How did Durham Furnace, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Durham Furnace, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.
Village in the eastern part of Durham Township on the Delaware River, near the mouth of Durham Creek, where the Durham furnaces for using anthracite coal were established in 1848 and 1850. These were replaced by a large and modern furnace put in blast in 1876 and closed in 1938. The offices, laboratories and other headquarters of the plant were located there. Durham Cave is near the location of these anthracite furnaces.
Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.
by Amelia Mott Gummere
From time immemorial, whenever a new country has been about to be settled, there has been Included in its concessions, charter rights or other legal agreements, some mention, at least, of the mineral wealth which later occupation of the territory might disclose. The “Conditions or Concessions” which accompanied William Penn’s ” Frame of Government,” in the sixth clause, reads : ” That notwithstanding there be no mention made in the several Deeds made to the purchasers, yet the said William Penn does accord and declare, that all Rivers, Rivulets, Woods, and Underwoods, Waters, Watercourses, Quarries, Mines, and Minerals (except Mines Royal) shall be freely and fully enjoyed and wholly, by the purchasers into whose lot they fall.”1 But however far-reaching their outlook, William Penn and his associates little dreamed of the vast stores of wealth and energy locked up in the coal and iron mines of his beloved Pennsylvania. It is certain that the earliest settlers in the province, — the Swedes, — were informed of the existence of iron ore in several parts of the eastern division of Pennsylvania, but meagre resources did not permit of any development of mining, in the modern sense.
Of the three counties into which Pennsylvania was originally divided, Bucks was the easternmost. The subdivisions of this county into townships, left one of the smallest of these, known as Durham, in the extreme northeastern corner. Much earlier in date than its neighbor, Northampton, [Easton], which was not settled until 1752, there were white settlers In the township of Durham in 1682. James Claypoole wrote on June 4th of that year: “We are to send one hundred men to Durham to build houses, to plant and improve land, and to set up a glasshouse for bottles and drinking glasses, and we hope to have wine and oil for merchandise, and hemp for cordage, and iron and lead and other minerals.”2 A beautiful stream, known as Durham Creek, enters the Delaware in the extreme northern portion of the county, and about a mile and a half from its mouth are the remains of a curious cave, which is the earliest relic of the white man’s effort to heat and mould iron near the spot. This great natural cavern was regarded as a wonder, and visited by every newcomer or prospective settler, and famed afar, before It was blasted and Its beauty ruined in order to quarry Its limestone. The frequent Indian village sites in the township furnish to the antiquarian many fine specimens of pipes, pottery and stone. Important for the use of the student.
It Is Interesting to note that William Penn became an owner of land In New Jersey, Andover Township, In what is now Sussex County, by a warrant from the Council of Proprietors dated March 10, 1714. Later on, about 1760, this region, containing one of the richest mines of Iron ore In New Jersey, was opened up and a furnace set in operation. The product of these Andover Iron Works was carried upon packhorses and carts down the valley of the Musconetcong to Durham on the Delaware, and thence transported on ”Durham Boats” to Philadelphia.
In the year 1717 (September 8th), a portion of Durham township was patented to Jeremiah Langhorne, and John Chapman. Another, of twelve hundred acres, was deeded to Langhorne alone, but the larger part, by warrant and survey, became the property of James Logan. A famous Indian Treaty was begun at Durham In 1734, adjourned to Pennsbury, and finally concluded In Philadelphia, August 25, 1737. The infamous “Walking Purchase ” was completed through this section, September 20th of this year.
The iron ore in the neighborhood drew the attention of the settlers, and in 1726 a company was formed to erect a blast furnace, manufacture pigiron, cast pots and pans, and make firebacks. The furnace was located at the village of Durham, near a school and church, and was probably the second erected in Pennsylvania. James Logan in 1728 wrote to William Penn, “There are four furnaces in blast in this colony.” One of these we know to have been Colebrookdale ; it is probable that the others, besides Durham, were located on French and Christiana Creeks.
Among the fourteen original owners, James Logan is said to have held one fourth part. Jeremiah Langhome of ” Trevose,” Bensalem Township, ” Gentleman,” was another large owner, and others were Anthony Morris, brewer, Chief Justice William Allen, from whom Allentown takes its name, Joseph Turner, Robert Ellis, George Fitzwater, Clement Plumsted, John Hopkins, and Charles Read, father-in-law of James Logan, all described as “merchants.” To these were joined Andrew Bradford, the famous Colonial printer, and Thomas Lindley, ” anchorsmith.” Griffith Owen and Samuel Powel were trustees.
A visitor to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 might have seen among the curiosities connected with the manufacture of iron and the industries, an old stone of peculiar shape bearing the date 1727. This was the keystone of Durham Furnace, of honorable history. Operations were begun at the new furnace in the autumn of 1727, and In November of the following year James Logan shipped three tons of pig iron made at Durham to England. The furnace Is described3 as built of stone, thirty five to forty feet square, widest at bottom, and thirty feet high. The large leather bellows used to Increase the blast was operated by a waterwheel turned by the creek. The Iron was dug close by the furnace, and the charcoal fuel used in the process was made In pits, which being located close at hand, filled the air with a disagreeable odor from the wigwam-like structures which covered them, and in which the wood for the charcoal was burned. From the top of the furnace. Into which were poured the ore, charcoal and limestone. Issued at Intervals bright flames which lighted up the picturesque surroundings when the blast was forced, and Illumined the dark forest and its darker negro and Indian Inhabitants, as the twilight shadows fell. The intermittent character of the work permitted the farmhands, who were negro slaves during most of the colonial period, to pursue their work on the farm near by in the interval of filling and drawing off the ore. When the Iron was ready to be tapped, a horn was blown and the slaves presented themselves. The foreman or founder, with an iron pole or bar, opened or ” tapped the bottom of the furnace, allowing the molten iron to run into the moulds of sand below. Durham turned out about two tons of Iron in the day of twenty-four hours. Two tons of iron ore yielded one ton of pig iron.” Acrellus, writing in 1758 says, ” Durham may be regarded as the best ironworks in the country. It has a rich supply of ore, water, sand and limestone. The ore is so near the furnace and the furnace so near the forges, that there Is not three quarters of a mile of hauling about the works. The forges are little more than a mile to the station on the Delaware River, whence the iron Is conveyed by water to Philadelphia.”
Dr. John W. Jordan furnishes an Interesting Item, showing the varied existence of one of the Durham slaves called Joseph, or “Boston.” Born In Africa In 1715, at the age of twelve he was taken with a cargo of slaves to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was sold to a sea captain, who took him to England In 1727. In 1732 he was sold to the Island of Montserrat, and thence with a new master was brought to Durham Furnace, with ten other slaves. In 1747 he was living In the household of Squire Nathaniel Irish, and while there was married to “Hannah,” but his master hired him to a furnace In New Jersey. In 1752 he was baptized by the Moravians at Bethlehem, and his owner, John Hackett, of the Union Iron Works, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, In 1760 sold him for fifty pounds to the Moravians. He died on September 29, 178 1. “Hannah” was born July 11, 1722, at Esopus, New York, and in 1748, with her son, was sold to the Moravians for seventy pounds. She died November 24, 1815.
In locating their furnaces through the wilderness, as was necessary in order to procure fuel supplies, these pioneer ironmasters were obliged to reckon with the Indians, who were becoming Increasingly dangerous upon the frontier. Nevertheless, the peaceable Quaker tactics pursued by the furnace owners appear to have succeeded in gaining for them general immunity from disturbance. There was a good deal of traffic with the Moravians near the middle of the century. One Durham memorandum reads —
May 28, 1745.
The Moravian Company,
Dr. To Robert Ellis & Co.
For 1 ton 15 lbs. Bar Iron £30 4 “
There is reason to suppose that as early as 1734 there were two furnaces here,4 but the fact that Durham was owned by a large company may partially at least account for its neighborhood being very sparsely settled before the period of the Revolution. There was local government, and the furnace formed not only the industrial but the financial and social centre, around which all the interests of the community, simple and primitive to a degree, revolved. Accounts were kept here, as in all the Iron manufactories in the colony, with every purchaser, and the transactions were in kind. Trade was in every possible commodity, from tobacco, bonnets, shoes and tea, to oxen and hides, wood and lumber. The remarkable collection of ledgers and account books of the old Pennsylvania furnaces, owned by ex-Governor Pennypacker, shows an almost patriarchal system of life going on in the country regions about these great iron centres, each a complete community within itself, supplying all the actual necessities of life, and for those days, even some of the luxuries, if among these we include molasses, rum, and tobacco! The private account books of Richard Backhouse, who bought Durham Furnace when it was confiscated during the Revolution, are among the oldest original records connected with Durham, and were given to ex-Governor Pennypacker in 1862 by his grandfather, one of the owners. They begin with the accounts of a village store keeper in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, and name payments for ” Rumm, striped linen, osna-briggs, flannel, and a Boyes Hatt,” the latter probably of beaver, at ” Three and six.” Osnabrigg was a heavy homespun linen, named from the German town whence it came, and largely used for shirts in the Colonial period.
Firebacks and stove plates were made at Durham from its first year, 1727, until 1794, when operations were suspended. A fine example of a Durham fireback Is at Swiftwater Inn, near Pocono, In Monroe County. The earliest examples, however, of Durham firebacks are undoubtedly those at Stenton, the home of James Logan near Philadelphia. Here may be seen today eight of these early backs. Three of them bear date 1728, at which time James Logan was owner of one fourth part of Durham Furnace; this was also the year in which was made the first foreign export. On one of the backs are the initials “I L.” Stenton was built in this year and there is no reasonable doubt that the backs are genuine Durham productions. In order, however, to render assurance doubly sure, the committee were gratified to be able to refer the question to an expert. Mr. B. F. Fackenthal of Riegelsville,5 for years a student of the history of the iron Industry, and a scientific chemist In this department of the arts, kindly examined into the matter for us, and we are glad to be able to quote his authority. Borings were carefully made by him September 12, 19 12, and the chemical analysis that followed proved clearly that the iron from which the Interesting old backs were made, was of the same composition as that produced at Durham.
The decorative stove plates of a rather later date are even more attractive to the antiquarian than the firebacks. Many of these have Inscriptions in German, and some light Is cast upon this feature when we recall that the Deed of Partition for the Durham tract was drawn in 1773 ; that administration as a township began in Durham June 13, 1775 ; and that after one thousand acres were reserved for the purpose of the furnace and iron manufacture, the remaining portion of the tract was largely settled by Germans. Many of the inscriptions on these old stoves run around all the sides, and are In German. One, for instance, known as the “Adam and Eve,” reads, “Die Schlang Adam und Efa Betrug.” (The snake betrayed Adam and Eve). Another Is the “Cain and Abel”; ” Cain Selnen Bruter Awel tot Schlug.” (Cain killed his brother Abel) . Both of these date from 1741, the earliest preserved, and show the Durham analysis. Some of the plates bear towering grenadiers, and refer to the Hessians who frequently settled in this country, many of whom never returned to their native land. An Interesting journal of this period is the “Travels Through Berks County in 1783,” by Dr. John D. Schoepf, Surgeon of German Auxiliary Troops in the Service of England.6
Travelers on the way from distant points often made detours to see the wonders of the furnace, even at some expense of time and trouble, for colonial roads were bad indeed. Thus Elizabeth Drinker, whose Diary Is a mine of Information as to the mode of life at this period, mentions a visit to Durham. Her distances are not accurate, but the trip was by chaise to Brunswick, New Jersey, with digressions for visits. She writes under date
“September 3, 1764.
“Left home after dinner, R. Booth on Horseback, and his man Robert, H. Drinker and Elizabeth” (herself and husband) “in chaise: Drank tea at Red Lion, 13 miles from Philadelphia, lodged at Alex. Brown’s 13 miles from town: good accommodations. Breakfasted there y® 4th: then went to James Morgan’s at Durham Iron Works, 48 or 50 miles from home. Roads very bad: stayed there to dinner : walked to the furnace, where we saw them at work casting iron bars, &c.”
The pigiron and other products of Durham furnace must, when completed, be transported to Philadelphia, as the nearest distributing centre. The broad Delaware offered of course the only means of transportation, but there lay between the tidal river, which begins below Trenton, and the reaches of the upper Delaware, at “The Forks” (the early name for the point where the Lehigh enters the Delaware, at what is now Easton), a succession of rapids and falls dangerous in the extreme for the ordinary boats for burden-carrying, then known to the Englishman. Wells Falls, Foul Rift and Rocky Falls, still bear their ancient reputation for the modern canoeist. An old map published in London, in 1 648 , calls the Falls at Trenton “The Falls of Charles River,” by which name the early navigators knew the Delaware. These later became the ” Falls of Delaware.” Fallsington still lingers in memory of this. The rocky channel, in a distance of thirty-five hundred feet, has a fall of ten feet. No ordinary craft could carry a load through this rapid.
In the solution of the problem Indian woodcraft, as often before, was applied, and the graceful canoe of the aborigines became the model for what is still known as the “Durham boat.” Abraham Haupt, a German blacksmith whose shop stood near the original furnace, some distance back from the river, gives the earliest information regarding these interesting boats. It was in Haupt’s shop that the date-stone referred to was found, used by his men for cracking nuts, which accounts for the depression plainly shown in the photograph. Haupt asserted that the first Durham boat was built near the mouth of the cave by Robert Durham, engineer and manager of the furnace, after the model of an Indian canoe, and that the works were probably named after the builder of the boat. The boats were in use within ten years after the first shipment was made, and the Durhams were settled in Bucks County as early as 1723. These boats were used on the Delaware, and also on the Susquehanna, for more than a century, for every purpose of freight and produce-carrying. The raft and the coal ” ark ” could make the descent of the river, under skilled guidance, but they were unable to perform the return journey, and were themselves sold as a part of the cargo upon arrival at their destination. Only the staunch and sharp Durham craft could be forced up against the swift and dangerous current.7 The shape of the Durham boat was very long In proportion to Its width, its sides being nearly vertical, a slight curvature only meeting a similar curve at the bottom, which was quite flat. Fore and aft, the sides were straight and parallel, curving in to meet the stem and stern posts at about fourteen feet from the end, at which point the boat was decked over, the middle of the boat being open. The usual length was sixty feet, width eight feet, with a depth from top of gunwale to the twelve inch keelplank of forty two inches, with the additional height of some ten inches at the ends. These flat boats, with no loss of space, usually carried from fifteen to twenty tons down the river. The return journey, with the load consisting of products for home consumption and Indian trade or barter, was reduced to about two tons, from the necessity to maintain the readiest response to guidance possible.
Coming down stream, the boat floated with the current, aided if necessary, by a pair of eighteen-foot oars. Moving upstream, the boat was propelled by ” setting poles,” twelve or thirteen feet long, and shod with iron. On the thwarts was laid on each side a plank twelve inches wide. Along these walking-boards two members of the usual crew of three, starting at the forward end, with poles on the river bottom, the tops set against their shoulders, walked to the stern, pushing the boat forward, and rapidly returning to repeat the process. The captain steered, using an oar on a pivot to hold the boat from going back with the current, or when necessary, pushing It forward by “setting’* with a pole In the short distance which the length of the stern deck permitted. The steering oar was thirty three feet long, with a blade twelve Inches In width. In addition to this equipment, each boat carried a mast with two sails, and with a fair wind could outsail all other craft on the river. The lack of a center-board, as well as the great proportionate length, prevented sailing to windward, but with two men to steer. It was possible to sail up the rapids with a fair wind.
The Durham boat was generally painted black, probably with due regard to the effect of its usual Inky cargo on any other color ! The boathorn was a prominent feature of the equipment. Accommodations for the crew were of the most primitive character, and the furniture carried of the simplest. A large iron pot, with a side hole near the bottom for draught, served as a cookstove, with pieces of flat iron to hold the pan. There was a coffee pot, a water bucket, and for each man a tin cup, plate, knife, and possibly a fork, with the unfailing gallon jug of whiskey for all. An old boatman has stated that drinks were only taken at certain places on the river. The men slept on ” barn feathers ” or straw. In the forward end under the deck, dignified by the name of ” cabin.”
The men who formed the crews of these romantic boats were a hardy lot. Their labor was severe at times, but they tolled through the livelong day with the poles at their muscular shoulders, forcing their way against a rapid current at the rate of from one to two miles an hour. The boats drew but twenty Inches of water when loaded with fifteen tons of iron, and In appearance were not unlike the keel boats of the western rivers. Jest and song beguiled the weary hours of the long journey, and It was usual for several of the boats to go In company, sometimes as many as twenty-five at once dotting the sweeps of the river under sail in a fair breeze, when the effect was extremely picturesque. The Durham boat moved so easily through the water that she left the run aft in passing almost as still as she found it. Clawson’s Tavern, on Water Street above Vine, was the popular resort of the Durham boatmen,8 who made fast their craft below this point, and spent here the interval before their return.
The Durham boat figures in an important incident of the Revolution, and was evidently known favorably to General Washington who, when preparing to abandon the line on the Hudson, and make his way across the Jerseys, wrote from New Brunswick ordering boats to be collected for the expected crossing at Trenton. Trevelyan states9 that he made a point of securing the Durham boats, and his order mentions the fact that one of these could carry a regiment — a pitiful intimation of the depleted state of the American army. These boats were again brought into requisition at McKonkey’s Ferry for the attack upon Trenton, and about forty were on the Delaware at the time. The form of the boat as shown on the Trenton Battle Monument is more nearly that of the Durham boat than those drawn in E. Leutz’s picture of the crossing.10 Besides being active and hardy to an unusual degree, these boatmen were fearless, sportive and trustworthy. One authority states that their faithfulness became a proverb, and that their stern honesty was such that no single instance of defalcation is known in the heavy remittances which they carried.11
During the War of the Revolution, shot and shell were made at Durham in large quantities.12 In the year 1789 twelve slaves escaped from Durham Furnace to the British lines.13 During this year, over two tons of shot and shell shipped to the Continental army in November alone were valued at £25 per ton, and the total for the year was £1,076, 1s. 2.1/2d. Three and nine pound shot were cast, and some doubleheaded. The shell weighed from twenty to sixty or more pounds each. A quantity of these were left until so late as 1806, piled against the old furnace walls. Specimens of them may be seen in the Bucks County Historical Society’s collection at Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
The partnership of 1726, with which our history began, and of which on March 4, 1727, Griffith Owen and Samuel Powel became trustees, was to continue, according to the agreement, for fifty one years. Before that period of time had expired, the property had been freed of the trust, and none of the original owners remained, having been removed by death, failure, or the sale of their interests. An amicable Deed of Partition was therefore executed, December 14, 1773, and the property, which had been added to, then comprised over eight thousand acres, including the entire township of Durham and one tier of farms in Northampton County. Included in the tract which thus fell to Joseph Galloway and his wife Grace, the daughter of Lawrence Growden, were the eight hundred and eighty nine acres and forty eight perches which practically constitute the Durham furnace of today. Joseph Galloway thus became the first individual owner of the furnace.
At this period, for five years, the furnace was leased to George Taylor, for two hundred and fifty pounds per annum. Taylor was born In Ireland, came to Pennsylvania as a ” Redemptioner,” and at one time was a ” filler” at Durham furnace, which he finally leased and conducted alone. At the summit of his career, he had the honor of signing his name to the Declaration of Independence. While lessee of Durham, he cast stoves bearing the inscription “Durham Furnace, 1774.” A plate of one of these stoves, thus inscribed, is fastened against one of the walls of the Post Office at Easton. George Taylor died in 1781.
The disturbances of the Revolution rendered business very uncertain. Upon the charge of treason against Galloway, who allied himself with the British, his property was confiscated and sold by the Commissioner of Forfeited Estates and confirmed by the Council, to Richard Backhouse, September 14, 1779, for the sum of £12,800.14 The latter appears for some time previous to have had an official connection with the works, and was a Justice of the Peace. His account books have been quoted.
The period of the Revolution finds several well known names in the history of the country directly connected with this old furnace. There is a long list of the forges which Durham supplied with pigiron for manufacturing purposes. Besides George Taylor, the name of George Ross, another signer, meets us at Bloomsbury Forge, New Jersey, near by, where much material was sent ; Ross was a prominent owner. James Morgan, of an old Welsh family of the name, “Iron master,” was an owner of Durham before the partition. His home was near the banks of Durham Creek, not more than three quarters of a mile from the works, where he would appear to have been actively employed. Here his son Daniel was born in 1736, destined to become one of the distinguished generals of the Revolution. As a boy, Daniel assisted his father at the furnace, and tradition even makes him a charcoal-burner. When the war broke out, Daniel enlisted and his later career is matter of history. It Is interesting to note that the General’s father, James Morgan (who may or may not have held an interest In Valley Forge as well), in 1762, which is remarked as a year of unusual building activity In the Colonial period, built a beautifully simple, but plain and substantial house for himself at Lower Providence, Montgomery County, In that neighborhood, which he called ” Mill Grove.” The date-stone In the gable remains, and the house Is the shrine to which pilgrims come to revere the memory of a later distinguished resident, John James La Forest Audubon, the great ornithologist.15
At one period after the death of James Logan, the works were operated under the name of William Logan and Company. Part owners at times more or less briefly, are Richard Peters, Edward Shippen, Israel Pemberton, and Hon. James Hamilton, who for a time held an Interest when Lieutenant Governor, In 1749. Lawrence Growden was a prominent owner; his daughter, Mrs. Joseph Galloway, died In 1782. Her trustees In 1803 succeeded In a suit against the heirs of Richard Backhouse (died 1793), who were dispossessed because of proof that Joseph Galloway, who devised his property to his daughter E. Roberts of London, held the property only In right of his wife, Grace Growden. An Act of Legislature In 1808 appropriated $415 to reimburse Mary, widow of R. Backhouse, to compensate her for cost of defending herself In the proceedings.
Durham remained In active operation, with occasional periods of suspension during the hard times of the war and after, until 1794, when It finally “blew out.” In 1829 the old furnace was demolished to make room for a grist mill. Just before the Civil War two new furnaces where built, using anthracite coal, and these In turn made way for a large new furnace In 1874.
Source: National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Pennsylvania. Forges and furnaces in the province of Pennsylvania, p. 43-57. Philadelphia, Printed for the Society, 1914.
- Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, Vol. I, p. xix.
- Penn-Logan Correspondence, II, p. 323.
- F. Von A. Cabeen, The Colonel and the Quaker, p. 81.
- J. M. Swank, Iron Making in Pennsylvania, p. 17. Scull’s Map of Pennsylvania for 1759. shows an old and a new furnace at Durham, as well as a forge — a second forge was built before 1770.
- Mr. Fackenthal was until recently president of the Thomas Iron Company, of Easton, Pennsylvania.
- Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. V, p. 74.
- We are indebted for the description of the Durham Boats to Navigation on the Upper Delaware, by J. A. Anderson.
- A. Ritter, Philadelphia and her Merchants.
- G. M. Trevelyan, History of the American Revolution, II, p. 21. Washington to Col. Hampton, 1776.
- J. A. Anderson, Navigation of the Upper Delaware.
- J. A. Anderson, Ibid.
- Ringwalt, Transportation Systems in the United States.
- Pearce, Annals of Luzerne.
- Colonial Records, Vol. XII, p. 104.
- Thomas, brother of James Morgan, at one time kept an inn here. In 1771, the property was sold to Rowland Evans. It was bought in 1776 by John Penn, and after several transfers, was in 17891 sold by Augustine Prevost to John Audubon, the Admiral, and father of the famous ornithologist. See Eberlein and Lippincott, “Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and its Neighborhood,” p. 199.