In London in 1731, Richard Fry "indented" himself to Samuel Waldo, a prosperous Boston merchant and Thomas Westbrook, Esq., of Falmouth [Maine], which was at that time part of the colony of Massachusetts. According to Fry, the terms of the agreement were that John Collier, an Englishman, would take the lease of several paper mills from the above partnership at the rate of 200 pounds sterling per annum for ownership at the end of 21 years. Fry was to pay the partnership an additional 64 pounds sterling per annum for the privilege of operating one of the mills.
In 1731 Fry arrived in Boston, presumably with his wife, Martha. Though he referred to supporting his family during this period, Fry mentions only one child by name, his New England-born son, James. Fry had to wait three to four years for the paper mill to be built; he described himself meanwhile as "stationer, bookseller, papermaker, and rag merchant" (Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 7).
Finally the mill was completed, located across the Presumscot River in Falmouth; the area is also referred to as Stroudwater. Waldo describes the agreement in a letter dated December 24, 1734. In this document Waldo pledges to assist Fry and his associates in their enterprise by promising that they shall not be "disturbed, fined, prosecuted, or molested in the course of paper manufacturing." Waldo cites a "certain action of this province, instituted for the encouragement of making paper." I believe this is a reference to an act passed by the general court of Massachusetts on September 13, 1728, to generate the manufacture of paper in New England. (New England Historical Register, vol. 29).
Fry and several employees were in financial difficulties within two years. Waldo brought a writ of execution against Fry for failure to pay 70 pounds in rent. This was the beginning of protracted legal dealings between Waldo and Fry that would continue until Fry's death in debtor's prison (around 1745). On the sixth of May, (1730's?) the under sheriff of York county Abraham Tyler seized Fry's tools, machinery, rags, household goods, and clothing, for non-payment of rent. Fry was bodily committed to Boston Goal around the end of 1736, or at the beginning of 1737.
Fry's version of the story was quite different. He claimed he was not indebted either to Waldo, Westbrook, or Tyler, but rather was imprisoned when he refused an offer of 500 pounds by Waldo for the remainder of his lease. According to Fry, "not content with their improvement of 264 pounds per year," Waldo and Westbrook had sought to make more of a profit. They had already successfully negotiated 600 pounds for the remainder of John Collier's lease before turning to Fry (Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 7). One document that seems to lend credence to Fry is an early bond signed by Waldo that states the conditions of the agreement and that he owes Fry 1000 pounds. Apparently Fry was not always completely penniless.
For the rest of his life, Fry submitted petitions that he had been unjustly treated; unfortunately, all of his appeals were dismissed in court. Abraham Tyler visited him in jail and apologized for taking his personal goods, and at one point repaid him with cash.
Fry was popular with his fellow inmates; while in court he drew up two petitions protesting the treatment of prisoners. In one petition he complained that a gate was often shut to exclude callers. The committee that received the petition reported that the "sheriff be directed to give strict orders to his under keeper, William Young, to treat his prisoners with more justice and tenderness in the future." (New England Historical Register, vol. 29). Several of these prisoners may have been grateful to Fry; they submitted depositions on his behalf.
While in prison (1739) Fry also submitted to Governor Belcher a plan for implementing paper currency in New England which Fry calls "a banking scheme." It was not the first time the idea had been offered: paper currency had already been utilized during a costly campaign against Canada. The plan was dismissed, but was unique in that it proposed a chain of factories which would provide New England with a variety of products. It has been described as more of a plan for the development of manufacturing in New England (Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 7).
Martha Fry petitioned to be named administratrix of her husband's estate in August 1745. His death had probably occurred sometime that summer.
There are a total of three different watermarks imprinted on the nine documents in the collection. Fry's letter to Waldo is probably an example of his own paper. The insignia is about two inches in diameter with the initials CB enclosed with two laurel leaves. The letter from Wright has an insignia of a crowned lion holding arrows; it is about four inches in diameter and is quite clear.