Blakely Steam Engine
Blakely Plantation
Vicksburg, Warren County, Mississippi

From the time I was six years old , I took the school bus to Redwood School until I graduated in 1954. The bus drove through the Blakel y Plantation land and passed their home which occupied a ridge mostly hidden from view by large hardwood tries. There was a certain mystery about the home and the occupants We knew the family dated back to pre-Civil War times, however the children of the current family did not attend Redwood School. Over the years my father and D. C. Blake became friends. Mr. Blake was often involved in some project that need a piece of equipment or a repair and my father loved to take on the challenge of creating or repairing something out of the ordinary.

Bogle (photo provided by Nick Blake)

On a visit home I was told of a project the family had undertaken. They were building a sailing ship based on plans they had obtained from the Smithsonian Museum. They had decided to limit the materials and tools as much as possible to lumber cut on their land and to use hand-tools they had made for themselves. The Yazoo River was not too far from their home, so they planned to haul the boat to the river, attached temporary outboard motor and take the ship to New Orleans and sail it in the Gulf of Mexico. When I heard this I urged my father to take me for a visit to see this project. We went there and were very kindly received. They generously took us around the project and answered the many questions we had. I was blown away by some of the walnut and persimmon hand planes they had made. The deck was walnut. The mast had come from a tall tree in their forest. They obviously greatly enjoyed the project, I told them it seemed to me that, "everyday is Saturday." The boat was christened, "The Bogle." A wonderful detaied article about the boat building history of the Blake family was written by Nick Blake. It is published here.

Mr. Blake told me he was involved in another project, the restoring of a steam engine which had been used to power a cotton gin from before the Civil War. He had constructed a walnut paneled building near the house to house the engine. I told him of my interest in steam engines and he kindly gave me a tour. It was a magnificent restoration. He provided me with a little self-made booklet with pictures. They are reproduced below in the Gallery. He had no information about the manufacturer as the name plate was missing. The gin dates to about 1849-1853 according to information in Benson Blake's diary.

After conducting some research it is my belief this steam engine was made by the American Machine Works. This is the manufacturer of the boiler cap contained in Mr. Blake's photos. Here is a entry from the New England Farmer (Boston, Massachusetts)14 Jun 1851, Sat. Sadly this Springfield, MA, company was known to be pro-slavery as many of its customers were southern plantations.


A second entry in the New England Farmer (Boston, Massachusetts)29 Jan 1876, Sat seems to confirm this. Tyler was awarded a Silver Medal for the Best Truss Engine by the American Institute of New York in 1855. It is possible the Blake engine was one of these. The American Machine Works were very well-known for their firearms. The supplied weapons and equipment at many armories of the time.

It is likely the steam engine was shipped out of Boston to New Orleans, then by steamboat up the Mississsippi River to Vicksburg and finally by wagon and mules to Blakeley Plantation.


The 1855 advertisement at right from the American Machine Works kindly shared by Jake Agius clearly confirms that the Blake engine was made by this company and is the truss frame desigh favored by Mr. Tyler. Mr. Aigus also referenced a biography of the company president, Philos B. Tyler.Here is the biography: Hon. Phitos B., son of Phineas Tyler, was born in Springfield, Mass., in 1816. When a young man he went to New Orleans, where he was an engineer on the New Orleans and (Lake) Pontchartrain Railroad. His brother, Rufus, was in the service of the U. S. Government as chief coiner at the mint. Upon his death, which occurred September 8, 1839, at the age of 43 years, his brother Philos succeeded him. In 1843, he returned to Springfield, and soon after organized and was the manager of the American Ma chine Works, which were located on the “Hill,” where he began the manufacture of cotton presses which were of his own invention and bore his name. Steam engines, a railroad switch of his invention, and machinery for various purposes were also manufactured. The company had a contract from the U. S. Government for the manufacture of small arms the last year of the Rebellion. The company lost its Southern business owing to the war, and eventually went into retirement. Mr. Tyler afterwards moved to West Haven, Conn. He took an active part in local matters, and was mayor of Springfield in 1854. He was one of the signers of a remonstrance, made in 1850, in opposition to the election of Charles Sumner to a seat in the Senate of the United States. He was active in the demonstrations made against George Thompson, the English Abolitionist, on his visit to Springfield in February, 1851. (Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and other citizens of Old Springfield of the Present Century, by Charles Wells Chapin)


From a document written by Mr. Daniel Carmichael Blake (1917–1982).

The color photos are of the Blakely cotton gin steam engine partly restored as of June, 1978.

The engine is of 10-inch bore and 25-inch stroke. The slide valve is as long as the cylinder. The valve rod is made thin to flex just outside of the stuffing gland. Flywheel is one piece casting 8-foot in diameter; rim is 15-inches wide.

The throttle valve that was actuated by the governor beam is missing. The name plate that was at the base of the governor is missing. There is no lettering on engine anywhere. Oilers for inboard main bearing, cross-head slippers and steam chest are missing. Cylinder drain cocks are missing.

The black and white photo of the engine in the gin shows a later type governor in place of the throttle valve, the name plate, and line shaft drive. This photo and the one of the gin building were taken by Mr. Charles A. Bennett about 1935. Other photos show the slide valve arrangement and cast iron boiler head of one of the two original boilers. The last time the gin ran was perhaps 1915.

Benson Blake owned three cotton plantations, one of which was Blakely, where this engine was located. It appears that the gin he was building in 1853 was the third gin to be on Blakely as in his diary in 1844 and after he often mentions the gin field and the old gin field in the same sentence. It is not clear whether the engine was new or from his old gin.

The following are quotes from the diary of Benson Blake:

“1841, Nov. 11th—Sold Whatley 277 yds of bagging, 640 lbs of rope, one bundle of twine at Vicksburg prices of this date.
1849, Aug. 30th—The gin is running.
1852, June 22nd—Cleaning up the gin house ready for ginning.
1853, Jan. 24th—Finished picking cotton on fifteenth but still ginning.
1853, April 12th—About 45,000 bricks made.
1853, June 13th—Hauling sand and lime for gin house. Ready to lay off foundation.
1853, June 20th—Gin house foundation started.
1853, July 17th—Stack not half done and gin timbers not all out.
1853, Nov. 20th—The framing of my gin most done. The boilers brought home and the brick masons making cisterns and ready to set the boilers.
1853, Dec. 25th—The new gin, the boilers and engine up, the machinery all at the spot, the brick work nearly all done. The frame not half up.
1854, March 13th—nothing more done to the gin house. The frame up and the mill and saw have been running since the first of February. (He was sawing lumber to make gin house).
1854, Sept. 14th—The gin house not yet done. William has been sick. Scaffolds not finished nor the press up nor the stands set.
1854, Oct. 20th—My gin is running and doing well.”

The gin was being torn down in 1940 and at that time D. W. Blake loaned the engine to Mr. Charles A. Bennett, Principal Agricultural Engineer, U.S.D.A. Mr. Bennett put the engine on display at Stoneville, Miss. where it remained until it was returned to me in 1974.

An article by Mr. Bennett in the August 11th, 1956 issue of The Cotton Gin and Oil Mill Press mentions the gin and shows a photograph of it.

Authentic information is needed on the missing parts.
D. C. Blake, Box 68, Redwood, Miss. 39156

About this Item

Blakely Gin, Blakely, Warren County, MS
Contributor Names
Historic American Buildings Survey, creator
Blake, C Benson
Created / Published
Documentation compiled after 1933
Subject Headings
-  cotton gins
-  Mississippi -- Warren County -- Blakely
-  Survey number: HABS MS-138 
Photo(s): 3 
Data Page(s): 2 
Call Number/Physical Location
Source Collection
Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Control Number
Rights Advisory
No known restrictions on images made by the U.S. Government; images copied from other sources may be restricted.
Online Format
Photo(s): 3 | Data Page(s): 2

The first evidence available to the U.S. Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory is a wooden cleaner constructed by a gin hand in 1840 at the Blakely Plantation Gin a few miles north ... steam engine, which is on display at the Blakely Plantation.


Blakely Gallery

Note to Mel Oakes from Daniel Blakely.

Document from D. C. Blake

Comment in Journal of Cotton Gin and Oil Mill, August 11, 1956.

Historic American Buildings Survey James Butters, Photographer August 26, 1936 FRONT (SOUTHWEST VIEW) - Blakely Gin, Blakely, Warren County, MS

Blakely Steam Engine.

Blakely Steam Engine

Blakely Steam Engine

Blakely Steam Engine Governor

Blakely Steam Engine Governor

Blakely Steam Engine Governor

Blakely Steam Engine, slide valve at top, intake and exhaust manifold in middle.

Blakely Steam Engine, operation: Steam enter through a flange at the top of the steam box, it continues around the slide valve, exerting force on the valve to keep it in contact with the valve opening surface.When the slide valve is in the position shown steam passes through the left port into the piston chamber on the left, exerting a large force on the piston top. On the right side of the piston, the pressure drops since the slide valve has provided access for this steam to the outside. Note the steam moves through the righthand port into the cavity inside the slide valve and back into the valve housing and out the exhaust port.

The slide valve is moved back and forth by a rod connected to the drive wheel. As the slide valve moves to the right it will exposed the left port to the high pressure steam. Now steam will enter the cylinder on the left side of the piston and drive it to the right. The right side of the slide valve now covers the two ports at right permitting the steam to reach the exhaust port. When the slide valve moves to the left the reverse happens. (Many thanks to Nick and his father, Daniel Blake for this explanation.) You can see the the slide valve and its chamber in the photo above this one.

Similar slide valve steam engine. The difference is the center exhaust chamber, E, is divided into two openings rather than the one shown here. Also the slide valve has two chambers, SV, one at each end.
An animation can be seen here.
(Thanks to Christina Ross and the volunteers at the London Museum of Water and Steam for their reference to this annimation.)

James Watt did not invent the steam engine, however his improvements made it a efficient and viable engine. He was able to create indicators that would enable him to diagnose and track what was happening with the steam. Years ago while traveling in England, I ran across the drawing above of indicators and thought they were appealing for their art as well as their engineering information. The drawing apparently appeared in The Engineer and Machinist's Assistant (1845) by Scott & Jamison.

At left are MacNaught's indicators and at right are Morin's indicators. The scale at the bottom at the left is in inches. The one at the right is in feet. The MacNaught's indicators succeeded those of Watt until about 1860. MacNaught (1771–1844) was from Glasgow, Scotland. In Figure 1, we see the string that is attached to the piston (not shown) which rotates the paper drum and the pencil moves up and down as the pressure changes.

An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the cylinder pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine. This type of indicator was invented by John McNaught of Glasgow, Scotland around 1825/1830. This particular unit, shown at right, was manufactured by Novelty Iron Works of New York around 1842. (Photo and information from the National Museum of American History.)

The McNaught indicator was a significant improvement over the original Watt indicator which made steam-pressure diagrams on a flat piece of recording paper. The piston of the engine under test moved the paper horizontally, and the indicator’s piston moved the paper vertically. McNaught’s improvement was the introduction of an oscillating cylinder which held the recording paper. Made of brass, it consists of a cylinder and piston with internal spring and a separate recording drum. The piston causes the stylus to rise and fall with pressure changes in the engine under measurement thereby directly recording the indicator’s output on the paper. Around the drum’s base is wound a cord that is attached to the connecting rod of the piston on the steam engine being measured. This causes the drum to rotate as the engine’s piston moves. An internal coil spring causes the cord to retract and the drum to counter rotate back to its original position as the connecting rod returns. The result is a steam pressure-volume diagram which is used to measure the efficiency and other attributes of the steam engine. 

The introduction of the steam indicator in the late 1790s and early 1800s by James Watt and others had a great impact on the understanding of how the steam behaved inside the engine's cylinder and thereby enabled much more exacting and sophisticated designs. The devices also changed how the economics and efficiency of steam engines were portrayed and marketed. They helped the prospective owner of a machine better understand how much his fuel costs would be for a given amount of work performed. 

Measurement of fuel consumed and work delivered by the engine was begun by Watt, who in part justified the selling price of his engines on the amount of fuel cost the purchaser might save compared to an alternate engine. In the early days of steam power, the method to compare engine performance was based on a concept termed the engine’s “duty”. It originally was calculated as the number of pounds of water raised one foot high per one bushel of coal consumed. The duty method was open to criticism due to its inability to take into consideration finer points of efficiency in real world applications of engines. Accurate determination of fuel used in relation to work performed has been fundamental to the design and improvement of all steam-driven prime movers ever since Watt’s time. And, the steam indicators’ key contribution was the accurate measurements of performance while the engine was actually doing the work it was designed to do.

Below is the output from the indicator from a high pressure engine. Since one can get the force on the piston from the pressure and the distance moved from the string position, one can get the work done and the efficiency of the engine.



Information about the MacNaught's indicators come from "Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue" by Robert Ellis, F. L. S., Great Britain, Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851

Blakely Gin House

Historic American Buildings Survey James Butters, Photographer August 26, 1936 FRONT (SOUTHWEST VIEW) - Blakely Gin, Blakely, Warren County, MS

Picture of Blakely Gin in Journal of Cotton Gin and Oil Mill, August 11, 1956, December.

2. Historic American Buildings Survey James Butters, Photographer August 26, 1936 (GROUND FLOOR) DETAIL PRESS (LOOKING SOUTH) - Blakely Gin, Blakely, Warren County, MS

3. Historic American Buildings Survey James Butters, Photographer August 26, 1936 (SECOND) DETAIL PRESS (LOOKING EAST) - Blakely Gin, Blakely, Warren County, MS

American Machine Company, Springfield, Mass

A typical horizontal steam engine, 1848. From Scientific American, Volume 4 (4 November 1848), page 54.

Blakely Steam Engine.

1. Historic American Buildings Survey James Butters, Photographer August 26, 1936 FRONT (EAST ELEVATION) - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

2. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 VIEW FROM EAST - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

3. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 GENERAL VIEW FROM SOUTHEAST - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

4. Historic American Buildings Survey James Butters, Photographer August 26, 1936 REAR (SOUTHWEST CORNER) - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

5. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 VIEW FROM NORTHWEST - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

6. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 PARLOR, NORTHWEST CORNER - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

7. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 PARLOR, LOOKING SOUTH - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

8. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 PARLOR ROSETTE - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

9. Historic American Buildings Survey Lester Jones, Photographer February 19, 1940 CHICKEN HOUSE - Blakely Plantation, Blakely, Warren County, MS

It is quite probable that there were many attempts to clean cotton mechanically. The first evidence available to the U.S. Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory is a wooden cleaner constructed by a gin hand in 1840 at the Blakely Plantation Gin a few miles north of Vicksburg, Miss. (fig. 1-3). It was driven by a steam engine, which is on display at the Blakely Plantation. (Cotton Ginners Handbook by William E. Mayfield, 1977)


Description of Gin


Description of Gin


Three level cotton gin, 1889. The engine (steam in the Blakely case) would have been attached to the pulley above the 1889 at the lower right