A Nineteenth-Century Mill Village:
Virginius Island, 1800-60
By Mary Johnson
Virginius Island is the last island in the Shenandoah River before it merges with the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry. Overgrown with sycamores, maples, and other vegetation, this island seems little touched by human history when viewed from afar. Yet closer observation reveals trails, mill ruins, and a railroad line. A fall of fourteen feet per mile on the Shenandoah River made the island an enticing site for development in the nineteenth century, when water powered much of the nation's machinery.1 For much of the century, the island held a flour mill. A sawmill, iron foundry, tannery, machine shop, cotton mill, cooperage, and carriage shop also operated there for varying lengths of time. Before the Civil War, at the height of Virginius Island's inhabited history, upwards of 180 island residents lived in some twenty houses. Not until 1936, when the worst recorded flood swept through the Harpers Ferry area, did the last islanders flee, never to return.
In 1803, the Commonwealth of Virginia granted Daniel McPherson "the lowermost Island in Shenandoah river" containing over eleven acres.2 Other individuals apparently had overlooked this island, believing it was physically unsuitable for such development and there was no economic need to do so. Until the late 1790s, Harpers Ferry was little more than a convenient river-crossing point for travelers journeying through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. When Robert Harper, one such traveler, bought the claim of Peter Stephens in 1747, the settlement consisted of a cabin and ferry operation. At Harper's death in 1782, the ferry, three houses, and miscellaneous buildings were located there. The community boasted the typical rural community grist and saw mills. Robert Harper had located these mills a short distance up the Shenandoah River, convenient to water transportation and easy access to hillsides above.3
When Harper established his mills in the mid-1700s, Virginius Island probably was a collection of rocks, an insignificant landform. The natural alluvial process and the mill race serving Harper's sawmill carried silt and debris downriver to this nascent island, so a substantial island existed when McPherson obtained a land grant five decades later. Even then, seasonal fluctuations in the water level drastically altered its size. During low water, it was a single, large island; when the water level was higher, it became several smaller islands; and when the Shenandoah River overflowed its banks, the island was submerged altogether.4
Internal improvements to the Shenandoah River accelerated the physical changes. The Patowmack Company, organized in 1785 to improve the Potomac River, periodically made plans to improve the Shenandoah as well, but work languished for lack of funds. Finally, in 1806 and 1807, the company constructed several locks and skirting canals, including a 580-yard canal excavated just above Virginius Island to bypass the Sawmill, or Staircase, Falls. A decade later, the New Shenandoah Company built a rubble dam across the river above the Sawmill Falls to improve the flow of water through the canal. In 1824, company agents and the island's owner signed an agreement that called for construction of a dam below the lower locks immediately above the island and a canal from this dam to the lower end of the island. These improvements made Virginius Island more suitable as a port of deposit and departure for goods. They also channelled water needed for island industries.5
The establishment of a federal armory at Harpers Ferry also stimulated development of the island. At the urging of President George Wasington, long an advocate of the economic development of the Potomac Valley and a stockholder in the Patowmack Company, the United States bought much of the land at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers from the Wager family, Robert Harper's heirs, in 1796. Construction of the armory complex along the Potomac was sufficiently complete by 1800 for production or repair of arms to begin. Over the next two decades the work force expanded, and the total population of Harpers Ferry rose to about fourteen hundred in 1820. That year, the establishment of rifle works at the old Harper sawmill site substantially enlarged the armory.6
By then, development of Virginius Island, located just downriver from the new rifle works, had begun. John Peacher, a boatman working along the Potomac River, purchased the island from Daniel McPherson in 1817. By January 1818, Peacher had moved his boating operation to the island and he solicited flour to transport to Georgetown and Alexandria.7 Peacher also erected the first island mill, "a very small affair, . . . a chopping mill . . . [which] did not make flour."8 The 1823 deed whereby Peacher sold his property to James Stubblefield indicates a bridge, mill, and mill house were located on the island. Stubblefield constructed a dam and a channel through the island, upgraded Peacher's mill, and possibly permitted the erection of additional industrial facilities before selling the island in four parcels in 1824 to Townsend and Fontaine Beckham, Edward Wager, and Lewis Wernwag.9
James Stubblefield, a plantation owner and gun maker from Stevensburg, Virginia, had come to Harpers Ferry in 1807 after being appointed superintendent of the government armory and would remain in that position until 1829, longer than any other individual. After sharing control of armory affairs with paymaster Samuel Annin for several years, Stubblefield acquired greater control when Annin's departure in 1815 made Stubblefield the senior official at Harpers Ferry. More significantly, a change in armory regulations in 1816 expanded the superintendent's authority to make contracts and hire workers. Although one contemporary described him as "an honest good hearted Man," Stubblefield henceforth became an important source of patronage and profit for a number of Harpers Ferry residents.10
Although the record is not clear, James Stubblefield initially may have used his control over government property and workers in tandem with that exercised by the Wagers over the roughly six acres they still owned in the heart of Harpers Ferry. Eventually, however, these two power centers came into conflict. In 1818, Basil Williamson, a Wager relative who had been operating a store on government property, sold his lease to another business. Perhaps coincidentally, shortly after this transfer family matriarch Catherine Wager sought to have the business removed. She claimed the 1796 land sale had been based on a verbal agreement stipulating the United States would allow no retail store on public property and persons living on Wager property would have a monopoly on the mercantile business at Harpers Ferry.11 Mrs. Wager and her allies also claimed Superintendent Stubblefield was a silent partner in the firm to whom the lease had been sold, a charge he flatly denied. Characterizing Mrs. Wager as a "monster in the shape of Woman," he called her claim to a monopoly "unjust and unreasonable."12
Wager and Beckham, the firm that bought Williamson's lease, was composed of Edward Wager and Fontaine Beckham, two of the four men to whom Stubblefield sold the island in 1824. Although a half-brother to Catherine Wager's late husband John, Edward Wager did not inherit any of the family's Harpers Ferry holdings, and he did not receive any known benefit from the Wager monopoly. Wager had stronger ties to Stubblefield as the superintendent's clerk at the armory, and more importantly, his wife Hannah was Mrs. Stubblefield's niece, who reportedly had been raised by the superintendent and his wife Mary.13 Culpeper, Virginia, native Fontaine Beckham was a brother of Mary Stubblefield. At one time an employee at the armory, Beckham manaed the island flour mill for Stubblefield before purchasing it in December 1824. A year later, Beckham married Ann Amelia Stephenson, daughter of Major James Stephenson, a former member of Congress whose business interests included an inn at Harpers Ferry.14
Townsend Beckham and Lewis Wernwag were the other two island purchasers. Beckham, also a brother of Mary Stubblefield, was a former armory employee. Wernwag, born Johann Ludwig Werenwag in Wrttemberg, had come to America in the 1780s and settled in Pennsylvania. A noted millwright and bridge builder, Wernwag's accomplishments included the Lancaster-Schuylkill Bridge, or "Colossus," in Philadelphia (1812-13); the New Hope Delaware Bridge (1813-14); and two bridges at Pittsburgh, one over the Monongahela River (1816-18) and the other over the Allegheny (1817-19). Wernwag came to Harpers Ferry about 1824 to build a bridge across the Potomac River for the Wager family. Shortly after his arrival, he began a long association with James Stubblefield by upgrading the island mill.15 Over the next decade, Wernwag worked on several government projects, among them construction of a dam on the Potomac River and various buildings at the rifle and musket factories.16
In December 1826, Townsend Beckham, Fontaine Beckham, Lewis Wernwag, and H. M. (Hannah) Wager, the administrator for the estate of Edward Wager, who had died earlier that year, petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for the establishment of the town of "Virginius" on their island. Fontaine Beckham's father-in-law James Stephenson, his brothers-in-law James Stubblefield and George B. Stephenson, his brother Armistead Beckham, John S. Gallagher, Stubblefield's son-in-law Andrew Hunter, John G. Unseld, and Merriwether Thompson supported their petition. On January 8, 1827, the General Assembly passed an act incorporating Virginius "so soon as the [island] shall be laid off into lots, with convenient streets and alleys." Wernwag, Townsend and Fontaine Beckham, Gallagher, and Unseld were appointed the town's first trustees. Typical of such legislation, this act empowered these five men to lay off lots, streets, and alleys; to settle boundary disputes; and to make laws regarding regulation of the police and the building of houses so long as such laws were consistent with federal and state laws. Any vacancy in the office of trustee was to be filled by an open vote of the town's freeholders.17
In requesting incorporation, the petitioners stated they were subject to "the land tasc [sic] . . . , without being possessed of the right of suffrage." At the same time, they argued incorporation would stimulate "other works of undoubted public utility." The island owners may have been concerned by Wager family efforts to monopolize commercial activities beyond the operation of the armory. More important, they may have felt threatened by complaints about Stubblefield's handling of armory affairs, especially when these complaints led to the superintendent's temporary replacement in the fall of 1826. Robert Harper's land holdings, either transferred to the United States or inherited by the Wager family, completely surrounded the island and its ownership easily might have become clouded. Little more than a decade later, the government inquired as to its claim to the island and concluded pursuit of such a claim was inadvisable. Whatever the motivation, incorporation gave Virginius an independent identity and allowed economic development to continue unhampered by government or Wager interests.18
When the petitioners sought incorporation in 1826, the island hosted an "extensive Saw-Mill, Merchant Mill, Oil Mill, Tnnery, and about twelve dwelling houses."19 The merchant mill, a sixty-by-forty-foot stone building, stood near the middle of the island on Fontaine Beckham's parcel. Newspaper advertisements from the 1830s indicate the mill was capable of producing 150 to 200 barrels of flour per day from the wheat, rye, and corn grown in the agricultural hinterland. In soliciting grain from area farmers, Beckham guaranteed flour milled at his establishment would pass inspection in Baltimore and the District of Columbia. He stressed the nearness of the Shenandoah Canal locks and offered to handle the shipment and marketing of flour.20 Townsend Beckham's parcel at the western end of the island held the tannery and oil mill. The tanyard contained shops, bark houses, and thirty-one vats. The only tannery at Harpers Ferry or "for many miles around," it reportedly faced little competition for the one thousand or more hides available annually in the vicinity. Beckham's enterprise also benefitted from its nearness to the United States armory, an important customer according to one newspaper notice.21 The sawmill stood on Lewis Wernwag's parcel at the opposite end of Virginius Island. A mid-1840 description indicates it was a double Crosbey patent sawmill with two carriages and two circular saws of twenty-four-inch diameter. With the public sawmill no longer in operation, Wernwag's facility was conveniently located to serve the growing communities of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry as well as the armory. Edward Wager's property, located between the parcels belonging to Wernwag and Fontaine Beckham, was the smallest of the four parcels sold by James Stubblefield in 1824. Situated on the mainland side of the island, it lacked direct access to the waterpower of the Shenandoah River and held no industrial facilities.22
While the rapid development of industry on the island in the 1820s was a product of river improvements and the growth of Harpers Ferry, it clearly also was an outgrowth of the familial and business relationships the island owners had with James Stubblefield. Throughout the early 1820s, various individuals complained to Stubblefield's superiors in the Ordnance Department about the superintendent's handling of armory affairs and the benefits accruing to a small coterie of his associates. Finally, a court of inquiry convened in 1827 to investigate his conduct. Most of the charges dealt with Stubblefield's oversight of armory operations, but several concerned the superintendent's ties to Virginius Island. One charge stated Stubblefield was absent frequently from the armory while attending to business on the island. Another charge stated Stubblefield had a wall and embankment erected near the government rifle factory just above Virginius Island in 1825, although it was of no use to the public. This work was done solely because Stubblefield "previously placed a dam in the vicinity to turn the water upon his Island, for the private benefit of himself or others." Allegedly, Stubblefield engaged armory workers to do private work on island mills while continuing to list them on the government payroll. Island mills reportedly were erected or repaired with public material, and poles were cut on public property for the use of Stubblefield or his brother-in-law Fontaine Beckham.23
A number of allegations involved Lewis Wernwag. According to the charges, Stubblefield allowed Wernwag to damage the public canal and use government boats for private work. Castings made for himself or Wernwag were included in armory accounts and paid for with public funds. Wernwag received iron, files, and other material from public stores, and public equipment was used to rework scrap ron for him. It was alleged that Stubblefield had a small house built on the canal bank at public expense so that Wernwag could raise logs from the canal. Furthermore, Stubblefield bought lumber from Wernwag "at extravagant prices, in order, it is alleged to enable said Wernwag to pay for property which he had purchased of said Stubblefield."24 A former armory employee reiterated the latter charge, stating, "the Public Sawmill was dispensed with & all articles previously sawed there, bought of Wernwag -- by which he was enabled to pay Mr. Stubblefield for his Island."25
After eight days of testimony, most of the charges against Stubblefield were not sustained. The court of inquiry found that castings made for the superintendent or Wernwag had been charged to public accounts and that Wernwag had been allowed to remove scrap or bar iron from the armory forge. The court further found one government worker had been carried on the public payroll for six days while he worked at the flour mill. In general, however, the court found Stubblefield had "discharged his duties with fidelity & integrity for twenty years" and concluded any small matters of neglect could be attributed to the "state of things at the time."26
Inspector General John Wool, who presided over the court of inquiry, suggested the allegations had come from "malicious sources," but not everyone was convinced Stubblefield's conduct had been investigated fully.27 Accusations persisted, and a second court of inquiry convened in 1829. Once again, several allegations involved island owners. According to one account, Lewis Wernwag bragged of his lucrative association with the superintendent, claiming he had an "understanding" with Stubblefield whereby he could secure government contracts. When the government called for proposals, several members of Wernwag's family submitted proposals at different prices. As a result, Wernwag was assured of having one proposal accepted. At the second investigation, the board ascertained the superintendent had made contracts with several individuals, including Lewis Wernwag, without advertising for public proposals. The board further proved woodchoppers working on government land for the armory had peeled bark from trees and sold it to tanners. Specifically mentioned was Townsend Beckham, who had purchased a "very considerable quantity" of bark. The board concluded trees "were cut down for no other purpose than to procure the bark." Following this second investigation, Stubblefield resigned as superintendent of the Harpers Ferry armory.28
James Stubblefield's departure altered the relationship island owners, most noticeably Lewis Wernwag, had with the armory. When Wernwag filed claims for work he had done for the government, he found Stubblefield's successors unsympathetic. In 1831, Superintendent George Rust, Jr., complained to Colonel George Bomford, his superior in the Ordnance Department, about the quality of Wernwag's work on the Potomac River dam. The dam Wernwag built was not "tight and permanent" as the contract required, and Rust had been forced to have gravel fill put in by government workers. Rust also reported on a dispute with Wernwag's partner Joseph Shannon over the workmanship of framing for the armory forebay shop. Rust further informed Bomford he was unable to find any contract for work Wernwag claimed to have done on the Free Church at Harpers Ferry during Stubblefield's tenure. In 1837, then Superintendent Edward Lucas, Jr., wrote Bomford to request the government put an end to trespassing on public land and prohibit the removal of wood, sand, earth, or stone without the recommendation of the superintendent or other officer. He informed Bomford that Wernwag was in the habit of taking stone without paying for it, a practice he believed had been allowed by the "former superintendent," presumably meaning Stubblefield. Lucas had stopped Wernwag from quarrying stone but believed Wernwag would seek permission from the Ordnance Department to do so "as heretofore for his own benefit -- and to the no small disadvantage of the Gov't."29
Despite this setback, Wernwag remaine a fixture on Virginius Island into the 1840s. In 1830, Lewis Wernwag purchased two acres along the river from Fontaine Beckham. Five years later, the acquisition of some rocks around the island and part of the Shenandoah River allowed the family to upgrade the waterpower available to the sawmill site. A large machine shop was erected near the sawmill and two small blacksmith shops. In these shops, the Wernwags and their associates offered turnings in wood, brass, iron, and steel, as well as turning lathes, screw plates, taps and dies, and bench and mill screws.30 This expansion enabled the Wernwag family to maintain a business relationship with the armory on a mutually beneficial basis. The armory lacked the facilities to make some needed items and John Wernwag, Lewis's son, was a machinist whose name was "a sufficient guarantee for the manner in which the work shall be done."31 The property also served as a base from which Lewis Wernwag ventured for projects such as construction of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad bridge over the Monocacy River in 1831 and the wooden superstructure of the railroad bridge over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry in 1836. It was in the island shop in 1835 that railroad bridge designer Benjamin Latrobe worked with this "most uncommon man," as he described Wernwag, on the design for the Harpers Ferry bridge.32
Unfortunately, Lewis Wernwag overextended himself financially. In 1832, he sold an undivided two-thirds interest in his island property to Joseph Smith and James Hook, who took over management of the sawmill. A year later, Wernwag conveyed the remainder of his island property to his son John. Shortly thereafter, Lewis Wernwag placed a lot near the island and a long list of personal property in trust to secure a debt in excess of twenty-six hundred dollars owed three men. In that same document, Wernwag reserved one thousand dollars worth of property, including the slave Matilda, as the separate estate of his wife Elizabeth, who apparently agreed to the sale of the island property only after Lewis promised to secure the value of her dower interest.33
Although John Wernwag, Joseph Smith, and James Hook now owned the Wernwag island parcel, Lewis Wernwag's debts still encumbered it. For example, in 1832, Lewis Wernwag secured a debt of almost four thousand dollars to a Harpers Ferry businessman by signing a deed of trust on a portion of the property. The trustee of that instrument advertised periodically between 1834 and 1837 to sell part of the property.34 While none of these public sales occurred, several other conveyances ensued. By the early 1840s, John Wernwag and Lewis Wernwag's son-in-law Jesse Schofield owned the entire sawmill property.35
The tannery and oil mill property on the opposite end of the island underwent even more significant change during these years. Owner Townsend Beckham died in May 1832, leaving the property "in the occupancy, and under the management of a widow [Eliza Beckham] and young children." For several years thereafter, Beckham's administrator tried to sell the property. The estate may have continued the tannery operation either directly or under a lease arrangement, but the oil mill fell into disuse.36 Finally, Hugh Gilleece came to Virginius from Winchester, Virginia, in 1835, leased the old oil mill, and established an iron foundry. Three years later, he bought the Beckham parcel, and failing to rent out the tannery, he apparently dismantled it. In 1840, he completed construction of a chopping mill and advertised to chop rye and corn and grind lime into plaster.37 Like John Wernwag, Gilleece regularly worked for the armory. He also advertised the availability of mill gearings, branding irons, wagon boxes, andirons, threshing machines, corn shellers, plows with McCormick or Loudoun moldboards, iron railings, grates, and cook stoves. As these advertisements suggest, area farmers, for whom crop production increasingly relied on improved implements and mechanization, were important customers.38
By the time Townsend Beckham died in 1832, his brother Fontaine had left Virginius. Beckham may have moved to Charles Town, where he opened a hotel abut 1831, before joining his mother-in-law Ann Stephenson in the hotel business in Harpers Ferry about 1834. Subsequently, Beckham worked as an agent for the B&O and entered the apothecary business with his brother-in-law George Stephenson. Beckham began renting out the flour mill in Virginius by August 1832, and over the next six years, at least four different occupants rented the mill. In 1838, Beckham defaulted on a mortgage he had taken on the property in 1824, and the mill was sold at public auction to lessees Rowland, Hefflebower and Company.39 Fire destroyed the mill less than a year later, but the owners had a new stone building erected in 1840. After an intervening conveyance in 1840, Benjamin Ford and Daniel Snyder bought the mill property in 1841.40
Ford and Snyder had been engaged in flour milling in Jefferson County for at least a decade and owned two other mills. However, within a year of purchasing the Island Mill, as it was known, they became "apprehensive of embarrassment and difficulties in the further prosecution of their business as millers and partners." They turned their mills over to two trustees, who were to manage them for six months and settle the firm's debts. In August 1842, Ford and Snyder authorized a third trustee to rent out all three mills between July 1843 and July 1844. In March 1844, however, the mill property was sold. Ironically, while Ford and Snyder were plagued by financial difficulties, they did not lose title because of their own debts but due to a mortgage placed on the property by a previous owner.41
Edward Wager's heirs had sold their island property in 1833. When Wager died in 1826, he left considerable debts. Six years later, his widow Hannah sought permission from the court to sell the island property and invest the proceeds in property in Culpeper County, Virginia, where she now lived, for the support and education of her four children. To settle her husband's debts, Hannah already had sold much of his personal estate and nearly had been forced to sell "the few servants" belonging to the estate. She informed the court she had been compelled "to throw herself" and her children upon her father James Beckham for support.42
In 1835, Wager's island property was bought by the Winchester and Potomac (W&P) Railroad Company. The railroad company, then constructing a line from Winchester to Harpers Ferry, located its tracks across the various islands in the lower Shenandoah River due to the narrowness of the mainland between the shoreline and the cliffs. The W&P was granted a right-of-way for its track, but because the government and the Wager family had built extensively on their holdings, the company was unable to build a depot near the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. The company built its depot on Virginius Island, where it stood until the late 1840s, when the company finally built a depot in Harpers Ferry.43
The W&P was just one of several transportation improvements made in the area in the 1830s. At the start of the decade, the Harpers Ferry, Charles Town and Smithfield Turnpike Company was organized. In 1831, the completed toll road passed by Virginius Island, providing easier shipment of grain to the island mill. Another toll road, the Frederick and Harpers Ferry Turnpike, reached the Maryland side of the bridge across the Potomac River in 1832. In 1833, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, begun in 1828, opened between the District of Columbia and Harpers Ferry. Begun the same year, the B&O crossed the Potomac River in 1836. By the late 1830s, goods readily could be transported by road to and from several nearby towns, by canal to the District of Columbia, and by rail from Winchester, Virginia, to Baltimore, Maryland.44
Expanding transportation facilities and the establishment of a machine shop and iron foundry suited to the needs of nearby farmers and Harpers Ferry's armory-based economy seemed to bode well for the continued growth of Virginius. Internal improvements clearly benefitted the flour mill by making the transport of milled grain to Baltimore or the District of Columbia easier. At the same time, however, some local industries probably encountered greatr competition from more cost-effective manufactories in larger communities. While the armory frequently engaged Hugh Gilleece and John Wernwag, castings and machinery easily could be shipped to Harpers Ferry from Baltimore and New England as well. The market for farm implements continued to shrink after mid-century as large factories increasingly assumed production for plows, reapers, and other equipment previously made at local smithies, machine shops, and foundries.45
Between the 1830 and 1840 censuses, the island population grew from 89 to 113. While Virginius's population grew at the same rate as that of Harpers Ferry, which was roughly fifteen times larger at the time of both censuses, the island community declined from one-third the size of Bolivar, its other neighbor, to slightly more than one-fifth. Moreover, while the number of households nearly doubled in Bolivar and grew by 25 percent in Harpers Ferry, no increase occurred in Virginius. In 1830, the town contained sixteen households, but a decade later it held only fifteen. An examination of the age and sex of household members suggests all the households in 1830 were family units, composed of related individuals and possibly one or two boarders or a few slaves. Only thirteen households fit this pattern in 1840. The other two dwellings, one or both standing on W&P property, apparently had been converted into boarding houses; forty-one people, most adult males, were enumerated in these two houses on the 1840 census. As the census records neither their names nor their occupations, no conclusion about who these men were is possible. They might have been locals working at one of the businesses on the island or in Harpers Ferry, but they also might have been temporary employees engaged in rebuilding the flour mill destroyed by fire a year earlier or some other transient clientele seeking lodging near the railroad depot.46
About half the heads-of-household on the 1830 and 1840 censuses can be linked to one of the island businesses, while the remainder were connected to Harpers Ferry or had undetermined associations. In 1830, island owners Townsend and Fontaine Beckham and Lewis Wernwag headed households in Virginius. So did miller Thomas Stephens, cooper Sidney Pilcher, stone mason Joseph Shoemaker, and Lewis Wernwag's sons-in-law Jesse Schofield and Joseph Shannon. Shannon was a partner of Wernwag; Schofield probably was as well. A decade later, Wernwag and Schofield still lived on the island. Foundry owner Hugh Gilleece lived there too. Nancy Evans ran a boarding house on the W&P parcel; George Mauzy was Schofield's partner in the sawmill business; and Hugh Maddox and Carter Williamson managed a store at the railroad depot. Williamson also had a short-lived interest in the flour mill property then owned by Rowland, Hefflebower and Company.47 Nothing is known about many heads-of-household, who lived in Virginius only long enough to be enumerated by the census taker before departing the county, but some residents had economic ties outside Virginius. For example, in the 1830s, John Fitzsimmons operated a staple and fancy goods business and an inn in Harpers Ferry, and Joseph Hays had his apothecary shop there. Both men lived in Virginius at some point during the 1830s. William Stephens, a prominent Harpers Ferry merchant tailor, lived on the island for over a decade.48
Clearly, while legally independent of Harpers Ferry, the island community was inexorably tied to its larger neighbor. Only one, probably short-lived, store has been documented in Virginius, and island residents relied on shops in Harpers Ferry for goods and services. Not only did men like Fitzsimmons, Hays, and Stephens have their businesses in Harprs Ferry, they participated in that town's civic, political, and financial organizations. Virginius businessmen Jesse Schofield, Hugh Gilleece, and George Mauzy had similar associations. Moreover, newspaper accounts from the 1830s and 1840s usually blurred the lines between Virginius and its larger neighbor. These accounts refer to islanders variously as residents of Virginius or Harpers Ferry, and they show a similar lack of distinction in references to island industries. After the mid-1840s, Harpers Ferry absorbed Virginius. The island legally became part of Harpers Ferry when it was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly in 1851. By then, the land owners who had petitioned for town status in 1826 either had died or sold their interests, and the island's industrial potential was being fully exploited.49
In 1834, an editorial in the Virginia Free Press, a Charles Town newspaper, reported the failure of capitalists to take advantage of the manufacturing opportunities available on Virginius Island. Noting the abundant waterpower, transportation facilities, and idleness of children of armory workers, the writer urged consideration of the island for cotton and woolen factories. Not for a decade, however, were any steps taken toward establishing such an enterprise. Changes in the supply of raw materials and demand for finished products certainly affected the island flour mill, sawmill, iron foundry, and other establishments, but these enterprises in general were smaller businesses developed specifically to meet local needs. Because cotton manufacturing required greater investment of capital for machinery and involved use of material grown in a distant locale to prepare goods largely destined for larger, regional markets in Baltimore or the District of Columbia, forces beyond the possible attractiveness of the island for textile production were important. The decade following the 1834 editorial was one of economic crisis and depression during which some mills in other communities failed, hardly a propitious time to launch such a speculative venture on Virginius Island.50
In May 1844, less than a year after Lewis Wernwag's death the previous August, John Wernwag and Jesse Schofield signed an agreement with James Giddings, a prosperous Frederick County, Maryland, farmer, giving Giddings authority to sell the family's island property for a minimum of thirty thousand dollars. Giddings had prepared a promotional brochure describing this "most important and valuable Island in the Shenandoah River," noting the availability of "several hundred females and youths now out of employment" and listing the improvements on Wernwag's portion. He also travelled to Lowell, Boston, and other New England communities in an effort to interest northern capitalists, but his efforts failed.51 Giddings then decided to form a corporation to buy the land. With the approval of Schofield and Wernwag, Giddings sought incorporation of the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company at Virginius. On January 16, 1846, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation incorporating the company to manufacture "cotton and wool, or either of them, and also of iron, steel, leather, timber and lumber." The act of incorporation placed the company under the superintendence of stockholders Giddings, Schofield, Wernwag, and four other men.52 Over the next year and a half, the company purchased, with the exception of Jesse Schofield's house, the property Lewis Wernwag bought in 1824, the 1830 and 1835 additions, and the W&P depot tract.53
In July 1846, company president James Giddings solicited bids for construction of a four-story cottn factory, 104 feet-by-48 feet, and by March 1848, the manufacture of sheeting and shirting was underway. Pickers, carding engines, eighteen spinning frames with 132 spindles each, 97 looms, and other machinery built by Charles Danforth of New Jersey filled the factory's carding, spinning, dressing, and weaving departments. By then, the company was planning to erect a second factory. At sixty-by-forty-nine feet, this four-story brick building was smaller than the first factory. Lessees Ira Stanbraugh and Cornelius Johnson opened the Valley Mills in this building by August 1849 to manufacture cotton yarn, warp, batting, and candlewick. According to the 1850 manufacturing schedule, Stanbraugh and his partner invested $10,000 in their business, and the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company reported a $130,000 investment in its mill and property. The former produced cotton goods valued at $22,000, while the latter converted 475 bales of cotton into 4/4 sheeting worth $32,000. The larger cotton factory employed thirty-five males and thirty-five females, and six males and eight females worked for the Valley Mills.54
With the establishment of these two factories, the population of Virginius Island exploded in the late 1840s. Not all the factory employees lived on the island, but by 1850 the island population had risen to about 180, a 60 percent increase over the 1840 population.55 In part these new arrivals were foreign born. The census indicates nearly one-fourth of the island's population at mid-century were born outside the United States in contrast to less than 10 percent of the inhabitants of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. These immigrants came primarily from England but also included a few natives of Germany, Ireland, and Scotland. The Valley Mills reportedly recruited some of its fourteen employees from mills in Manchester, England. Eight of the fourteen immigrant males for whom occupations are listed worked at one of the two cotton factories as a "manufacturer" or weaver. The remaining six were a watchmaker, a merchant, two armory workers, and two laborers.56
Other occupations represented by male islanders were blacksmith, carpenter, cooper, clerk, farmer, machinist, miller, millwright, physician, shoemaker, saddler, and bricklayer. The nine bricklayers, all living in a boarding house, may have come to the island to erect the new worker housing under construction that year. Many of the others were among those employed at the various island industries. In 1850, five men worked at the flour mill, which produced 300 tons of plaster and ground 90,000 bushels of wheat into 20,000 barrels of flour. A cooper shop employing three men supplied barrels for the mill. At Gilleece's iron foundry, eight employees made $12,000 in castings. The annual product of the two-man blacksmith shop was $700. The machine shop, located on the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company property, probably supported the cotton mill operation, while the sawmill, also located on that parcel, was rented to island resident A. S. Ruddock. Jesse Schofield and his partner Daniel Chambers ran a carpenter shop in one of the houses along the island's main road and employed thirteen men to make goods worth $7,000.57
The census does not document the occupations for women and children, the very people whose availability for labor in manufactories had been emphasized since the early 1830s, but the manufacturing schedule indicates forty-three female employees worked at the two cotton mills in 1850. Elsewhere, typical female factory workers were young and single. They usually lived in boarding houses, with a widowed mother, or in a household in which the father was a laborer or worked in the mill. A few single females of at least age ten appear in the two boarding houses on Virginius Island, and daughters in several households might have been cotton mill workers. The manufacturing schedule indicates these workers were paid total average monthly wages of $247, considerably less than the $647 paid the forty-one male employees. Calculated per person, these figures represent $16 a month per male and $4.57 per female at the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company and $14.50 and $10.87 repectively at the Valley Mills. Female employees at the larger island mill were paid an average 71 percent less than males, and those at the Valley Mills received 25 percent less.58 Compiled statistics for cotton mills in the United States indicate women typically earned 40 to 45 percent less than men. Unfortunately, island factory records, which could confirm and explain the wage levels reported on the manufacturing schedule, are not available, making any interpretation of the reported figures inadvisable.59
The two cotton mills were established at a time when the number of factories in the United States was growing faster than either the cotton supply or the market for goods. As a result, the cost of raw cotton rose sharply, while the price of the yarn or cloth product held steady or declined.60 With its two new cotton factories and additional worker housing, Virginius Island seemed a bustling community in 1850, successfully entering a new phase of development. Yet the financial stresses affecting cotton manufacturers nationally soon surfaced on the island.
In operation less than a year, the Valley Mills was encumbered by debts in excess of $8,000, of which $6,000 was owed on the factory machinery. Stanbraugh and John R. Holliday replaced the partnership of Stanbraugh and Johnson early in 1850 and, in turn, was replaced by Stanbraugh, Holliday, and Mark Duke in 1852. Each partnership effectively transferred the debts of the old concern to the new one. As being in debt was commonplace, this situation would have been unimportant had the cotton mill not burned to the ground in November 1852, leaving the firm unable to meet its obligations. Ira Stanbraugh and John Holliday appeared before the county court a month later and acknowledged an 1851 deed of trust for $6,000 owed James Giddings and an 1852 deed of trust for $2,430 owed Holliday's mother-in-law Roxy Goodspeed. Charging this acknowledgement was some underhanded scheme designed to help Giddings and Goodspeed lay first claim to the proceeds from the sale of the firm's assets, the co-signer of a note for cotton purchased in Baltimore filed suit. This case remained in contention until 1859, when the court ruled Giddings and Goodspeed were entitled to the $2,727.04 realized in the sale of warps, cotton waste, batting, and seventeen tons of iron, the remains of the machinery destroyed when the mill burned.61
The Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company failed as well. Shortly after John Wernwag and Jesse Schofield sold their island property to the company, one of Wernwag's creditors demanded payment of the six thousand dollar mortgage he held on the property. Confronted with the possible sale of the factory property, the company agreed to assume this debt in November 1848. In return, Wernwag agreed that amount should be deducted from his share of the sale price of the property, three-fourths of which had been paid in company stock. Over the next four years, the debts of the company multiplied to reach over fifty thousand dollars owed to nearly thirty individuals and firms in August 1852. Faced with the deteriorating financial condition of the company, the stockholders had voted the previous March to sell the property. The company advertised the public sale of its island property, together with the two factory buildings, the machine shop, the sawmill, fourteen houses, the contents of the larger factory, and other improvements. This sale did not transpire in May 1852 as scheduled, and fire destroyed the smaller factory occupied by the Valley Mills later that year. By then, one creditor had filed suit in quest of a court-ordered sale of the property. This creditor charged the debts of the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company were "fully equal" to the value of the property and that "for a long time past, its works . . . [have] been idle and unproductive."62 The court attempted to sell the company's Virginius Island property between January 1853 and July 1854. Finally, on July 25, 1854, Abraham Herr purchased the real and personal property of the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company for twenty-five thousand dollars, less than half the sum of the company's debts.63
Abraham Herr, a native Pennsylvanian, had been a fixture on Virginius Island for a decade. In 1844, Herr and his brother John bought the island flour mill, and four years later, Abraham became sole owner. The 1850 manufacturing census indicates Herr had ninety thousand dollars invested in his mill, which produced flour and plaster worth one hundred thousand dollars.64 With nearby Loudoun County ranked second and Jefferson County third in the state cultivation of wheat, Herr no doubt recognized the likely benefits of supporting internal improvements to the trans-Shenandoah River region. Herr helped organize the Hillsborough and Harpers Ferry Turnpike Company in 1851 and raised capital stock for the Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad in 1853. At the end of the decade, he was president of the Shenandoah Bridge Company.65
Herr's activities extended beyond his mill interests. He served several terms on the Harpers Ferry town council and was an overseer of the poor in Jefferson County. In the latter capacity, Herr may have moved several poor families to the island; the names of several women receiving assistance in the 1850s correspond to the names of women heading island households in 1850 or 1860.66 Before the Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Company failed, Herr was a stockholder, director, and secretary. He also was the company's largest creditor, having loaned it ten thousand dollars in 1849. Herr loaned foundry owner Hugh Gilleece money as well. After Gilleece leased out the foundry in 1854 and purchased a furnace in the Winchester area, he sold Herr his island property in 1855. That same year, Jesse Schofield, the only other island owner, sold his house to Herr and moved west. Herr thus became the sole owner of Virginius Island, or Herr's Island, as it frequently was called thereafter.67
In the late 1850s, Abraham Herr formed partnerships or lease arrangements to operate the various island industries. He joined James Welch in a larger flour milling enterprise. In 1860, this mill reportedly ground 145,000 bushels of wheat into 32,000 barrels of flour worth $233,400, nearly eighteen times the annual production of the average Jefferson County mill and about thirteen times that of the average mill in the United States. That year, Herr and partner Francis Snapp operated the iron foundry, possibly in a new building located north of Gilleece's foundry. Smaller than the old enterprise, Herr and Snapp's foundry manufactured only $7,000 worth of castings and employed half as many hands. Brothers John and George Rohr opened a blacksmith and wagon making shop on Virginius Island in 1857 to manufacture and repair wagons, carriages, rockaways, buggies, and farm implements. In 1860, recent island arrival Frederick Bremmerman employed fourteen men in his cooperage and supplied 30,000 barrels to the flour mill. The Rohr and Bremmerman businesses probably operated under lease arrangements, as may have the sawmill and machine shop. Meanwhile, Herr revived the cotton factory and produced brown cottons in 1856 and 1857. This revival was short-lived, however, as the mill closed permanently in 1857 or shortly thereafter, probably a victim of the Panic of 1857.68
On the eve of the Civil War, the prospects for Virginius Island were mixed. The failure of the two cotton mills had a negative impact on employment opportunities, particularly for women and children, and may have been responsible for the high population turnover the island experienced between 1850 and 1860. That decade, 85 percent of island residents died or departed the area, and another 10 percent moved from the island to Bolivar or another part of Harpers Ferry. The island population still hovered around 180 in 1860, since newcomers filled the houses vacated by textile workers and other former residents, but the kind of people living on the island had changed. The island population numericall held steady only because the number of children under age ten increased 50 percent. The number of residents aged ten and older, for whom employment opportunities were important, actually declined about 14 percent.69 The number of males with listed occupations similarly declined. Over one-third of these men were connected to the flour mill and cooperage, and roughly another one-third probably worked at other island businesses.70 Construction of a new building for a blacksmith and wagon-making shop late in the decade suggests Herr was adapting his island for less ambitious enterprises designed to meet local needs. Along these lines, Herr sold the machinery from the cotton mill and made plans to convert the building into a second flour mill.71
Herr never had a chance to implement this plan. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 thrust Harpers Ferry into the midst of a four-year conflict during which the town changed hands several times, the federal musket and rifle factories were destroyed, and many civilians fled to less war-torn locales. The impact on Virginius Island was devastating. First, Union soldiers disabled Herr's flour mill to prevent its use by the enemy. Then, in October 1861, after Herr, a Union sympathizer, offered his unground wheat to federal troops, Confederate soldiers torched the mill. Abraham Herr and his family moved to Baltimore and later Georgetown, where he established a flour mill in association with his old island partner James Welch.72 Other island residents left as well, and for much of the war, the island was used by Union forces "as barracks and stables, workshops, corrals; for hospital, storage, and other purposes."73
Although use of the island would resume following the war, Virginius Island never again achieved the success of the antebellum years. In 1867, Herr sold the island to two men who converted the old cotton factory into a large flour mill and repaired many of the nearly thirty dwellings. The sawmill and machine shop also resumed operations, but other pre-war establishments apparently lay idle, reflecting the severe economic slump experienced in Harpers Ferry.74 With the musket and rifle factories in ruins and military interests shifting to the west, the United States government decided not to reestablish a federal armory at Harpers Ferry and held a public sale in 1869 to divest itself of the public property there. Unfortunately, the sale was a disaster. Believing speculators, who misled them with promises of new manufactories on the armory grounds, local citizens placed outrageously high bids on government property. What followed was a fifteen-year saga of legal battles and government efforts to resell the property.75 During these years, no new industries were established to replace the armory, which had provided employment for about half the work force of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar and indirectly supported a host of other businesses, including several on Virginius Island. Adding to the economic stagnation was the 1870 flood, one of the most destructive floods ever to hit Harpers Ferry. Although damaged, the flour mill did not succumb to the raging waters of the Shenandoah River, but twelve other island buildings were destroyed, among them the foundry, sawmill, carriage shop, and machine shop.76
Repairs were made to remaining buildings and the mill operation resumed, but local and national forces eventually undermined the last island industry. Like its predecessor, the postwar mill exceeded the output of the average mill in the United States. Nevertheless, by the early 1880s, it reportedly ran on outmoded equipment and produced flour that would bring one or two dollars less a barrel than flour made in the new roller mills. The old mills were being "crowded out of the market entirely."77 The owners upgraded their mill in hopes of avoiding that fate, but diversion of necessary waterpower by the construction of a pulp mill adjacent to the upriver end of Virginius Island undermined their eforts. At the same time, mill villages like Virginius Island were in decline nationally, as the country made the transition from waterpower to steam. While the paper and wood pulp industry continued to rely on the traditional waterpower, flour and grist mills increasingly switched to steam or joined the growing number of abandoned mills.78 Unable to overcome these challenges, the island flour mill closed permanently in 1889. Four years later, the pulp mill company bought the island, and Virginius Island was used primarily for worker housing thereafter. Generally neglected by the company and subjected to repeated flooding, island houses and other improvements gradually deteriorated. In time, nature largely reclaimed the island and obscured the ruins of a small, but once vibrant industrial community.79
1. Manufacturing Census Records, 1880, Jefferson County, Products of Industry, Special Schedules 7 and 8, hereafter referred to as 1880 Manufacturing Census; [Maureen Joseph and Perry Carpenter Wheelock], section on vegetation in "Cultural Landscape Report: Virginius Island, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park" (working draft, July 1992), Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, hereafter referred to as HFNHP. For a detailed discussion of waterpower in the nineteenth century, see Louis C. Hunter, A History of Industrial Power in the United States, Vol. I: Waterpower in the Century of the Steam Engine (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1979). A discussion of the development of waterpower on Virginius Island and the application of Hunter's industrial village model to the island community can be found in Jack Bergstresser, "Waterpower on Virginius Island" (National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record, 1988), HFNHP.
2. Land Grant, Commonwealth of Virginia to Daniel McPherson, 25 June 1803, Jefferson County Land Grant Book 1, 479, West Virginia State Auditor's Land Office, Charleston.
3. [Joseph and Wheelock], "1750-1820 Settlement," 1, in "Cultural Landscape Report"; Joseph Barry, The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry (1903; reprint, Shepherdstown: Shepherdstown Register, Inc., 1968), 12-14.
4. [Joseph and Wheelock], "1750-1820 Settlement," 2-4, in "Cultural Landscape Report."
5. Mrs. Corra Bacon-Foster, "Early Chapters in the Development of the Potomac Route to the West," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 15(1912): 123, 176, 179, 185-86, 194-201, 206, 209-12, 259-66; Dave Gilbert, Where Industry Failed: Water-Powered Mills at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1984), 36-38; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1750-1820 Settlement," 3-4, in "Cultural Landscape Report"; Jefferson County Deed Book 13, 259.
6. Merritt Roe Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977), 52, 197; Census of the Population, Fourth Census of the United States, 1820 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M33), Jefferson County, 83-85.
7. Jefferson County Deed Book 10, 142; Farmers Repository, 28 January 1818.
8. Testimony of John H. King, 11 July 1887, Harpers Ferry Mill Co. v. Thomas H. Savery, et al., Savery Papers, HFD-144, Box 3, Folder 1-A, HFNHP.
9. Jefferson County Deed Book 13, 28, 259, 328, 330, 334; 14, 41.
10. Quoted in Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 179, also 71-73, 141-42.
11. Decius Wadsworth to Hon. J. C. Calhoun, 15 April 1820, HFNHP Reel 19, 12: 1204-05; Wadsworth to James Stubblefield, 19 September 1818, HFNHP Reel 14, 2: 163; Stubblefield to Wadsworth, 8 April 1820, HFNHP Reel 21, 4: 345-50.
12. Stubblefield to Wadsworth, 8 April 1820, HFNHP Reel 21, 4: 345-50. Merritt Roe Smith described the Stubblefield/Wager relationship as a Junto, a "powerful family oligarchy" including the Beckhams and Stephensons, which "literally dominated every aspect of life at Harpers Ferry." Harpers Ferry Armory, 148. The controversy over the monopoly question indicates Stubblefield and the Wagers were not always on the same side. Sith may have concluded a single family controlled everything in Harpers Ferry because he mistakenly thought Edward Wager, a Stubblefield associate, was Catherine Wager's son. Ibid., 147. The family domination mentioned by contemporary critics likely referred to control of the armory by Stubblefield and his extended family and did not include Wager control of private property. See, for example, John H. Hall to Hon. John C. Calhoun, 25 March 1824, HFNHP Reel 21, 7: 718.
13. List of Officers of the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry, HFNHP Reel 21, 7: 685; Hall to Calhoun, 25 March 1824; Virginia Free Press, 15 January 1835; Jefferson County Will Book 7, 470. Edward Wager was the son of John Wager by his second wife Mersey. The land inherited by the Wager family came through John's first wife Sarah Harper Wager, a niece of Robert Harper, and descended only to the children of the first marriage.
14. James Madison Beckham, Genealogy of the Beckham Family in Virginia and the Branches thereof in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia (Richmond: n.p., 1910), 78; Muster Roll of the Superintendent Armorers, March 1814, HFNHP Reel 13, 1: 40-42; Testimony of Fontaine Beckham, Court of Inquiry on James Stubblefield, convened 26 April 1827, HFNHP Reel 22, 2: 178; Virginia Free Press, 5 September 1833.
15. Beckham, Genealogy of the Beckham Family, 73; Muster Roll, March 1814; Testimony of Mr. Kephart, Court of Inquiry, HFNHP Reel 22, 2: 179; Lee H. Nelson, The Colossus of 1812: An American Engineering Superlative (n.p.: American Society of Civil Engineers, 1990), 57, 59; "Lewis Wernwag, the Bridge Builder," Engineering News and American Contract Journal 14(15 August 1885): 99.
16. Nelson, Colossus of 1812, 59; Charles W. Snell, "History of the Lower Hall Island and of Captain John H. Hall's Rifle Factory, 1751-1841," Physical History, Historic Structures Report (National Park Service, National Capital Team, Denver Service Center, April 1981), 1: 27-28, 47, 56, HFNHP; idem., "A Physical History of the U.S. Musket Factory Plant, 1794 to 1885, U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia," Vol. I: "Establishment, Construction, and Development of the U.S. Musket Factory, 1794 to 1841" (National Park Service, National Capital Team, Denver Service Center, July 1981), 86-90, 101, 116, HFNHP.
17. Petition for the Incorporation of the Town of Virginius, 11 December 1826, Jefferson County Legislative Petitions, B276, Library of Virginia, Richmond; Acts, General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1826-27 (Richmond: Thomas Ritchie, 1827), 109-10, hereafter referred to as Acts of Virginia; Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia (Richmond: Thomas Ritchie, 1819), 2: 319-20.
18. Petition for the Incorporation of the Town of Virginius; Charles W. Snell, "History of the Island of Virginius, 1751 to 1870" (Harpers Ferry National Monument, 4 December 1958), 1-6, HFNHP.
19. Petition for the Incorporation of the Town of Virginius. These enterprises were typical industries for rural communities and could be found in American towns from early colonial times. Moreover, some were important in the early Shenandoah Valley. According to Robert D. Mitchell, the manufacture of leather goods was the foremost small craft industry in the valley by 1800. Flax, the seeds of which were processed in oil mills to produce linseed oil, was one of the lesser commercial crops grown in the valley into the nineteenth century. The most important crop was wheat, which emerged as a commercial crop before the Revolutionary War. By 1800, the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley was one of the most important wheat producing regions in the South. See Commercialism and Frontier: Perspectives on the Early Shenandoah Valley (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1977), 172-75, 181-82, 206; Alan I. Marcus and Howard P. Segal, Technology in America: A Brief History (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), 9-12, 19-20.
20. Virginia Free Press, 28 July 1830, 18 August 1831, 16 August 183, 23 June 1836, and 25 October 1838.
21. Ibid., 7 November 1833 and 3 March 1836; Jefferson County Will Book 7, 281.
22. Virginia Free Press, 3 September 1846; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1820-1855 Industrial Settlement," 4, in "Cultural Landscape Report."
23. Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 156-76; Statement of the alleged official misconduct of James Stubblefield, HFNHP Reel 22, 3: 261-84.
24. Statement of the alleged official misconduct of James Stubblefield.
25. Quoted in Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 163.
26. Court of Inquiry, HFNHP Reel 22, 2: 184-89, 194-95.
27. Quoted in Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 174.
28. George Bomford to Stubblefield, 24 February 1829, HFNHP Reel 14, 6: 591-93; Report to Hon. John H. Eaton from John E. Wool, 26 May 1829, HFNHP Reel 22, 8: 729-31; Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 181.
29. Rust to Bomford, 3 December 1831, HFNHP Reel 22, 12: 1159-64; Lucas to Bomford, 31 July 1837, HFNHP Reel 12, 3: 283-85.
30. Virginia Free Press, 17 February 1830, 2 May 1833, 30 April 1835, 22 September 1842; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1820-1855 Industrial Development," 5, in "Cultural Landscape Report."; Jefferson County Deed Book, 16, 518 and 20, 531.
31. Virginia Free Press, 27 July 1843; Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 285.
32. Quoted in James D. Dilts, The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore and Ohio, the Nation's First Railroad, 1828-1853 (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1993), 206, also 207, 218.
33. Jefferson County Deed Book 17, 424 and 19, 75, 76. The document giving Elizabeth Wernwag control of certain property and the right to will it as she chose is significant, considering married women did not have such power under the law unless specifically established. In her study of Petersburg, Virginia, Suzanne Lebsock indicates use of the dower right to gain a separate estate was not common. See The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), 56-60, 65-67, 77-79.
34. Jefferson County Deed Book 18, 42; Virginia Free Press, 7 August, 16 October, and 27 November 1834, 5 March and 4 June 1835, 10 November 1836, and 29 June 1837.
35. Jefferson County Deed Book 20, 340 and 28, 172.
36. Virginia Free Press, 7 November 1833, also 24 May 1832.
37. Virginia Free Press, 9 April and 12 November 1835, 14 April 1836, 10 January 1839, 11 June 1840, and 11 February 1841; Jefferson County Deed Book 23, 376; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1820-1855 Industrial Development," 7, in "Cultural Landscape Report."
38. Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 285; Virginia Free Press, 12 November 1835, 14 April 1836, 29 December 1842, and 27 July, 10 August, and 12 October 1843. A brief discussion of the changes in agricultural tools during the early 1800s can be found in Brooke Hindle and Steven Lubar, Engines of Change: The American Industrial Revolution, 1790-1860 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986), 94-108 and Marcus and Segal, Technology in America, 115-23.
39. Virginia Free Press, 20 October 1831, 16 August 1832, 18 July 1833, 24 July 1834, 1 September and 15 November 1836, 31 August 1837, and 31 August 1843; Jefferson County Deed Book 24, 513.
40. Virginia Free Press, 14 February 1839; Gilbert, Where Industry Failed, 32; Jefferson County Deed Book 25, 152, 156.
41. Jefferson County Deed Book 25, 328; 26, 55; 28, 292.
42. Testimony of Hannah Wager, 7 March 1832, in Hannah Wager v. Elizabeth M. Wager et al., HFNHP Reel 11, 6: 569-72.
43. Jefferson County Deed Book 19, 97; 20, 338; 29, 112; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1820-1855 Industrial Development," 6, in "Cultural Landscape Report."
44. Gilbert, Where Industry Failed, 38-41.
45. Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory, 285-86; Diane Lindstrom, Economic Development in the Philadelphia Region, 1810-1850 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1978), 157-58, 178-80; John R. Stilgoe, Commo Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845 (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1982), 187; Marcus and Segal, Technology in America, 117-21.
46. Census of the Population, Fifth Census of the United States, 1830 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M19), Jefferson County; Census of the Population, Sixth Census of the United States, 1840 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M704), Jefferson County, hereafter referred to as 1840 Census. These numbers were compiled from the 1830 and 1840 censuses for Virginius, Harpers Ferry, and Bolivar. Blacks accounted for one-fifth the 1830 island population. All but one were slaves, and nearly all of them were listed in the Townsend and Fontaine Beckham and Lewis Wernwag households. Only five blacks lived on the island in 1840, three of whom reportedly were free.
47. Virginia Free Press, 18 August 1831, 16 February 1832, 25 September 1834, 21 March 1839, and 25 February 1858; Constitutionalist, 28 May 1840; Jefferson County Deed Book 19, 76; 26, 435; 29, 112; Memorandum of Agreement, Lysander D. Childs and Carter Williamson, 31 May 1838, in Carter Williamson v. L. D. Childs, Jefferson County Court Records, Reel 74, Envelope 3-1, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University, Morgantown, hereafter referred to as WVRHC.
48. Virginia Free Press, 19 January 1831, 5 April and 7 June 1832, 30 August 1838; 1840 Census, 249; Census of the Population, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432), Jefferson County, 404B, hereafter referred to as 1850 Census.
49. Virginia Free Press, 26 December 1839; Constitutionalist, 28 May 1840; Acts of Virginia, 1850-51, 176. Fitzsimmons, Hays, and Mauzy were directors of the Harpers Ferry Savings Institution, while Hays, Mauzy, Stephens, Schofield, and Gilleece were active in Harpers Ferry temperance societies. Stephens, Mauzy, Schofield, and Gilleece also were involved in local politics. See Virginia Free Press, 16 May 1833, 7 May 1835, 21 January 1836, 22 August 1839, 4 November and 11 November 1841, 31 August and 30 November 1843, and 4 March 1848.
50. Virginia Free Press, 7 October 1834. Bergstresser explains the significance of the introduction of cotton manufacturing as a shift of the island community from a crossroads to industrial village, a step up the industrial ladder. "Waterpower on Virginius Island," 5, 10-13.
51. Nelson, The Colossus of 1812, 60; Mary Fitzhugh Hitselberger and John Philip Dern, Bridge in Time: The Complete 1850 Census of Frederick County, Maryland (Redwood City, CA: Monocacy Book Co., 1978), 388, 477; "Plan and Report with a Descriptive View of the Island of Virginious [sic] at Harper's Ferry, Virginia," RG 153, Box 44, Folder 7 (Harpers Ferry), National Archives; Articles of Agreement, Jesse Schofield, John Wernwag, and James Giddings, 16 May 1844 and Deposition of James Giddings, 16 May 1855, in A. B. Davidson and Harris v. Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Co., HFNHP Reel 11, 3: 284-90 and 4: 372-75.
52. Acts of Virginia, 1845-46, 120-21; Deposition of James Giddings, HFNHP Reel 11, 3: 284-90.
53. Jefferson County Deed Book 32, 432, also 29, 439 and 30, 178.
54. Virginia Free Press, 16 July 1846, 11 March 1848, 2 August 1849, 8 April 1852; Manufacturing Census Records, 1850, Jefferson County, 28th District, 11-12, hereafter referred to as 1850 Manufacturing Census.
55. The 1850 census does not indicate which portion of the Harpers Ferry enumeration was Virginius Island, but former National Park historian Charles Snell identified it as part of his work on Harpers Ferry. The exact households Snell included is not clear, as his conclusion the island held 186 persons living in 31 houses does not correspond to any combination of households on the census pages he used. "History of the Island of Virginius," 99. For the present sudy, the island population is considered 182, including occupants of 28 houses and 5 slaves. 1850 Census, 403B-405B; 1850 Census, Slave Schedule, 999. Some individuals are included because the census listed them near known island residents. While not without potential for error, this method is the most feasible means of determining who lived on Virginius Island.
56. Virginia Free Press, 2 August 1849. The term "manufacturer" had more than one meaning. It referred to entrepreneurs who owned and operated mills, but, according to Cynthia Shelton, it also referred to machine operatives. On the other hand, Anthony F. C. Wallace indicates the mule spinner, the highest-skilled employee who was "treated as a subcontractor," was referred to as a "cotton manufacturer" in census returns as late as 1850. All these definitions may fit. For example, while Stanbraugh and Holliday, partners running the Valley Mills, are listed as manufacturers, so are two seventeen-year-old boys. See Shelton, The Mills of Manayunk: Industrialization and Social Conflict in the Philadelphia Region, 1787-1837 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986), 85, 107; Wallace, Rockdale: The Growth of an American Village in the Early Industrial Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), 177.
57. 1850 Manufacturing Census, Jefferson County, 28th District, 10-12; Virginia Free Press, 25 April 1850. The location of Schofield's shop is referenced in the deed from the W&P Railroad Company to Jesse Schofield, Jefferson County Deed Book 29, 112.
58. 1850 Manufacturing Census, Jefferson County, 28th District, 11-12; Lebsock, Free Women of Petersburg, 187. Anthony Wallace notes hamlets with both spinning and weaving components to cotton mills were likely to have a "middling" number of fatherless families rather than a few, as in weaving mills, or a lot, as in spinning mills. Rockdale, 41-42. With both weaving and spinning in the larger island mill, Virginius Island likely had a mix. Possible mill workers were Sydney and Charlotte Timberlin, probably sisters, and Agnes, Elizabeth, and Virginia Crawford, probably mother and daughters, all living in boarding houses. Elizabeth Doll, Mary Hughes, and Margaret Maddox headed households in which girls of working age lived. The families of Watts Watson, James Feltner (both English and with male members working at one of the mills), laborer Jacob Barnhart, and George Butler (also in a boarding house) also contained such females.
59. J. D. B. DeBow, Statistical View of the United States (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1854), 180. In his study of Rockdale, Wallace notes female wages ranged from $1 for a ten-year-old girl to $2.50 a week for an older, more experienced woman. Rockdale, 59-61. According to Shelton, a woman worker in Philadelphia in the late 1830s might make as much as $3 a week, while her counterpart at Lowell made as high as $3.48. Children typically made 75 cents, although some were paid no more than 50 cents. Mills of Manayunk, 71-72. A study using data from a few factories in Massachusetts reported a median wage of $2.76 in 1850. Edith Abbott, Women in Industry: A Study in American Economic History (1910; reprint, New York: Arno & The New York Times, 1969), 291. There are numerous reasons why females at the larger island cotton factory seemingly were paid unusually low wages, such as reduced work hours, employment of an unusually large number of very young, inexperienced workers, etc. Error in the figure noted on the manufacturing schedule must also be considered.
60. Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States (1929; reprint, New York: Peter Smith, 1949), 1: 552-53.
61. Jefferson County Deed Book 31, 4, 447; Depositions of John R. Holliday, 15 May and 4 October 1854, 14 August 1855, Deposition of James W. Campbell, 11 October 1856, Amount of Sale by J. W. Campbell, Statement of William R. Seevers, 20 December 1852, and Court Order, 2 June 1859, all in A. F. and W. R. Seevers v. James Giddings et al., Jefferson County Court Records, Reel 2, Envelope 13, WVRHC.
62. Agreement between James Giddings, Jesse Schofield, and John Werwag, 22 November 1848, Statement of the Company to 12 August 1852, Complaint of Alexander B. Davidson and Benjamin G. Harris, November 1852, all in A. B. Davidson and Harris v. The Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah Manufacturing Co., HFNHP Reel 11, 3: 275-78 and 4: 311-12, 360-62; Virginia Free Press, 8 April 1852.
63. Virginia Free Press, 2 December 1852 and 8 June 1854; Jefferson County Deed Book 38, 375.
64. Jefferson County Deed Book 28, 292; 29, 320; 1850 Manufacturing Census, 28th District, 10.
65. Bergstresser, "Waterpower on Virginius Island," 21; Spirit of Jefferson, 25 March 1851 and 5 April 1853; Abraham Herr, president of Shenandoah Bridge Company, to Henry Craig, 26 July 1860, HFNHP Reel 27, 8: 792.
66. Virginia Free Press, 29 March and 21 June 1849, 13 September 1850, 9 May 1851, 13 May and 19 August 1852, 14 July 1853, 3 August 1854, 31 July 1856, and 7 May and 9 July 1857; Spirit of Jefferson, 24 July 1855. Unfortunately, first names of most aid recipients from the overseers of the poor are not available. The Mrs. Maddox, Mrs. Forsythe, Mrs. Decker, Mrs. Claspy, and Mrs. Boswell who received aid for several years between 1848 and 1857 likely were the same women who lived on the island. With the exception of Claspy, the census for Harpers Ferry has a listing for only one woman with each of these last names. 1850 Census and Census of the Population, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M653), Jefferson County, hereafter referred to as 1860 Census.
67. Virginia Free Press, 9 May 1850, 21 August 1851, 28 September 1854, 4 and 25 October 1855; Jefferson County Deed Book 30, 617; 35, 49, 100. Virginius Island is just one of the names historically connected to the island. During the early 1800s, the island was called Peacher's Island, Stubblefield's Island, and Wernwag's Island. After mid-century, Herr's Island became more popular than Virginius Island.
68. Manufacturing Census Records, 1860, Jefferson County, 211; Bergstresser, "Waterpower on Virginius Island," 22; D. H. Rucker to Hon. E. M. Stanton, 16 April 1867, Papers pertaining to the Bill for the Relief of the Estate of A. H. Herr, RG 46, Box 35, SEN55A-E1, National Archives; Virginia Free Press, 11 June 1857 and 3 May 1860; Spirit of Jefferson, 28 April 1857; Charles W. Snell, "A Short History of the Island of Virginius" (Harpers Ferry National Monument, 1 June 1959), 36, HFNHP. In 1986, archeologists uncovered ruins of a building north of Gilleece's iron foundry and adjacent to the Shenandoah Canal. They interpreted this as a new foundry built about 1860.
69. As with the 1850 census, Virginius Island residents are not labeled as such and a refinement of Charles Snell's island portion is used. While Snell variously stated 207 people lived in 31 houses ("History of the Island of Virginius," 119) and that about 199 lived on the island ("A Short History of the Island of Virginius," 35), this study concludes no more than 184 residents, including ten slaves, lived on the island in 1860. 1860 Census, 200-05; 1860 Census, Slave Schedule, 172. Based on a random sample, between 1850 and 1860, 71 percent of the male residents of Harpers Ferry and 54 percent of those in Bolivar in 1850 were not living in either community a decade later; the percentages for women likely were the same. Women were excluded from this sample, since their names might have changed during the decade. The figures for those two towns are consistent with those for other communities, where half or more of the population left each decade, but the higher turnover on Virginius Island might be indicative of the economic uncertainty caused by the closure of the cotton mills. A discussion of mobility can be found in Stephan Thernstrom, Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964), 85, 256.
70. Occupations of male islanders in 1860 were river company agent, armorer, blacksmith, carriage maker, civil engineer, clerk, cooper, laborer, machine oiler, machinist, merchant, miller, millwright, physician/druggist, shoemaker, stonecuter, telegraph operator, wagon maker, and wagoner. Four females also had listed occupations. Three girls were domestics, while widow Mary Claspy ran a boarding house on the island. 1860 Census.
71. Deposition of A. H. Herr, 12 January 1883, in John A. McCreight and S. V. Yantis v. W. R. Percy, David Sloan, et al., Records, 1859-85, Attic, Jefferson County Courthouse; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1855-1890 Corporate Consolidations and Natural Catastrophes," 5, in "Cultural Landscape Report."
72. Barry, Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, 114-16; Mary Mitchell, Divided Town (Barre, MA; Barre Publishers, 1968), 158-60.
73. D. H. Rucker to Hon. E. M. Stanton, 16 April 1867, National Archives.
74. Jefferson County Deed Book 2, 285; Barry, Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, 146-47.
75. Charles W. Snell, "The Acquisition and Disposal of Public Lands of the U.S. Armory at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, 1796-1885" (National Park Service, December 1979), 1: 42-43, 51, 61-64, 70, HFNHP. Francis C. Adams, the highest bidder on the old armory sites at the 1869 sale, represented a group of capitalists who purportedly intended to build a factory on part of this land and lease the remainder to others for development. Yet the only action they took was a court challenge to the B&O right-of-way along the edge of the musket factory site. Adams et al. denied Secretary of War Joel Poinsett had the authority to grant this right-of-way in an 1838 contract with the B&O and further claimed the railroad had built part of its track outside the area described in that contract. These men lost their suit in 1872 and then refused to pay for the property, claiming the B&O presence clouded the title. Additional litigation followed, and the United States repurchased the factory sites at a court-ordered sale in 1876. Not until the mid-1880s, however, did the government succeed in selling it to another party. See "Statement of Facts in the Harper's Ferry Case," undated, and Opinion of the Court, 17 November 1875, in The United States of America et al. v. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, typescript in James P. Noffsinger, "Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: Contributions toward a Physical History" (National Park Service, November 1958), 162-84, HFNHP; Barry, Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, 170-72; Virginia Free Press, 9 May and 3 December 1870; Spirit of Jefferson, 10 February 1874, 2 March 1875, and 3 October 1876.
76. Barry, Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, 151-65; E. E. Child to [Mrs. Sallie B. Child and Miss Lucy Child], 7 and 9 October 1870, typescript, HFD-213, HFNHP.
77. 1880 Manufacturing Census; U.S. Census Office, Compendium of the Tenth Census (Washington: GPO, 1883), 1150-51; Deposition of William R. Percy, 17 April 1883, in John A. McCreight and S. V. Yantis v. W. R. Percy, David Sloan, et al., Jefferson County Courthouse.
78. Spirit of Jefferson, 28 April 1885; Hunter, History of Industrial Power, 490-98. Details concerning the impact of the pulp mill on the flour mill can be gleaned from a lawsuit filed by the latter against the former. Harpers Ferry Mill Co. v. Thomas H. Savery et al., Savery Papers, HFNHP.
79. Jefferson County Deed Book 74, 279; [Joseph and Wheelock], "1890-1944 The Shenandoah Pulp Company," 2-5, in "Cultural Landscape Report."
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