Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory N-7

Historical Marker Text
The Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory was established by an ordinance passed by Virginia’s third revolutionary convention on 17 July 1775. Built on this site soon thereafter by Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick, it was the first such factory in America. Its workers repaired and manufactured small arms for the regiments of numerous Virginia counties during the Revolutionary War. The factory’s principal product was modeled after the British Brown Bess musket, the standard infantry arm of the day. Only a handful of the Fredericksburg muskets survive. In 1783 the factory closed and the General Assembly transferred the land and buildings to the trustees of the Fredericksburg Academy. The property was sold to a merchant in 1801 and later subdivided. [1994]


Extended Research

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Virginia’s third revolutionary convention met in Richmond on July 17, 1775. One of the ordinances proposed by the convention was that “a manufactory of arms be erected at or near Fredericksburg” (Duke 96). Fredericksburg was a strategic location for an arms manufactory. The port of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River allowed for easy shipment of pig iron from Maryland’s flourishing iron industry. Hunter’s Iron Works were close-by as well (97). The Fredericksburg Gunnery and Hunter’s Iron Works were considered vital enterprises to the Revolution and these factories supplied numerous Virginia troops. No other Virginia town could claim more success than Fredericksburg in this regard (Darter 104).

Less than a month later, the ordinance was passed and the convention named Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick commissioners of the enterprise. The convention issued 2,000 pounds to Lewis to start work on the gunnery. The two commissioners leased an old millhouse from Roger Dixon’s widow on Hazel Run and bought ten acres of land on the outskirts of town from Richard Brooke (Felder 210). The plant eventually consisted of the main manufactory, a powder magazine, cartridge works, repair shops, and a vegetable garden (Darter 103).

With the factory mostly complete by early 1776, the commissioners published an advertisement for brass in the Virginia Gazette, Virginia’s colonial newspaper out of Williamsburg. Soon after, in a letter written to George Washington on February 4, 1776, Lewis claimed that by March the factory would be making 10 muskets a day (Felder 220). The nearby Hunter’s Iron Works was much more efficient at producing arms. However, Lewis and Dick’s factory provided critical repair services. In July 1776 the Executive Council ordered that all the muskets in the Williamsburg magazine that were not fit for use be sent to the Fredericksburg manufactory to be repaired (234).

In May 1777, Ebenezer Hazard, Inspector of the colonial postal system, completed a short tour of Virginia. His visit to Fredericksburg included dinner with Charles Dick, a tour of James Mercer’s cotton manufactory, Ferry Farm, and the gun manufactory (236). He reported that the gun manufactory was producing twenty muskets a week. He claimed, “the Musquets made here are excellent, lighter than the English, carry an Ounce Ball, & cost the Manufacturer about 4.10 pounds Virga. Curry or15 Dollars. The Bayonets are 20 Ins. in Length” (241).

Fielding Lewis gave much of his personal fortune to the success of the gun manufactory and other patriotic commitments. Looking at the records, in the years after 1776, it is clear that Lewis used large amounts from his personal funds (Duke, 133). He even began to sell his property to pay for the factory’s operations. By the end of 1780 Lewis was owed 16,000 pounds. Bankrupt and ill with consumption, Lewis resigned as commissioner of the manufactory in 1780.

Charles Dick was left to run the operation alone. In early 1781, the gun manufactory workers walked off their jobs over a pay dispute. Charles Dick reported that, “the Gentlemen of this town & even the Ladys have very spiritedly attended at the Gunnery and assisted to make up already above 20,000 Cartridges and Bullets” (Felder 282). Fortunately for Dick and the townspeople of Fredericksburg, the war ended some months later when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.Fielding Lewis died in December of 1781, soon after he learned that his patriotic work had not been in vain. The factory continued to operate after the war, repairing muskets badly damaged during battle. In January 1783, Charles Dick died and the gun manufactory was soon shut down.

A few months later, the gunnery land was designated to the Fredericksburg Academy. The school was short-lived and by 1801 the land was sold again to Richard Johnston. In later years, parcels of land were sold at various times (297).

Photo Credit
“Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory marker,” Department of Historic Resources, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/hiway_markers/marker.cfm?mid=4129 (accessed April 17, 2008).

For Further Reference
Brown, M.L. Firearms in Colonial America: The Impact on History and Technology, 1492-1792. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980.

Bruce, Kathleen. Virginia Iron Manufacture in the Slave Era. New York: The Century Co., 1931.

Darter, Oscar H. Colonial Fredericksburg and Neighborhood in Perspective. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1957.

Duke, Jane Taylor. Kenmore and the Lewises. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1949.

Felder, Paula S. Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg, VA: The American History Company, 1998.

George Washington’s Fredericksburg Foundation. http://kenmore.org/ (accessed April 15, 2008).

Department of Historic Resources map and directions

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