Asa Waters, the second, was born in Sutton, November 2, 1769, probably in the house of his father, the first Asa Waters, at the southeast corner of West Main and Rhodes Streets. He developed, to a remarkable degree, skill and ingenuity in the trade which seemed hereditary in his family for several generations, that of gun making. He and his elder brother, Elijah, has learned that trade in the shop of their father on Singletary Stream. The brothers, in 1797, purchased the neighboring water power site on the Blackstone River. This purchase included the site of their future armory, and as well the gristmill, long a landmark on the east side of South Main Street, and on the north bank of the river where the road crosses it, and also the land between the river and Elm Street as far east as the former Cordis Dam. They made guns, scythes, saw mills saws and like products.
In 1808 they built the armory which gave its name to the village -Armory Village- and contributed so much to its prosperity. The same year they undertook their first contract with the national government to supply firearms for the army. Elijah, after a long illness, died in 1814 and Asa became the sole proprietor. His son, Asa Holman Waters, in an article on Gun Making ("Journal of Progress," Philadelphia, June 1887) thus describes his father's work:
"Possessing great physical strength, unusual energy and mechanical talent, he introduced various improvements in gun making, which wrought great changes.***** Two only referred to. Gun barrels were welded and forged up to this time entirely by hand power. On October 25, 1817, he was granted letters patent for his invention for welding gun barrels under trip hammers with concave dies, striking four hundred blows a minute and controlled by a foot treadle. This patent was signed by James Monroe, President, John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, and Richard Rush, Attorney General. This invention was copied by all the armories of the United States and in Europe. In the following year, observing that the English process of grinding the barrels down before a revolving stone left the metal of uneven thickness around the calibre, and thus liable to explode, he invented a lathe to turn the barrel to uniform thickness. This patent, December 19, 1818, was the first patent ever issued for turning a gun barrel in a lathe. This proved a success so far as the gun barrel was round."
The first contract by the United States for the making of guns in Millbury was dated September 8, 1808, and called for the delivery of 1000 stands of arms, i.e. a musket and bayonet complete, of a certain pattern, in each of the following five years, the price of each was to be $10.75, delivered at Springfield, after a full and correct inspection by officers appointed for the purpose who should certify accordingly. Such contracts, made with Asa Waters for periods of five years, were continued during thirty-seven years and meant much to the prosperity of Millbury, assuring steady work for a body of skilled mechanics.
By the contract made in 1818, two thousand stands were to be delivered each year during the term of the contract, the barrels should be proved before acceptance, and delivery was to be made at the Watertown arsenal or its vicinity. The price was $14.00 per stand with additional compensation for boxing and transportation from Millbury. Mr. Waters also agreed to give the free right under his patent for welding gun barrels wherever guns were made for the United States government.
Writing to the Ordnance department twenty years later (1838), Mr. Waters states that the saving to the government by the use of hid patent was 13 1/2 cents for each barrel welded at Harper's Ferry Arsenal, and that the same rate the annual saving to the government was about $5000 on the guns made for the United States, and that if the method had been adopted at Harper's Ferry when adopted at Springfield, the government would have saved $150,000 at the former place.
In the contract of January 1, 1829, the price was $12.25 for each stand, including bayonet, flints, screw drivers, wipers, ball screws and spring vices.
February 7, 1840, Asa Waters and Son made a contract with the chief of the Ordnance department to manufacture 15,000 pistols, to be delivered in parcels of 750 and at the rate of 3,000 per year. The price of each pistol with its appendages was $7.50, and the expense of proving, inspecting, packing and transporting was to be paid by the government.
After his death in 1841, his son, Asa Holman Waters, who was also born in Sutton, carried on the armory business came to a sudden, abrupt and almost final termination, and not of this armory alone, but of all the private armories in the United States service, of which there were six.
There armories were established under a law of Congress, passed in 1808. They had been repeatedly recognized by the secretaries of war, from John C. Calhoun down, as a part of the United States system of supplying arms, and the duty of sustaining them had been repeatedly enjoined upon Congress. The owners, therefore, had regarded them as permanent establishments, and had invested largely in tools and machinery, which were nearly worthless for any other purpose. This sudden and untimely surcease was a great disappointment, a great injury, and an act of eminent injustice to the contractors, and also to their workmen, who had become expert on certain parts, knew no other trade, and had settled down in comfortable homes near the armories. Their vocation was gone. The real cause of this unjust act was for some time concealed.
It was later revealed that the chief of Ordnance, U.S. Army, owned a large iron foundry in Richmond, Va. and had channeled all excess funds into the production of cannon balls at this foundry. Needless to say, he was court martialed, removed from office, deprived of his Brigadier General's commission, his name removed from office, deprived of his Brigadier General's commission, his name removed from the roll of Army Officers and he left Washington in disgrace.
When the Civil War broke out, the government was surprised to learn that the retiring secretary of war, Floyd of Virginia, has surreptitiously sent down south nearly all the arms contained in northern arsenals, and they had but one armory left - Springfield- to supply the instant demand.
In this emergency they stretched out their arms imploringly to the private armories to resurrect them, but they were all dead, utterly dead, but two, which had barely survived. These were Waters' of Sutton, now Millbury, and Whitney's of New Haven. These were at once resuscitated, greatly enlarged, and given all the work they could possibly do. As the prices paid were liberal, they at last obtained some just compensation for the wrongs they had suffered.
Asa Waters II was not only a manufacturer of guns, but he had many other talents that were as fruitful as his armory. He developed four water poser sites on the Blackstone River:
A fifth site was established on the Blackstone Canal at the lock near McCracken Road. This was later used by the Burling Mill.
He founded the Millbury Bank in 1825, was its largest stockholder and its first president. He was representative to the Legislature in 1823. He was one of the largest land owners in the county, and gave the site for the Academy at the northwest corner of Elm and Waters Streets.
"Asa Waters possessed a mind of uncommon strength and comprehensiveness. It was a mind conscious of power and delighted in its own activity. It was always at work and always bringing out some result indicative of itself. And there was always about it something noble and far reaching. No one could listen to his conversation without being struck by it. And it was especially apparent in his business. These qualities enabled his to transact such an amount and variety of business and to do it with propriety. To his enterprise especially is to be attributed the manufactures which constitute the chief support of the village in which he lived and indeed the village itself of which they were the origin. He was distinguished for his energy and perseverance. Obstacles which anyone else would have deemed insurmountable, it seemed to be his delight to conquer and overcome. It is no small praise to say that a man of such extensive business transactions, and extending through so long a period, had the confidence of all with whom he had dealings as a man of strict honesty and uprightness. When came a reverse in his business under circumstances which would have enabled him to effect a favorable compromise with his creditors, he refused to avail himself of such an advantage but resumed business with the encumbrance upon him and paid to the full every such claim. Such an act of integrity deserves to be published as a tribute to the memory of the dead and for the imitation of the living. His public spirit which made him the efficient friend of whatever related to the good of the community, his attachment to the institutions of religion and the cheerful and liberal support which he always lent to them, his generous and open hearted hospitality, those who knew him will long remember." (The Rev. S.G. Buckingham, his pastor, in the "Worcester Palladium," December, 1841.)
Asa Waters married May 19, 1802, Susan Holman, daughter of Col. Jonathan Holman. They had eight children: 1: Susan; 2: Sarafina; 3: Asa Holman; 4: Fanny Jane; 5: Anna Jane; 6: Harriet Newell; 7: Adelia and 8: Caroline. Asa Holman Waters carried on the family tradition of gun making.
Asa Waters, the second, died on Christmas Eve, 1841. His last words were: "I am going from this room to one above."
References: The History of Sutton 1704-1876. Pp. 564-577. Sanford & Company, Worcester 1878. Centennial History of the Town of Millbury, Massachusetts 1813-1915. Pp. 465-471. Davis Press, Worcester 1915.
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