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‘Three Green Hills’
Cornwall Iron Furnace, Cornwall, Lebanon, County Pennsylvania

Nero the Pict took me as his guest to the only surviving intact charcoal cold blast furnace in the Western Hemisphere. This was a self-contained Iron Plantation, founded in 1742 by Peter Grubb, purchased by Robert Coleman in 1798 and operated by his descendants through 1883.

Numerous adds for runaway slaves, both black and white, were featured in the second half of the 1700s in local and Philadelphia gazettes.

Originally, most of the 23 workers were unfree servants. But by the 1800s, only colliers and woodcutters were unfree men, living in the woods year-round, tending charcoal hearths as they turned the primeval forest into a moonscape like Saruman’s orks. By the mid-1800s there were 150 company houses, a company store and paid child labor, with boys of eight used to haul slag, wives of employees engaged in domestic work and servants relegated to the family mansion and the charcoal hearths and receding forest. The three iron-rich hills were green no more. This iron plantation was the prototype of the self-contained company mining town of Appalachia that kept its employees impoverished like industrial sharecroppers as a more sophisticated system of debt-servitude was brought into being, featuring the hostage family of a man who typically died from his labors by age 40.

Temperatures in the various rooms of the forge ranged from 115-156 degrees. The attendants worked in gangs of 15 for 12 hours, keeping the furnace stoked 11months and rebricking it for the month of winter when the water of the stream that provided its power iced up. Most lumbering was done during the winter, a very dangerous business with nothing but axes. A worker cut two cords of wood per day. The men who hauled the ore and charcoal in one-man buggies which must weigh at least 200 pounds empty, were operating under extreme labor conditions which would require power lifters and weight lifters of today’s men.

There was only one negro slave woman employed at the forge, along with records of 4 white women.

The Cornwall Iron Furnace fits neatly into the very limited picture of African American servitude in the State of Pennsylvania:

1681: The foundation of the Province of Pennsylvania employed white slaves and barred the trade in black slaves.

1727: The African slave trade is sanctioned in Pennsylvania.

1769: The first African slaves are worked at the forge, though they never account for half or more of the slaves.

1790: The number of African slaves at the furnace dwindles.

1796: On 17 April, 1796, “Governor Dick” a famously productive woodchopping African, with scarified face and a cleaved toe, made his escape and had still not been recovered by July 8, when an ad for his capture was posted.

1798: Slaves of African descent are no longer employed on the plantation.

1800s: Though some number of white slaves were employed as domestics in the main house and woodcutters and colliers in the woods, their numbers dwindled as the staff of the Cornwall Iron Plantation evolved into an integrated, mixed-race workforce of men who depended on the company for housing for their families and lived from hand-to-mouth, with barely enough income to survive on goods purchased at the company store, but receiving a Christmas turkey and seemingly free of the brutal beatings meted out to sailors, workhouse inmates and agricultural slaves.

One must remember that virtually all the forests of Pennsylvania were clear cut, and most of those in our age are young, allowed to grow after food production moved to the Ohio Valley and later the Great Plains in the second half of the 19th Century.

So Her Master May Have Her Again

A History of Runaway White Slaves in Plantation America: Part Two

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Sam J.July 25, 2017 5:46 PM UTC

The only????