Page 16 - Discover Fall 2021
P. 16

Forging A


                                                                                 By Charles Alexander

              Few people outside of this area have                   In 1779, Donelson moved to Tennessee,
       ever even heard of Rocky Mount, VA,                     and sold the ironworks to Colonel James
       much less considered it to be of historical             Callaway, and his father-in-law, Jeremiah
       significance. However, the very existence               Early. Callaway was also a member of the
       of this country may not have been possible              House of Burgesses, and Early was the
       without the contributions made by this little           great-grandfather of Confederate General
       town, with an original population of some               Jubal Early. These contemporaries of George
       200 souls.                                              Washington renamed the forge “Washington
                                                               Iron Forge” in his honor. Callaway became
              Originally settled in the early 18th
                                                               the sole owner of the forge in 1781,
       Century, it was recognized as a good source
                                                               purchasing Early’s share from his heirs after
       of iron ore. Circa 1770, the Washington
                                                               Early’s demise in 1779.
       Iron Furnace was built near the Pigg River
       by John Donelson and his son-in-law, John                     The forge changed hands again in
       Caffrey. Donelson is perhaps better known as            1820 when the three Saunders brothers, one
       the father of Rachel Donelson, who married              of whom married General Early’s daughter,
       future President Andrew Jackson.                        purchased it and another furnace on Ferrum
                                                               Creek. By 1836, some 100 men were working
              John Donelson was a served in the
                                                               the forge, producing some 160 tons of iron
       court of Pittsylvania County, and also
                                                               per year. The finished product was made into
       represented the county in the House of
                                                               iron bars and castings, and transported by
       Burgesses. He was also a militia Colonel and
                                                               horse-drawn wagons to North Carolina and
       the county surveyor. Franklin County later
       was formed in 1785, from parts of Bedford
       County and Henry County, which had split                      Washington Iron Furnace, as it is
       from Pittsylvania County in 1777.                       now called, is still standing, and is one of
                                                               the best preserved of these old iron forges.
              The ironworks were originally named
                                                               It is roughly pyramidal in shape, as were
       “The Bloomery”, which was a common term
                                                               most forges of the day, made of granite stone
       at the time for a smelting furnace. It got its
                                                               blocks. It stands almost 30 feet high, with a
       name from the initial product, a mixture of
                                                               12 foot opening, built into the side of a hill
       iron and slag, called a “bloom”. The Bloomery
                                                               near the old Iron Mine branch of the Pigg
       supplied iron products to patriot armed forces
                                                               River, which took on the name “Furnace
       during the Revolutionary War. The furnace
                                                               Creek”. The reason for building it into the
       was operated by a team of four white men and
                                                               hillside was to facilitate the loading of ore,
       six male slaves.

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