Fort Roberdeau

Thomas Bedwell


  • Manager of the lead works in Sinking Valley for Daniel Roberdeau (April – December 1779).
  • Learned mining and smelting  by reading encyclopedias.
  • This was his second endeavor for congress. His first had involved extracting sulphur in the Lancaster area.
  • Partner in the Bald Eagle Company.
  • Left Sinking Valley by 1780.
  • A Thomas Bedwell is credited with the discovery of anthracite and opening of first mine in NE Pennsylvania in the 1790s. This is believed to be the same man.

The Mining Process and the People Involved

The Mines

The Lead Mine Fort, Fort Roberdeau, protected not just one mine, but the region and several mines. Four Mines are 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 “

Second Mine

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

“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. “


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”


Locals Mine (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.”





In 1832 the mine locations were further described, as was the French mining trench that is believed to date back to the French and Indian War


“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“



“ A remarkable irregular trench the vestiges of which can yet be seen with occasional interruptions runs from the upper lead mines to the neighborhood of the lower it is at least six miles in length It was found there by the earliest emigrants and thirty years ago stout trees grew on the banks of earth thrown out in excavating it It was there it is said and ancient in its appearance when Roberdeau erected or commanded the fort at the upper lead mines Conjecture has attributed it to the French whose exploring parties searched extensively for minerals in Ligonior valley while that nation held Fort Du Quesne So great a labor it was supposed would only have been commenced in search of a precious metal and could only liave been encouraged to perseverance by success Not Black Beard's guarded hoards have been “



""immediately erected a large fort of logs and a furnace, at what was called the upper mine. Several regular shafts were sunk to some depth, and levels driven in, and a considerable quantity of rich ore was obtained. A quantity of lead was extracted of which we find an order from Col. Roberdeau, in May of 1779, for 500 lbs for use of the state. the most productive vein was opened a mile nearer Frankstown than the fort where they first sunk a shaft. But fear of the Indians, who infested the neighborhood, and the intrusion of water into the mine, soon caused the business to be abandoned. The lower mine, a mile from the little Juniata, in the same valley, was worked some years after, by a Mr. (Angus) Sinclair, a Scotch miner, from the neighborhood of the Carron Iron-works, but was given up on account of the richer discoveries of lead to the West."

A history of American manufactures from 1608 to 1860.

“very late discovery of a new vein promises the most ample supply but I am very deficient in workmen Mr Glenn is with me to direct the making and burning of bricks and is to come up to build a furnace”


“Wanted immediately for public service the following Workmen (viz.) Two good Smelters, two ditto Miners, four Ax men, One dresser to tend the Stamp-Mill to work and burn ore and a good Smith for which a handsome Salary will be given—Any Person out of the Army that can be well recommended for the above Purpose by applying to Major John Clark at the Auditors Office will meet with Encouragement.”

General Orders Head-Quarters  V. Forge Sabbath April 26th 1778.



Lead Processing

“WANTED, A MAN of good character, who understands working a CUPOLA or AIR FURNACE for smelting of lead . Such a person will meet with suitable encouragement and employment in this State, by applying to DANIEL ROBERDEAU , in York Town, by letter or in person.” The Pennsylvania Gazette, York Town, April 2, 1778.

“Having this day finished with the Assembly of this State some things relating to the lead works, nothing now remains but the procuring of men to carry it on to full effect, for which I shall depend on you. Therefore I beg you will exert yourself in getting both smelters and miners and sending them forward. Unless I know the terms that have been given to deserters employed in your state I know not how to limit you, nor do I think it necessary as you are a gentleman of economy, and who will be governed by general rules with a prudent application, I mean to refer to any expence that may accrue before the men arrive at the works, which would endanger a loss of both men and money. One thing in particular you are to be guarded against, which is the enthusiastic spirit which pervades. When two classes of men, expecially the former, for some of them have traveled 2 or 300 miles at their own expence and when they arrived it was found they understood the subject only in theory”

Roberdeau to General McDougal (his brother in law)

“...Colonel Scammell hints an expedient of sending into Philada, to bring out such, with a promise of a handsome reward. I would most cheerfully give such reward, but know not how to set about so hazardous an enterprize. My own mind has suggested the probability of such Characters being in your own Army, and whether they, only three wanted, can serve their Country equally in the capacity of Soldiers. 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. I will not trouble your Excellency by enlarging on these hints. Major Clark will proffer Encouragements if you should think proper, to issue your orders for obtaining these useful Artificers, without whom the prospect however flattering of a great internal resource of lead must fail.”

"Sir: I was favoured with your letter of the fourth Inst. The number of applications for manufacturers and artificers of different kinds could they all be complied with, would be a considerable loss to the army.

But as the establishing the smelting of lead is of very great importance, I have directed Serjeant Harris to repair to you at York Town; and this day given general orders for an inquiry to discover if two others, who understand the business can be found in camp. If there are any such, I shall have them sent to you. With great respect, I am etc."

Washington to Roberdeau June 1778


 “...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

POW Labor

“You will do me and the publick essential service by procuring some of the German Convention Troops smelters and miners, of the former I should be glad to have about four, and of the latter not exceeding twenty, and failing of real miners I can make a shift of hearty Dutchmen, who are used to handling the pick particularly in digging of wells. I have also occasion of two washers. I will give the best wages, but do not care how reasonable the men may be got. You may assure such of immediate employ by applying to Mr. Tho. Bedwell, my manager at the lead works in Sinking Spring Valley, Bedford County, in this state which is nearer than to apply to me here and will save more than 200 miles walk. You are authorized, if you’ll be pleased to take the trouble, to agree with good workmen at 20 per day for every working day and to enter into [a contract] with them in my behalf. If this should not be sufficient I should even consent to give more rather than disappoint the publick expectation, but do not know what to set if 20/ will not suffice. I hear Chizels mine is stopped working if so you may have it in your power to procure from thence the workmen wanted, which would serve the publick perhaps better and much oblige.

P.S. I would not make any terms known except of absolute necessity to encourage men to come forward. Besides wages, I am to feed the men, but do not choose to allow more than one gill of spirits per day”

In a letter from General Roberdeau to General Washington.

“...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, I am at length constrained reluctantly to trouble you on the Subject.”


  Note of the Supreme Executive Council, 19 October, 1782

"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. "


18th Century Mining Process

  • Surveying
  • Mining
  • Sorting & Stamping
    • Stamping Mill
    • Bucking Hammer
  • Sorting &Washing
  • Smelting




Fort Roberdeau
Fort Roberdeau