Cornwall Archival Survey Project
Contract Number SH06/07.1
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Final Report of Work Performed
CHRISTOPHER R. DOUGHERTY
I. Project Overview:
This report seeks to provide an overview of collections surveying activities conducted during the period of February 2008 to May 2009 at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) relative to the Cornwall Iron Furnace in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. This report is broken into two major sections. The first consists of individual overviews of collections surveyed while the second section attempts to connect specific collections at HSP to research questions articulated in the Cornwall Iron Furnace Interpretation Plan of 2006. Where possible, this summary will orient researchers to specific collections at HSP that may offer insight into questions outlined in the Interpretation Plan. Throughout the survey process, special attention has been paid to the primary and subthemes developed during the interpretive planning process as a way of expanding the narratives told about the Furnace and its workers. With very little correspondence and most of the primary sources consisting of statistical or tabular data found in inventories, daybooks, material log books, production books, and others, some effort has been made to aggregate this material to derive larger conclusions about the social lives of workers and the business characteristics of both the Cornwall Furnace and the Ore Banks Company. With regard to individual questions in the interpretive plan, where possible attempts will be made to address the relative strengths and weaknesses of collections at HSP versus those present at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg.1
II. Overviews of Collections Surveyed
The following collections were determined to possess information relevant to the Furnace and/or the Cornwall Ore Banks Company:
MG 1454—Series 6, Box 332: Judge John Cadwalader Papers
Born in Philadelphia in 1805 to General Thomas Cadwalader, John Cadwalader graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1821 and four years later entered the bar. In 1830 he became solicitor for the Second Bank of the United States and served as a militia commander during the Nativist riots of 1844. Cadwalader then served as a United States Representative from 1855-1857. A fierce antebellum Democrat, in 1858 he was appointed by close political ally James Buchanan as judge of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania. Later he served as Assistant Secretary of State in the Grant and Hayes Administrations. Cadwalader was widely regarded as one of the nineteenth century’s most acute legal minds. “He was,” wrote the New York Times in their 1879 obituary, “one of the most remarkable jurists this country ever produced.” Cadwalader distinguished himself in the so-called “Blackburne Cloth Cases” where he represented the United States government suing for a large quantity of undervalued cloth. Blessed with a capacious memory, Cadwalader was known to cite opinions down to their book and pages without hesitation and he developed competencies in business, maritime and commercial law.
For the purposes of this survey, Cadwalader’s correspondence relating to his defense of the Grubb mining claim was thoroughly assessed. The crux of the matter dealt with the disputed right of the heirs of Burd and Henry Bates Grubb, their agents and assigns, to extract ore from any of the three hills at Cornwall. Apparently, as early as 1842, Robert, Ann, Margaret, Isabella, Robert and William Coleman alleged that several agents of the Grubbs “trespassed and extracted...” iron ore in violation of an ownership agreement. Later the Colemans alleged that “John Snow, acting under the orders of Samuel Houck trespassed and extracted on the value of one thousand dollars worth of ore, the property of Ann, Margaret, Sarah, Isabella, Robert and William Coleman.2 At the root of the dissention was a legal disconnect between the division of the shares of the mine and the geographical disposition of these rights. Meaning, while all parties could agree to the 1825 96-share division scheme—with the four Coleman sons receiving 20/96 each and Edward B. and Clement B. Grubb retaining 16/96—how this division would be practically articulated had no legal precedent. In the absence of a workable resolution, litigation propagated wildly. While a survey had been executed following the first partition of the Grubb shares in 1787, Cadwalader was quick to understand that such property demarcations were moot considering the peculiarities of ore geology.3 Prior to the 1864 solution advanced by the Cornwall Iron Ore Company to divide total mine production proportionally, the new realities of mining geology temporarily rendered conventional legal precedents on property obsolete.
Cadwalader was part of the Grubb’s “dream team” of lawyers that included Lebanon and Lancaster county attorneys like Levi Kline as well as the up-and-coming Lancaster lawyer Thaddeus Stevens, later to become a radical Republican of considerable power in the Senate after the Civil War. In his description of the Philadelphians involved in the “battle of giants” Frederick K. Miller neglects to mention Cadwalader.4 Though it is unclear, presumably Cadwalader was in private practice, as he was between his service at the Second Bank of the United States and his Congressional stint. It is also plausible that he knew his client Edward B. Grubb, both socially and professionally, Grubb residing at 28 Walnut Street in Philadelphia during the 1840s. What role Cadwalader had in precipitating a resolution to the case is unclear as is his role in the coordinated legal defense. Though shrewd, his argumentation could not expedite a termination of the case until 1869.5
The case, initiated in 1842 by the Colemans, centered upon their allegations that agents of the Grubbs had entered into their mine land and had “carried off” a substantial quantity of iron ore. Apparently, the case was unresolved by county courts and although the parties forged an agreement to equitably distribute the ore in 1848, this arrangement soon disintegrated.6 A review of the opinion rendered in 1854 and subsequent scholars’ interpretations reveals that while the case dealt superficially with trespassing, the root cause of the Colemans’ complaint was the growing cost of subsurface mining. Thus the division of the property in pursuance with the 1787 agreement posed several problems when the mine owners confronted the peculiarities of the site’s geology and the economics of capital-intensive underground mining.7 As the presiding Judge P.J. Pearson of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court argued in his 1859 opinion, any valuation of the damages due to the family had to incorporate an estimation of, “the value of the ore from 1848 to 1853, as between the Messrs. Colemans and Grubbs; the difference in the relative quality and value of the ore mined, sold and used by Messrs. R. W. and W. Coleman, and George D. and R. Coleman, from the 1st of April 1853 to the 1st of January 1859, and the difference in the expense of mining between the same periods.”8
Though it is altogether unclear what role John Cadwalader had in actually composing the argumentation for the Grubbs’ defense, it is clear that Cadwalader wanted to exploit a “supplemental memorandum” designed to clarify the original relationship defined in the 1787 agreement. Cadwalader, it appears, wanted to base his defense on the lateral arrangement of ore veins seemingly across property boundaries. Further he wanted to advance the claim that rights to the ore were preeminent to rights for land. Integral to this claim was his invocation of the section of the “supplemental memorandum” that gave the Grubb heirs “full liberty and privilege of ingress, egress, and regress to and from the said mine hills…and power to dig and sink shafts drive drifts and carry away any ore that may be found to extend beyond the limits of the said surveys.”9 Cadwalader, whose knowledge of maritime, bankruptcy, and commercial knowledge was unexcelled, wrote in a draft of a motion that “The limits of the veins in their extensions of ore beyond the Hill has not been ascertained: but a legal implication arises from the final agreement or memorandum apprehended to the articles of 31 May 1787 mentioned below that they may extend as far as the Iron Works of Cornwall Furnace and the water which furnishes their motive power and into the plantation allotted with the site of the Furnace in pursuance of those articles.”10 Additionally, Cadwalader also attempted to induce geologists Henry Darwin Rodgers of Boston and Richard C. Taylor of Pennsylvania to serve as expert witnesses for the case but was unsuccessful. It is debatable whether research into Cadwalader’s role in the Grubb defense will yield positive results, though the 1854 case and the 1869 appeal beg for more thorough investigation. For interpretive purposes, a discussion of this case can illuminate the idea of organically-developing concepts of property law in a mid-nineteenth century industrial context.
MG 1967A-B—Grubb Collection:
Upon assuming Cornwall Furnace after the death of their father in 1754, Curtis and Peter operated the furnace, forges and mine hills profitably for nearly a half-century, their business buoyed by war and the locational advantages of their site.11 While many Pennsylvania ironmaking operations benefited from close proximity to water power and timber, Cornwall held a distinctive advantage in its almost inexhaustible stores of iron ore and limestone. Cornwall’s output of 24 tons a week during the 1760s was sufficient to keep six neighborhood forges operational, suggesting a vigorous market for finished goods in both the rapidly urbanizing Pennsylvania southeast but also in the newly settled trans-Susquehanna hinterland.12 The Grubb Family Collection, then, is instrumental in broadening our knowledge of the operations of the furnace, organization of labor, and the relative social capital of the furnacemasters themselves.13 Of particular interest since Phase 1 of the survey is a more thorough investigation of racial slavery in the industrial sector in 18th century Lebanon County. New material gleaned from this Collection shows how legal instruments delimited slaves’ mobility while simultaneously enhancing slaves’ furnace-specific skills. Additionally, some documents within this collection also provide greater definition of the story of Robert Coleman’s acquisition of the furnace from the perspective of the relinquishing family.
Throughout the 1770s-80s, regular correspondence between Peter Grubb Jr. and a host of social and economic partners provides tremendous insight into how the Grubbs conducted daily business, were perceived by high and low Pennsylvanians, and operated within the business culture of the Province with its carefully defined codes of obligation, reciprocity, and gentlemanly rectitude. It appears that much of the overseeing of the Furnace during the 1770s-80s was delegated to a rough Welshman named Evan Evans who monitored laborers and ensured that the vital work of the colliers was executed to Peter Grubb’s exact specifications.14 Evans was, in the estimation of economic historian Kenneth Rassler and later Paul Paskoff, was one of the most important men at the Furnace. In the era before statistical control of inventory and product flows, Evans ensured that crucial raw materials were produced or acquired and inserted into the process at the correct juncture.15 Yet Evans was not a radical free agent. Letters show Evans deferring to the accumulated wisdom of Peter Grubb: “The bearer has set two pits,” Evans wrote Grubb in the 1780s, “and the leaves howl’d but you must be the best judge whether he shall go in and fire them as I don’t like to run the chance without your orders.” Evans also kept Grubb abreast of laziness, tardiness, and absenteeism among laborers. “Shroff left word with his wife last Sunday he was going to M. Hope and instead of going there or staying at his work here I found him in H. Mark’s harvest field, where I gave him and Marks both a sharp lecture….”16 Evans also served as Grubb’s eyes and ears in the markets, coffeehouses, and other spaces of economic interaction. He reported on the price of iron in Lancaster, whether buyers will give advances before casts, and bids for work on the furnace.
While business matters consumed Peter Grubb, it appears he was often in Lancaster where he appeared as one of the city’s more prominent and benevolent citizens. Peter Grubb was the recipient of several requests for money—some from apparent strangers; others like Elizabeth King were members of the Grubb’s extended family. King, a widow, reminds Grubb that she has “no way of getting a penny” and implores him to give her the proceeds of a horse that Grubb owed her. Among the upper reaches of the Provinces social strata, King’s reminder of “promises you made me of doing generous by me…and…the charge your uncle gave you on his deathbed,” would have demanded attention.17 With both the welfare of society’s weakest and economic institutions like credit rooted in the bedrock of word-as-bond, such letters indicate that Peter Grubb enjoyed full faith and credit for satisfying his legal and extralegal obligations.18
Unfortunately, with the exception of Evans’ accounts of laborers, a 1787 indenture binding a slave to a furnace, and individual labor contracts, the Grubb correspondence is generally barren of source material relating to laborers’ social, economic, legal situations. Some of the labor contracts deal with workers at Mt. Hope, but it can be assumed that the instrument was similar at Cornwall. Workers like colliers were engaged in individual tasks such as the contract with Abraham Hair which demanded delivery of “Coals of five hundred Cords of wood more or less….” Hair’s contract also demanded high quality and date of delivery: the product was to be “good sufficient Coals without brand to be Delivered in the course of Next Summer.” Other contracts exist between the Grubbs and workers that specify work on the furnace stack.19 An indenture which bound a slave “Negro Bill” to a hammerman, John Hare, existed like a contract but with appreciable disadvantage toward the slave. While the 1787 indenture bound Hare to clothe, feed, and teach Bill the art of the hammerman, it also rendered the contract moot if Hare was to remove Bill from the forge site. As observed in Phase 1 of the survey and in sundry books at HSP, slaves though prevented from leaving the furnace ground, were paid and could purchase items at the company store.
Most of the post-Revolutionary War Grubb correspondence tells the story of a socially-connected Peter Grubb, Jr. attempting to direct the operations of the furnace despite the involvement of his brother Henry. As Frederick Miller indicated in his survey of the economic development of the county, the curious dual ownership arrangement led to a “complicated tangle” which later precipitated the Grubb v Coleman case. As early as 1785, Peter Grubb II has initiated discussions with his Lancaster lawyer, Jasper Yeates, as to the feasibility of selling off his share of the Cornwall property.20 Yeates was not confident: “Neither do we imagine we could forward any contract between you and your brother. He would be jealous of us and suspicious of every thing we could suggest or hint to you for your mutual benefit,” Yates wrote in 25 January 1785.21 By June of 1785, Yates had prevailed upon Henry and Peter to amicably divide the property in two separate legal actions in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties. By the Fall, an impetuous Robert Coleman—who purchased Peter’s share of the furnace and mines—is demanding that the Grubbs forfeit all possible information relating to the condition of the furnace. The information he required was not forthcoming. A frustrated Coleman writes to Grubb in an 25 October 1785 letter:
I otherwise expected to have your final answer respecting the forge before this time. If you think to carry on the forges on your own account you will find yourself much mistaken and will put me under the necessity of taking some disagreeable measures to prevent it as I am determined that no person shall reap a benefit from that Estate without my enjoying the share I am entitled to.22
The debate is so rancorous that at one point in the winter of 1786 Peter Grubb jots a rare introspective and melancholic line: “My Head has been keen for business but now it’s a squash.”23 This is indicative that the sale process was not without its stress.
MG 212—Forges and Furnaces, Cornwall Iron Furnace:
The Cornwall Iron Furnace collection of MG 212 consists of 133 volumes detailing the input and output flows of products, raw materials, and consumables at the furnace from 1765-1884.24 Most, if not all of the volumes were donated to HSP by Margaret Coleman Freeman Buckingham, who also deeded the Cornwall property to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1932. Due to the tabular and statistical nature of the data reviewed, wherever possible efforts have been made to aggregate and analyze data over time. Much of the tabular data contained in the ledger books closely resembles price, wage, food and drink consumption, and productivity information contained in MG 182 at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg. Close integration of material from both the State Archives and HSP can provide insight into wages, prices, productivity, leisure patterns, ethnic composition of workforce, and general quality of life throughout the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth. A close analysis of these material and commodity flows can yield insights into the relationship of wages to expenditures and can assist researchers a better definition of real incomes at the furnace during the early part of the nineteenth century. Additionally, determining whether price and wage fluctuations were similar to those changes in agricultural sectors or were altogether more severe may affect how scholars interpret Cornwall workers’ adoption of an “industrial” consciousness. Invariably this question is linked to one of the greatest questions framing the discussion of early industrialization: whether standards of living improved during this period when some segments of life at Cornwall were assuming a typically industrial character.25 This analytical mode has been used to determine sectoral relationships between the iron ore company and its industrial consumers. For scholars wishing to determine social conditions during the ore mine’s period of regional and international prominence, roughly 1865-1972, collections are not as fruitful as those found at the State Archives.
Secondary Sources, Minutes of the Cornwall Ore Bank Company, and other non-manuscript Collections at HSP:
Some non-manuscript collections provide much needed context necessary for understanding the growth and evolution of the Cornwall Furnace and the Ore Banks Company. Frederick K. Miller’s excellent three volume The Rise of an Iron Community: An Economic History of Lebanon County, PA 1740-1865 is excellent in its treatment of worker wages versus prices. With its close attention to wage and price fluctuations over time, pay scales for job classifications, and general furnace productivity throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Miller’s text and bibliography is a good roadmap to both collections at HSP and at the State Archives. To be sure, while sources have dictated that Miller’s analysis is heavy on the economic analysis, he is also attuned to the way the Coleman family’s social capital influenced the larger economic realities of Lebanon County. “The Colemans, he alleges, “had ample financial resources to erect furnaces and keep them up-todate, resources which no other family had.”26 For a quick chronology of the evolving ownership arrangements at the furnace, researchers would profit from Dan Graham’s short sketch appearing in the finding aide for Iron and Furnace Books at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1727-1921, a guide to MG 212.
Jack Bitner’s Mt. Gretna: A Coleman Legacy enjoys the honor of being at the same time one of the most elaborate and most questionable treatments of the Coleman clan, their cultural import, and their philanthropic and economic legacies. Lacking a full-length overview of the Colemans’, we are left to ponder the veracity of some of Bitner’s more perplexing assertions. While Bitner’s approach to Robert Coleman’s founding of the firm, a more analytical take on Coleman’s success within the late-18th century business and credit world of debilitating personal exposure can be found in Frederic Shriver Klein’s “Robert Coleman: Millionaire Ironmaster.” But while Bitner is content to blame the ironmaster William Stiegel’s “personal excesses” and Klein suggests the practical wisdom of intermarriage, neither synthesizes the other’s conclusion and claims that familiar intermarriage in an 18th century business context may have protected private citizens from personal exposure.27
Perhaps more perplexing is Bitner’s assessment of young Robert Habersham Coleman as an overcivilized, academically-mediocre, social dilettante whose insensitivity toward money predisposed him to the aggressive business strategies of the iron company’s chief counsel, Artemis Wilhelm. Bitner believes Coleman was captivated by Wilhelm’s plan to “spend and reinvest all income” and allow just the scant principal for emergencies.28 It is altogether unclear whether R.H. Coleman adopted this approach—if anything the construction of two anthracite furnaces in the late 1870s may have been slightly retrograde considering technologists like John Fritz were installing Bessemer converters in places like Bethlehem as early as 1864.29 That Coleman was temperamentally adverse to conservatism in business may be borne out in the records of his railroad speculation in Florida during the 1880s, although Bitner does not allude to these documents.30
Almost from the outset, the great Coleman-Grubb legal dispute over rights to the ore hills achieved an unprecedented degree of popularity. Although it is unclear why the case attracted such attention in local newspapers, it clearly pitted the values of the modern American technological world—the drive for acquisition, fawning faith in technology and competitive litigiousness against the quaint world of gentleman colonial business. As one newspaper described it: “A Romantic Story of Modern Progress.” Most of these 19th century commentators understood the crux of the issue, that according to a 1786 deed, the Grubbs had been allowed to take out as much ore to run one furnace. With the inexorable march of technology, the consumption of such furnaces had grown and the Grubbs’ siphoning of ore from the Coleman holdings had reached unacceptable levels. Indeed there was humor in the story of technology rendering unfair or moot a legal arrangement—and law’s plodding attempts to catch-up to the realities of the modern world. As one newspaper put it “it is an illustration of the onward march of science and development contrasted with the immobility of an old grant.” These accounts speak to the era’s investment in technology and the rhetoric of “progress” which sustained it.31
For a more comprehensive overview of the Grubb-Coleman legal disputes, the article “Lebanon County:—A Brief of its Celebrated Law Cases,” appearing in the publications of the Lebanon Historical Society, Vol. 1, 1898-1900 provides a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the dispute, beginning with the agreement of 30 August 1787 and concluding with the suit of May, 1880. HSP also possesses a judges opinion from the Pennsylvania Court of Common pleas of Lancaster County concerning the case of C.B. Grubb vs A.B. Grubb which presents a good summation of the arguments.32 The bill charged that A. Bates Grubb was “wrongfully and continuously taking ore sufficient for the while supply of a certain furnace owned by him, from property owned by a complainant, when he has a right to take only a moiety of said supply; and that his so doing is continuous and recurring….” This accusation, of course, refers to the agreement of 1845 which in itself is an articulation of an earlier 1745 agreement.33 Unfortunately for A. Bates Grubb, Judge J.B. Livingstone did not agree that the technically sophisticated iron furnace was still a furnace in the eighteenth century conception. With a literalist reading of the 1745 agreement, Livingston argued that the agreement applied to the taking of sufficient ore to run one furnace “kept in operation by means of charcoal.” Later however, this narrow interpretation of a furnace was overturned and furnace construed to mean a modern industrial operation and that when ore “taken from the mines was the absolute property of the owners of the right and that they could use or sell it, provided that quantities, used or sold, did not exceed the quantity measured by the capacity of any one furnace.” In May, 1880 a state Supreme Court decision affirmed the decree of the lower court. Researchers should strive to document how the original 1786 division of the ore mines either suited or did not suit the needs of industrial steelmaking operations like Robesonia and Bethlehem Steel.34
The Minutes of the Cornwall Ore Banks Company should also be utilized to determine not simply the cold calculus of the company’s balance sheet but also to understand the growth of corporate paternalism at the mine. The minutes of these stockholder meetings, sometimes bitter and rancorous, contain reports from the General Superintendent of the site J.A. Boyd on the erection of housing, of what type and construction, and—most importantly—the social value of such housing on the workmen. On 20 March 1867, Boyd recommended that instead of expensive sandstone houses, that ones of brick be built instead to redress a housing shortage: “Our want of tenement houses for our workmen is a great drawback, for, had we houses we could get a much better class of men, and control them better, should labor be in demand elsewhere.”35 Boyd represents technical and operational issues at the mine with the dispassion of an engineer. He asks whether proprietors should be charged if his men have to select a finer grade of ore for proprietors; he asks for requisitions for broken tools and machinery; and he reports on monthly ore tallies; he explains production aberrations at the mine. Because this mine production data is consistent and legible, it is ideal for aggregating and graphing.
Researchers should also be aware that some photographs of the Robesonia furnace exist in the Albertype Company Collection taken by a Lebanon County photographer.36
III. Guide to Individual Interpretation Plan Questions:
This section will attempt to connect portions of HSP’s collections—ledger books, correspondence, secondary sources—to individual questions in the Cornwall Iron Furnace Interpretation Plan. Where possible, charts, tables and graphs will be utilized to demonstrate how data can be aggregated, analyzed and represented.
Cornwall Furnace’s physical infrastructure:
Share with your friends: