Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from James Milles to the North Carolina Council of Safety
Milles, James
July 03, 1776
Volume 10, Pages 647-650

[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]
Letter from James Milles to the Council of Safety about the Iron Works on Deep River.


At the request of Mr Thomas Person I lately rode out to Mr John Wilcox's Forge & Bloomery on Deep River, in Chatham County, and to his Furnace on Tick Creek in the same County. His Bloomery and Forge are of present use to the Inhabitants of that and the Neighbouring Counties, as they supply them with a considerable quantity of Barr Iron of a middling good quality. The quantity and quality will be Enlarged and Improved, as soon as he can make it from pig metal, which always affords better Barr Iron than can be produced from a Bloomery, as it is better refined in the Former, than it can be in the Latter. The Furnace is built on a Creek about ten miles from the Forge, and appears to me to be well constructed, and capacious enough to contain a sufficient quantity of metal to cast a cannon of a ton weight at least, which if I rightly remember is about the weight of a nine pounder. I am of opinion from the appearance of the streams that are to furnish it with water, that it will be able to work Nine Months in the Year, if no more. When I saw it, it had been dry weather for a considerable time, which was visible from the adjacent Fields. There is an almost inexhaustible stock of wood for coals, and building, on what is called vacant Land,

-------------------- page 648 --------------------
Five Thousand acres of which ought to be secured as soon as the land office is opened, for the use of the work, that it may not be in the power of an Individual to distress a work of so much utility to the community. I carefully Examined the Prospect of Ore, and it appears to me to be sufficient for ages, and to appearance Extremely rich in metal. This Furnace I am told is not above Seventy Miles from the Charaws on Great Pee Dee, from whence is a good Navigation to George Town &c. From Cross Creek it is said to be about sixty miles, from whence there is water carriage down Cape Fear River, and from Hillsborough it is thirty odd miles. It now remains for me to give an account to your Honours of the Interest I have procured for the country in this valuable work. Of the money granted by the Congress at Halifax, for the purpose of hiring or buying Iron Works, for the use of the Province, I ventured to recommend to Mr Ambrose Ramsey one of the Commissioners, who was with me, to advance to Mr John Wilcox two hundred and fifty pounds on the following Terms, viz: That he the said John Wilcox & Wm England his Partner in the Furnace, do Execute a Deed of Trust for the said Furnace, to Martin Fifer, Ambrose Ramsey and Thos Persons, Commissioners for Iron Works, for the use of the Province, which deed is to be looked upon not only as security for the two hundred and fifty pounds then advanced, but also for such farther sum or sums, as it may be found necessary to furnish him with in future, for the Purpose of rendering the said Furnace more compleat. Besides this I recommended to Mr Ramsey to take a bond to the commissioners and their successors in the sum of Two Thousand Pounds, conditioned that they use the utmost expedition in finishing the said Furnace and getting it in Blast, and that they Furnish therefrom to the Founder or Founders, that shall by the said Commissioners be sent to that work, such quantities of melting metal as they shall want for the casting of Cannon, mortars, shells & Ball, for the use of the country, and this for the space and during the Term of Two Years, in which time I apprehend our country may be supplied with an abundance of those Articles so Eminently useful for the defence of it.

Thus Gentlemen I hope it will appear to you that I have contrived to Answer all the Laudable Intentions of the Congress in their Resolve relative to Iron Works being secured for the Public Service, without Entangling them, or their Commissioners, in such a Multiplicity of Business, as they would have found bursting in

-------------------- page 649 --------------------
upon them, had the work been made the Temporary or Perpetual property of the Public.

It now is become necessary to appoint some Person properly Qualified to go to Philadelphia or to such other of the Northern Colonies as may be most likely to furnish a Founder or Founders and such having found, to agree with, to repair with the Utmost Expedition to the said Furnace, in order to go immediately to work. in casting such cannon &c &c. as shall be directed by the Commander in Chief of our Forces, or such other person as may be appointed to provide those things.

The same Person ought also to be Enabled and Empower'd, to procure every necessary material that such Founders may think necessary—such as moulds, patterns, &c., and to Hire one or more Waggons, as may be necessary for their Transportation, with the utmost dispatch. Gentlemen I beg your attention to something further that I am desirous to mention to you, and which as a Friend to the community I think I ought not to pass unnoticed. I have already Informed you, that the Furnace appears to me to be a good one, that I have reason to believe there will be a sufficiency of water, and that there is Wood and Ore in great profusion. I must now inform you that on the North side of Deep River, and I believe not above half a mile from the Forge, there is Pit Coal, and from what appears on the surface, such as is very good, so that there is sufficient Reason to believe, were it dug for, great quantities might be Raised. Stone for Various Uses abounds there, Hearth Stones for Iron Works are also to be there got and such as appear to be very good. Grind Stones of various degrees of Finess are & may be cut there. Upon the Whole Nature has pour'd out with a Bountyful hand on that part of our Country, everything necessary for the Establishment of an Extensive Iron Manufactory. An additional advantage thereto is, its being situated in the midst of a provision country; its convenience to Trade I have already mention'd, from all which I flatter myself I shall be doing good to this Province, and perhaps to her neighbours. While I am Recommending these things to your notice, I beg leave to say that if a Slitting and Rolling mill and a Steel Furnace, were to be speedily Erected at or near the place I have been describing they cou'd not fail of producing the Greatest Advantages to this Province. The First wou'd enable us to furnish Nails in particular, as cheap as they can be bought in Britain. The Second wou'd enable us to produce for market everything made from thin

-------------------- page 650 --------------------
Iron, such as locks, hinges, &c., &c. And the Steel Furnace wou'd enable us to Furnish weapons of defence; and every kind of Edged tools for Artificers and Husbandmen. Gentlemen I am convinced that place, or some other in its neighbourhood, from the great abundance of materials, that nature has there so plentyfully bestow'd, might in a few Years be made the Sheffield of North Carolina, and perhaps of all the Southern provinces; and it will be a great means of Rendering us more extensively Independant, for while we purchase from Foreign markets, those articles so absolutely necessary to us, we may truly be said to be in some degree Dependant on that Kingdom, or State, from whence we Receive them. If these things strike your minds with the same force they do mine, and if Improvements for the Benefit of our Country are Objects that propperly fall within the Verge of your Power, you will I doubt not, fall on such measures as will be most likely to produce the Salutary Effect. As a person must be sent to the Northward to procure a Founder for carrying on the Casting business, perhaps you may think propper to give him Instructions to procure persons acquainted with the method of Erecting such Works; and with Workmen to work in them. If you shou'd think such Affairs do not come under your Cognizance, perhaps you may think propper to mention them to the Assembled Representatives of the Province, next November, where they may probably be taken into Consideration. Shou'd the whole be disregarded, I can't be deprived of the Inward satisfaction of having pointed out, what to me Appears pregnant with Public Advantage.

I am Gentlemen your Most Hble Servt
July 3d 1776.