The Blackford Iron Workers

By Tom Pierce

In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s the production of iron and iron articles such as stove plates, played an important role in the migration and living patterns of Shenandoah County, VA. Iron manufacturers moved down the valley from Pennsylvania and Maryland and set up operations in places where they found the combination of good iron ore, limestone, water power, and abundant timber for charcoal.

The areas they moved into were previously settled by restless Scotch-Irish pioneers, followed closely by German farmers. It is likely that neither group took well to the notion of working for wages in a furnace, nor did they have the skills that were needed for iron making. In the early 1800’s, iron furnaces had little mechanization, no instrumentation, and required men with high degrees of skill, often acquired from their fathers or from apprenticeships. Early iron manufacturers tended to bring such men with them as they migrated into Virginia or hired them away from other iron production sites. It is the belief of many researchers that these workers usually knew one another and tended to live together and intermarry; this site is an on-going attempt to see if that is true and, if it is true, to try to track these groups as an aid to genealogical research.

This research starts at Isabella Furnace in 1820 for the simple and expedient reason that the 1820 census of Shenandoah County clearly identified the residents at each furnace and forge and that Isabella was where Benjamin M. Blackford was. Benjamin Blackford was the one iron master who seemed to have dealt with everyone, from the Pennybackers to the Forrers. He had a number of partners but Benjamin Blackford always seemed to be in charge, at least up until the time his son, Thomas T., took over. Several of the families are mine; the rest were only fellow travelers. I would appreciate any help from researchers of the other families, including criticism. Please e-mail me at I hope such contributions will make this always a "work in progress".

Iron Masters and Forge Managers for the Shenandoah County operations in 1820 were:

Isabella FurnaceBenjamin M. Blackford
Speedwell ForgeJames Sterret
Union ForgeJoseph Arthur
Columbia FurnaceJohn Arthur
Pine ForgeBenjamin Pennybacker

Occupations usually found at an iron-making operation in those years were:

Iron Master - Usually an owner or occasionally a trusted agent of the owner. Ran the whole operation, including buying resources, hiring workers, determining the charge for the furnace, selling the iron or finished products, and providing basic amenities for the workers, i.e., shelter, food, doctor, etc. Sometimes operated auxiliary businesses such as grist mills and farms (on the land cleared for charcoal production). Usually owned a large number of slaves (30 to 80 typically) to provide the unskilled labor. Typically had somewheres about $100,000 invested, often through somewhat complicated partnerships.

Founder - Responsible for pouring the molten metal, although this usually took the form of tapping the furnace and letting the molten metal flow into either the pigs or plate molds. Had to be able to judge temperature and purity of the pour. Also called foundryman.

Moulder - Made the molds for sows and pigs, plates, and hollow-ware. This entailed using a pattern (mostly wooden) to make a negative impression in casting sand (a good quality sand with a binder mixed in so that it would hold together). Required good manual skills for working with the sand and knowledge of molten iron as the moulder used his judgement to provide holes for pouring the metal in, holes to let the hot gasses out, and holes for the overflow so that the mold could be completely filled. Also called mouldman.

Collier - Made charcoal by burning large covered piles of hardwood with insufficient air. Often this was done on the premises, with the wood being hauled in from where the woodchoppers were working. The piles of wood were covered with dirt and the collier had to have the skill to know when and where to make small vents in the pile in order to keep the fire burning while, at the same time, not letting the fire flame up and consume the wood. In other times and places, collier was used to refer to a coal-miner or someone who burned coal into coke, but in the Shenandoah County works, only charcoal was used.

Forgeman - Reheated the pig iron and hammered it using a water-driven hammer weighing several hundred pounds. This broke up the structure of the cast iron and had the effect of refining the metal by mechanically forcing impurities toward the ends (a high degree of skill was required to make that happen), so that the impure ends could be cut off and not used. Also forged shapes such as rods. A very dangerous job in the days before safety glasses, hearing protectors, and machine guards. Usually worked at a forge which was associated with a furnace but which was not at the same location.

Joiner - Made patterns, usually wooden, used to make the molds. These people are hard to identify because of the large number of people engaged in woodworking, most of whom were lumped together under this title.

Auxiliary workers, ranging from skilled to unskilled, who were usually found around furnaces, but who were not generally part of the above group, include wheelwrights, miners, wagoners (or teamsters or draymen), woodchoppers, coopers, boatmen, stone masons, and blacksmiths.

The U.S. censuses and the county personal property tax lists are the principal primary documents used for this research. Vital record data, such as marriages, are given only as needed to show specific relationships. There are two reasons for doing this: I can’t do primary source research for such a large number of people (even the Marriage Bond lists in the courthouse in Woodstock are secondary copies with some mistakes); and I don’t want to do genealogy on people who are not my direct ancestors unless absolutely necessary. Researchers who find their families listed here should be able to easily find the vital record information.

Isabella Furnace was located on Hawksbill Creek a little less than a mile north of present day Luray, VA. It actually was set back from the creek a bit, as it used the water from Yager’s Spring to power the bellows. Yager’s Spring gave the furnace a strong water flow even in drought years and, being a spring, probably froze up a little later and thawed a little earlier than the creek. A furnace was built there by Derek Pennybacker in the early 1780’s and was named Redwell. It was a typical cold-blast charcoal furnace, capable of making several tons of pig iron daily. Iron ore came from banks near Kimball and Vaughn’s Summit and was said to be good quality. Limestone abounds in the area, with lots of outcroppings readily available. The whole area was wooded, and the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains were close as sources of charcoal wood. The Shenandoah River was close for transportation. The only apparent drawback to the location is that the ore was said to be deep, a real problem for miners of that time. After Benjamin Blackford bought it in 1808, the name was changed to Isabella, probably in honor of Benjamin’s wife. The name change suggests that the furnace may have been rebuilt to replace the older one. Isabella Blackford, incidentally, is listed by one researcher as having been an Arthur, although proof is not given. The furnace seems to have gone out of operation in the 1840’s; there are references to financial difficulties, but no specifics. The Genealogical Society of Page County published an excellent history, written by H. E. Comstock of Winchester, of Redwell/Isabella Furnace in their newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 2, 3, and 4, 1996.

The workers at Isabella Furnace in the 1820 census, page 158A, are:

Benjamin Blackfordage over 44Robert Cochranage 26-44
Andrew Holtzmanage over 44Jacob Shealorage 26-44
John Shuffage 26-44Jonathan Shuffage 26-44
John Devierage over 44John Lamersonage 26-44
Henry Shealorage 16-25Joseph Petersonage 16-25
James Sternage over 44Frederick Holtzmanage 16-25
George Ferralage over 44John Glennage over 44
William Petersonage over 44Mary Batmanage over 44
Elijah Rameyage 26-44Jeremiah Lamersonage over 44
Snowden Brewerage over 44Jacob McDonaldage 16-25
John Batmanage 16-25Benjamin Cubbageage 26-44

Of these workers, I only know the occupation of one so far. Jacob Shealor’s obituary, as told in A History of Shenandoah County by John W. Wayland, Regional Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1927, lists him as the founder. I assume that to mean he was the foundryman, not that he started the building of the furnace.

The 1820 Personal Property Tax List collected on March 25th in the Eastern District of Shenandoah County (Fort and Luray Valleys) gives most of the above names plus others who lived nearby (My best guess is that this list goes east from the furnace toward the Blue Ridge). Property Tax Commissioners in those years used various systems for collection, but usually the commissioners in the Eastern District collected in a certain area on a certain day. The challenge is always to figure out exactly what that area was. Some of the people on this list but not the census may have been people living in Benjamin Blackford’s house. The purpose of giving this list and the 1823 one following is to pick up as many people in the area as possible.

John BatmanBlackford Arthur & Co.Thomas T. Blackford
Benjamin BlackfordAbraham BrownLuke Breeze
Thomas BlackwoodArnold BonnyfieldJohn Boyd
Umphry BerryRobert CochranGeorge Ferrel
Samuel ForrerJohn GlennWilliam W. Garner
William GrantAndrew HoltzmanCheribim Hershman
Benjamin HoltzmanFrederick HoltzmanJames Holmes
John H. HendersonJohn HolmesJohn Jones
Jeremiah LamersonJohn LemonWilliam Leaper
Lewis LauranceGeorge LathamTimothy Miller
Ann Morgan widowBarnaby McCauleySmallwood Marlow
Walter MorelandJohn ManuelPeter Miller
William T. NorthcraftJames PotterElijah Ramey
John RodehefferJesse RionElijah Roy
William RobersonOliver Roberson (negroe)Thomas Richardson negro
David RoadcapThomas SansberryAbner Smith
Sidney SmithJohn Smith of J?Raph Shaw
John Shenk (BS)John StricklerSamuel Tulk
Edward TracewellAbram VaughtSimeon Vaught

The 1823 Personal Property Tax List collected on February 1 gives many of the same names, but starts to show some changes as Speedwell Forge is now included. I also believe it includes more people toward the north. The number following the name is the number of white males 16 and older.

Abraham Alderdice1William Brown1
Samuel Burner1Blackford Sterrett & Co.3
Blackford Arthur & Co.2Benjamin Blackford3
John Batman1Archabald Barker1
George Baley2James Baley2
Thomas T. Blackford 1Daniel Baker2
David Baker1John Beach Jr.1
John Beach Sr.2John Cave1
Daniel Coffman (Forge)1Philip Comer5
Thomas A. Davis1George Ferrel2
John Glenn2Frederick Holtzman1
Andrew Holtzman3William Holtzman1
Peter Heastand2William Judd1
John Kibler Jr.1Jacob Kibler (of A)1
Joseph Koontz1William Lamb1
John Lemons1Jeremiah Lamerson Sr.2
Jeremiah Lamerson Jr.1John Lamerson1
M. & Jos. Lauck2John Mills1
Henry Michum1Timothy Miller1
Jacob McDaniel1James McDaniel1
James Modisett2Lewis Moyers Sr.2
Lewis Moyers, Jr.1Henry Moyers1
Lewis Monroe1R & James Miller4
John Moyers1James Nunn1
Joseph Peterson2Samuel Proctor1
John Prince2Robert Strickler (F. negro) ;
John Rodeheffer1Elijah Ramey1
George Roadcap Jr.4John Sellender1
Henry Shealor1Jacob Shealor2
John Shuff1Jonathan Shuff2
Joseph R. Sibert2Philip Shaffer2
Peter Sperry1George Tiller1
Paul Tiller1Gabriel Tutt1
Thomas Vains1Benjamin Woods Jr.1

Family Groups can be guessed at from these lists plus marriage bond information. These groups may well not be related in the way I have guessed. For example, John, Richard, and Jeremiah Jr. Lamerson could well be nephews or younger cousins of Jeremiah Lamerson rather than sons, but they lived together in a manner similar to that of father and sons and, thus, can be treated as a family for purposes of tracking migration. Please don’t rely on any of my guesses as proof of ancestry. Further information about some of these family groups is available in the deed books of Shenandoah County either at the courthouse in Woodstock or in Amy Gilreath’s abstracts (I use Amy’s books to find exactly what I need so that I can spend my time at the courthouse efficiently looking at only a few complete deeds – I have found her always accurate), and the two standard marriage bond books: Shenandoah County Marriage Bonds, 1772-1850 by John Vogt and T. William Kethley, Jr., Iberian Publishing Co., Athens, GA, 1984; and Shenandoah County Virginia Marriage Bonds 1772-1850 by Bernice M. Ashby, Clearfield, Co., Baltimore, 1967. For that part of Shenandoah County which became Page County, and for later times in Shenandoah County, Judy Campbell offers a wealth of information at Judy’s work is well-respected for its accuracy.


Benjamin M. Blackford was born in Pennsylvania about 1766 according to the 1850 census of Campbell County, VA. (page 105) In the 1800 census for Cumberland County, PA, a Benjamin Blackford is listed, and, in the probate records of Cumberland County, there is one mention of a Benjamin Blackford as an executor of the will of Samuel Filson (will proved April 8, 1800, vol F, page 173), but there is no proof that this is the same person. However, in the deed for Redwell Furnace near Luray, Benjamin Blackford, John Graham, and Joseph Arthur are listed as being from Frederick County, Maryland, while the other purchaser, John Arthur, is listed as being from Cumberland County, PA (Shenandoah Co. Deed Book Q, p. 358). At Catoctin Furnace Historical Site in Cunningham Falls State Park near Frederick, MD, Benjamin Blackford is said to have leased the furnace, along with Thomas Thornburgh, from 1801-1812. Blackford was apparently the iron master there. The furnace was owned by Baker Johnson, whose heirs sold the furnace to Thomas and Willoughby Mayberry in 1811 even though Baker Johnson had expressed his wish to have the furnace sold to Blackford. These two Mayberry brothers may have been related to the George Mayberry who was at that time active in the iron business in Shenandoah County, but there is no proof that I know. Much of the information about Catoctin Furnace was shared with me by Anne Cissel who has done extensive research on Johnson. The Catoctin dates are consistent with the many deeds in Shenandoah County between 1808 and 1812, wherein Blackford is listed as being from Frederick County, Md, until the summer of 1812 when he is listed in a deed as now from Shenandoah County, and with 1813 being the first year Blackford himself (rather than one of his companies) is included in the personal property tax rolls. Catoctin Furnace is not far from the lower end of Cumberland County and is generally on the same ridge as several iron operations in Cumberland County (especially Pine Grove Furnace). In the 1790’s Heads of Families census for Cumberland County, there are plenty of Arthurs and Grahams, but no Blackfords. It seems reasonable to speculate that Benjamin Blackford may have lived in Cumberland County or may have done business with people who did live there. Further circumstantial evidence can be gleaned from the 1850 census of Campbell Co., VA where Benjamin’s son, Thomas T. is listed as being born in Pennsylvania in 1798-99 (page 100) and Benjamin’s presumed son, William M., is listed as being born in Maryland in 1800-01 (page 105). Blackford’s children include: Thomas T. who married Caroline Steenbergen, daughter of "Baron" William Steenbergen of Dunmore Mt. Airy; William M. (unproven); John A. (unproven) ; Jane E. who married William Leeper; and Mary M. who married Joseph Lauck. Thomas went on to become a physician in Campbell Co., VA and William M. became a post master nearby. Benjamin also had a ward, Juliann Cox, who married Bryan H. Henry.

Owen Batman was in the area in the 1800 – 1810 time frame, but disappeared about 1809. He may have died or moved to another furnace for a while. His family, apparently headed by his widow, Mary Davis Batman, are at the furnace in 1820. Owen and Mary posted their marriage bond in Rockingham County, VA, leading to the speculation that he was at either Shenandoah Furnace (this is the most likely location) or Mossy Creek (a Mark Bird operation). John Batman, who married Amanda Dearing, was his probable son. Ruth Batman, who married William Holtzman with bond posted by John Lamerson, was his probable daughter, as was Rebecca Batman who married John Lamerson. Proven daughters were Elizabeth who married Henry Shenk, Hannah who married Lewis Ramey (who operated a blacksmith shop nearby on the Hawksbill), and Sarah who married John Sullivan.

Jeremiah Lamerson may be the person listed in the 1790 census of Cumberland County, PA. I have a researcher’s report that Hannah Lamerson, of Pine Grove furnace in Cumberland County, daughter of Jeremiah, married William Peters. Jeremiah’s wife was named Mary (or Molly or Polly – both nicknames for Mary). The personal property tax lists for the time between 1820 and 1828 suggest that John, Jeremiah Jr., and Richard lived in Jeremiah’s house in a manner suggestive of sons. Jeremiah died in the late 1820’s.

Andrew Holtzman was the apparent head of a fairly prosperous family group. His son, William, was born in Maryland about 1790, according to the Page County Death Register. William married Ruth Batman, with bond given by John Lamerson. Frederick is of the right age to be his son and several Holtzman researchers do have this relationship, although I do not know the proof as I have only begun exchanging information on this family. What is interesting for my work is that Frederick’s birthplace is given as Maryland in the 1790’s. Frederick married Isabella Peterson, sister of William. A daughter, Mary, married Elijah Cheek.

John Shuff is reported by a Frederick County, MD researcher to have been from there until about 1812. This is still tentative but seems to fit the available information. A J. Shuff appears in the 1810 Frederick Co., MD census near Benjamin Blackford.

George Ferrel may be the same person who was married to Eleanor Davis in Frederick Co., MD in 1795. His widow’s name in the 1850 census is Ellen; unfortunately, his son’s 1868 marriage license in Page County lists her name as Elizabeth, so this is quite iffy. However, a Frederick Co. researcher, Florence Ferrell Cannariato, has reported that James Ferrell of Frederick Co at about the right time had sons Thomas, William, James, John, George, and Obediah. In the 1800-1810 period, the personal property tax lists show a James and Thomas Ferrell living near George Ferrell.

John Glenn A daughter, Sarah, born about 1800 in Pennsylvania (according to the Page County Death Register), married Samuel Holmes. A J. Glenn appears in the 1800 and 1810 Frederick Co., MD census near the Catoctin Furnace (located by Baker Johnston in 1800 and Benjamin Blackford in 1810).


The 1850 US Census in the Fort Valley

There were two Blackford furnaces in the Fort Valley – Caroline and Elizabeth. I have seen reference to the furnaces being named after Benjamin Blackford’s daughters but, in the absence of any proof, I think it more likely that they were named after Thomas T. Blackford’s wife and daughter. Caroline furnace was built in 1836; I don’t yet have a good date for Elizabeth furnace. They were typical cold-blast charcoal furnaces. The Fort Valley is easy to read in the census because census-takers generally started at one end and went to the other and didn’t stray to the sides. I find it helpful to read this particular census with a copy of Lake’s 1885 Atlas open to the Johnston Magisterial District. The census obviously starts at the southern end, probably near where the road through Moreland Gap turns off of Route 675 (the Luray road). All numbers in front of a name refer to the family number in the census. It is not evident to me exactly where the Fort Valley census begins so, to be sure, I started at no. 1785 and read on from there because no. 1815 is Adam Chrisman who can be easily and quickly located near the mouth of Chrisman Hollow. I note that large numbers of people at the southern end of the Fort have no occupation. I believe this is the result of Caroline Furnace being shut down at this time. People listed below are either iron furnace/forge workers or serve to fix the locale.

1806, Henry Fadely was a collier.

1815, Adam Chrisman serves to locate the mouth of Chrisman Hollow.

1828, Jesse Wamick was a miner. Usually, miners dug iron ore from pits or banks, although they sometimes dug limestone and (later on) ochre.

1836, Joseph Marston was a merchant. Sometime around 1850, the Blackfords sold this furnace. Joseph Marston was the iron master for at least two of the owners, one of which was Marston and Bush Co.

1837, William Vines was part of a group of Vines/Viands from the Springfield District of Page County who were all forgemen. They had ties to Speedwell Forge, but were possibly part of a group that were in Augusta County prior to Blackford. (See Chalkey’s Chronicles on the Augusta County genweb site and Vogt and Kethley’s Augusta County Marriage Bonds for information on Viands, Dalton, and Harberger.)

1840, Henry Utz was a collier.

1843, Matthew Colvin was a miner.

1845, Philip Chrisman was a miner. A family oral tradition says that a Henry Chrisman died in a cave-in in 1853 in the Camp Roosevelt area, although the Death Register gives the name as Philip, possibly this Philip’s father. (See Fort Valley Cemeteries at Mt. View Research.)

1846, William Mill was a miner. Mark Glenn was also a miner. The Glenn name was found at Isabella Furnace in earlier times although any connection is yet unknown.

It seems obvious that the above named people were somehow connected to Caroline Furnace although the lack of a founder and of molders indicates the furnace was probably not in blast at this time.

1922, Daniel Munch serves to locate Seven Fountains Post Office.

1960, David Simpson was a miner. This location is at Dilbeck or slightly north.

1961, Jesse Funk was the furnace keeper. His duties are not known. James Walker was a blacksmith living in the Funk house.

1969, Frederick Holtzman was the manager. He was at Isabella Furnace in 1820. He was born in Maryland. His wife, Isabella Peterson, was born in Pennsylvania.

1970, John C. Wallace was a clerk.

1971, John Batman was a molder. There were Batmans at Isabella in 1820, including Mary Batman who had a son the right age to be John. His wife, Amanda, was the daughter of Jeremiah Dearing, of Luray in 1820.

1972, Martin McDaniel was married to Sally Ferrel, probably the daughter of George Ferrel who was at Isabella in 1820.

1974, William Ferrel was the founder. He is the son of George Ferrel, who was at Isabella in 1820. William married Mary Dalton, who is thought to have ties to Speedwell Forge.

1977, Fielding Vermillion was a miner.

1979, Harrison Job was a collier, born in Maryland. His wife was Catharine McDaniel.

1980, Henry Bower was a miner.

1981, William Shuff was a collier. There were Shuffs at Isabella in 1820. He was married to Margaret Glenn and there were Glenns at Isabella in 1820.

1984, Bede Jones was a miner.

2021, Lorenzo Sibert was an iron master. The presence of two iron masters at one furnace was unusual. However, Lorenzo may not have been an active iron master at Elizabeth Furnace since he was involved with the short-lived Van Buren Furnace No. 2 about this time.

2030, George W. Sibert was an iron master. The value of real estate owned by George and Lorenzo Sibert suggests that Lorenzo may have owned Elizabeth Furnace while George did more of the day-to-day work.

2031, Samuel Fox was a collier.

2054, Gabriella was a molder. The single name was characteristic of African-Americans in those days. It is remarkable to find an African-American doing skilled labor in 1850 when the Civil War passions were nearly at full force and is indicative perhaps of the ambivalent feelings in the Fort.

2055, Richard Lamerson had no occupation given, but Lamersons were at Isabella in 1820.

Clearly, these workers were at Elizabeth Furnace. There may have been mining on Mine Run, where it was said there was extremely high grade manganese ore, but the Mine Run Furnace was not yet built. The large number of names with ties, both proven and unproven, to Isabella Furnace, Speedwell Forge, and Luray in 1820, seems to indicate that Blackford moved some workers from Isabella to Elizabeth prior to 1850.

The Forrer Furnaces

In 1850 a number of the Blackford workers were at Forrer’s Catherine Furnace near Newport, Page County. Although that end of Page County in that time period is outside the scope of my work, I find the Forrer’s seemingly connected to the Blackford workers in earlier times. That remains an open question to be worked on later.

Interim Conclusions

Clearly, several Blackford families appear to have formed some sort of group – the Lamersons, Glenns, Batmans, Holtzmans, Ferrels, McDaniels and Shuffs. Many of these families have ties to Frederick County, MD prior to coming to Shenandoah County, and Frederick is now the best place to look for those families. Some of the other family names may eventually be added to this list. I expect to find similar groups, but with perhaps different origins, at other Blackford operations.

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Created March 25, 2000
Updated April 1, 2008
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