Samuel Higley was the first blacksmith awarded the right to manufacture steel for use in the America’s, and the first to strike non English coins for use in America.
John Brown’s 2nd Great Grand Uncle was Samuel Higley (1687 – 1737), ninth child of John Higley (1649 -1714) and Hannah Drake Higley (1653 – 1694). The Higley family resided in Simsbury Connecticut and were leading citizens held in high regard.
Samuel graduated from Yale in 1714. He apprenticed for eleven years with Drs. Samuel Mather and Thomas Hooker until qualified to practice medicine on his own. In the 1700’s physicians were not highly paid, and it was not unusual for them to have another skill or occupation outside of medicine. Samuel was schoolteacher and blacksmith.
He married Abigail Bement (1700 – 1746) on September 19, 1719. They had three children: Jonathan (1721-1771), Ann (1724-1761) and Abigail (1733-1810).
In 1728, Samuel was awarded the exclusive right to make steel in the Colony for ten years. Normally everything that could be manufactured and imported from England was forbidden to manufacture in the colonies. So the judgement to allow Samuel to manufacture all steel to be used in the colonies was a very big deal. From the declaration:
“with great pains and cost, found out and obtained a curious art, by which to convert, change, or transmute common ore into good steel, sufficient for any use, and was the very first that ever performed such an operation in America.”
Samuel’s land in Simsbury included a copper mine, from which 97-98% pure copper was extracted. In 1736 Samuel began minting the very first coins not minted in England. This was a violation of the laws of the land, but the Higley Copper, as the coins came to be called, were in use as an equivalent to 3-pence coins for many years. The Higley family manufactured coins from 1737 until 1739. The coins were made from such pure copper, that future generations smelted down the coins for use in gold-smithing. The Higley Copper is now a very rare coin, and worth upwards of $285,000 each!
Samuel Higley was declared dead after his cargo ship carrying copper ore to England, was lost in the Atlantic during May 1737.