James Hunter's Iron Works, Rappahannock Forge


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First Arsenal of Democracy

James Hunter's Iron Works, Rappahannock Forge

James Hunter’s Iron Work, located west of Falmouth, was Stafford’s major industrial enterprise and one of Virginia’s and America’s early major industrial plants. Hunter’s large complex ran from today’s Old Forge neighborhood, south to the Rappahannock River, and east underneath I-95, to the Carter’s Crossing Shopping Center.  Hunter’s forge and blast furnace was the largest in Colonial America.  Hunter, a pragmatic Scotsman did everything possible to increase production for the Revolution, including using slave labor. In 1783, the year the Revolution ended, Hunter paid taxes on some 260 slaves. (Ironically, while Hunter’s slaves ultimately helped win the war for independence, its victory eluded and excluded them for two more centuries.)  During the Revolutionary War, the Iron Works produced weapons and implements for the Continental Army and Navy.  Historians say that had it not been for the many items produced in Hunter’s Iron Works, America would not have won the Revolutionary War.

The massive complex contained:
A blast furnace

Forge 128 x 51 feet; eight fires and 4 hammers       (The above picture shows a worker pouring pig irons.)

Coal house 40 x 80 feet

Merchant mill 36 x 70 feet, grist mill 18 x 20 feet, saw mill 11 x 55 feet

Stable 27 x 54 feet

A nailery, a tanyard; coopers, carpenters, and wheelwright shops

Houses for the managers and workmen

Storage buildings

(Photo:  Coalbrook Dale Museum of Iron, UK  by Jane Conner)