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Tanning is the process of converting animal skins into leather. This was an important occupation in the colonial era. Leather had many uses including shoes and boots, blacksmith aprons, saddles, and pouches for ammunition. Tanning involved multiple steps. First was washing the skins both to remove dirt and debris and begin the softening process. The washing took about 30 hours after which the hide was placed in a vat of lime which burned off the top hair layers on the skin. The process of soaking in lime solutions and removing the hair could take up to a year. This was followed by scraping and more washing. Finally, the actual tanning could occur. This involved infusing the hide with gelatin and tannic acid in order to toughen the hide into leather. Vegetable tannins were used in the colonial era, most often bark tannin. There was an entire separate process to crush bark so that it could be used as tannin. Tanning was highly regulated even in colonial times. A tanner could be fined if he did not do the process carefully. In 1692, tanners in Connecticut had to prove their skills in order to obtain a license to be a tanner. My ancestors were well-represented among the ranks of tanners and several of them are highlighted here.


William B. Bloodgood (1698-1756), my sixth great-grandfather, was a tanner in Woodbridge, New Jersey. William was born at Flushing, Long Island about 1698 son of John and Mary (Morgan) Bloodgood. On 16 March 1727, William married Mary Gach (1700-1760). Mary was born in Westchester County, New York, 28 August 1700 daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Hunt) Gach. William and Mary were parents of six children born at Woodbridge including my ancestor Gach Bloodgood.


William Chandler (1598-1642), my tenth great-grandparent, was a tanner in England and continued his occupation after immigrating. He was born at Bishop’s Stortford about 1598 son of Henry and Anne (-) Chandler. He married in England 6 November 1625, Annis Bayford. Annis was born at Franham, 12 June 1603 daughter of Francis and Joan (-) Bayford. William and Annis were parents of seven children born at Bishop’s Stortford, including two of my ancestors, Hannah Chandler (1630-1711) and Thomas Chandler (1628-1703). William and Annis immigrated to Roxbury about 1637 and William died there in 1642. The children of William and Annis settled in Andover.


Richard Dole (1622-1705), my ninth great-grandfather, was born at Rangeworthy, Gloucestershire on 21 December 1622 son of William and Joan (Hale) Dole. Richard immigrated to Newbury in 1639 as a tanner apprentice to John Lowell. On 3 May 1647, Richard married Hannah Rolfe (1631-1678). Hannah was born at White Parish, Wiltshire, about 1631 daughter of Henry and Honour (Rolfe) Rolfe. The Rolfe family also immigrated to Newbury in 1639. Richard and Hannah were parents of ten children born at Newbury. Richard was a successful dealer in hides and leather until his death in 1705.


Matthias Hatfield (1699-1779) owned a tanyard in Elizabethtown (now called Elizabeth), New Jersey. He is my seventh great-grandfather. Matthias was born in Elizabethtown in 1699 son of Isaac Hatfield. He married Hannah Miller who was also born in Elizabeth in 1699 daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Thompson) Miller. Matthias and Hannah were parents of eight children born at Elizabeth. Matthias was active in the affairs of the community serving as alderman, town magistrate, and high sheriff. In 1734, he was elected elder of the Presbyterian church. In 1743, her served as a delegate to England to present a petition to the king.


Nicholas Holt (1602-1686), my ninth great-grandfather, was a tanner and dish turner in Newbury and later Andover. A dish turner makes wooden bowls on a lathe. Nicholas was born at Romsey, Hampshire born 19 October 1602 son of Thomas Holt. Nicholas married Elizabeth in England before emigrating in 1635. They traveled on the ship James and settled first at Newbury and relocated to Andover in 1643 as first settlers there. Nicholas and Elizabeth were parents of nine children including two of my ancestors, Elizabeth Holt (1636-1710) and Henry Holt (1643-1719).


Jonas Humphrey (1587-1662) is my tenth great-grandfather. He was born at Wendover, Buckinghamshire in 1587. Jonas married Frances Coley (1591-1676) on 11 June 1607. They were parents of five children born at Wendover. Jonas was a constable in Wendover. The family immigrated to Dorchester in 1636. Jonas and his son James were glove makers in Wendover but took up the tanning trade in Dorchester. They set up a tanyard in the front of the house. Their property was on what later became Humphreys Street.


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