Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Samuel Spencer to Richard Caswell
Spencer, Samuel, 1734-1793
August 15, 1777
Volume 11, Pages 575-578

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Anson, 15th of August, 1777.


In my journey to and from Hillsborough Court in June last, I called at the Furnace on Deep River, which had, when I first saw it been blowing for some days, but on my return was stopped by

-------------------- page 576 --------------------
the melting of the hearth-stones. Curiosity as well interest in the welfare of the public led me to inquire into a number of things respecting that important concern. Among which I learn't the following particulars: that there is an immense bed of ore on vacant land extending about six miles in circumference, or two miles square, and the depth of it unknown; though it has been dug in some places from five to eight or nine feet deep; and the place where it has been hitherto dug is about a quarter of a mile from the Furnace. I saw some pigs run from this ore, which appeared to me the finest I had ever seen, and two of the head workmen told me they had never seen better iron in any part of the world. And one of them observed, that there was ore enough in that bed, to supply twenty furnaces for a hundred years, and the other spoke much to the same purport. It was mentioned to me on my way to Hillsborough, that a furnace erected on Rocky River, at about four or five miles distance from this bed of ore, might blow at all seasons of the year. But on my return I understood by some of the people near that river, that the mills which stood on that stream, had stopped for want of water, about the same time that the furnace would have blown out by the failure of water if it had not been stopped by the melting of the hearth-stone, the second time. The stream on which the Furnace stands is rather small, and liable to fail in the summer; but from all I could learn it will be sufficient for blowing about eight months in the year. But the present position of the water-wheel of that Furnace I learn is no ways proper or advantageous; it being so high in respect to the trunk which conveys the water to the buckets, that none of the buckets are filled, till they are almost ready to be emptied; whereas if the water took the bucket several feet higher in respect to the wheel, and nearly horizontal to the axis, the force or momentum with which the wheel is carried, would be twice or thrice as great as it now is. I saw the first hearth-stones that melted about the time of the public purchase of the Furnace from Mr. Wilcox; and also those that melted as soon as the metal begun to run freely in the time of the last Hillsborough Court, as the workmen told me. The MasterFounder of shot conducted me to a room where he showed me the moulds finished and ready for casting shot of the following denominations, vis, 9 pounders, 6 pounders, four pounders, three pounders, two pounders, one pounders and grape-shot in abundance; and for
-------------------- page 577 --------------------
casting pots of nine different sizes from one to ten gallons, waggon boxes, and Dutch ovens. In another room I was likewise shewn, by the master cannon-founder, the moulds for the following pieces of cannon, to wit, a 12 pounder, two nine pounders, two 6 pounders, two 4 pounders, and a three pounder. Mr. Mills told me that they had procured limestone at several places, and that he hoped a sufficient quantity might still be had, for melting the ore; but I did not understand that this was very plenty, or could he had at a very short distance from the Furnace. He likewise informed me, that if the Furnace had not blown out, they should have been in want of several things necessary for carrying on the works with any tolerable success, as, more hands, teams, nails, two tackels and a spare rope, for casting of cannon, &c. However I understand that the Furnace and Iron works have lately been put into the hands of Mr. Wilcox by the Commissioners heretofore appointed by the Public; that one of the principal workmen is gone; and that there is no probability that the other will long continue in Mr. Wilcox's employ. And if this should be the case, by all I can learn, it would be at this time very unlikely that Mr. Wilcox could otherwise supply himself with workmen, as they were so generally taken up and engaged in every part of the Continent. If therefore these works should be confirmed to Wilcox, I really very much doubt whether they would be carried on to any considerable purpose; in which the Public will be deprived of the benefit to be derived from works of the most interesting importance; whereas if it be kept in the hands of the Public, and hearthstones that will stand the heat can be procured, (which undoubtedly may) it is inconceivable what benefit, utility, and safety might accrue to this State and some of our neighboring States by such a work as this, carried on thoroughly and judiciously for eight months in the year. By what I understand of the soap-stone (which I am told is plenty in the neighborhood of the Furnace), there is a great probability that it would fully answer the purpose for hearth-stones; but if this should not answer it would be well worth while to send to the Northward for stone that is sufficiently proved. I confess, when I viewed these works and considered their importance, it gave me real pain to think that this country should be one day delayed of sharing the advantages, safety and defence that would naturally result from a work of that nature well carried
-------------------- page 578 --------------------
on. Whether Mr. Wilcox has any foundation to complain of the treatment he has met with from the Public, will appear, when the enclosed interrogatories from Mr. Mills are answered, as he expects they will and which I found Mr. Ball was ready to answer in a very satisfactory manner. I have therefore taken the freedom to enclose them, as they tend to give a true state of that case.

I am with the greatest esteem and respect,
Your Excellency's most obedient, humble Servant,