Mining

The Dispatch

“… permit me to inform your Excellency that the want of Smelters of lead is the only remora now in the way of supplying your Army in the most speedy & ample manner with that necessary Article, now transported from distant parts of the Continent, from a vein of Ore in this State, within nine miles of the navigation of a branch of Juniata. A large quantity of Ore is at the pits mouth, a mill for stamping constructed, & a Furnace will be finished, I expect within ten days from this time, but Artificers of the above Class are so scarce in this young Country, that having tryed to obtain them by advertising and from Deserters from the Brittish Army…”
Daniel Roberdeau to George Washington, September 30, 1778

How it Began

The Lead Mines Expedition began after a gentleman of some renown, and member of the Assembly approached members of congress with some knowledge of the location of lead in Sinking Valley.

“As at present there appears to be a scarcity of the important article of lead, and it is certain a Mr. Harman Husbands, now a member of Assembly for our State, has some knowledge of a lead mine situated in a certain tract of land not far from Frankstown, formerly surveyed for the use of the proprietary family.

General Gates, President of the Board of War, having signified his earnest desire to see and converse with Mr. Husbands on the subject of the mine, and being greatly hurried with business, I have, at his instance, undertaken the present line, that you would please to use your influence with the House of Assembly and with Mr. Husbands, that he, as soon as possible, may be spared to concert with the Board of War on the best measures for making a trial of and deriving an early supply from that source.

The general is of opinion with me, that the mine ought to–or may at least for the present–be seized by and belong to the State; and that private persons, who, without right, may have sat down on that reserved tract, should neither prevent the use of the lead nor be admitted to make a monopoly of the mine. I am of opinion that a few faithful laborers may be sufficient to make the experiment, and that the lieutenant of the county, or some other good man, may be serviceable in introducing the business”
Major-General John Armstrong to President Wharton, 23 February, 1778.

Columbia Magazine Mine Descriptions

The Lead Mine Fort, Fort Roberdeau, protected not just one mine, but the region and several mines. The four mines are first described in Columbia Magazine, September 1788.

First Mine

“Several regular shafts were sunk to a considerable depth; one of which was in the hill, upon which the fort was erected, and from which many large masses of ore were procured; but because it did not form a regular vein, this was discontinued “
Columbia Magazine, September 1788

Second Mine

“about one mile from the fort, nearer to Franks-town. Here the miners continued until they finally relinquished the business.”

Columbia Magazine, September 1788

“When they first began they found in the upper surface or vegetable earth, several hundred weight of cubic leadore, clean and unmixed without any substance whatever, which continued as a clue, leading them down through the different strata of earth, marl, &c. until they came to the rock , which is here in general of limestone. The shaft first opened was carried down about 20 feet; from which a level was driven about 20 or 30 yards in length, towards the Bald Eagle Mountains; but as strong signs of ore were observed behind the first shaft, it gave occasion to sink another, which fully answered every expectation; and when they had arrived to the depth of the first level, they began to drive it into the first shaft, intending as soon as they had formed that opening, and cleared it of ore, to begin a shaft lower down; the vein of ore shewing itself strongly upon the bottom of the old level. This intention however was likewise deserted” 

Columbia Magazine, September 1788

Third Mine

“is without tree or the signs of any ever being there. It produces a long grass which soon turns yellow and perishes, exhibiting a strange contrast to the other parts surrounding it. The upper earth is composed of a fine mold, and so excessive black as to create a strong suspicion of a large body of ore being under it. It was attempted to the depth of about 10 feet when they came into a soft spongey wet earth with loose masses of limestone; some nearly destroyed and hardly bearing to be lifted out; others only a surrounding coat, as it were, which upon exposure to air, fell off, and the stone remained clear and firm. The whole were more or less affected, and the moisture evidently increasing with the depth induced those concerned in this assay to leave it. The surface of the earth in many places, is covered with what in England is called cawk, a white substance heavy with something resembling the texture of china…” “…but was soon quitted, as being too wet and swampy”

Columbia Magazine, September 1788

Fourth Mine

“upon the road towards Huntingdon about one hundred yards from the fort, upon the top of a small hill. The people of the valley had made the first attempt, but excessive hardness of the stone obliged them to give over the undertaking. Upon clearing away the first rubbish the vein was discovered overlaid with mundick of the greyish steel grained kind; and this work was continued with much success to the depth of about 12 feet, until the fall of an heavy rain filled the springs so as to prevent any further discovery. A level was intended to be driven from the lowest parts of the hill (having signs of ore) up to the shaft; but was as the rest, given over for want of assistance.”

Other Mine Descriptions

“The upper lead mine, as it is called, on the lands now belonging to a German family of the name of Crissman, exhibits but the traces of former excavation, and trifling indications of ore. The lower one, about a mile in direct distance from the Little Juniata, was worked within my remembrance, under the superintendence of a Mr. Sinclair, a Scotch miner from the neighborhood of Carron Iron-works, in the land of cakes The mine then was owned by two gentlemen, named Musser and Wells. The former, I think, lived and died in Lancaster co. Mr. Wells was probably a Philadelphian. Three shafts were sank to great depth on the side of a limestone hill. A drift was worked into the bowels of the hill, possibly a hundred yards, six feet high, and about the same width. This was expensive. No furnace or other device for melting the ore was ever erected at this mine. Considerable quantities of the mineral still lie about the pit’s mouth. The late Mr. H , of Montgomery co., who had read much and practised some in mining, (so far as to sink some thousand dollars,) visited this mine in 1821, in company with another gentleman and myself, and expressed an opinion that the indications were favorable for a good vein of the mineral. The upper lead mine, as it is called, on the lands now belonging to a German family of the name of Crissman, exhibits but the traces of former excavation, and trifling indications of ore. The lower one, about a mile in direct distance from the Little Juniata, was worked within my remembrance, under the superintendence of a Mr. Sinclair, a Scotch miner from the neighborhood of Carron Iron-works, in the land of cakes The mine then was owned by two gentlemen, named Musser and Wells. The former, I think, lived and died in Lancaster co. Mr. Wells was probably a Philadelphian. Three shafts were sank to great depth on the side of a limestone hill. A drift was worked into the bowels of the hill, possibly a hundred yards, six feet high, and about the same width. This was expensive. No furnace or other device for melting the ore was ever erected at this mine. Considerable quantities of the mineral still lie about the pit’s mouth. The late Mr. H , of Montgomery co., who had read much and practised some in mining, (so far as to sink some thousand dollars,) visited this mine in 1821, in company with another gentleman and myself, and expressed an opinion that the indications were favorable for a good vein of the mineral.”

How Much was Mined?

“A large quantity of Ore is at the pits mouth”

We often get the question of how much ore was mined. This is a question we cannot even begin to answer. The records have been lost to time. Perhaps eventually some will be found somewhere in a dusty collection that has great significance to us, but very little to the current caretaker. The information age, digitization, transcription and open sharing of information is benefiting many in who are looking for information like this. Our current understanding of the fort is being shaped by these modern practices. Here are some quotes about the lead.

“The following orders were drawn on the Treasurer, vizt: In favor of Daniel Roberdeau, Esq’r, for seventy-three pounds one shilling and three pence specie, amount of his account for lead furnished by him in the year 1779, for the defence of the frontiers of this State, as settled 19th August, 1782. “

Note of the Supreme Executive Council, 19 October, 1782

 

Who Were They?

“Smelters of lead is the only remora now in the way of supplying your Army in the most speedy & ample manner with that necessary Article”

“One Edward Harris a Sergeant of the 15th Virginia Regiment has been mentioned to me as a man of sobriety, integrity and ingenuity in analyzing Metals, but does not profess to be compitent to the Business on a large scale, he has been spoke to in my behalf by Major Clark, and is willing to be enlarged on furlow to make a tryal”

“applying to Mr. Tho. Bedwell, my manager at the lead works in Sinking Spring Valley, Bedford County”

What Happened?

What Went Wrong?

“…beds of iron ore of an honeycomb texture; the solid parts of it, where fresh broken, are of a fine glassy brown and contain much iron, as was experienced in the lead furnace when they used the ore by way of an addition or flux, when it produced so much as to oblige them to pull down the front wall of the furnace to remove the iron out of the hearth. It was so malleable as to bear the hammer.”

Columbia Magazine, September 1788

What Remained?

A large slag pile and bricks dating back to the 18th century were found on the site where the fort was rebuilt.