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A DOCUMENT CONCERNING
GUNMAKER ASA WATERS

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This unedited letter was written by the Waters family lawyer in 1945, outlining the history of the family and their involvement in the firearms trade. It is provided courtesy of Joseph V. Puleo.

July 30, 1945
J.W. Gantt, Principal
The Mill Spring Consolidated Schools
Mill Spring, North Carolina

Dear Sir:
I have this day had your letter of July 14, 1945, turned over to me with the request that I give you any information I might have in regards to the Asa Waters family and their manufacturing of guns.

Back about 20 years ago I had the pleasure of doing some real estate work for Mr. & Mrs. Henry Philips, daughter and son-in-law of Mr. Asa Waters, Jr., the maker of the gun you now possess. I also spent quite a bit of time with both of these people looking over the blue prints of their family trees. If I remember correctly, one of these checked back to the time of the Crusade, in which some relatives were knights.

The Waters family of Millbury traces its ancestry to James Waters who lived about 1600. He had a son, Richard, a gunsmith, who married Joyce (Rejoice), daughter of William Plasse, also a gunsmith. They had a son John, b. in 1840, a farmer, resided in Salem, and m. in Salem, June 1, 1663, Sara, daughter of John Tompkins of that place. From two of his ten children, Richard, b. in 1699, and Nathaniel, b. in 1671, the members of the Waters family in Millbury are descended. Nathaniel purchased one-tenth (about three thousand acres) of the township of Sutton.

Johnathan, son of Nathaniel, moved from Salem and became the first settler on the Clifford R. Harris farm, of West Millbury. From him were descended Asa, Asa, and Col. Asa H. Waters, all of whom were gunmakers and manufacturers, as well as extensive landowners. This branch of the family intermarried with the Trasks, the Torreys, the Goodells, the Burbanks, and other well-known families.

Asa Waters, The First

Nathaniel Waters (1671-1718) of Salem, in the year 1715, bought three thousand acres of the wilderness, within the territory that was to become the town of Sutton, but, dying three years later, he probably never lived here, and his land was divided between his two sons, Nathaniel, Jr., and Jonathan (1715-1786), who had farms in the north part of the township. The home farm of the latter was on the east side of the road leading from Singletary pond to West Millbury at the east end of the village. Probably the site of the first house is marked by an old well. The present dwelling stands nearly opposite where a road branches to the westward. There for four generations lived a Jonathan Waters. They were descended from James Waters, an iron monger and citizen of London who died in that city and was buried in St. Botolph's parish, February 2, 1617, leaving a widow, Phoebe, daughter of George Manning, and a son, Richard. Among the manuscripts in the British Museum is a pedigree prepared by that George Manning showing his descent through eight generations from Symon Manning, who was a crusader to the Holy Land in the reign of Richard I and who died before 1272. The widow Phoebe Waters married a widower, William Plasse, a gun maker of London, who had a daughter, Rejoice Plasse. This family, Mr. & Mrs. Plasse and their two children, were in the migration that crossed the Atlantic before 1636 to the new plantation on the Massachusetts Bay.

Richard Waters married in London his step-sister, Rejoice Plasse. William Plasse and his step-son followed the trade of gun making in Salem. A grandson of Richard Waters was the Nathaniel who bought Sutton land, and a grandson of the latter, and son of the first Jonathan, was the Asa Waters who was born in the north parish of Sutton, January 27, 1742. He and his brother Andrus inherited the mechanical talent of their progenitor, Richard. Both were gun makers, and were among the first to perceive the industrial possibilities of the swiftly descending waters of Singletary brook. The two brothers established trip hammer works where the Holbrook Mill stands, or a little below, and forged gun barrels, scythes and other iron implements.

Asa Waters, The Second

Asa Waters, the second, was born in Sutton, November 2, 1769, probably in the house of his father, the first Asa Waters, at the southeast corner of West Main and Rhodes Streets. He developed, to a remarkable degree, skill and ingenuity in the trade which seemed hereditary in his family for several generations, that of gun making. He and his elder brother, Elijah, had learned that trade in the shop of their father on Singletary Stream. The brothers in 1797 purchased the neighboring water power on the Blackstone River. This purchase included the site of their future armory, and as well the gristmill long a landmark on the east side of Main Street and on the north bank of the river where the road crosses it, and also the land between the river and Elm Street as far east as the Cordis dam [editor's note: these last two words were not clear and may be incorrect]. They made guns, scythes, saw mills saws and like products.

In 1808 they built the armory which gave its name to the village and contributed so much to its prosperity. The same year they undertook their first contract with the national government to supply firearms for the army. Elijah after a long illness died in 1814 and Asa became the sole proprietor. His son, the third Asa Waters, in an article upon Gun Making (Journal of Progress, Philadelphia, June, 1887) thus describes his father's work:

"Possessing great physical strength, unusual energy and mechanical talent, he introduced various improvements in gun making, which wrought great changes. Two only will be referred to. Gun barrels were welded and forged up to this time entirely by hand power, the super having two strikers. All this was in the recollection of the writer. On October 25, 1817, he was granted letters of patent for his invention for welding gun barrels under trip hammers with concave dies, striking four hundred blows a minute and controlled by a foot treadle. This patent was signed by James Monroe, President, John Quincy Adams, Secretary of Sate, and Richard Rush, Attorney General. This invention was copied by all the armories of the United States and in Europe, and his claim to originality has never been disputed. In the following year, 1818, observing that the English process of grinding the barrels down before a revolving stone left the metal of uneven thickness around the calibre, and thus liable to explode, he invented a lathe to turn the barrel to uniform thickness. This patent, December 21, 1818, was the first patent ever issued for turning a gun barrel in a lathe, save one which was a failure. This proved a success so far as the gun barrel was round.

Years later, when the wonderful inventions of Thomas Blanchard for turning the irregular end of the gun barrel and the wooden gun stock, had come into general use and knowledge, claims were made to deprive Millbury of the honor of being the place of the discovery of this principle in practical mechanics."

Revolutionary Armory
Just in front of the dam at the stone mill of Edward F. Rice & Co. on Singletary stream, was situated the trip hammer building connected with the armory of Asa Waters, senior, in Revolutionary days. Mr. George W. McCracken, at the age of eighty-seven, definitely located the old structure and stated that the timbers on the old trip-hammer shop were the largest that he ever saw in any building. Shortly before his death, Colonel Waters spoke of seeing, when young, ruins of other buildings still farther down the stream. The region about the stonemill and the Crane & Waters privilege has changed in the location of dams and trenches since the existence of the old armory, where Asa and his brother Andrus established their early gun-works. The latter lost his life in the iron mines of Connecticut from which metal was procured for the works on Singletary stream. At the first armory in Millbury muskets were made for the soldiers of '76. Flintlock guns made at this armory compared favorably with those produced at the same time in England.

At this time I believe there are two nephews of Mrs. Henry Phillips alive, Mr. Grosvenor, in Washington, head of the National Geographic Society and George Avery White, Lawyer and Banker in Worcester, Mass.

Hoping this information may be of some help to you,

Yours very truly,
[Signature missing]

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