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THE ORIGIN OF THE IRON INDUSTRY IN MARYLAND
|Captain John Smith is generally credited with the discovery of iron ore in Maryland. There is no evidence that the Native American population ever smelted ore, although they did use it as a pigment. On a voyage in 1608, sailing up what is now called the Patapsco River, Smith noted the presence of iron ore, or as he called it "bole armoniack and terra sigillata." In 1609 he sent two barrels of the ore from Maryland, or possibly from Virginia, to England. (Little distinction was made in the early colonial days between Virginia and Maryland, and the records are sometimes confused.) Nothing is known of the fate of the samples in the barrels or what reports, if any, may have been generated regarding them (Whitely, 1887; Singewald, 1911; May, 1945).
Any smelting done during the next hundred years or so must have been on a very small scale and very localized, as virtually no records of domestic iron manufacture exist for this period. The colonists apparently preferred to import their iron and ironware from England. There is a mention in 1681 of "a duty on the exportation of old iron," apparently designed to encourage the growth of local iron industry (Singewald, 1911).
Figure 3. Ruins of the Principio Furnace, Cecil County (Singewald, 1911)
The real beginnings, however, do not occur until the period of 1715-1725, with the development of the Principio Company on Principio Creek, Cecil County, Maryland in particular (Fig. 3). There is a record of "3 tons 7 cwt. [hundred weight]" of domestic bar iron being sent to England in 1718 (Singewald, 1911), although again there is confusion as to whether it was produced in Maryland or Virginia. Shortly thereafter there was a rapid rise in exports, particularly from Principio. (See Tables 1 and 2.)
Table 1. Maryland pig iron and bar iron exported to Great Britain from 1718 to 1755 (Singewald, 1911, p. 131).
Note on Weights and Measures
Various presently unfamiliar symbols, weights and measures were used by the writers of the historical documents discussed. This guide is intended to help the reader to a better understanding of their meaning.
Money: Prior to the formation of the United States, Americans used the British monetary system, which at that time used the following terms:
Weights: The weights referred to in terms of the iron sold and shipped as tons are, in fact, generally English Long Tons. This accounts for what appears to be some spurious accounting in the tables.
Table 2. Maryland pig iron and bar iron exported to Scotland during the mid-18th century (after Singewald, 1911, p. 131). (See Table 1 for Note on Weights and Measures.)