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Griffin's Family

by Bruce R. Tucker of the Alfred Historical Committee


Local legend says that Eliphalet Griffin, local blacksmith, was hastening to Waterboro with a pair of andirons he had promised a customer. Griffin saddled his horse, draped his andirons around his neck with a length of rope and kissed wife Mehitable on the cheek before setting off. He decided to shorten his journey by cutting across Shaker Pond on the ice, a fatal mistake. The ice gave way and poor Eliphalet and mount went straight to the bottom. Griffin’s descent was no doubt hastened by the cast iron necklace he sported. He eventually surfaced and they deposited him in the church yard. On hearing this story, the one thing that bothered me was – no mention of the horse’s fate. I mean, Griffin put him in that tough spot and the horse wasn’t nuts enough to wear cast iron accessories. My heart went out to the noble steed.


Curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided to do some research. Eliphalet’s probate [1] was examined, with special attention paid to his estate inventory and – lo and behold- no horse!! I take this as circumstantial negative evidence that old Dobbin went to his watery grave and perished anonymous.

[1] York Co. Probate #7853


A quick perusal of Eliphalet’s inventory revealed 50 acres of land with dwelling, barn and stock worth nearly $600. Unfortunately, he owed creditors $542 [2]. His account receivable amounted to only $60.48 [3]. Poor Eliphalet was insolvent and the courts ordered a sale of his property to settle his estate. First though, they awarded Mehitable her dower- 14 acres; the west end of the dwelling with cellar underneath; the bay on the south end of the barn; a right of way to the front door and cooking privileges in the kitchen. The court then struck off 28 acres it sold to John Noble for $364. John Griffin, eldest son and administrator, bought the reversion rights to the dower for $52.50 [4].


[2] or 162L 16sh.; William Parsons was largest creditor 41L, john Stevens 34 L Nathanial Conant 12 L, Dr. Abial Hall 8 L. [3] or 18 L 2 sh.; in 1 L and 2 L amounts [4] Eliphalet lived near where his son John built the Crooked House. Noble lived near Sylvester’s Green house.


As Eliphalet’s profession was blacksmithing, I was struck by the dearth of tools in the inventory. The only items listed are bellows ($9), old anvil ($8), smith’s small tools ($4) and a grindstone and crank ($1). That’s it. Yet the Griffins were renown as local blacksmiths. This seems a paltry foundation on which to build a three generation smithing empire. Bear with me while we take a closer look at the Griffins and their craft. We see how they intersected with the daily lives of their fellow Alfredians. Through them we can glimpse a variety of subjects that concerned 19th century America – the rise of industry, riparian water rights, mental illness, legal chicanery and a plethora of horse’s asses.


Eliphalet had two industrious sons, John and Charles, both of whom were blacksmiths in Alfred. We will examine them separately for each has a very different story to tell.


John Griffin settled in at the family farm and plied his smithing trade. He likely assumed his father’s accounts, such as they were. It is not known when the family took up smithing in the village but in 1828, Joseph Emerson sold John’s son, James, a 2 acre lot where the Old Forge stands for $350 [5]. The location already contained a blacksmith shop- possibly the deed was passed after a mortgage note was paid off. Five years later, James conveyed the shop, house and barn to his father, John, for $1450, a considerable increase in value, indicating many improvements. It was described as lately occupied by James, though his residence at this time was still Saco [6]. Four years later, John died at the age of 61. During his life, John had amassed a considerable estate, worth nearly $10,000. Most of the value was represented in his considerable land holdings in Alfred and Waterboro. He also owned half a sawmill and its fixturing in Waterboro, his contribution being the iron work within it. His estate listed 65 wagon boxes- perhaps this was the reason he got into the wood business, a wagon making adjunct to his smithing.. The blacksmith shop was described as a 2 acre lot with buildings in the village, “improved by James Griffin”. Value $1000 [7].

[5] YCRD 129: 216, 7-12-1828, James was a blacksmith residing in Saco at the time. [6] YCRD 145: 215; 2-12-1833 [7] YC Probate #7856


John died in 1837 bearing notes from his neighbors worth $668. His inventory also displayed his ecumenical side as well. John owned two pews in the Baptist church ($6), ½ a pew in the Methodist church ($10) and a pew in the Congregational church ($30). I’m sure their relative value in no way reflects their proximity to God’s right hand. Though it gives pause.


In the sale of John’s estate soon after his death, son James purchased much of the smith tooling, as did brother Ivory, another blacksmith. Ivory, in fact, purchased half of the smithy itself. Though Ivory always described himself as a blacksmith, James took the lead in the operation. In fact, in the 1850 and 60 census, James had young apprentices living and working with him, something not needed if Ivory was a constant participant [8]. Ivory seems to have led a hard life of debt and hardship. He owed his father $173 dollars at his decease, the second largest debt owed. Two of Ivory’s offspring named John died in infancy and in 1850, Ivory’s wife and surviving children were living with her parents- Samuel Clark, the harness maker. Ivory had moved in with a sister. Within months of the estate sale, John’s heirs quit claimed the shop to James, making Ivory’s interest moot [9]. James apparently continued his father’s accounts.


[8] 1850- Joseph H. Hall age 20; 1860- David O. Chellis age 19 [9] YCRD 160: 171; 1-1-1838


That brings us to these ledgers. One is a hodgepodge of accounts- first a summary ledger by individual accounts for 1852 and 1853, Outstanding balances were carried to James’ account, which also appears in this ledger. At the back is a day book of smithing Nov. 1874 to May 1883. Unfortunately, James died in July 1879, so this can’t be his work. Notes in the back indicate that the shop was rented.


The other account book is a daily record of business- job by job from September 1854 to January 1863. I suspect this is James’ hand.


Black smithing touched nearly every other trade in Alfred.


Saw mill owners like John Lewis had Griffin cut down and sharpen his saw blade as they became worn. He made wedges for his water wheel.


Carpenters Like James Chadbourne had him mend chisels and claw hammers and sharpen drills. He mended the dividers and made pump irons for John H. Sayward.

Trafton the painter had a handle put on his plastering trowel.


Butcher Jeremiah Allen had Griffin make meat hooks, cleavers, boilers, windlass crank and a grindstone, and paid for the work in beef and neats foot oil.


Potters: Griffin shoed Paul Webber’s ox and got a pudding pot in return.

Griffin did work for the local Moulton foundry and traded them his old iron. He received cast sled irons, a bean pot and a stove back.


Stone cutters were a large component of Griffins work, the splitting of New England granite being conducive to the dulling and breakage of the hardest iron tools. The Nutters took stone work as a family trade and Oliver Nutter was a steady customer for over 20 years- facing stone hammers, sharpening drills and making wedges and shims by the pound. Oliver and Dea. James P. Nutter constructed the stone retaining wall east of the courthouse for $130 in 1855.


Griffin also made stone splitting tools for Horace Willard, Trafton and Smith, Charles Drown, Jefferson Moulton, E. Garey, Rice Smith, Thomas Doeg, James McIntyre (lawyer), Charles Roberts (stage driver). Not all these men were stone cutters by profession, some no doubt were farmers removing rocks from fields or home owners working on a foundation.


Another steady customer was R. P. Berry, proprietor of Berry’s tavern and owner of the gravestone manufacture shop. Griffin was constantly mending, making and sharpening chisels for the carving work. Griffin also supported Berry’s tavern enterprise by making meat hooks for his larder, making a water cistern for the guests water supply and even made an ice saw so Berry could serve cool drinks throughout the summer.


There seems to have been a spate of peddler carts around town in the 1850’s Augustus O. Clark styled himself a merchant and had Griffin fashion him a cart and double boiler and made him drills, gouges, soldering irons and punches. As did Stephen Holmes who Griffin also made a cart for. Holmes, though, called himself a blacksmith in the census, Griffin also made him stone cutter tools. Both of these men brought Griffin stove doors to drill and paid for their work with large amounts of scrap iron. I believe these guys were engaged in converting fireplaces to some kind of inclosed heating devise. The scrap was the iron mantles and cranes that came out of the fire places. Griffin started receiving cranes and mantles from other customers as pay- got the one from the Appleton house.


Griffin also drilled stove doors for George Cluff, a local tin knocker. He made his soldering coppers, made fire frames and fixed milk strainers, teapots, boiler lids, wash boilers, baking pans and sold them sheet iron.


John H. Sayward had Griffin repair his cart but the job could not have been large as Griffin only got a pail for his efforts. Sayward later settled down operated a store near Griffin’s smithy.


Griffin also did architectural work, fashioning railings, metal braces for timbers and gutter hangers for the well heeled lawyers and merchants in the village. He made gates and railings for cemetery plots as well.


One of Griffin’s prized customers was local government. These accounts paid cash, a distinct advantage is an agricultural economy that still relied on barter. For the town of Alfred, Griffin fixed the stove in the school, made gates for the town wall at the cemetery, and ironed the bucket,made the crank and supplied the chain for the town well (1876).


Since his shop was right across the street from the jail, Griffin had plenty of opportunity to pick up work there. He was continually making keys and locks, fixing cell doors, fixing buckets and repairing stoves. In 1854, he put 185 pounds of iron into repairs. He also made the county hand cuffs and fetters for the unruly (1860). He also did work at the court house, especially metal work on the fireproof. He made hooks and straps for lamp hangers, repaired doors and shutters, made a ventilation chimney and installed metal floors. He made a metal cover for the stove in the probate office and fixed their shovel.


Among his best customers were the Shakers. Griffin did considerable work on their saw mill and grist mill. He cut down and sharpened their saws repeatedly. He also repaired 9 of their stoves and made door scrapers. He repaired the machinery that produced their manufactures- their pipe mill, pepper mill, sieving machine and broom machine. Many Shaker payments were made in cash but for some nail rod, Griffin accepted horseradish and brooms. So valuable was their trade that when James died, when the Griffins proposed to rent their shop, the tenant would pay $40 a year if the trade of the Shakers and BC Jordan were included and $36 a year if it were not.


Griffin watched the advance of technology and adjusted admirably. Early on, he repaired dung forks for farmers. By the end of his career, he was repairing mowing machines, threshers, winnows. He converted fire arms from flintlock to percussion. He made recreational items for the amusement of men who had leisure- ice skates, boat parts, ice tongs. He put taps on their shoes.


Despite the interesting items aforementioned, The bulk of Griffin’s work was shoeing oxen and horses. Animals were the only source of power and transportation available to rural Alfred and Griffin was constantly at work setting, repairing and caulking shoes.


For the oxen he likely bought the hair rope and sling from his father’s estate. And remember, each oxen hoof has two little shoes.


A very rough check of 1860 showed that Griffin shoed and caulked about 126 horses and 59 oxen in a single year.


It must have seemed a steady parade of horses asses.- that’s the subject of his work and not his clientele. Though most horses looked the same from Griffin’s vantage point, a few stood out. These were special animals, a source of community pride and interest. With many a local dollar riding on their nose at tracks in surrounding towns. John Stinson’s trotting horses were the only steeds Griffin notes by name in his book. A botched shoe job made the difference in a race, hence, it was not the purview of hacks or amateurs. Stinson repeatedly brought his horses Rose, Fanny, Gifford, Young Gifford and Gerald to Griffin to be shod for races. George Came relates that Stinson was beaten by R.P.Berry’s trotter at the 1860 Saco Fair. He also relates that Stinson’s race in Scarborough where each side put up $250 dollars. No word on the out come.


Ivory’s death in Dec.1878 and Jame’s death the following July marked the end of the Griffin smithing saga in Alfred. Neither had sons to carry on the trade and the shop likely came under the control of James’ daughters, Maria Louisa and Mary A.J. Griffin. Both never married and lived their whole lives in Alfred, Mary dying in 1922. Notes in the ledger indicate the shop was rented to W. H. Roberts in 1880 but Walter Littlefield was responsible for the tools and shop. Since the writing is the same throughout, Littlefield may have been employed by James Griffin before his death and one of his duties was to keep the books. He may have stayed on in the rented shop. Since Roberts shows up as a customer in the book, I suspect the hand in not his. George Came states (12-17-1878) Had Old Billy sharpened…3 shoes by John P. Roberts who has just hired the Griffin blacksmith shop. Gave him 50 cents.

Though promises of monthly rent were made and damages to tooling to be compensated- apparently they never materialized. When the Griffins stopped renting out the shop, they claimed that 2 pair of tongs, a riveting hammer and a heading tool were missing. They also stated that the renter owed $8 rent for Dec. 1882.


The day book contains this bitter note- “Never made good the damages to tools owing for rent. Wore out and stove up what he could, then bought an old building and moved on a lot near by to prevent me letting mine.

George Came’s entry for 2-1-1887- Will Roberts has hauled Howard Pheonix Paint shop from down by the Points of Compass by the County to the John H. Sayward store lot for a blacksmith shop. Broke one ox’s leg, belonging to the Shakers.

The account book closes with the comment, Poor thanks for doing a deed of charity to be wronged as we have been by him.


Charles Griffin


While John Griffin and his sons James and Ivory, hammered out their careers as quintessential,jack of al trades village blacksmiths, Eliphalet’s son Charles seemed cut from a different cloth. Charles described himself as a blacksmith but proved to be industrious and ambitious, as well. He embraced opportunity and technology and attempted to capitalize on both.


By 1818, Charles was the owner and proprietor of the three story brick hotel that stood on the corner, south of where Hussey’s vegetable stand is today. He had married Sarah Jane Farnum, whose family owned much of the land on that side of the road. Perhaps he got his title from Farnums and simply did not record the deed. His hotel served as the main stage stop and is reputed to be where Old Bet spent her last night on earth before her fateful walk out of town. Charles appeared to be doing a brisk business.


Not content with this success, Charles decided to tackle something closer to his father’s profession. From1812 to 1818, Charles began purchasing mill privileges at three locations on the eastern branch of the Mousam River (Littlefield River)[10].


[10] For $12 he purchased from Jonathan Powers, Samuel White, Jedadah & Thomas Jellerson a 1/3 interest in the dam that powered Swetts Mill with a right to raise the dam and commence any activity except saw mill, also ROW to priv abutting Andrew Conant. (93: 150; 10-16-1815) ; he purchased a 1/8 interest in Sweat’s Mill AKA Power’s and White’s Mill for $25 (97:91; 6-25-1817) .


His prime location was just down stream of the new road below Conant’s Mill, where the Embroidery Mill stands today. Charles and a partner, Lemuel Foss, a clothier, purchased water rights and 5/6 of a new privilege from Andrew Conant. Conant retained 1/6 of the venture and was to provide 1/6 of the money required improve the dam or build any structures required. The three principals also put up $1000 a piece to repair and maintain existing dams and flumes. Water rights were restricted to two gates, both 2 ½ feet wide and 5 inches deep. Originally, their access to water was to be from the grist mill flume but later this was changed to the saw mill flume[11].

[11] Griffin made his initial purchase from Conant near the road (88: 193; 9-21- 1813), Griffin and Foss made their purchase of the privilege from Conant ( 99: 141, 5-16-1816; $410) Conant had purchased his right from a group of owners less that a month before (101: 269, 4-6-1816, $162). The rights were reconveyed from Conant to Griffin and Foss by another deed (101: 269, 4-7- 1818; $350)


One of the gates was to power Foss’s wool carding machine, a fulling machine and other clothier machinery. The other gate was to power Griffin’s trip hammer. It was specified that these rights were restricted to only clothing and smithing manufacture and there were to be no other uses made of the water power. Conant was not eager to start competition with his sawmill and grist mill at the same privilege. Here Charles set to work, manufacturing with his trip hammer- forging horse shoes, hooks and eyes, hoes, wagon axles, and plow irons. Charles also had molds and ladles and apparently cast andirons, wheel boxes, and block bushes (bushings?)


Just over thirty years of age, his hotelier and smithing operation well under way, Charles looked forward to a bright future. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men.


The Charles Griffin family was apparently not a healthy one. At least one child had died in infancy. In May 1824, Charles’ two-year-old namesake died. Charles himself died a year later, followed within a month by a daughter Isabelle, age two.


Charles probate has an extensive inventory of both the hotel and the smithy. It is organized room by room and very exact. Excellent peek at material culture. Close your eyes and you can almost visualize the rooms.


This left Charles’ widow, Sarah Jane, to run the enterprises. Though she remarried in 1826[12], it is apparent most of the responsibility fell to her son, William P Griffin, who lived across the road. Sarah seems to have had a rough time of it. She began to sell off assets and sold the mill privilege to Theodore Littlefield in 1840 for $400 [13]. In 1844, Sarah sold her interest to son William [14]. Two years later, the pair sold all the tools, livestock and carriages around the brick hotel, perhaps in preparation for it being sold.

[12] Mar. Lemuel Adams 9-17-1826

[13] YCRD 170: 140, 10-8-1840; See deeds in 170: 139- 141 where Littlefield is trying to consolidate the mill partial interests. Paul Webber was the straw. John Conant sells the saw and grist mill to Tebbets. Foss had sold his share in 1831 to Elijah Tebbets, Andrew Conant had sold his share to James Bradbury. Littlefield and Tebbets were tenants in common with Herrick and Holland.

[14] YCRD 183: 175; $530


In 1856, the situation began to deteriorate rapidly. Sarah Jane took up residence in the Augusta Mental Hospital and son William was appointed guardian as the town selectmen began to worry about the estate being wasted. By 1863, William was living in Boston and received court permission to sell the brick hotel. No action was apparently taken in this regard. Two years later, lawyer Ira Drew and merchant Augustus O. Clark were named administrators of the estate [15]. Remember Augustus? At this juncture, he had risen in social status, a son in law neighbor of local legal power broker, Nathan Dane Appleton. Clark even named a son Nathan Dane Appleton Clark. He was running with a fast crowd.

[15] Suspect Sarah was coming home from the hospital and with her son William in Boston, they wanted someone local to watch out for her and handle her affairs. Speculation only.


On a personal note, a few 19th century names send a chill down my spine. These are guys who always seem to be there to capitalize on the misfortune of others- all legal- just slimy. Drew is one name, Stinson the horse racer is another and Clark a third. I’d rather find a dead rat in my well than think these guys financially responsible for my loved ones. The Griffin estate was soon beset by a series of inflated administrator accounts. The worst was a $400 note to Nathan Dane Appleton, said to be lost but whose existence was sworn to by Clark [16].

[16] There is a $400 mortgage on the brick hotel 188: 130, 11-13- 1845. Check date of recording. Perhaps AOC + Co. realized that Sarah had conveyed her interest to son William prior and had no interest to mortgage. Maybe Sarah was nuts by then. Check it out. AOC held out for a $413 settlement. ?? he was an administrator?? Huh?


While the new administrators were licking their chops over this juicy estate, tragedy struck again. On the bitterly cold night of Jan. 18, 1867, the brick hotel and most of the stores on that corner burned in a huge fire. They drove out merchants Sayward and Nutter and the law offices of Ira Drew. If these guys had a heart, it must have broke.

With little assets left to sell, Charles estate still languished, having twisted in the winds of legal limbo for over half a century. A O Clark moved to Portland by 1874 when he sold the 6 granite hotel steps to George Came for $20. Ira Drew hung in there. When William P. Griffin died in Massachusetts in 1879, incidentally also the year of James Griffins death, things moved quickly. Clark made the final payment to the Insane hospital for Sarah (she had died 15 years earlier) and promptly resigned as administrator. The lawyer for William’s estate conveyed the tavern stand to a couple straws in Massachusetts- eventually to himself, before selling to John C. Sanborn. Somehow, Ira Drew ended up with an interest. Quelle surprise.


Though no more Griffin anvils rang with their hammer blows, they were not forgotten. While remodeling the Congregational church 11-1-1889, George came commented. “Dea. Charles B. Brooks and I measured the arrow or vane which has been on the orthodox church ever since I can remember. Said by him to have been made by the Griffin blacksmiths of this town. It measured 7 ft. 1 in.from tip to tip . I have had it in my hands today.”


How many times had George gazed at that vane to check the weather for haying or approaching storms? How many times that reflexive look heaven ward when entering the house of God? Viewed from afar for years, he finally held it in his hands and when he did, he thought of the Griffins who made it. So should we all.

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