Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

Journal of early southern decorative arts [serial] (Volume 13, 2 (1987)) online

. (page 1 of 7)
Online LibraryMuseum of Early Southern Decorative ArtsJournal of early southern decorative arts [serial] (Volume 13, 2 (1987)) → online text (page 1 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook ^^



November, 1987

Volume XIII, Number 2

The Museum of Early Southern

Decorative Arts


Benefactor *

Patron $500 and up

Sustaining $100 to $499

Corporate or Foundation $150 and up

Supporting $ 35 to $ 99

Family $ 25

Individual $ 20***

*Persons who contribute valuable antiquities are considered Benefactors of MESDA. Once
named a Benefactor, a person remains such for life and enjoys all the privileges of a
Member of MESDA.

* *A contribution of $100.00 or more entitles the member to bring guests to the museum

free of charge.

* * *Non-profit Institutions may subscribe to xhc Journal on\y , receiving two issues per

annum at the rate of $15.00.

Overseas members please add $5.00 for airmail postage.


Members of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts receive thejourna/vwke
yearly in May and November, as well as the MESDA newsletter, the Luminary, which
is published in February and August. Other privileges include notification of the classes
and programs and lectures offered by the Museum, an Annual Member's Weekend with
reports from the MESDA Research staff, a 10% discount on bookstore purchases, and
free admission to the Museum.

The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts is owned and operated by Old Salem, Inc.,
the non-profit corporation that is responsible for the restoration and operation of Old Salem, Moravian
Congregation Town founded in 1766. MESDA is an educational institution with the established
purpose of collecting, preserving, documenting and researching representative examples of southern
decorative atts and craftsmanship from the 1600s to 1820. The Museum exhibits its collection fot
public interest and study.

For further information, please write to MESDA, Box 10310, Salem Station, Winston-Salem,
North Carolina 27108. Telephone (919) 722-6148.




November, 1987

Volume XIII, Number 2

Published twice yearly in

May and November by

The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts




Copyright © 1987 Old Salem, Inc.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27108

Printed by Hall Printing Company
High Point, North Carolina


William Hill and the Aera Ironworks 1

Thomas Cowan

' 'A Large and Elegant Assortment: ' ' a Group of

Baltimore Tall Clocks, 1793-1813 33

Jane Webb Smith



Furnace Cowpen^
• Furric

.rhichelly •



,. • Kfngs Creek Furnace

t^BlacksbuVg f /Clover

C H ^ O ISr,fecE

■^ • St roup

s Furnace

Nann, Mtn. <,\}|('

Hill's '• '^%^,

Filbert Ironworks '-'^'^'^f

^ l^;'^ -Drayton

jpSouth Carolina
■Converselyifg. Company


(Jts \- = ' •clendale \

A -' XBenA^vof ford's Ir^rwwi


f/^gz/rf 7. Furnaces and iron works located in piedmont South Carolina.
1775-1860. Base map courtesy of the Department of the Interior. Geologic



William Hill and the Aera Ironworks
BY Thomas Cowan

At the opening of the American Revolution and within just
two decades of the arrival of the first settlers in the region, several
Scots-Irish settlers established iron furnaces in the central Carolina
piedmont. The iron-ore belt which made the existence of these
furnaces possible lies in a northeast to southwest trend through
present Catawba, Lincoln, Gaston, and Cleveland Counties in
North Carolina and York, Union, Cherokee, and Spartanburg
Counties in South Carolina. Between 1775 and I860 at least
nineteen furnaces were established along this belt (Fig. 1).' One
of the earliest and most active was the Aera furnace, also known
as Hill's Ironworks, situated in northeastern York County, South
Carolina (Fig. 2). The development of this works presented special
problems for its ironmaster. Locating resources, amassing capital,
and coordinating a vast labor force led William Hill to develop
a complex industrial operation which produced a wide variety of
iron products.^ In contrast to their counterparts in Pennsylvania
and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, ironmasters in the
Carolina piedmont were faced with lower population densities
and relatively poor transportation, factors which effected the
potential production and markets of a furnace.^ As a consequence
of these problems, fewer products survive from piedmont furnaces
and little has been published about them."* However, they were
clearly "to the benefit of the Inhabitants in that part of the

The importance of manufactures in the early Carolina back-
country was emphasized by John Drayton in his View of South
Carolina (1802). Drayton contrasted the piedmont with the low

November, 1987

Figure 2. Detail of northeastern York County, South Carolina, from the Atlas
of South Carolina by Robert Mills, published in 1826.

Where the population of the state is convenient to
commerce, the manufacturing business is not at all entered
into; importations from abroad, supplying all necessary
wants. But, as transportation is more difficult to, and from,
the middle and upper country; so necessity has, in a
proportionate degree, compelled the inhabitants to provide
for their own wants. And thus a domestic spirit of
manufacturing has arisen, which much prevails in those
parts of the state. . . . With the exception of salt and
sugar, the people, in the upper parts of the state, may
be considered independent of foreign support.*^

In the upcountry, Drayton noted, "The traveller . . . soon
becomes accustomed to the humming music of the hand spinning
wheel; and the industry of the loom, often meets the eye." He
described a variety of home textile manufactures including


"Cottons . . . both striped, figured and plain . . . woolens . . .
of strong nature, and decent appearance . . . [and] coarse linens,
blanketing, woolen bed covers, and cotton rugs." "Conveniently
situated throughout the country" were "carpenters, smiths,
masons, tanners, shoe, boot, and harness makers, sadlers, hatters,
mill-wrights, and all other tradesmen, necessary for rural
concerns." Drayton also included an extensive description of
William Hill's iron works. Drayton wrote "Hill & Hayne, possess
a forge, a furnace, a rolling mill for making sheet iron, and a
nail manufactory; all of which, are worked by the waters of
Allison's creek." The works was "by far the most extensive in
the upcountry."^

Figure 3- Plat of Hill's iron works and surrounding lands surveyed in 1813,
York County Plat Book 1. pp. 449. 451. 453.

By the late 1780s the "Aera and Aetna Furnaces . . . com-
monly called Hill's Iron Works" had become a landmark for
travellers throughout the eastern South Carolina upcountry. This
"highly valuable and improveable Works" was situated on the
great wagon road stretching from the Shenandoah Valley into
Georgia. The works were centered on over 15,000 acres of land
along the west bank of the Catawba River, an important trans-
portation and trade route between northeastern South Carolina,
western North Carolina, and Charleston. To obtain the necessary

November, 1987

land, Hill had amassed at least sixty-three tracts during the late
1770s and early 1780s (Fig. 3).* Standing along the banks of
Allison's Creek at the center of the works were two furnaces, each
thirty-five feet in height. The Aera works was built about 1778
and rebuilt c. 1786; the Aetna works was built c. 1787. Although
both furnaces were kept in blast, the establishment usually was
described as "Aera Iron Works" of "Aera Furnace" presumably
due to the fact that the Aera works occupied the site first. Both
furnaces utilized "Sundry Patterns, [and] Flasks" for casting a
wide variety of products. ^ Hill's forge on the same site had "4
fires and 2 hammers, under one roof, and were close to the [Aera]
furnace"; this facility was used for converting pig iron into
wrought iron. The forge hammers were worked by two wheels,
one 16 feet in diameter and 4 1/2 feet wide, and the other 11
feet in diameter and five feet wide. The "nail manufactory"
consisted "of two large cutters worked by water, a smaller one
worked by hand, and seven iron headers for heading spikes and
nails. "^°

Upstream from each furnace was a dam built of criss-crossed
logs covered with planks and mud, about 150 feet long and 10
feet high. The Aera furnace employed a massive breast-wheel 26
feet in diameter and four feet wide which powered two wooden
air cylinders measuring "5 1/2 by 5 1/2 feet." The Aetna furnace
was blown by four such cylinders ' 'worked by a cast iron cog wheel,
wallowers and cranks," driven by a water wheel "28 high by 4
1/2 wide. "11 In 1802 John Drayton reported that Hill had
replaced the common bellows used at the forge with a trompe,
an ancient device which produced an air blast by means of water
falling through a vented tube. Drayton observed that

Mr. Hill has much simplified and improved from the
original invention, and has adopted to the purposes of
the forge. The air of this blast being produced in a
particular manner, by the suction of water, which runs
violently down a perpendicular funnel, striking against a
receiver at the bottom, is forced to ascend a spout which
is directed to the fire at the same time that the water is
discharged from the receiver; and thus a constant and
steady blast is produced, so long as the water is allowed
to run. 12

Hill took advantage of the fall of water from the furnace dams
to operate four grist mills and two saw mills. Standing on the


south bank of Allison's Creek and overlooking the ironworks was
Hill's thirty-five by forty-foot two-story brick dwelling; surround-
ing the two works were a variety of other "necessary buildings"
including charcoal sheds and workshops. '^

Drayton reported that the iron works produced a variety of

At these mills heavy cannon have been cast; and iron four
pounders, have lately been made for the use of artillery
companies, attached to different infantry regiments of this
state. Cannon is also cast there, when ordered. Besides
these heavy articles, castings, which the daily wants of the
inhabitants, of that part of the state require, are made
at these works; consisting of, chimney backs, gudgeons, '^
cranks, pots, kettles, skillets, hammers for forges, and
boxes for cart and waggon wheels; and other castings for
machinery are there also made, agreeable to models and
orders delivered. "^^

Drayton's list suggests that Hill employed a substantial
contingent of specialized tradesmen. Both the fabrication of
patterns for cannon and mill machinery and the process of casting
them, for example, necessitated complex and difficult processes.
An inventory of the works made in 1798 recorded "20 Tons Pig
Iron, 15 pieces Cannon, [and] 300 Castings."'*^

William Hill was born in northern Ireland in 1742 and
immigrated to York County, Pennsylvania, where he appears to
have spent a significant amount of time before moving to South
Carolina. >^ In 1762 he received a grant in Craven County, South
Carolina for "One Hundred acres situate ... on Bowers mill
creek Bounded on all sides by Vacant Land."'^ Little else is known
of his activities until the mid-1770s when his interest in iron
manufacture and an inclination for public life brought him to
the forefront of upcountry affairs. Serving under General Thomas
Sumter during the Revolution, he rose to the rank of Colonel
by 1780.

According to one account Hill was at the battle of Rocky
Mount when General Thomas Sumter's troops pursued the
"garrison of Colonel Trumbull's New York tories into some log
houses which served them as a fort, from which our men could
not dislodge them by assault. . . . Colonel William Hill and . . .
Jemmy Johnson volunteered to run to a large rock which stood

November, 1987 5

close to the log houses, each carrying an armful of Ught-

wood. . . . When they reached this rock, they could screen

themselves behind it safely, and from thence throw the lighted

wood on the roof of the building." Hill and Johnson made the

hundred-yard run under fire and while "Hill watched the enemy

. . . Johnson ignited the pine and threw the burning brands on

the top of the nearest house." However, Hill and Johnson were

forced to retreat under fire from the garrison and a "detachment

that came out against them," and their effort was thwarted by

a "heavy rain."i9 After the Revolution, Hill compiled a history

of the campaigns which took place in the region; he supported

the actions of General Sumter at the battle of Kings Mountain.

Col. William Hill's Memoirs of the Revolution was published in

In the years following the Revolution, Hill was occupied with
more than just the operation of his ironworks. His reputation and
influence among the area's inhabitants coupled with his need
for large amounts of capital and the subsequent connections he
developed with low country planters and merchants ultimately
drew him into state politics. Between 1779 and 1813 Hill was
elected to the General Assembly seven times. ^^ He served as a
delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1788 voting
against ratification of the federal Constitution. In 1789 Hill was
appointed commissioner for the inspection and exportation of
tobacco from the Catawba River valley. ^^ The potential for
improved transportation no doubt attracted Hill's attention. Also
in 1789 he was appointed commissioner to superintend and con-
tract for dredging of the Broad River, and in 1801 he accepted
a similar position to improve navigation on the Pacolet River.
He was also a charter member of the Santee Canal Company
established in 1786 and the Catawba and Wateree Company of
1787. Moreover, Hill served as justice of the peace for York County
beginning in 1785.^^

William Hill's initial interest in iron manufacture may have
sprung from his travels in Pennsylvania and observation of the
considerable wealth enjoyed by some furnace owners. Other
individuals in the southern piedmont region were also interested
in building ironworks at the same time Hill was considering his
venture. In the summer of 1775 William Henry Drayton, William
Tennent, and Oliver Hart, all of Charleston, made a trip or
"mission" to the back country of South Carolina to win settlers
to the Whig cause. On 20 August Tennent wrote a letter to the


Council of Safety in Charleston reporting on the progress of the
trip. He noted that "... Mr. Drayton is gone up to his Iron
Works and to the people about Lawsons Fork where he will do
some thing. "^'^ It is apparent that William Henry Drayton was
considering the construction of an ironworks. Furthermore,
Drayton had obtained a grant on 21 July 1775 for 500 acres of
land in the Ninety Six District on a branch of Lawson's Fork Creek
called Brown's Branch. His land was bounded on the north by
the land of William Wofford. Drayton was never able to develop
an ironworks, and died by 1780, but by 1776 William Wofford
had begun the construction of a furnace on his own property. ^^
An important source of support for iron manufacture in South
Carolina was the result of the rising tension between the colonial
government and Great Britain. In the 1770s South Carolina was
one of several colonies which began to encourage domestic
manufactures in order to ensure the availability of products such
as paper, glass, gunpowder, rope, iron, and steel. ^"^ In November
of 1775 the South Carolina Provincial Congress resolved

That a premium of one thousand Pounds currency be given
to the person who shall erect a Bloomery [sic] in this
Colony, that shall first produce manufactured thereat, one
ton of good Bar Iron; a premium of eight hundred Pounds
to the person erecting another bloomery . . . and a
premium of seven hundred Pounds to the person erect-
ing a third such work . . . These premiums over and above
the common prices of such iron.^^

The Provincial Congress also passed resolves for the produc-
tion of "good Bar Steel" and "Nail Rods," items which were
the common products of a merchant furnace equipped with a
finery (forge). ^^

South Carolina was not alone in encouraging iron manufac-
ture. An August 1775 resolution of the Provincial Congress of
North Carolina stated:

The Congress taking into Consideration the Encourage-
ment of Manufactures within this Province . . . Resolved
That a Premium of five hundred Pounds be given to any
person who shall erect and build a Furnace for manufac-
turing good merchantable Pig Iron and Hollow Iron Ware,
and other articles necessary for the use of the inhabitants

November, 1987 7

of this Province, to be produced to the Provincial Council
v^ithin two years from this time.29

In April of the same year the North Carolina Congress had
assigned a committee to repair and hire John Wilcox's furnace
on Deep River "for casting pieces of Ordnance, Shot, and other
warlike implements. ..." The commissioners were instructed
to ' 'collect from the different parts of the adjacent country persons
skilled in putting the said Furnace in proper plight' ' and to "draw
on the Colony Treasures . . . for any sum, not exceeding five
thousand Pounds. "^^ Legislation similar to that of South Carolina
and North Carolina was enacted during 1775 and 1776 by the
assemblies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. ^^

William Hill, among others, took advantage of the South
Carolina offer by submitting a petition, and on 6 March 1776
the assembly decreed "that a sum of one thousand Pounds,
currency, be paid by the commissioners of the Treasury to William
Hill, upon his producing and depositing with them proper
conveyances and titles of his land, and the improvements thereon,
situated on Allison's Creek, a branch of Catawba River. "^^ In
1777 the state assembly loaned £1,000 sterling (£7,000 South
Carolina currency) to William Hill "to erect an Iron Work."^^
The assembly also granted £6,381 to John Buffington and £4,148
to William Wofford, partners in the development of an ironworks
on Lawson's Fork Creek in what later became Spartanburg
District. ^"^ State loans, however, were not sufficient to fund the
construction and operation of Hill's works. In March of 1778 Hill
entered into a partnership with Isaac Hayne, a planter and
merchant of Jacksonburgh, a village west of Charleston in St.
Bartholomew parish. According to the partnership agreement.
Hill was responsible for construction of "a Furnace, twenty two
feet square, well provided with bellows, and every requisite
necessary to fit the same for Blast . . . [and] A Bloomery [or forge]
with three Fires, completed for Working, together with necessary
Houses." Hill was to act as manager and was to hire a clerk,
overseer, and ten skilled artisans or "taskable fellows" and provide
twenty slaves, as well as the ore land and standing timber. Hayne
in turn supplied forty slaves, twenty of whom were males. The
agreement reveals that Hill was well along in the development
of the works. The partnership supplied what he most needed:
a larger labor force. 35

Before Hill was able to begin construction of a furnace,


however, a geographic and geologic survey of the region was
necessary. The availabihty of iron and limestone deposits, an
adequate water supply, and transportation by water or land were
a few of the essential factors to be considered. The iron beds used
by Hill are located on Nanny (also Ferguson's) Mountain, which
only rises several hundred feet above the gently-sloping piedmont
terrain. In 1826 Robert Mills described the ridge as "quite
isolated" and rising "like a mountain in the plain . . . from the
top of it you have a commanding view for about twenty miles


Figure 4. Shaft mine near the ridge of Nanny Mountain in northeastern York
County. South Carolina. Photograph by Mark 0/enki.

November, 1987

Hill's iron mines survive in a wooded area along the northern
crest of Nanny mountain. Only one shallow shaft mine (Fig. 4)
and several small pits (Fig. 5) are still visible, even though the
subsurface deposits stretch several hundred feet along the
mountain and were extensively mined in order to supply Aera
furnace. A line drawing of one of the pits, based on field work

Figure 5. Pit mine, Nanny Mountain. Photograph by Mark Olenki.

conducted in 1856, appeared in Oscar Lieber's 1857 volume of
the Survey of South Carolina (Fig. 6).'^ In 1802 John Drayton
noted that "the iron ore, is dug from the vicinity of a little
mountain, a mile and an half distant from the works; where the
iron is found in large masses, "^s Nineteenth-century geologists
called the ore "gossan," a form of weathered limonite. A 1906
mineralogical survey of South Carolina reported that the ore from
this site contained a large percentage of iron, 68.24% .^^ A notice
in the 12 May 1795 Charleston City Gazette and Daily Advertiser
noted that "nothing is necessary in preparing the ore for use but



Figure 6. Line drawing rendered m 1856 of the pit mine in Fig. 3, from Oscar
lieber, Report on the Survey of South CaroUna (18%). v.l.

burning. "40 Hill's mines lie in an isolated deposit about ten miles
southeast of the ore belt which supplied later furnaces in the
region. The larger, geologically-defmed "Kmgs Mountam Belt"
occurs withm a narrow zone generally 1 /4 to 1 mile wide travers-
ing about 150 miles in a northeasterly-southwesterly direction
through the central Carolina piedmont.'*'

Limestone also was required in the process of smelting or
separating iron from other minerals or impurities in the ore. Much
less limestone was needed, however, than iron ore. Robert Mills
noted that ' 'the lime for fluxing the ore was brought from King's
Creek, near Broad River, called Jackson's, properly Stroup's,
furnace." Jacob Stroup's ironworks was located about fourteen
miles to the west of Hill's furnace. ^^ Drayton reported that these
deposits were "the only real lime stone rock which is in this state;
from which excellent lime is made, for the consumption of Hill
and Hayne's ironworks" (Fig. 7).^^ The furnace's hearth and
interior lining also required seasonal replacement with a variety
of rock, often sandstone, that would stand the heat of the blast
without melting. Drayton recorded that "the hearth stones used

November, 1987 H

for the works are within a mile of them, in great plenty, of a
course gritty nature, resembling a grind stone; dressing easily,
and standing well the heat of the furnace."'*''

Figure 7. Geologic cross section of the King 's Mountain ore belt where it crosses
extreme northeastern York County. Limestone used in Hill's furnaces was mined
in this belt as well. From Oscar Lieber, Report on the Survey of South Carolina

(1857), V. 2.

The charcoal used to fuel Aera furnace was made from the
abundant hardwood stands on the 15,000 acres of land which
Hill and his various partners purchased between the mid- 1770s
and the 1790s (Fig. 8).^^ A 1795 newspaper description of the
works noted that "four to six loads of coal may be hauled per
day: and that before there will be any occassion to go an improper
distance for coal, the woods will bear a second cutting. Farmers
are at present willing to give their wood Gratis where they are
clearing, it being to their benefit to get it off their land, reserving
fencing. ""^^

The average iron works in the region often employed two
dozen men just for chopping wood. Colliers converted the timber
into charcoal by stacking it in large piles and covering it with a
layer of soil, allowing the wood to burn slowly. ■^^ The iron
industry's thirst for fuel led to the deforestation of large areas
of the countryside surrounding furnaces and forges. These



denuded areas were often labelled on maps as "coaling grounds";
an 1858 geologic map of western York County shows such
timbered-off lands. ^^

North Carolina

— roads
1-Stroupe Furnace
2-Aera Furnace
3-Tan Yard
4-Ore banks

location map

Figure 8. Map of the lands controlled by the Aera furnace
York County plats.

1813 based on

The magnitude of land acquisition by furnaces for the pur-
pose of obtaining fuel is apparent in an 1804 inventory of the
acreage owned by Vesuvius Furnace in Lincoln County, North
Carolina, about 30 miles north of Hill's works. The inventory
recorded 65 land conveyances for 46 properties comprising over
5,000 acres. Some of the properties were noted as having been

1 3 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryMuseum of Early Southern Decorative ArtsJournal of early southern decorative arts [serial] (Volume 13, 2 (1987)) → online text (page 1 of 7)