The 1760's mark the real beginning of industry along this portion of the Potomac River.  The first to appear was the quarrying and smelting of iron ore.  Before such an industry could emerge, five ingredients had to be present: ore, limestone, water, wood, and an accessible market.  Half a century had passed since the first four had been identified.  By the 1760's, the growing local and tidewater populations and the development of forges and furnaces further south on the Potomac River had supplied the market.  Although patents had been issued for most of the lands in the Bakerton-Antietam area that contained these resources, no one owned enough of them to produce much iron.  Thus the first step in the development of the local iron industry had to be the competition for and consolidation of the necessary resources.  Chief among the competitors were John Semple1 and Ross and Company.2 

From the earliest days of settlement, the supply of timber on the Virginia side of the river had probably been limited;3 by 1760, it had been further reduced as the land was cleared and houses were built.  Timber on Elk Ridge was plentiful, but it was downstream on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.  Water powerful enough to turn a wheel could be found at Antietam Creek, River Bend, and Elk Run.  Limestone suitable for smelting was readily available on both sides of the river.  The iron ore deposits were concentrated on Jacob Friend's portion of his father's patent and across the river near the area later known as the Maryland Ore Bank. 

Some time around 1763, John Ballendine4 bought 100 acres of the orebank from Jacob Friend.  The site would have been an exceptionally attractive investment for anyone interested in digging iron ore.  The original grant had been made by the Crown, not by Lord Fairfax, so the owner was not obligated to give the grantor one third of all the iron ore found on the property.  The orebank probably laid idle under Ballendine's ownership, for his forge and furnace were located at Occoquan Creek, Virginia, and transportation of iron ore down the Potomac River would have been difficult.5 

In 1763, John Semple, owner of the Occoquan Iron Works, acquired the 100-acre Friend's ore bank tract from Ballandine and began amassing other sources of iron ore, limestone, wood, and water power.  In Virginia, his acquisitions included 1675 acres on Elk Run and the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers from Gersham Keyes and 400 acres on Elk Run from Joseph McCamish.  His purchases on the Maryland side of the Potomac River included Gersham Keyes' deposit of iron ore at the Maryland Ore Bank, 10 acres known as Antietam Bottom from Peter Gilly; the tract called Two Wives comprising the lower end of Knott's Island; a 25-acre tract called Mill Place (both from the heirs of John House); 4 acres called Dutch's Loss from John Bedham and Rachel Vandever; and a 10,202-acre patent on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.  The name of the Maryland patent, "Keep Triste," was the Semple family motto.  His holdings also included more distant tracts in Maryland and Virginia.6  Thus Semple controlled all the major deposits of iron ore as well as ample supplies of all other raw materials needed to begin his operation.  Unfortunately, most of his land was acquired on credit and he appears to have lacked both the funds and the managerial skills needed to develop his holdings. 

During the same year, Dr. David Ross, Col. Samuel Beall, and Messrs. Joseph Chapline and Richard Henderson formed a partnership in which they agreed to pool their land in the Antietam Creek and Potomac River section of Frederick County, Maryland, acquire additional land nearby, and erect iron works, furnaces, forges, and mills on this property.  When the partners initiated condemnation proceedings to obtain the desired land, they discovered that Semple had quietly bought much of the property they wanted.  The ensuing dispute was settled in court, and by September of 1764, Ross and colleagues had acquired much of Semple's Maryland property, including portions of the Keep Triste Patent, the Two Wives tract, Antietam Bottom, Dutch's Loss, and the improvements made at the mouth of Antietam Creek, such as an unfinished forge, grist mill, saw mill, and dam.  Furthermore, they had entered into an agreement with Semple in which he would share the expenses and profits related to finishing the Antietam operation and furnish them with pig iron.  Semple's Keep Triste Furnace, located at the confluence of Elk Run and the Potomac River, was apparently operational some time in 1764.7  The furnace constructed at that time was probably located on the bank of the Potomac River rather than on Elk Run.8 

The precise characteristics of Keep Triste Furnace are not known, but contemporary blast furnaces were usually 30 to 40 feet high and 15 to 20 feet square at their base.9  (See Figure 7-1).  The facing of the furnace was probably built from readily available stone and the inside lined with firebrick or sandstone.  Normally, these structures were built against a bank so that the furnace could be easily charged; a covered bridge was built from the bank to the furnace throat.  Storage buildings for charcoal and ore would have been located at the top of the bank, and the area at the base of the furnace was normally occupied by a casting house and a bellows.  The bellows, providing the air blast to the furnace, would have been powered by a water wheel. 

The furnaces were first filled with charcoal, lighted from the throat, refilled, and allowed to burn up to the throat.  Then they were filled with alternating layers of charcoal, ore, and limestone.  On the average, it took 174 bushels of charcoal, 5,172 pounds of iron ore, and 1,558 pounds of limestone to make one ton of pig iron.  While a furnace was in blast, it required approximately 800 bushels of charcoal per day, the equivalent of an acre of 20- to 25-year-old hardwood timber.10  The large tracts of land acquired by Semple and his Maryland competitors served largely to supply the operations with charcoal.  (A typical early limekilm is shown is Figure 7-2.) 

A second agreement between Semple and Ross & Company was signed in April 1765 to establish more detailed ground rules for cooperation.  Semple agreed to supply Ross and Company with up to 300 tons of pig iron per year at the rate of 4 pounds sterling per ton, providing Ross and Company gave Semple timely notice of their requirements and transportation of the pig iron up river was not hindered by floods or ice.  Ross and Company agreed to have a lien placed on their property to guarantee their payment for pig iron received, and they promised to give Semple 2 years' notice if they intended to build their own furnace or find another supplier.  To ensure that Semple delivered the requested pig iron, he was to allow Ross and Company to place a lien on his properties.11 

Semple was unable to meet his commitments to Ross and Company in 1766, obliging the latter to buy 175 tons of pig iron from Samuel and Daniel Hughes and leading to another dispute over the meaning of the previous agreements.  It is not clear whether Semple's failure was due primarily to bad weather, poor management, more lucrative commitments to other customers, or the difficulty of transporting pig iron upstream from Keep Triste Furnace to Antietam Creek.  His brother-in-law, James Lawson, accused him of employing unfit managers at Keep Triste and of generally mismanaging his Virginia concerns.  Semple was granted allowances for transportation problems caused by bad weather.12 

The problem of transportation between Keep Triste Furnace and Antietam Creek was serious enough to force Semple to improve navigation on this stretch of the Potomac River.  Writing to George Washington in 1769, he reported that "the Gravelly Shoals below Shenandoah Falls ... called House's has already this summer been opened and cleared, and a passage made through it for the transportation of iron from Keep Triste Furnace to Antietam Forge."  Transportation downstream from Keep Triste Furnace to other potential customers was even more difficult.  Three portages were necessary for goods to reach the tidewater area of the Potomac River, adding more than 2 pounds per ton to the cost of pig iron.13  These problems, plus the profits he would realize when navigation was improved, doubtlessly influenced Semple in his attempt to have tax money appropriated for improving navigation on the river. 

Friend's Orebank, Keep Triste Furnace, and Semple's other holdings began to slip out of his control in 1769.  During that year, Semple was unable to repay a large sum of money owed to George Pagan, Matthew Crawford, and John Hamilton of Scotland and to his brother-in-law James Lawson, and he was forced to mortgage all his Virginia property to Lawson.14  Since his Maryland property was necessary to the operation of Keep Triste Furnace, Semple was also forced to place his Maryland holdings under Lawson's control.  Between August of 1770 and April of 1771, arbitrators met numerous times in an attempt to settle disputes between Semple and Ross & Co., and in 1772 Semple's creditors placed notices in area newspapers in preparation for collecting their debts.15  At the same time, James Lawson was undoubtedly attempting to gain control of these properties in an effort to meet his own obligations to the Scottish creditors. 


In the fall of 1773, Semple, in ill health, attempted to ensure that Keep Triste Furnace would continue operating after his death by stating in his will that "the said James Lawson shall do nothing to injure my creditors in the management of the Furnace for the time agreed on [6 years after the date set by the executors].  Otherwise, that he shall be wholly incapacitated from acting as an executor to this my will..." Nevertheless, Philip Ludwell Lee, a creditor, obtained title to the Virginia portion of Semple's Keep Triste holdings and leased them to Lawson for 3 years.  Semple died in debtor's prison in 1773, and the complicated nature of his affairs and the Revolution delayed the settlement of his debts until late in the next decade.16 

Figure 7_2

Although Semple was unable to realize his grand scheme for the development of the Bakerton-Antietam region, his actions had a profound effect on the area.  The period from 1760 to 1773 marks not only the development of the iron industry in the Bakerton- Antietam area but also the growth of subsidiary industries, transportation, and slavery.  Since charcoal was used in smelting, cutting timber and making charcoal must have become major activities, particularly on the Keep Triste Patent, and charcoal burned in the Engle area17 may have supplied the furnace at Elk Run.  A saw mill was probably built at Antietam Creek to utilize some of the cut timber.  Since lime was also needed for smelting, stone quarries must have been opened, more wood brought in, and lime kilns erected in the area, possibly on both sides of the Potomac River.  (See Figure 7-2.)  The large scale cutting of building stone may also have begun at this time.  All of these activities required manpower, and slaves may have been used for most of these tasks as well as for the smelting operation.  Additional labor was supplied at the Antietam and, possibly, at the Virginia operation by Irish indentured servants. 

An iron furnace like the one at Elk Run would have required approximately 8 to 10 workers, so a small community and a company store were probably located near the site.  A grist mill was erected on Elk Run to supply the needs of Semple's adjacent farm and to serve as an additional source of income, and wharves were built at Friend's Orebank and Keep Triste to accommodate ore boats and other traffic.  A blacksmith shop and a forge also appear to have been erected at this time.18  By 1769, Keep Triste Furnace included "thirteen negro men employed at the furnace ... also a negro boy called Tom, one other negro boy called Gayley, one mulatto man called Sam, four negro women, ... [and] one negro girl called Susie ..."  19  (See Figure 7-3.) 

Ferries had been established in the Bakerton-Antietam area before Semple's arrival.  In 1761, Robert Harper had applied to the Virginia legislature for permission to maintain a Ferry.  Taylor's Ferry, located south of Antietam Creek, was also in operation at this time.  Semple's clearing of the Potomac River between Antietam Creek and Elk Run augmented the existing transportation system and improved local navigation.  His proposal for further improvements was one of the factors leading to the development of the Patowmack Company in 1785 and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the next century.  Transportation via the Potomac River, as well as the exchange of goods and labor had become firmly established during this brief 13-year period. 



1. John Semple was a Scott who became a partner of his brother- in-law James Lawson in a Maryland tobacco firm in 1750.  By 1763, he had taken control of Ballendine's Occoquan operations.  During the next 2 years, Semple acquired more than 20,000 acres of land in Maryland and Virginia (much of it on credit) and borrowed large sums of money from several Scottish merchants to finance the construction of mills, furnaces, and forges.  Unable to pay his debts, Semple was forced to mortgage most of his property to Lawson in 1769.  According to Lawson's reckoning, Semple's debts exceeded 24,000 pounds of British, Virginia, and Maryland currency and 114,000 pounds of crop tobacco.  During the same period, Semple was also conferring with George Washington on methods of improving navigation on the Potomac and attempting to settle disputes with Ross and Company.  Semple died in 1773, and many of his debts remained unsettled until 1793.  See Richard F. McMaster and David C. Skaggs (eds.), "The Letterbooks of Alexander Hamilton, Piscataway Factor," Maryland Historical Magazine 63:28-29; Deed Book M, pp. 418-424, Frederick County Maryland; Fitzpatrick (ed.), Diaries of George Washington, 1:323; John C. Fitzpatrick (ed.), The Writings of George Washington (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931-1944), 2:46, 52-53; 3:53; 30:276-277; 31:137-138, 145-146, 149-150; 32:332-336, 390-391, 410-411, 450-451; David C. Skaggs, "John Semple and the Development of the Potomac Valley," Va. Mag. Hist. Biog. 29(1984):282-308. 

2. Ross & Company was composed of Dr. David Ross, Colonel Samuel Beall, Jr., Joseph Chapline, and Richard Henderson.  Joseph Chapline, of Frederick County, Maryland, owned several tracts of land on the Virginia and Maryland sides of the Potomac River.  When he died in 1769, his portion of the company was purchased by David Ross of Prince Georges County.  Ross was one of John Ballendine's early supporters in his proposals for improving navigation on the Potomac River, a scheme that would not only reduce the transportation costs of iron products but also increase the value of land near the river.  Ross died in 1778, and his portion of the company was managed by his sons.  Colonel Samuel Beall,  Jr.,was a resident of Frederick County, Maryland; he died in 1790.  Richard Henderson had been a merchant for John Glassford & Co. in 1759 at Bladensburg, Maryland, and he owned several tracts of land in Frederick County.  Henderson died in 1806. See McMaster and Skaggs, "Letterbooks of Alexander Hamilton," 63:28; Cora Bacon-Foster, Early Chapters in the Development of the Potomac Route to the West, pp. 24-27. 

3. James M. Engle, History of the Engle Family in the Shenandoah Valley (Washington, D.C., 1906), p. 6. 

4. John Ballendine was a partner of John Tayloe II and Priestly Thornton in the Neabsco Furnace in Prince William County, Virginia, during the 1750's.  By 1760, he had dissolved this alliance and, with the help of a loan from John Semple, established his own forge, furnace, bolting mill, and two sawmills on Occoquan Creek, Virginia.  His purchase of the 100-acre orebank tract from Jacob Friend may have occurred at this time.  Unable to pay his debts, Ballendine was reduced from owner to superintendent in 1762.  Semple probably acquired Ballendine's portion of Friend's Orebank with the Occoquan property.  In 1765,  Ballendine left the operation at Occoquan Creek, purchased property at Seneca Falls on the Potomac River, and proceeded to build a dam so that he could run a saw mill (Kathleen Bruce, Virginia Iron Manufacture in the Slave Era [New York: Augustus M. Kelley, Pub., 1968], pp. 17-18, 42-50).  Once again, he ran afoul of Semple, who feared that the mill would interfere with his proposals to improve navigation on the Potomac ("John Semple's Proposals for Clearing the Potomac" in Grace L. Nute [ed.], "Washington and the Potomac: Manuscripts of the Minnesota Historical Society," Am. Historical Rev. 28:497- 499).  Ballendine also had proposals for improving navigation on the Potomac, and, like Semple, frequently visited Mount Vernon to consult with George Washington on this matter (Bacon-Foster, Early Chapters, pp. 24-30).  In 1772, when the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a bill approving Semple's proposals, Ballendine went to England to get subscriptions to the company that had been organized to improve the river (John C. Fitzpatrick [ed.], The Diaries of George Washington, 4 vols. [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1925], 1: p. 323). Ballendine may have been one of Semple's numerous creditors when the latter died in 1773.  Apparently the men were none too friendly at the time, for Semple had filed suit against Ballendine for "trespass, assault, and battery."  The charges were abated upon Semple's death (Court Order Book 16, p. 191, Winchester, Va.).  Ballendine was one of the first subscribers to the Patowmack Company when it was organized in 1785. 

5. Deed Book 16, pp. 173-175, Martinsburg, W. Va.  A forge on the Shenandoah River, owned by William Vestal, was operational during the 1740's (Deed Book 1, pp. 168-169, Winchester, Va.).  Friend's orebank could have supplied this forge, although it may have been supplied from the Maryland Orebank. 

6. Deed Book 16, pp. 173-175, Martinsburg, W. Va.; Michael D. Thompson, History of the Iron Industry in Western Maryland (1976), pp. 20-21; Deed Book 8, pp. 479-485, Frederick County, Va.; Deed Book 11, pp. 58-59, Winchester, Va; Deed Book H, p. 4, Frederick, Md.  In addition to the property at Occoquan Creek, Semple also owned a 7,000-acre tract on Catoctin Creek called Merryland and 3,000 acres in Hampshire County, Virginia (Maryland Gazette, May 29, 1766). 

7. Deed Book J, pp. 793-815, Frederick, Md.  According to Bruce (Virginia Iron Manufacture, p. 18), Semple concentrated his efforts at Occoquan Creek on grinding flour and let the forge and furnace fall into disrepair.  On the other hand, Semple's mortgage to James Lawson in 1769 includes 26 male and 14 female slaves "appertaining to or employed or used about or for the business of the said forges"  (Deed Book M, p. 420, Frederick, Md). 

8. Articles of agreement between John Potts, Jr., William Wilson, and Henry Lee, December 19, 1788, Potts Papers, Hagley Library, Wilmington, Delaware.  Unless otherwise indicated, all correspondence cited between John Potts, George North, Henry Lee, and Robert E. Hobart is from this source. 

9. Adapted from Thompson, p. 5. 

10. Thompson, History of Iron Industry, pp. 7, 8-9. 

11. The various agreements and the results of arbitration are summarized in Deed Book 13, pp. 28-35, Winchester, Va.  The full 1769 agreements appear in Deed Book J, pages 805-815, Frederick, Md. 

12. Deed Book 13, pp. 28-35, Winchester County, Va.  The arbitrators did put restrictions on Semple's liability, stating that he "shall not be liable to fulfill this contract for supplying the said forge with the pig iron aforesaid nor shall the lands abovementioned [all of Semple's Maryland and Virginia holdings on the Potomac] stand as security for the performance of the said contract any longer than the then major part of the said forge ... continue to be the unalienated property of the said David Ross and company and their heirs or until the said company shall have erected a furnace ..."  James Lawson to John Semple, May 9, 1763, October 28, 1763, and April 13, 1765 and James Lawson to Alexander Hamilton, February 25, 1765; cited in: David C. Skaggs, "John Semple and the Development of the Potomac Valley," Va. Mag. Hist. Biog. 92 (1984): 297. 

13. John Semple's Proposals for Clearing the Potomac, in Grace L. Nute (ed.), "Washington and the Potomac: Manuscripts of the Minnesota Historical Society," American Historical Review 28:497- 501. 

14. Deed Book M, pp. 418-424, Frederick, Md. 

15. McMaster and Skaggs, "Letterbooks of Alexander Hamilton," 63:46.  Deed Book 10, pp. 187-190, Berkeley County, W. Va.  Fitzpatrick (ed.), Diaries of George Washington, 1:393; 2:5,12,46,52-53.  Fitzpatrick (ed.), Writings of George Washington, 3:53.  Virginia Gazette, January 30, and July 30, 1772. 

16. Will Book G, pp. 469-471, Prince William County, Va.; James Lawson to Walter Brock, January 30, 1773; Philip Ludwell Lee to William Lee, July 20, 1773; cited in Skaggs, p. 301. 

17. Lodonzo C. Engle, p. 8. 

18. Articles of agreement between John Potts, Jr., William Wilson, and Henry Lee, December 19, 1788. 

19. Grimsley, West Virginia Geological Survey, pp. 77-78; Thompson, History of Iron Industry, pp. 2-3.  Deed Book M, pp. 420-421, Frederick County, Md.  Some of these slaves were probably employed making charcoal (Maryland Gazette, May,29, 1766).