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Colonel Romans to Commissioners for Fortifications



Fort Constitution, November 8, 1775.

GENTLEMEN: Considering myself placed by the Congress in a very conspicuous rank, which requires it of me that I should watch the interests of America, as far as in my power lies, and having frequently observed that the plan we at present pursue is a very lame one, for the remedying of which I have often offered my discourse, but as we are momentarily interrupted by our discontented gentry, I resolved to pen down and lay before you the following considerations, in our present situation at the post of Martelaer' s Rock, in the Highlands:

The number of men now employed on the fortifications are one hundred and thirty-seven, they being distributed as follows, viz: carpenters, thirty-six; masons, twenty-seven; blacksmiths, two; miners, four — sixty-nine artificers: steward, one; cooks, five; overseers, three; seamen, employed as such on shore, two; seamen, employed as such in vessels, four; mortar-makers, two; actual labourers, fifty one — sixty-eight. Total, one hundred and thirty-seven.

This disposition is the most erroneous that can possibly be imagined, and must lend to retard our works; nor can we pretend to do any thing till better regulations take place.

This will appear from the following estimate, which I judge to be right, but am willing to submit the same to the opinion of any able engineer or engineers. Each mason ought to have, as attendants, two stone-breakers, two stone-carriers, one mortar-carrier; five in all.

With this assistance, each mason will with ease make one hundred cubical feet of stone wall in twelve hours' time, provided, to every four masons one miner be allowed, to work in the quarry.

Thus it is evident, that our twenty-seven masons, attended by one hundred and thirty-five labourers and seven miners, would have completed the two thousand four hundred perches of stone wall, contained in my estimate, in twenty-eight days, of twelve hours each; but, to allow for extra occurrences, I will say thirty days.

Then it follows that twenty-seven masons, suppose them to have 9s˙ 6d˙ per day each, including provisions, will daily cost, £12 16 6
Seven miners, suppose them 6s˙, provisions included, is, daily, 2 2 0
  £14 18 6
Which will amount in thirty days to £ 454 10s.

N˙B. Please to observe, that in my estimate the labourers' work stands as a separate article.

But instead of such a regular arrangement, a very different one has unhappily taken place at this post, by which means only about seven hundred perches are done. What need have I to animadvert on so palpable an absurdity as that of the half of fifty-one labourers to attend on twenty-seven masons? I say one-half, for surely the other half must be allowed for the attendance on our carpenters.

But what makes it worse, this very day on which I write, I am reduced to the dilemma of keeping only seven masons on the principal work; the other twenty are necessarily employed in breaking and carrying stone, by reason that all the labourers are employed in unloading of vessels, there being now three craft at the pier head, and for fourteen or fifteen days past there have generally been two, nor are we ever without one (at least) to unload. Thus the labourers


are all taken off, and men who are hired for seven shillings and six pence per diem do that labour, for the doing of which men may be had at fifty shillings per month.

Where, then, is the wonder that we advance not as we should do, and that the expense becomes great?

With regard to the timber work I have the following to offer. We are on an island, where we have not a single stick of timber fit to do any thing with, except making firewood, and not even that, as most is a shrubby kind of pine; if we had it, the expense of carrying it out of the woods and bringing it to the work would be to the amount of ten shillings per hundred feet, especially if done by the labour of men only, without oxen, whereas now we have good oak delivered at the landings at six shillings.

I will undertake and promise to build a block-house, such as we have now erected, in six weeks, with six hands and two oxen, including one week as allowance for bad weather, whereas now twelve carpenters and twenty labourers have been employed on the timber work thereof since the 10th of October, and will not have completely done till the 10th of November. Nor happens this by reason that the men are idlers. No. But they are not conversant with similar work. It is true that they receive the timber in a muddy, dirty state, with a bad appearance, but it is hewn truer than they are able to do it; then to reduce it to what they judge to be a true square, they line it and hew half way down; afterwards turn it, line it again, and hew the other half way. Thus a piece of timber is lined eight times, and hewed to these eight lines, to make it worse than it was. Next, the piece, through the lack of oxen, is drawn by twenty men to the place where it is wanted. Here the carpenters discover it not to be hewn in the square, and line it and hew it again eight times over. Then the dovetail is cut, and, when put together, they see it makes bad joints, therefore have it to dub over again. Whereas the country carpenter (used to such work) hews the whole side through by one line, and thereby leaves it, when he parts with it, truer than our people (unacquainted with such work) can possibly do.

The expense of one block-house stands, therefore, as follows:

The timber and plank, 14,000 feet at 6 per 100 feet, £42 0 0
2,000 shingles, at £5 per M, 10 0 0
Much against my inclination and advice, 256 iron bolts have been used, instead of so many treenails. These weigh each 5 pounds, is 1,280 pounds, at £28 per ton, 17 18 4
Necessary iron, 275 pounds, at same price, 3 17 0
200 weight of nails, 9 pence, 7 10 0
Work of 12 carpenters, 30 days, at 9s˙ 6d˙ per day, provisions included, 185 0 0
In my estimate, no value of labour in timberwork is mentioned, as it is of the masons; therefore I must add 20 labourers, at 3 per day, for 30 days, provisions included, 90 0 0
  £356 5 4
But according to my method of building, with such people as I could find, the timber, necessary iron, shingles, and nails, would be £63 7 0
Instead of 256 bolts, as many treenails would not exceed 1 10 0
Six carpenters, 36 days, at 9s˙ 6d˙ per day, provisions included, 102 12 0
A yoke of oxen, teamster included, 12 per day, for 15 days, 9 0 0
  £176 9 0

The country carpenter is still inferior to the ship carpenter for our work, provided we can get him equally honest.

From the above small specimen, it is evident, that even in the cheapest method, timber at this place becomes infinitely higher than the masonry, and I am now convinced that stone towers, of the nature of block-houses, would not amount to above one hundred Pounds each, complete, at this place; and, when finished, they are preferable.

Among other bad regulations that have taken place here, there is one most grievously against the sound policy that


ought to prevail. Besides the carpenters from the city, some country carpenters are employed, who have a chief, as well as the former, and being a more diligent set of people than those from the city, have very deservedly (though somewhat injudiciously) some marks of special favour shown them.

From this distinction sprung envy, who never fails in all similar cases to rear her head. I will only remark, that such favour ought to have been shown in a manner somewhat less open. Yet, in favour of the country carpenters, I must say, that they labour harder, and do not stand on the punctilium of stated hours. Likewise, I believe, had the country carpenters been first engaged, they might have been hired for six shillings per day, and thus been an example to the others. The breach is already pretty large between them. Should it continue to widen, so that it becomes necessary to remove one party, my advice is, to remove those from the City.

We have seen that the two oxen, in one day, drew twelve pieces of timber and four pieces of cannon from the landing to the block-house — a labour which would have employed, according to our experience, twenty men for two days. In other matters, this holds exactly similar. Therefore, twenty men, at three shillings per day, provisions included, is, for two days, six pounds; and two oxen, with the teamster, cost, if hired for one day, twelve shillings. Here rises a balance of five pounds eight shillings per day.

Your winter' s firing will be impossible to get without oxen. In getting that, and drawing of timber, each yoke will do the work of thirty men, at least.

This makes the reason appear evident, why I have so strenuously recommended the procuring of oxen. They will cost thirty bushels of corn and one load of hay, per head, in four months — equal to about seven pounds; and then, if care is taken of them, they will sell for the original price; but if they are kept in the same manner as the two we have now, I confess they had better be left alone, for you will want new oxen every fourteen days.

The next and greatest grievance to be considered is, the erroneous principle on which our labourers are procured. Instead of hiring them for a month, and thereby giving them an opportunity of harassing us in the shocking manner they do, I humbly think, gentlemen, that you ought to recommend it, that they be enlisted for a limited time, suppose six months, under the denomination of pioneers, or whatever else may be thought a proper appellation for such a body.

I cannot omit mentioning, that when I first took a superficial view of the ground, I judged it to be less rough than it proves to be. I likewise thought that there was more wood, which made me put down more axes, bill-hooks, and spades, than I now find necessary, we being here in the very extreme of rough ground. Yet the number sent up is more disproportioned than even my rough estimate. I will point out the just proportion of tools, as they ought to be given to the workmen; it may be of use.

In extreme rough ground: 1-10 shovels, 1-20 spades, 1-16 miner' s hammers, 1-8 jumpers, 1-16 wedges and cold chisels, 1-8 small crowbars, 1-40 large do˙, with claws, 1-8 mauls, 1-16 pick-axes, 1-8 grubbing-hoes, 7-80 axes, 1-20 bill-hooks.

In extreme fine soil: 1-4 spades, 1-2 shovels, 1-8 grubbing-hoes, 1-16 pick-axes, 1-40 axes, 3-80 bill-hooks.

The mediums must be calculated according to the nature of soils between these two extremes.

We cannot work here without powder. I know it is scarce; but suppose it to cost even ten shillings per pound, and that four miners make eight holes per diem, with an inch auger, which require each two and a half inches of powder. This will make twenty inches of powder. Now, twenty-one inches of powder, in an inch hole, make three pounds; therefore, three times ten is thirty shillings; and four miners, at six shillings per day, is twenty-four shillings — together, two pounds fourteen shillings. And these four miners will break more stone than thirty men with mauls can do; yet these thirty men would cost you, provisions included, three shillings each, which amounts to four pounds ten shillings per diem.

Another thing I have to remonstrate to you, gentlemen. This is, that the Steward never yet has been made to keep


a regular book of the accounts of his delivery of provisions, &c˙; which, however, in my opinion, is highly necessary. Likewise, that a person ought to be appointed, who should take an exact account of what tools are delivered out in the morning, and to whom; observing at night that the same person returns a similar tool, be it whole or broken. This method is far preferable to that of throwing by a broken axe, maul, or crowbar, while nobody knows how tools are expended. In my humble opinion, the Steward could do this, without adding much vexatious labour to his present employment.

The number of strangers who come, nolens volens, to visit us, is a gross grievance. A rascal, who does not vouchsafe to lift his hat to us, nor even avoids to insult us, comes into our innermost recess, and interrupts us, perhaps at a time when we are consulting the welfare of the community.

By noticing the above mistakes, and properly amending them, I make no doubt but we will, in this day of need, save a great sum of money for our country.

I entreat you, therefore, to endeavour the making of the necessary alterations, in which I am highly interested, by reason that the rank I hold endangers me of being made the butt against which all resentment may break; because, if the present measures continue, my calculations will prove erroneous; but if these mistakes in proceedings are altered, as I propose, my estimate must prove true, or nearly so. The power lies with you, gentlemen. I have never received any kind of instructions from the Congress or Committee, that may serve me as a line for the regulation of my conduct, except that I understood their intentions were, that I should give you my advice, and therefore consider myself in duty bound to be content under your direction of affairs in every particular; but I could not forbear taking this liberty, in telling you what I think the most eligible path to pursue.

I am, with the greatest respect, Gentlemen, your most obedient humble servant,


To the Commissioners for Fortifications at the Highlands.

P˙S. The draught of the above writing was prepared before Captains Bedlow and Grenell came up. Since that, some variation in our distribution of labourers and masons has taken place. Though it is better than the former, it is still very absurd, and only serves to show the instability of our plan.

They now stand thus, viz:

Carpenters, thirty; masons, sixteen; smiths, two — forty-eight artificers: steward, one; cooks, five; overseers, two; gunner, one; seamen employed on shore, two; seamen employed on board of vessels, four; mortar-maker, one; actual labourers, fifty-two — total, sixty-eight. In all, one hundred and sixteen.