“My friend, the child Independence is about to be born; be liberal and give him an easy delivery.”
Thomas Crane, Massachusetts colonial powder master, who would go door-to-door soliciting money, clothes and supplies for the families of local soldiers.
As Massachusetts powder master, Thomas Crane of Stoughton (Canton) was in the middle of things. We noted earlier that he had to scramble and conspire to put musket and cannon ammunition in the hands of the militia defending Breed’s Hill. It was after that famous battle that the commanding General George Washington began building a wartime infrastructure, with the full assistance of the Massachusetts colonial government.
One of their early decisions, while in session in Watertown, would create a nexus of powder and paper that would allow the war for independence to proceed with well-armed forces – a decision that would cement the importance of the Liberty Paper Mill to the American revolution.
In late 1775, the Continental Congress, as well as the Massachusetts House of Representatives, began discussions about building powder mills in Andover and Stoughton.
In January, 1776, perhaps spurred by the assurance from Col. Henry Knox that he would arrive shortly in Cambridge with the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, the Massachusetts House of Representatives resolved:
Whereas, this Court on the 5th day of January current, passed a Resolve empowering Mr. Putnam, Mr. Crane, and Mr. Vose, to purchase the remains of a Powder-Mill at Stoughton, and land and privileges convenient to improve the same….. and they hereby are fully authorized and empowered to purchase or hire, as they shall judge meet, the Land and advantageous Stream at Stoughton, where they have, or shall agree to erect a Powder-Mill for such a term of years, and for such yearly rent as they shall, think proper, and that they, in behalf of this Colony, take a deed or lease of the same, as they shall agree to purchase or hire.
We are not sure who Mr. Putnam is, but we do know that Mr. Crane is Thomas Crane, and Mr. Vose is Daniel Vose, a partner with Stephen Crane in the Liberty Paper Mill.
Our old friend Paul Revere appears in this story as well. The Massachusetts House and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia directed Revere to travel to Pennsylvania to learn the mysteries of gunpowder manufacturing from Oswald Eve, who owned and operated the only significant powder mill in the colonies at the time.
Philada. Novr. 21st 1775 I am requested by some Honorable Members of the Congress to recommend the bearer hereof Mr. Paul Revere to you. He is just arrived from New England where it is discovered they can manufacture a good deal of Salt Petre in Consequence of which they desire to Erect a Powder Mill & Mr. Revere has been pitched upon to gain instruction & Knowledge in this branch. A Powder Mill in New England cannot in the least degree affect your Manufacture nor be of any disadvantage to you. Therefore these Gentn & myself hope You will Chearfully & from Public Spirited Motives give Mr. Revere such information as will inable him to Conduct the bussiness on his return home. I shall be glad of any opportunity to approve myself.
Sir Your very Obed Servt. Robt Morris
Evidently, Mr. Eve was indeed protective of his monopoly. He complied with the request for a tour, but gave Revere no information about how powder is made. But Revere, already an accomplished mechanic, chemist and metallurgist was able to demystify the process sufficiently to assist Crane and Vose in setting up and begin operating the mill.
Construction began in February of 1776, and was in full operation by May. Coincidentally, it was in February of 1776 that Ezekiel Cheever, Commissary of Military Stores in the Continental Army, and Richard Devens, Massachusetts Commissary General, began purchasing large amounts of cartridge paper from the Liberty Paper Mill.
Accounts of the time tell us that there was never enough specially-made cartridge paper so Cheever, Devens and others purchased thousands of pounds of less-expensive “whited brown” writing paper, likely for cannon cartridges.
The powder mill was built on the Neponset River, a ways upstream of the Liberty Paper Mill. It successfully supplied the Continental Army until October 30, 1779, when it was “blown to atoms,” as powder mills were known to do.
In 1801, as Zenas Crane was setting up his paper mill in Dalton, Revere, now 65, returned to the powder mill location and created what would become the famous Revere Copper Works.
His superintendent? Thomas Crane.