Forging Iron and Slavery in Valley of Virginia

By Anderson, Richard V. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 30, 1996 | Go to article overview

Forging Iron and Slavery in Valley of Virginia


Anderson, Richard V., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


They used to make iron in the James River watershed at the upper end of the Valley of Virginia. In Rockbridge and Alleghany counties today, there are places whose names echo this enterprise: Clifton Forge, Londale Furnace and Vesuvius.

The most successful area iron maker was William Weaver of Philadelphia, who, during the War of 1812, invested in a furnace and forge on Buffalo Creek, about nine miles southeast of Lexington. By 1858, Weaver, having moved to Rockbridge County in 1823, had the county's largest slave force.

It is ironic that Weaver should have engaged in chattel slavery. He was a Northerner and great-grandson of Alexander Mack, founder of the Dunkers, a faith opposed to slavery. Weaver, however, learned through experience that free white laborers often extorted wage advances that they never intended to repay or left during the seven-month period when it was possible to put a furnace in blast.

The alternative was slave labor, and Weaver did not allow hisDunker upbringing to inhibit him in his pursuit of prosperity. The slaves imported from Africa were more than hunters and cultivators. Many had been iron makers, passing this skill along for generations. Weaver was able, therefore, to buy slaves who already were skilled in iron-making or had enough experience to be trained as furnace and forge hands.

Weaver provided good housing and adequate rations and clothing for his work force. Slave quarters were dispersed over the property at Buffalo Forge, 18 cabins in all, each housing a family. One cabin, a two-story structure, served as a bunkhouse for unmarried men. The cabins were solidly constructed of logs or brick with stone chimneys, two of which survive.

One of the fascinating things about Weaver's slave iron makers is that they possessed sufficient leverage to negotiate. He could punish or sell a slave who displeased him. If, however, he had employed the whip, his career as a Virginia iron maker would have been short-lived. Whipping could have incapacitated a skilled worker and would have, at a minimum, left him angrily looking for some way to retaliate. Retaliation would have been fairly easy.

The huge wooden beams that supported the 500- to 600-pound forge hammers occasionally broke. When this occurred, the forge had to be shut down, and precious time was lost. Weaver's hands could easily break these beams whenever they wished, for instance, and blame it on happenstance.

No record exists that Weaver ever whipped any of his slaves during his 40 years in the valley. Of course, troublesome slaves could be sold. Yet Weaver used this recourse sparingly. There was an unwritten agreement with his iron makers that families would be kept together so long as production was maintained.

Beyond force and the threat of force, Weaver used incentive. Slave owners, with the exception of the brutal and benighted, learned early on that the mailed fist, even when gloved, was not sufficient to achieve maximum output. From his earliest days in the valley, Weaver paid slaves who did extra work. He established daily and weekly output quotas for each task associated with the work of his forge.

For example, the task for hammer men was two "journeys" of 560 pounds of iron bar per day. Once goals were met, Weaver paid "overwork," as this system was called, in either cash or goods.

The genius of that system was that goals for each task were not excessively high. Reasonable goals encouraged slaves to work beyond that minimum point and earn compensation. One family at Buffalo Forge who received the benefits of their overwork in cash caused a stir at a savings bank in Lexington when they were allowed to open an interest-bearing account. It occurred to the bank's directors that it was anomalous for "property" (a slave) to own property (money in a savings account). This irregularity having dawned on them, the bank's directors asked Weaver to close the account. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Forging Iron and Slavery in Valley of Virginia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.