• Saugus Iron Works Panorama

    Saugus Iron Works

    National Historic Site Massachusetts


Historic Background

Before European settlers came to the area surrounding modern-day Saugus, there were groups of native people living there who were known as the Pawtucket. The Pawtucket moved about the land and their lives followed the seasons. They hunted game, gathered wild plant foods and shellfish. They fished along the rivers and in the sea. In the summer, they grew maize, beans,squash and tobacco. The Saugus River and the land around it provided lots of food. The Pawtucket had native enemies and their population was dropping because of a series of war raids in the early 1600s.

Just at that time, Europeans came to explore and eventually colonize the New World. The contact between native people and the Europeans was devastating for the native population. Because the native Pawtucket had no immunity to European diseases, whole villages were wiped out due to sickness. The remaining Pawtucket had a very different way of life than the new English settlers, and these two cultures struggled to live together peacefully.

English colonists came to what is now Massachusetts to explore, to make money, and to live on land of their own. The Pilgrims and Puritans came to America to practice their religion freely. The Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower in September 1620. They settled near Cape Cod and called it Plimoth Plantation.

In 1630 another group left England in search of a place to practice their religion freely. This group was called the Puritans. The Puritans had a charter from the Massachusetts Bay Company to settle land in New England. They founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony north of the Plymouth Colony.

The Puritans wanted their colony to be based on the laws of God. They believed that God would protect them if they obeyed his laws. The Massachusetts Bay Colony established a government. Only Puritan men who were church members and owned land were able to vote for governor and for representatives to the General Court. Women were not allowed to participate in government. The General Court made strict laws for the colony. In the

1640s, a group of Englishmen and Massachusetts residents built the Saugus Iron Works to make iron for the new colony and to make money for themselves. Their iron works forced interactions between groups of people who did not always get along.


Some wealthy Puritan men became part-owners in the iron works. Most Puritan men were farmers and/or merchants and tradesmen. Some Puritan farmers worked part-time for the iron works to make extra money. Puritans were also customers of the iron works. Puritan women lived in the colony with their husbands. Some women were school teachers, midwifes, and “physicars” who helped to treat people who were sick. Puritan boys and girls went to school to learn to read the Bible. Boys might be trained as apprentices in a trade and girls would learn their duties from their mothers.

The Puritans hoped to establish an orderly and stable society, but soon the colony began to change. New England began to trade more with other areas. This trade created new jobs for people. There were farmers who grew food to sell to others and not just to feed their family. Some families who would have been poor in England were beginning to become more prosperous in the New World. Their children were able to read and write, and they were rising in their social class.

Some of these people were not as interested in religion. Puritan church members became worried that the colony was not based on the laws of God anymore. So, the Puritan leaders made some of the laws even stricter to control how the people of the colony behaved.

The skilled iron workers were not Puritans and they did not always obey the laws. There were some Puritans who did not obey the laws either. Here are some examples of Puritan laws:
-Sunday was a holy day. Trade or business was not allowed. No public entertainment or meetings were allowed, except for church services. Church or “meeting” on Sunday included two-hour services in the morning and the afternoon. Travel on Sunday was banned, except walking to and from the meeting house and for emergencies.
-The Puritans thought it was important to be able to read and understand the Bible. Schools were created to help educate the children of the colony. The “Old Deluder Law” stated that every town of 50 or more families had to pay for a teacher and that all children should attend school.
-There were laws passed about what kinds of clothing you could wear. The laws allowed only certain wealthier people to wear silver, gold, silk, laces and other finery. These were called Sumptuary Laws. Sumptuous means extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent.
-There were laws to punish people for using bad words, drinking too much alcohol, being lazy and even gossiping. No Christmas celebrations were allowed, and marriages were performed by colony officials, not by ministers.


The iron workers were recruited from England for their special iron making knowledge. Skilled iron workers were not Puritan, and they were not property owners so they did not have a say in the governance of the colony. Iron workers and Puritans often disagreed on religious practices and laws. They had different ideas about how to behave in the community. The iron workers often got into trouble for drinking, gambling, fighting, swearing, not attending Puritan church and wearing fine clothes.

Some of the iron workers were indentured servants. An indentured servant was a worker who agreed to work for an employer for a certain amount of time without wages or for limited wages. An indentured servant usually worked for 3-7 years in exchange for their transportation, food, clothing, housing and other necessities. People might agree to become indentured servants in exchange for passage to New England.

Wives of the iron workers sometimes came with their husbands as part of their husbands’ indenture agreements. Some did work for the iron works such as making clothing. They were not Puritans and did not always agree with Puritan laws for behavior. Like Puritan children, children of iron workers were required by law to attend school. They learned to read and write the same as all children, but iron workers did not share the Puritans’ value of education. Many parents needed their children’s help at home, or preferred to have them apprenticed to a skilled worker.


The Scots were soldiers who were defeated in the English Civil War at the Battle of Dunbar, and were captured by the English. They were taken from their homeland and sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony to work as indentured servants for 7 years. Some of the Scots who came to Massachusetts Bay Colony worked at the iron works. Other Scots were sold to different businesses in the colony, while others stayed in prison in England.

The Scots who came to the iron works worked as wood cutters, colliers (charcoal makers), and unskilled laborers for the most part. They were placed in company housing and were given what they needed to live and work. They worked at the iron works to repay their debts from their voyage, food, shelter, medical care, and clothing. Some lived with skilled workers who taught them skills such as blacksmithing and carpentry.

Some Scots might have felt lucky to have a chance to work at the iron works rather than go to prison. However, the Scots were also far away from their families and their home in Scotland. They were not Puritans and had different religious beliefs. The Scots eventually worked off their indentures, but many would never make the journey back home to Scotland. Some eventually married, started new families, and assimilated into Puritan society.


By the time the iron works began, the Pawtucket way of life had been forever changed. Conflict between other Native groups had already weakened their numbers. When the Europeans started coming to New England, they brought diseases that the Pawtucket had never known. Shrinking communities of native people were wiped out by illness or pushed off their lands by European settlement.

As the native population decreased and the European population increased, many were forced to assimilate to survive. They could no longer move freely on their old lands to hunt or fish. The English brought new types of animals like horses, sheep, goats, pigs and cattle that roamed free and ate Pawtucket crops. Because they could no longer live off the land, some made a living by working for the English. At least two Pawtucket men were paid to cut wood for the iron works, Thomas and Anthony. Many native people had to adopt the English way of life to survive. They took English names, and began to dress like the colonists. The availability of tools made of iron, and other metals introduced by the colonists, changed the way Native Americans worked. Eventually, native leaders made land treaties with the English even though they did not share the European view of land ownership. They may have felt that these treaties would help protect them from their enemies, by allying themselves with the English.


In the early 20th century a newfound interest in American heritage and colonial revival led to a preservation movement. Preservation of the Iron Works started with the Iron Works House in 1915. Famed antiquarian, Wallace Nutting restored the house and opened it to the public. Many early supporters of Saugus’ historic preservation were local residents, especially women. The First Iron Works Association formed in 143 with the mission of purchasing and preserving the Iron Works House. During the 1940s and 50s an excavation was funded by the American Iron and Steel Institute, and Roland W. Robbins was hired as the lead archaeologist. Professional archaeologists, historians, scientists and architects worked together to build the Iron Works Reconstruction. In 1968, Saugus Iron Works officially became part of the National Park Service. Today preservation work continues to be carried out by National Park Service staff, so that the site may be enjoyed by future generations.

Did You Know?

Jurors and court officials pose in front of the forge waterwheel

The jury for the famous Brinks job of 1950 visited Saugus Ironworks on Sunday, September 9, 1956, the same day that Elvis Presley made his debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.