Ames family letters

Ames family letters

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Hargrett Manuscripts
Title: Ames family letters
Dates: 1872-1875, 1905
Quantity: 0.05 Linear feet (7 folders; MS 3036 to MS 3039 housed together in 1 half box)
Coll. Number: ms3038

Biographical/Historical Note

Nathan Peabody Ames, manufacturer and entrepreneur, was born in Dracut (now Lowell), Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Peabody Ames, a cutlery and edge toolmaker, and Phoebe Tyler. Nathan served an apprenticeship with his father and then joined the prosperous family business. In 1829 Ames met Edmund Dwight, who offered him four years of rent-free use of property in Cabotville, Massachusetts, if he would move himself and his business to that location (Cabotville was incorporated as Chicopee in 1848). Ames agreed to the condition and he, his father, and his younger brother, James Tyler Ames, moved to Cabotville the same year. At that time the manufacturing industry in western Massachusetts was underdeveloped, and the Connecticut river had not yet been used for industrial purposes. The Ames family set up shop in Cabotville, and Nathan Ames devoted most of his time to making swords. He was fortunate that at that time there was an increased demand for swords and that the man who had previously made most of the swords for the federal government (Nathan Starr of Middletown, Connecticut) had ceased production.

During the 1830s Ames made thousands of swords for elite volunteer militia companies in Massachusetts and throughout New England. In June 1832 he received a contract from the federal government to produce 2,000 artillery swords. This was only the first of many contracts he would receive from the U.S. government. By the late 1830s Ames was also producing swords for the newly created Republic of Texas. He went on to receive more contracts for the production of dragoon sabres and swords for both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy. Branching out into the artillery department, he cast his first bronze cannon at Cabotville in 1836. Ames and his brother consolidated their activities in 1834 with the incorporation of the Ames Manufacturing Company, founded with a capitalization of $30,000. This sum grew substantially during the 1830s as the brothers expanded into the making of leather belting, military accoutrements, bells, and various other ornamental fixtures. By around 1840 the company had a total capitalization of $250,000. In spite of this success, Ames was worried as the 1840s began by the knowledge that the United States government had sent a commission of ordnance officers abroad to examine weaponry made in Europe. In 1840 Ames went to Europe himself to determine the extent of his competition. He returned to Massachusetts in 1841 and participated in the takeover of the Chicopee Falls Company, which bolstered the fortunes of the Ames Manufacturing Company.

While his business fortunes continued to flourish, Ames's health began to deteriorate. His physical problems had begun in the spring of 1840, during his trip to England, when he had dental work done in London. An amalgam paste - probably of silver and mercury - was used, and Ames soon developed a form of spleen cancer. His condition was discovered soon after his return to the United States, and he was placed under a doctor's care in 1841. Since there was some hope for his recovery, he married Mary C. Bailey of Newburyport, Massachusetts, in October 1842; the couple had no children.

Ames struggled against his illness for a number of years before he succumbed in Chicopee. His net worth at the time of his death was $40,174.52, a surprisingly low sum given the extent of his manufacturing activities. A devout Congregationalist, he was a quiet but active philanthropist and had given half of his fortune for the building of the Third Congregational church in Cabotville in 1834. Ames was a remarkable craftsman and manufacturer. His work in the area of sword production had no rival during the 1830s and 1840s, and the business that he and his brother created remained the primary furnisher of swords for the U.S. government for more than a generation after his death.

Both as a craftsman and a businessman, Ames exemplified the virtues that were extolled in early nineteenth-century New England: hard work, thrift, and success followed by local philanthropy. What was most unusual about his manufacuring career was the extent to which he dominated a market. Swords made by "N. P. Ames/Cutler/Springfield" were used by militia units, U.S. Army and naval units, and the army of the Republic of Texas during his lifetime. American National Biography Online. ( Retrieved 9/10/2009.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of letters written from 1872-1875 from Mr. and Mrs. James Tyler Ames in Roswell, Georgia to their daughter Sarah Woodworth in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Apparently Ames went South for a few months because of health and business problems. Most of the letters deal with family matters, although there is some mention of the business (Ames Manufacturing Company) in Chicopee. There are two letters to Ames from Mark Cooper concerning the mineral corundum. The 1905 letter is from Charles Bass to Sarah regarding the death of her husband, Albert C. Woodworth.

Index Terms

Ames Manufacturing Company.
Ames, James Tyler, 1810-1883 -- Correspondence
Ames, James Tyler, 1810-1883 -- Family
Ames, James Tyler, Mrs. -- Correspondence
Bass, Charles L. -- Correspondence
Cooper, Mark A., (Mark Anthony), 1800-1885 -- Correspondence
Woodworth, Albert C. -- Death and burial
Woodworth, Sarah -- Correspondence

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Ames family letters. MS 3038. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

1Letters, 1872-1875, 1905