Hunter’s Iron Works E-116

Historical Marker Text
Located south of here on the Rappahannock River, stood Hunter’s Iron Works, founded by James Hunter and was in operation by the 1750s. With the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Rappahannock Forge there supplied the Continental army and navy with muskets, swords, and other armaments and camp implements. Due to its wartime significance, Gov. Thomas Jefferson ordered special military protection for the complex. The ironworks contained a blast furnace, forge, slitting, merchant, and other mills, nailery, coopers’, carpenters’, and wheelwright shops and houses for the managers and workmen. Some of the buildings may have been used for other purposes into the 19th century; none survive today. [2002]


Extended Research
James Hunter founded Hunter’s Iron Works, located in Stafford, VA. The date that he began his operations is unclear. But it is certain that his foundry was in operation by the 1750s. James Hunter proved to be a very successful industrialist and planter. Between his iron works and his plantation, Hunter owned 260 slaves, making him the largest single slave owner in Stafford’s history (Eby 333). His iron works were considered to be one of the “finest and most considerable irons works in North America” (Darter 103).Hunter’s iron works included a store, counting house, smith’s shop, tannery, gristmill, sawmill, forge mill, and merchant mill. By 1761, records indicate that Hunter was shipping pig iron to Liverpool. Before the Revolution, Hunter’s foundry produced military supplies and everyday household items like hinges, bridle bits, kitchen implements, and the “Farmer’s Friend” plow (Eby 309).

When the war broke out in 1775, the foundry also began to produce muskets, pistols, swords, carbines, camp kettles, and other items needed for war. Along with the gun manufactory just outside Fredericksburg, owned by Fielding Lewis, Hunter’s iron works supplied the Virginia troops. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson on April 14, 1781, James Mercer explained the importance of Hunter’s establishment: “It is from Mr. Hunter’s Works that every camp kettle has been supplied for the continental and all other troops employed in this State, and to the southward” (Eby 310).

In order to protect his business and allow it to flourish, Hunter made an agreement with the Virginia General Assembly, led by Governor Thomas Jefferson, that stated that his workers would not be drafted for the war. However, the Assembly did not keep their promise and Hunter had to close his foundry in February 1781. He made an attempt later that year to start operations back up. By this point, however, the war was over and the government did not want to pay for iron war materials. Hunter used his own money to restart operations but, instead, he put himself in debt. He terminated his iron works operations in December 1782 (311).

James Hunter died in 1784. His brother, Adam, tried to sell the foundry in May, 1798. He placed an ad in the Fredericksburg Herald, but the land did not sell until the early 1800s (312).

Photo Credit
“Hunter’s Iron Works,” Department of Historic Resources Historical Highway Markers, (accessed April 12, 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.

Eby, Jerrilynn. They Called Stafford Home: The Development of Stafford County, Virginia, from 1600 until 1865. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1997.

Department of Historic Resources map and directions


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