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The Lead Business in North America - page 1

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Buck Conner

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The Lead Business in North America
[Editors note: some spelling is from the time period.]
Lead or pewter articles were in everyday use when European first arrived in the New World and in a short period of time was passed on to the local Indians as gifts or used as barter in a trade. The introduction of the firearm made lead an extremely important trade item and would continue for centuries in the settlements, forts, trading posts and on the frontier.
In the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, guns for trade were not standardized and became customary for one to buy a mold with the purchase of the gun. Sites in New York and western Pennsylvania dating from 1660-87 have produced single cavity ball molds, bar lead - some crude flat bars with stamped lettering, yet others found with beveled edges with raised lettering where fancy for the time, weighting from a small 6-7 oz (HBC C. bar) to the heavy 2 pound bars.
Hudson's Bay Company records list large shipments of shot to Hudson's Bay in the period 1687-1740, then again in the 1763-1791 time frame, included in the later shipments were three sizes of bars marked [HBC a.], [HBC b.], and the small [HBC c.] bar. The "a." bar was usually moved to forts or settlements close to water travel do to its weight of 65-75 pounds (referred to as a "pig of lead"), used for ballast in the bottom of ships and then melted into smaller bars for the trade, "b" bars where of the 20-25 pounds size and have been found inland, probably carried by horse or smaller water craft such as a canoe or flat bottom boat, and again melted to a smaller size. The [HBC c.] bar - the most popular because of its size (6-7 oz), perfect to be carried in ones equipage, found in possible bags with a single ball mold - seen in a number of museums throughout North America, probably due to it's size and availability for such a long period.
[SEE NOTE]
Small brass molds for a variety of sizes of shot, and round ball were common among the settlers and some eventually passed to the Indians. In1648 Bradford wrote from the Plymouth Plantation, "They [the Indians] have also their moulds to make shotte, of all sorts, as Musket bullets, pistoll bullets, swane and gose shotte, and smaler sorts;....."
By 1750 the trade had spread around the Great Lakes and into central Canada, with standardized guns like the Northwest gun, molded balls began to become more popular than molding one's own and the supply of bar lead slowed leaving the shot as the big money maker in the business. Molded bars were still a significant trade item in many of the colonies and on the frontier as more manufacturers now in the trade produced smoothbore and rifled guns, now coming from Europe and American firms, individual molds and bar lead still had to be purchased.
In 1755 Sir William Johnson wrote to Colden and Kerly:
"SINCE MY LAST, I HAVE GOT UP THE GUNS YOU SENT ME, WHICH WILL NOT ANSWER AT ALL, INSTEAD OF BEING LIGHT INDIAN GUNS AS I WROTE FOR, I FIND THEY ARE OLD MUSKETS VAMPED UP ANEW. SO LARGE AND WIDE A BORE THE INDIANS NEVER USE, NEITHER WOULD THEY CARRY THEM IF THEY WERE TO BE PAID NEVER SO MUCH FOR IT. SO I RETURN THEM TO YOU, IN ORDER TO CHANGE THEM FOR LIGHT GUNS, IF YOU CAN, IF NOT I DON'T WANT THEM."
Johnson wrote Governor Clinton that his stores of materials for the Indians were extremely limited. He requested material for coats, ruffled shirts, "20 caster[beaver]hats with scallop lace, a parcell of "bullet moulds" for casting ball & swan shot. There were several requests made for the parcell of "bullet moulds" for casting ball & swan shot over a lengthy period while Sir William Johnson was in charge of operations in dealing with the Iroquois trade.
It was recorded in 1792; "Americans have met a delegation of Chickasaws and Choctaws at Cumberland. They gave the Indians a few lead bars because they had no ball with them and ,due to a lack of any muskets, gave rifles to three principal chiefs." When the Spaniards read the report they where upset and planned to stop any other trades of this type in the area, nothing was found as to the out come of the problem - whether the Spaniards and the Americans met or sent word to each other after the original meeting.
By 1830 the lead mining and smelting industry was well developed turning out lead in large pigs weighting generally about 65-75 pounds, stacked and ready for shipment up and down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Employees hired by the year at these ports would cut up the pigs and mold then into trade balls and small bar lead in their spare time, thus helping to fill the demand of travelers on these rivers moving west.
Trade balls were cast in iron, bronze or brass gang molds - by 1850 there were seven gang molds for balls and one brass or bronze mold for buckshot on the inventory at many of the forts, Fort Union employees bragged at the speed that they could turn out ball and shot.
The Chouteau packing account for the "loway Outfit" in 1831 included:
1 lead mold for 12 bars lead.........$4.50
2 pigs lead 140 at 3 cts...................$4.20
As late as 1870 James Willard Schultz wrote of selling "Number Thirty balls" in cloth bags to the Blackfeet. As late as1883 the Baltinmore and St. Louis Shot Towers were still offering 1/2 ounce balls of .52 caliber. Reports and shipping records up into the early 1900's show a small but steady supply of shot and ball still finding it's way into the wilderness.
At the Hanna-White cabin near Ten Sleep in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming was found bar lead with dates of 1880, one bar at the Museum of the Fur Trade from that site is marked "E.W. Blatchford & Co. Chicago". Eliphalet Blatchford began business in St. Louis in 1850, he was known for stamping the customer's name on each bar of lead, like Charley Hanson would says, "an excellent advertising scheme".
I think we have explored the lead shot, lead ball and bar lead enough to give you an idea that this was in large demand for a long period in North America from the start of the Colonies through the Fur Trade and into the early 1900's, a longer period than most would think of.
Now let take a look at a few of the Shot Towers, their operators and a little history without being to boring.
Early shot towers where found in the New England states in the early 18th century and flourished in New York and western Pennsylvania. By 1809 John Maclot built the first shot tower west of Pittsburgh and had it in operation the same year. In 1810 Moses Austin, originator of the plan to colonize Texas, built another shot tower at Herculaneum, by 1814 a third tower appeared with the construction completed by Chris and John Honey.
The Saint Louis Shot Tower: As St. Louis' industries grew and the town was exploding with population along with outlining settlements involved with the Westward Movement, it was only natural that a shot tower was needed to fill the demand. Ferdinand Kennett saw the chance for an enterprising person to become wealthy and with partners like his brother Luther and James White it wasn't long that his dream was fulfilled. By 1836 the Saint Louis Shot Tower Company had purchased the J.H. Alford Company, it's warehouse and shot tower in Herculaneum and by 1840 formed a partnership with John Latty to make shot and form a new company - F. Kennett & Company.
KENNETT, SIMONDS & CO. "WHO WILL KEEP A CONSTANT SUPPLY OF PATENT AND BUCK SHOT AND SMALL BAR LEAD ON HAND AND WILL FILL ORDERS UPON SHORTEST NOTICE. THE OFFICE OF THE COMPANY WILL BE KEPT AT THE COUNTING ROOM OF JOHN SIMONDS, 24 WATER ST., ST. LOUIS. JAN 31, 1849" notice seen in the Missouri Republication.
The company had become a copartner ship as it expanded with several silent and named partners, by 1854 Ferdinand Kennett had completed his dream and retired an exceptionally successful man.

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