Jonathan4 Dunham

A Short Sketch of Jonathan4 Dunham and “Skinner’s Forge”

Jonathan4 (Jonathan3, Jonathan2, John1) Dunham, perhaps the grandfather of John7 Doty, was most likely born in Falmouth Massachusetts in the early 1680s.  When he was still quite young he moved to Martha's Vineyard MA with his parents, his siblings and some aunts and uncles, and then in the first decade of the eighteenth century Jonathan4 moved on to Colchester Connecticut.  It was there that he and his wife Mary Spencer, who probably was born in East Haddam Connecticut, raised their family of four sons and four daughters.

In 1739, about a year after the lands of the north-western part of Connecticut were opened to settlement, Jonathan4 and a number of other men from Colchester and Lebanon (as well as other towns primarily in Connecticut) traveled to the area to purchase land from the men who had acquired it at auction in New Haven on the second Wednesday of October 1738 as ordered by the General Assembly.  Following the winter of 1739-40, most of Jonathan4 Dunham’s family together with a number of other families moved into the area.  As noted on our homepage, Jonathan4’s son William5 Dunham and his family remained in Colchester as did one of William’s sisters.  It was William5’s son Samuel6, who we think may have been the biological father of John7 Doty.

The following paragraph about Jonathan4 Dunham is taken directly from page 73 of the fourth edition of the “General History of the Town of Sharon Litchfield County, Conn. From its First Settlement” by Charles F. Sedgwick, A.M.  The book was published by the Sharon Historical Society.

“Dunham, Capt. Jonathan, was from Colchester, and was a leading man in the first settlement of the town [Sharon].  He lived opposite Richard Smith’s, and there kept the first tavern in the town.  He was the agent to the Assembly to procure the incorporation of the township, and was appointed to call the first town meeting.  He was standing moderator of all the town meetings held during his lifetime, and selectman of the town during the same period.  His race, however, was a short one, as he died on the 28th day of February, 1745, at the age of 59.  He had several sons, one of whom, Samuel, built the stone house formerly owned by Anson Boland.  Capt. Dunham’s gravestone is the oldest one in our churchyard.”

In addition to the considerable contributions to the town of Sharon described by Charles Sedgwick, Jonathan4 Dunham was also an early participant in the development of the iron industry in the Town, and by extension in what was to become one of the major iron mining and manufacturing centers in the country for almost two centuries.  This was the “Salisbury Iron District” which included in the order of their incorporation the towns of Canaan, Kent, Sharon, Cornwall, Salisbury, Norfolk, and North Canaan1.  At one time there were as many as 30 blast furnaces and a number of forges extant in the District, and it is said that “eighty percent of the cannon made in the Colonies during the war with Great Britain were produced”2 there in the first Upper Housatonic iron furnace which had been built in Cornwall in 1762.

Jonathan4's participation in the industry consisted of his 25% ownership stake in a bloomery forge, generally known as “Skinner’s Forge”.  In 1743, he, one of his sons Samuel5 Dunham, one Thomas Fairchild of Wethersfield, and a Jonathan Fairbanks of Middletown each bought 25% interests in the Forge from Joseph Skinner who we believe had built it a couple of years earlier.  It was the first such structure to be built in Sharon.

We do not yet know how long the Forge was in operation, though it could well have been producing wrought iron and later perhaps more finished products well into and perhaps through the end of the Revolutionary War.  Had that been the case, however, it would not have been doing so with Dunham ownership.  Jonathan4’s stake was sold by the Administrators of his estate in 1747, and Samuel5 sold his entire stake in 1751.

The scene today where Skinner’s Forge once stood is a far cry from what it was when the Dunhams and their partners were producing iron.  Most of the breached dam still stands, but gone is the continual stream of workers who hauled the iron ore, the wood and the limestone to the forge; gone are the always smoldering piles of charcoal used to heat the ore to perhaps 1,300 to 1,500 degrees; gone is the constant bang of the water powered hammer that drove out the slag inherent in the ore; gone are the smoke, the soot, the waste water and the smells that were the natural by-products of the forging process; and gone are the dangers faced by anyone involved in the production of iron two hundred and fifty hears ago.

In their stead today is a truly bucolic scene, some parts of which we’ve attempted to capture in the images at the top of each page of our website and in the somewhat larger       pictures displayed on this page.  Included are Mudge pond (once called Skinner’s Pond), the source of the brook flowing to the smaller holding pond just above the forge; the brook and the now wooded area that was the holding pond two and a half centuries ago; the site of the forge itself viewed from across the brook on the eastern edge of the breach in the dam; and a very small strip of land separating the brook into two streams for a short distance just below the site of the Forge which could be evidence of an old tail race.

1. Originally, North Canaan was included in the incorporation of Canaan.
2. "The Iron Heritage Trail", a project of the Upper Housatonic Valley Heritage Area Funded by the National Park Service.


If you believe you are a descendant of Deacon John1 Dunham, or if you simply would like to learn more about the Dunham family, we would recommend that you look into the Dunham/Singletary Family Connections website.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Sharon Connecticut and the families who made that history, we strongly recommend that you visit the website of the Sharon Historical Society.

For those interested in more detail on the iron industry in the "Salisbury Iron District" and the broader Upper Housatonic River Watershed Area of which it is a part, we would recommend "Echos of Iron in Connecticut's Northwest Corner" written by Ed Kirby and published by the Sharon Historical Society, "Industrial Heritage in Northwest Connecticut" by Robert B. Gordon and Michael Raber which we believe is out of print, and the website of The Upper Housatonic Valley Heritage Area.

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