Fredericksville Furnace EM-1

Historical Marker Text
Charles Chiswell established the iron-making community of Fredericksville near this point of Douglas Run, a tributary of the North Anna River. The furnace had been in blast for about five years when William Byrd in 1732 toured the site in the company of Chiswell and his iron-master, Robert Durham. An archaeological investigation of the furnace was financed by Virginia Electric and Power Company in 1970. [1971]

Extended Research
Very little research has been done on Charles Chiswell and his furnace at Fredericksville. The small town of Fredericksville has long been erased from the maps of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County. The iron works were situated in the southwestern part of Spotsylvania County, about a half a mile from the North Anna River (Swank 262) and twenty-four miles from the shipping point on the Rappahannock River (Cappon 14). There are no definite dates for the beginning or end of the mine’s operation. Most likely, the Fredericksville furnace began operation between 1723 and 1727 (Cappon 14).

Most of what is known about the Fredericksville Furnace comes from William Byrd II’s travel narrative, “A Progress to the Mines.” Byrd toured Chiswell’s furnace and Alexander Spotswood’s furnace at Germanna in 1732 when he was contemplating getting into the iron business himself. (Sources conflict on whether Alexander Spotswood partnered with Chiswell in the Fredericksville furnace venture.) Byrd visited with Chiswell from September 23 to September 27, 1732. He noted that Chiswell’s iron-master, Robert Furham, seemed rather gloomy. From this essay, we glean some information about the Fredericksville furnace, but most of the information is general advice about how to make iron. Byrd recorded very detailed accounts of his conversations with Chiswell about how iron furnaces operate, all the way down to the salaries of every free person involved.


William Byrd II

Chiswell also provided Byrd with the steps and requirements that one needs to begin an iron furnace. The first requirement is a deposit or vein of good quality ore. There must be a stream close by for the furnace. In fact, Chiswell complained that this was the downside of the Fredericksville location. The ore was carted a mile to the furnace and then twenty-four miles to the Rappahannock River (Byrd 347). An abundant wood supply was also needed to make charcoal, particular pine, hickory or oak trees. Chiswell had a contract with Fredericksburg merchant Henry Willis to provide the Fredericksville Mine Operation with wood (Felder 81). Lastly, about 120 slaves were needed to run a iron furnace. By meeting these requirements, Chiswell maintained that one could produce 800 tons of iron per year (Byrd 348).

It is not clear when the Fredericksville furnace ceased operation. However, much of the iron works were dismantled in the years after to provide building materials for nearby houses (Swank 262).

Photo Credit
“William Byrd II,” Henry H. Mitchell, “Col. William Byrd’s Observations, 1728-33,” (accessed April 11, 2008).

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

Byrd, William. The Prose Works of William Byrd of Westover: Narratives of a Colonial Virginian. Edited by Louis B. Wright. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1966.

Cappon, Lester J. “Introduction,” in Iron Works at Tuball by Alexander Spotswood, 3-16. Charlottesville, VA: The Tracy W. McGregor Library of the University of Virginia, 1945.

Felder, Paula S. Forgotten Companions: The First Settlers of Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburgh Town. Fredericksburg, VA: The American History Company, 2000.

Swank, James Moore. History of the Manufacture of Iron in All Ages, and Particularly in the United States from colonial times to 1891. Philadelphia: The American Iron and Steel Association, 1892.

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