MASON (Taunton family). For much of the time through the nineteenth century and up to the present there has resided in Taunton and been active and prominent in its business life, especially in mechanical lines as manufacturers, the Mason family. Reference is made particularly to the late William Mason, a genius in mechanical lines, whose inventions in machinery have given him an enduring name and fame, almost the world over, and of whom it has pleased one to write that he “belongs to the class of intelligent and vigorous mechanics, who in spite of early disadvantages and fey the force of native genius leave their impress upon the age,” and to his son, Frederick Mason, who for many years has been one of the substantial men and citizens of Taunton, president of the extensive manufacturing plant bearing the family name – the Mason Machine Works – founded by the father.

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It is to the life and paternal lineage of the late William Mason of Taunton that this article is directed, he being a direct descendant from one of the old pioneers and Indian fighters of this section in its early settlement – Major John Mason, of Pequot fame, from whom William Mason’s descent is through Daniel, Peter, Japhet, Japhet Mason (2) and Amos Mason. These generations in detail and in the order given follow:

Major John Mason of Norwich, Connecticut

John Mason, born in the year 1600, in England, was bred a soldier and served in the English army. He was made a lieutenant and served in the Netherlands under Sir Thomas Fairfax. He came to America in 1632, and settled first at Dorchester, representing that town in the General Court. In 1635 he removed to Windsor, Conn., in company with the Rev. John Wareham, Henry Wolcott and others, prominent settlers of that town, where he was elected a magistrate of the Connecticut Colony. In May, 1637, he commanded the successful expedition against the Pequot Indians, where he and his famous ninety men immortalized themselves in overthrowing and destroying the prestige and power of the Pequots and their fort near the Mystic river, on Groton side, which event is commemorated by a monument on Mystic Hill, upon the pedestal of which is a life-size statue of Major Mason drawing his sword, when he heard the war whoop of “Owanux,” “Owanux” by the Indians in their fort. Major Mason removed his family to Saybrook in 1647, where he continued to live until 1660, when he united with a number of distinguished families in the settlement of Norwich, Conn., where he was deputy governor and major general of the forces of Connecticut. He also held other official positions. After a life of great usefulness and eminence he died Jan. 30, 1672.

Major Mason was twice married, having one child, Judith, by his first wife, whose name is unknown. After the death of his first wife, he married (second), in July, 1640, Miss Anna Peck. His children by the second marriage were:

  1. Priscilla Mason, born in 1641, in Windsor, Connecticut.
  2. Samuel Mason, in 1644, in Windsor, Connecticut.
  3. John Mason, in August, 1646, in Windsor, Connecticut.
  4. Rachel Mason, born in 1648, in Saybrook, Connecticut.
  5. Anne Mason, in June, 1650, in Saybrook, Connecticut.
  6. Daniel Mason, in April, 1652, in Saybrook, Connecticut.
  7. Elizabeth Mason, in August, 1654, in Stonington, Connecticut.

Family of Daniel Mason of Stonington, Connecticut

Daniel Mason, son of Major John, born in April, 1652, at Saybrook, married (first) Margaret, born Dec. 15, 1650, daughter of Edward and Elizabeth (Weld) Denison, of Roxbury, Mass. She died May 13, 1678, and he married (second) Oct. 10, 1679, Rebecca, daughter of Peter Hobart of Hingham, Mass. She died April 8, 1727, and Mr. Mason died Jan. 28, 1737. Children of Daniel and Margaret were:

  1. Daniel Mason, born Nov. 26, 1674, in Stonington, Conn.
  2. Hezekiah Mason, born May 3, 1677, in Roxbury, Mass.

Children of Daniel and Rebecca were:

  1. Peter Mason, born Nov. 9, 1680
  2. Rebecca Mason, born Feb. 10, 1682
  3. Margaret Mason, Dec. 21, 1683
  4. Samuel Mason, Feb. 11, 1686
  5. Abigail Mason, Feb. 3, 1689
  6. Priscilla Mason, Sept. 17, 1691
  7. Nehemiah Mason, Nov. 24, 1693, all born in Stonington

Family of Peter Mason of New London, Connecticut

Peter Mason, son of Daniel and Rebecca, born Nov. 9, 1680, in Stonington, Conn., married July 8, 1703, Mary Hobart, and lived for a time in Stonington, then removed to New London. Their children were:

  1. Peter Mason, born Aug. 25, 1704
  2. a daughter, born Sept. 13, 1705
  3. Daniel Mason, March 25, 1707
  4. Japhet Mason, Dec. 28, 1709
  5. Mary Mason, May 31, 1711
  6. Japhet Mason (2), Sept. 30, 1713
  7. Abigail Mason, Sept. 3, 1715
  8. Peter Mason, Dec. 28, 1717
  9. Alithea Mason, Dec. 9, 1720

Japhet Mason and those children following were all born in New London

Family of Japhet Mason of New London, Connecticut

Japhet Mason, son of Peter and Mary (Hobart) Mason, born Sept. 30, 1713, in New London, Conn., married Chappel, and their children were:

  1. Japhet Mason, born Aug. 19, 1742
  2. Amos Mason
  3. Samuel Mason
  4. Naomi Mason
  5. Wealthy Mason

Family of Japhet Mason, Jr. of New London, Connecticut

Japhet Mason (2), son of Japhet and (Chappel) Mason, born Aug. 19, 1742, married in 1767 Patience Hempstead, born May 31, 1744, and their eight children were:

  1. Mary Mason, born Feb. 20, 1768, died unmarried
  2. Daniel Mason, born June 28, 1771, died Aug. 11, 1827, unmarried
  3. John Mason, born April 2, 1774
  4. Amos Mason, born May 5, 1776
  5. Sarah Mason, born May 30, 1778
  6. Guy Mason, born July 25, 1782, died in 1783
  7. Elizabeth Mason, born July 29, 1784
  8. William Mason, born Aug. 30, 1786

Family of Amos Mason of Mystic and Stonington, Connecticut

Amos Mason, son of Japhet and Patience (Hempstead) Mason, born May 5, 1776, married Feb. 6, 1803, Mary Holdredge (born Jan. 31, 1779, in Groton, died Sept. 21, 1865, in Taunton), and they settled in Mystic, Conn. They became the parents of eight children, as follows:

  1. Amos Holdredge Mason, born in Groton, Conn., Nov. 27, 1803, died in Taunton, Mass., July 9, 1880
  2. Phineas Mason, born in Groton, Conn., Aug. 24, 1805, died in Taunton, Mass., April 2, 1880
  3. William Mason, born in Groton, Conn., Sept. 2, 1808, died in Taunton, Mass., May 21, 1883
  4. Edwin Mason, born in Groton, Conn., June 4, 1811, died in Taunton, Mass., Oct. 17, 1853
  5. Calvin Mason, born on Ram Island, May 1, 1814, died at Hartford, Conn., May 29, 1855
  6. Alexander Thompson Mason, born at North Stonington, Conn., April 11, 1816, died in Taunton, Mass., Nov. 17, 1866
  7. Japhet Mason, born in North Stonington, Conn., Dec. 13, 1818, died in Taunton, Mass., Dec. 29, 1880
  8. Mary Mason, born in North Stonington, Conn., Sept. 7, 1821, died in Taunton, Mass., Jan. 30, 1896.

Amos Mason was a resident of Mystic and Stonington, Conn., a blacksmith by trade and occupation, and as well cultivated a small farm, living for a time on a small island at the mouth of the Mystic river.

Family of William Mason of Taunton, Massachusetts

William Mason, son of Amos and Mary (Holdredge) Mason, was born Sept. 2, 1808, in Mystic, Conn., and was three years old when his father’s family moved to a small island at the mouth of the Mystic river. Here they remained for three years, and then removed to the town of Stonington, where the father cultivated a small farm and worked at his trade of blacksmith. William’s boyhood was passed in his father’s shop and on the farm, for perhaps two-thirds of the year, the remainder in the neighborhood school. He possessed mechanical genius which soon manifested itself. He fashioned his toys himself, using his father’s jack-knife, and when eight years of age made jews’-harps, and afterward some skates and sleds. He also succeeded in making musical instruments of various kinds. At thirteen years of age young Mason entered the spinning room of a small cotton factory as an operative, located in the town of Canterbury, Conn. This occupation he pursued for about four years, including one year in a cotton thread factory at Lisbon, same State. While in the latter factory one of the more complicated machines needed repairing, and it was found that young Mason alone could make the repairs. This fact becoming known at East Haddam, where mills for the manufacture of thread were about to be established, he was sent for to start the machinery, though only fifteen years of age.

While employed in cotton spinning at Canterbury (he was yet but a boy), he amused himself by making a hurdy-gurdy. At seventeen he entered the machine shops attached to the cotton mill at Canterbury, to learn the details of the machine work, and devoted himself for three years to it, when he closed his apprenticeship and went to New Hartford, near the city of Utica, N. Y. There he obtained work in a machine shop, but within a month the company failed and the shop was dosed. The business, however, was soon started again, though on a more limited scale, and young Mason was re-engaged. After having been there some six months, he returned to his old employer at Canterbury, Conn., and soon had finished and set up the first power looms used in this country for the manufacture of diaper linen. He also constructed an ingenious loom for weaving damask table cloths, the figures of the middle and border being interwoven; but this machine unfortunately had a short career, as his employer soon failed.

Mr. Mason had a taste and inclination for art, especially in the line of painting, and for a short period established himself as a portrait painter, but his forte and life calling seemed not in this direction, and he soon quit the occupation. In the year 1832, he received an order from Mr. John Hyde, of his native town, Mystic, Conn., for some diaper looms, but he had neither shop nor means to warrant his taking the contract. He obtained an advance on the job and undertook it, contracting for the necessary frames at a shop in Willimantic, Conn., with the privilege for himself and assistant of working there. He realized on the contract some $10 a day; this was the turning point in his career, and he thenceforward devoted himself to the manufacture of machinery.

The reputation gained by the fulfillment of this contract with Mr. Hyde was the means of procuring for Mr. Mason an engagement with Asel Lanphear, who had a machine shop in Killingly, Conn., and was at work on a new device for spinning which has become well known as the “ring and traveler,” or the ring frame. This was the invention of Mr. John Thorp, of Providence, R. I., by whom it was patented Dec. 31, 1828. This ‘invention, it is said, had been attempted several times before without success. Mr. Lanphear soon failed, and Mr. Mason took charge of the establishment on account of the creditors, receiving a percentage on the business. In the ring traveler, undeveloped and unskillfully made as it was, he saw the germ of a most important improvement, and he at once constructed a machine for making it more perfectly and of improved form. He remodeled and perfected the “ring,” and designed a new tasteful frame in place of the clumsy affair previously made. At first there was a limited demand for the machine, owing to the prejudice created by the old one. The new device, however, soon acquired a reputation, which it has retained to the present time.

Mr. Mason remained in Killingly two years, then entered the employ of Crocker & Richmond, who were at the time doing an extensive business in the manufacture of cotton machinery at Taunton, Mass., and here he worked steadily on his ring frame. The firm of Crocker & Richmond failed in the crisis of 1837, being largely indebted to Mr. Mason, who, however, not discouraged by the disaster, at once devised a “speeder,” or “roving machine.” Shortly afterward the old machine shops of Crocker & Richmond were started up again by Messrs. Leach & Keith, and by these men Mr. Mason was engaged as foreman of their establishment, with his patented speeder as a specialty. The building of this machine soon gave way to the manufacture of the great invention of his life, “the self acting mule.” On this he experimented about two years, and received his patent Oct. 8, 1840. About this time the machine known as the “Scotch mule” was introduced into this country, and a more formidable rival appeared in 1841 in the “Sharp & Roberts Mule,” imported by Major Bradford Durfee and patented in this country Oct. 11, 1841. The latter machine was in most respects superior to that of Mr. Mason, and he set himself to make an entirely new mule. In this he succeeded, receiving a patent Oct. 3, 1846, for what is known amongst the manufacturers as Mason’s self-acting mule. At this important juncture, just before the completion of the new machine in the winter of 1842, he was taken sick, and to add to his trouble, Messrs. Leach & Keith failed, and were largely in his debt.

Mason Machine Works - Mason Machine Works, Taunton, Massachusetts, 1899 Catalog

Mason Machine Works – Mason Machine Works, Taunton, Massachusetts, 1899 Catalog

When he recovered his health Mr. Mason decided to engage in business on his own account, and through the kindly assistance of Messrs. James K. Mills & Co., of Boston, he became the principal owner and manager of the company’s works. The prosperous times which succeeded the tariff of 1842, and the confidence of cotton and other manufacturers in his mechanical ability, at once established a business, which, in a few years, enabled him to erect, after his own design, the noble buildings known as the Mason Machine Works, the largest, it has been said, ever erected at one time for the manufacture of machinery. The main shop was 315 feet long and three stories high, but addition after addition was afterward made to accommodate constantly increasing business, until now the buildings cover nearly ten acres. The business of Mr. Mason for many years comprised the manufacture of cotton and woolen machinery, machinists’ tools, blowers, cupola furnaces, gearing and shafting; but the branch which was especially successful was the manufacture of cotton machinery. In this department he labored indefatigably to devise and introduce those various improvements which have contributed to increase the production, extend the consumption, and diminish the price of cotton fabric.

In 1852, Mr. Mason having placed his business as a manufacturer of cotton and woolen machinery and of the iron works just named on a solid basis, he resolved on a new additional enterprise. The first locomotive was brought into this country from England early in 1830 by Horatio Allen, of New York, and the first American mechanic to engage successfully in their manufacture was Mathias W. Baldwin, of Philadelphia. He built the first engine in 1832, and was followed by Thomas Rogers, of Paterson, N. J., in 1837. Both of these machines made important improvements in the details of their locomotives. These, however, were built on the general model of the English locomotive. Mr. Mason determined to contrive a new model, and in 1853 he brought out his first locomotive, which at once attracted attention for its beauty and taste, as well as for its workmanship. The general form, as well as numerous improvements in detail, presented by him, has since been adopted by locomotive builders throughout the country. He had erected in 1852 additional buildings, and he entered vigorously into the new field. One of the improvements introduced by Mr. Mason was the casting of truck wheels for locomotives and tenders, with hollow or tubular spokes and rims, instead of the plate or solid wheels, and made them uniform with driving wheels of locomotives. The first locomotives brought out by Mr. Mason in 1853 were furnished with these improved truck wheels. In 1857 the Boston firm, with which Mr. Mason was connected in business, failed, and for a short time he was obliged to suspend payment. He, however, soon started again on his own account and conducted the business alone until 1873, when an incorporated company was formed for the purpose of perpetuating the business in the hands of his heirs and successors. It has since been known as the Mason Machine Works. In 1879 there was added to the early works the manufacture of the Campbell printing press, for the accommodation of which the capacity of the shop has been greatly enlarged and new machinery adapted to that branch. The number of hands employed in the works in 1893 was 950. At that time Frederick Mason, a son of William, the inventor and manufacturer, was president of the company; William H. Burt, treasurer; and John T. Meats, superintendent.

On June 10, 1844, Mr. Mason was married to Harriet Augusta Metcalf, of Cambridge, Mass., to whom came five children, three of whom reached adult age, and two, Frederick and Mrs. Walter J. Clemson, are still living in Taunton, Mass. Mr. William Mason died May 21, 1883, at Taunton.

Family of Frederick Mason of Taunton, Massachusetts

Frederick Mason, son of William and Harriet Augusta (Metcalf), and now president of the Mason Machine Works, was born in Taunton Aug. 25, 1845. He received his elementary schooling in the public schools of his native city, and later attended the Highland Military Academy, at Worcester, Mass. For one year he was a student at the Bensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, N. Y., and for two years was at the Lawrence Scientific School. In 1864 he entered the machine shop of the Mason Machine Works, and has continued there in various capacities to the present time, a period of over forty-four years. On the death of his father in 1883 he was made president of the Mason Machine Works, which position he still holds, and at the same time he was made a director of the Taunton National Bank to succeed his father.

With the assistance of some friends, Mr. Mason, in 1865, raised a company for the State militia, and was commissioned lieutenant. He was later commissioned captain of Company G, 3d Massachusetts, and then lieutenant-colonel of the regiment. He was appointed assistant inspector general with the rank of lieutenant colonel on’ the staff of Governor Rice, and was reappointed by Governor Talbot, in the same department, with rank of colonel. Col. Mason has been a Republican in politics. He was a member of the city council for five years, and president of the council two years. The Colonel is a member of all the social clubs of the city.

Col. Mason married Harriet Leonard Rounds, of Taunton, and they have two children:

  1. Madeleine Mason, who married Carleton Brabrook
  2. Maurice Mason, who married Sarah C. Sproat