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A Medford business incident.

ONE hundred and fifteen years ago Medford had one thousand one hundred inhabitants, and its principal business man was Benjamin Hall. Beside being a general trader and one of the corporators of the Middlesex canal (then being built), he was the leading distiller of the famous product that came to be known as ‘Old Medford.’ He was then sixty-seven years old, and his third son, Fitch Hall, was in England on a business tour.

Among their papers, still preserved, are letters which reflect not a little of old-time history and business customs. Two of these the Register reproduces with a few comments:—

London 9th August 1797
my Dear Sir-
My last letter to you was by the Factor via New York, since she sail'd I have rec'd your favor of the 2d June, & am very happy [p. 27] that you are continuing your experiments & that you are pleas'd with the result—I hope eer this you have prov'd its efficacy in Grain & that you will immediately inform me of your success, it would be best when you write to forward the letters by some passenger as they will be more secure if the French should take the vessel, which it seems they continue to do when ever they can find them we are very anxious to hear the arrival of our Commissioners in France & expect they will be able to make an amicable settlement with that Nation—

I have nothing new to write you—The Negociation at Lisle it is said is postpon'd for Ten days for to give the parties an oppertunity of consulting further with their particular Governments, & to give time for a Spanish & Dutch Commissioner to be added to them It is as much impossible to form an opinion respecting the prospect of peace here as in America

My business remains much in the situation as when I last wrote you, the patent is nearly compleated & I am now ready to prove my assertion, but I find the distilleries are all stop'd until October as their Cisterns are above ground they do not pretend to ferment in hot weather—you cannot conceive the difficulty there is in getting a sight of their works, they are jealous of every body,

I am to be introduc'd to a Man of good Character this week whom I intend shall be interested with me, if I can make an agreement with him for I am convinc'd it will be more advantageous to me to give a person who I can depend on a concern then to manage it myself, every thing depends on the first start. I am therefore very cautious, if I can possibly get it agoing I shall do very well I am confident, my patience is almost exhausted, I am very much afraid that I shall not be able to sail for America until next Spring, until I can get my business so arrang'd as to leave it with some friend here, which is my present plan, however it is impossible for me to determine at present—I inclos'd you a plan of a new invented worm, by Mr. Atlee who is the Genn that I expect to make some experiments with—he had a patent for the improvement. I have not had an oppertunity of conversing with any distiller on its utility—I have been told that the Stills us'd here are very large, that there is one about four Miles up the River that holds Twenty Thousand Gallons, I have not seen it therefore cannot answer for the truth of the [story]

Johnny Bull is fond of telling great Stories of his Country & a proper allowance must be made for his way

Mr Gore & Mr Hall desire their best respects

Yours affectionately

In this we note the slowness of the trans-Atlantic communication in those days, and the care taken for the [p. 28] carrying of letters. The French spoliation claims are foreshadowed, also something of international diplomacy, but the Medford business is the chief subject. It will be news to present Medfordites that ‘her spirit’ was patented in England. Evidently the English distillers looked with little favor on the Yankee craftsman, who took some of their assertions with a grain of salt.

The lettered plan of John Falconer Atlee's patent worm, which the younger Hall sent home, is not among the papers, but its printed description covers two small pages. The letter itself was written on three pages of 7 1/4 × 9 inch white paper, the fourth page of the sheet being left for the addressing. This was first folded across the top and bottom of the page, then on each edge, and the closed edge inserted within the open, and secured with red sealing wax impressed with some design. It then formed a packet 3 1/4 × 5 inches and bore the bold, legible address,


The writer has been thus minute, because in these days of postal facilities and modern stationery the old style of letter sealing (he can recall) is a lost art. After the younger Hall's return a consignment was made to the London ‘Man of good Character,’ and copy made of the letter sent in relation thereto. This was not by copying ink and press, but by writing a duplicate.

Boston 22d Decr 1798
Dear Sir—

Inclosed you have bill of Lading & Invoice for Ten Hogsheads of patent spirits which is shipped on board the Ship Galen, Captain John Mackay to your address—This small consignment is intended as an experiment—the article will suit your market, should [p. 29] it succeed, the business may be extended so as to render it an object worthy your attention—

The Rum is distilled after an improv'd manner, for which I have obtained a patent in the United States, & for which I took measures when I had the pleasure of seeing you last year in London, to obtain His Majesty's patent also—Your reputation, and the high opinion I entertain of your disposition to consult the interest of your friends has led me althoa a stranger to you in dealings to advise my Father to give you a preference to any person I know, or who has been recommended to me in London, to place this adventure under your care—being persuaded that more than ordinary pains are requisite to introduce a new article to a favorite market, & I have no doubt but that you will exert yourself to oblige me, by attracting the notice of the purchasers of Rum to this specimen which promises very fair to answer valuable purposes to the commercial world—This article bears a very high reputation in this Country & I hope will succeed so with you as to lead to future consignments.

I am with respect

Sir your Humble Servant

Medford near Boston 22d Decr 1798
Pursuant to the recommendation of my son I have consign'd to you the patent spirits specified in the inclos'd bill of Lading, & hope they will meet a good market—The neat proceeds you will plan to ship in Nails for Boston to my account, Two thirds of them to be ten penny & the other third four penny Nails

Your Humble Servant

If you can conveniently ship an Iron Kettle of about One Hundred or One Hundred & Twenty Gallons suitable for melting Tallow, & the residue in nails it would be very agreeable—


We are led to query whether the ten hogsheads of ‘patent spirits,’ which according to the letter was ‘Rum,’ that ‘bears a high reputation in this Country,’ was the first exported to England.

As ‘every thing depends on the first start,’ Mr. Hall doubtless did his best to make a favorable impression on ‘Johnny Bull’ and extend the trade.

The elder Hall's letter was short and to the point. The ‘neat proceeds’ are today net, though some old-timers still use the long e in speaking. [p. 30]

Resolved into English nails (hand made), that consignment from and of Old Medford came back and may still linger here in the construction of some of our old houses. We may query as to which they are, and what became of the big kettle, if it came over sea. Mr. Hall bought many cattle from the New Hampshire traders. In his slaughtering business just such a kettle was needed. Perhaps it was later used in a Medford ship-yard and alluded to by Mr. Curtis in his recent paper.

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