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A Jenks Family Comes to America

Joseph Jenks Sr., age 41, iron founder, of Colebrook, Buckinghamshire, widower with two sons, was persuaded in 1643 to emigrate from England to Lynn, Massachusetts, to operate an iron-smelting and foundry business. In that year, Robert Bridges had taken bog iron ore found in Saugus, Massachusetts, to London and persuaded a group of wealthy English gentlemen and merchants to join him in forming the Company of Undertakers for the Iron Works. The company advanced £1,000 to commence the work. The Company of Undertakers chose Mr. Jenks to go out from England and operate the iron works. Mr. Jenks left his two sons, Joseph Jr. and George Jenks, in England with instructions to join him in America later. He successfully set up the foundry, and personally cast the first article, an iron pot holding about one quart. This pot survives in the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts. The iron works apparently operated for about twenty-five years before it became unprofitable.

Saugus Mill

This is a picture of the current building at the Saugus Mill site of the U.S. National Park Service from their brochure.

In 1646, Massachusetts granted its first exclusive right for use of an invention. The inventor was Joseph Jenks Sr. The General Court recognized that he had made speedier engines for water-mills and also mills for making scythes and other edged tools, and it allowed him fourteen years without disturbance from others who might set up similar inventions. Mr. Jenks purchased the right to manufacture scythes at the iron works, and in 1655 he was granted a second exclusive right for seven years to manufacture an improved grass scythe. Apparently, the common scythe of the day was short, thick, heavy and slow. Mr. Jenks made a scythe blade which was thinner and longer and was thickened on the back side for support. For over 300 years the scythe of commerce remained substantially unchanged in shape from that of Mr. Jenks.

In 1652, Massachusetts was short of coinage for use in its internal commerce. It decided to coin its own money, despite the fact that the English policy, at least unofficially, prohibited the colonies from coining their own money. Joseph Jenks Sr. was chosen to make the dies for striking the coins. He made dies for threepenny pieces, sixpenny pieces and shillings. They were to be of sterling silver, and by weight were to have five-sixths of the silver weight of the corresponding English coins. This lesser weight would tend to prevent their export from the colony for their silver value. Each was stamped with "Massachusetts" and a pine tree on one side, and on the other side "New England, Anno 1652," together with the number of pence in Roman numerals. There is a story that Sir Thomas Temple, representing the interests of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, showed samples of the coins to King Charles II. When the King asked what kind of tree was represented on the coins, Sir Thomas answered that it was a royal oak tree, the tree which saved the King's life. The King answered that the colonists were "a set of honest dogs," and proceeded with the business at hand.

Pine Tree Shilling

This is what the Pine Tree Shillings looked like.