With my family (who I had Sufficiently taught the process) I Returned to this place to attend the Court. On my arival here I found my brethren of the house had been informed by Mr. Glover of marblehead Who had Just Returned from Philadelphia that on his Way through Connecticut he Saw one Kibbe at Winsor who informed him that he Could make Saltpetre at the Rate of 17 Pound a Day. Said Kibbe Shew’d him a Quantity of Very fine Salt petre he had made. The house upon being made acquainted with this account of Mr. Glovers ordred me forthwith to Repair to Winsor and if possible obtain this Important knowledge. In my way to Winsor passing through Enfield I Light of a Salt Petre works Set up by one mr. Blakeslege who had been a merchant in that town. His works Consisted of a house which he had built on purpose of about thirty by Twenty feet Square. He had three Vats holding between 40 & 50 bushels Each Two potash kettles Conveniently Set in brick. He had the Day before I Got there Cristalized off a boiling and had 27 Pounds of Very fine Cristals Which I saw Standing in a Tray. He tould me he had been Trying Experiments about 2 months that he had made before that Crop about 30 wt. His Success had been So bad that he had been almost discouraged, that he had not Long before applied to the above mentioned Mr. Kibbe for instructions who after Receiving a fee of £4 gave him the Directions he wanted by following which he had obtained the fine Crop of Cristals I then Saw. He then gave me the following accounts by Reading to me the Directions he had from mr. Kibbe (Viz.) Take the Earth from under an old building high Land of a Light Sandy or Loomy Soil is the best. The Loose Crumbly Earth on the Surface will yield the most Nitre, but When you get below that it will Grow better and better untill you Come to Water Yielding a pound to 5 bushel and Some times a good deal more. Fill your Vats With this Earth and Sprinkle on the Top of it Strong alkaline Lie at the Rate of about a Pint to a bushel of Earth, then Pour on Water untill you have aded as much as there is of the Earth. The Lie from these kinds of Earth will Run at first Quite Clear but as Soon as it Changes to a yellowish brown, put it onto the Next Vat as this Contains the unctuous bituminous parts of the Earth Which Will Clog the Salts and hinder their Cristalizing. Boil With 2 94Kettles feeding that you intend to boil of in Constantly With hot Lie out of the Next kettle and that with Cold Lie from the Vats Carefully Skimming off What Rises in boiling. When you have got all the Liquer you intend to boil into one kettle & have Reduced it to about Double or Treble the Quantity you Expect will Cristalize Dip it out into a Vessel or Cask Sit Level perforated Within about an Inch of the bottom. Let it Stand a Sufficient time for the Gross matter to Subside to the bottom then Draw it off Which Will Leave the Seddiment below the perforation, boil it again untill you find it fit for Cristalizing adding towards the Latter End a small Quantity of Allum Which will occation it to throw up the Skum plentifully which must be Skimed off. When it is Concentrated Sufficiently for Cristalizing Dip it out into the perforated tub to Settle Drawing it off from the Seddiment before it begins to Cristalize. In this way they informed me they Could make in their Works above Described 50 llb. a Week.

I went from thence to Mr. Kibbe who Refused to Give me any Information about the process he made up of but upon finding I had got information from that gentleman he Said it was all he knew Except Some Discovries he had made since he informed Mr. Blacklege which was Very advantageous but he Intended to apply to their general assembly for a Reward before he Published them. He Shewd me about 30 llb. of the finest Salt Petre I Ever Saw and Tould me he was Certain he Could make at the Rate of 16 Pound a Day & I Cant but think that if the great Works at Philadelphia were Employed in this way they might make Salt Petre plentifully. They would find no Difficulty in Geting water through the above Kind of Earth.

Please Sir to Give my most Respectful Compliments to Coll. Hancock Mr. Cushion Messrs. Adamses Doctr. Young & Doct. Rush. I am Hond. Sir With Great Respect your most Humble Servt.,

Wm. Whiting

N.B. It was directed on the outside to “Major Cane on his Majesty’s Service in Boston” by a Female Hand—dated on the outside 22d July, & folded into the Letter.

RC ; addressed: “To The Honle. R T. Paine Esqr. at Philadelphia”; endorsed.


William Whiting (1730–1792), a native of Norwich, Conn., moved to Great Barrington, Mass., about 1765 and became a leading physician in Berkshire County. He was a representative to the General Court and Provincial Congress, where he became actively involved in promoting the manufacture of saltpetre. RTP widely distributed Whiting’s publication, Several Methods of Making Salt-Petre; Recommended to the Inhabitants of the United Colonies, By the Honorable Continental Congress. And Re-published by Order of the General Assembly of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay. Together with 95the Resolve of said Assembly, and An Appendix, By Doctor William Whiting (Watertown, 1775). Later in life, Whiting was imprisoned during Shays’s Rebellion (see Whiting to RTP, Mar. 19, 1787) (John Frederick Schroeder, Memoir of the Life and Character of Mrs. Mary Anna Boardman [New Haven, 1849], 45–75).