National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

Resource Brief – The Scots at the Iron Works

The waters of the Saugus River not only supplied power to operate machinery, but its tidal basin served as a shipping corridor that brought in raw materials and shipped out iron products for local and overseas trade. Human cargo also came up the river. In 1650, a group of Scottish prisoners-of-war sailed up the river to spend the next several years laboring at the iron works—one did not survive the trip. The company's accounting papers record a payment for a "Windeing [winding] sheet for Davison ye Scotts."

The trip up the Saugus River was just the last leg of a terrible journey for these men. They were survivors of the infamous Battle of Dunbar, where 3,000 Scottish soldiers were slaughtered on the battlefield. Forced to march with little food or water from Dunbar, Scotland to Durham, England, another 3,500 Scottish captives died of starvation or dysentery along the way or during their imprisonment in Durham Cathedral. Survivors were sold into indentured servitude and shipped across the ocean to various destinations in the New World.

In 1653, thirty-five Scots were listed as property on an iron works' inventory. They worked mostly as woodcutters, farmhands, or as "carters" bringing charcoal to the works. A few were trained as ironworkers. In 1651, Reverend John Cotton wrote of the Scottish prisoners: "The Scots, whom God delivered into your hands at Dunbarre, and whereof sundry were sent hither, we have been desirous (as we could) to make their yoke easy. Such as were sick of scurvy or other diseases have not wanted physick and chyrurgery. They have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude, but for 6 or 7 or 8 yeares, as we do our owne [indentured servants] …" (Old-Time New England: The Bulletin of The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Vol XLIII, No. 3, Serial No. 151, Winter 1953, p. 60).

The Scots were considered outsiders in the Puritan Colony and faced many hardships. In 1657, the Scottish prisoners established the Scots' Charitable Society to support their fellow countrymen in times of need. The organization is still in existence.

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