The American Revolution Hunter’s Iron Works James Hunter

James Hunter

James Hunter (1721-1784)—born near Glasgow, Scotland, he was from a well-established mercantile family that was involved in the tobacco trade between America and England. James frequently visited Virginia on his father’s ships but settled her permanently around 1746 for the purpose of helping his ailing Uncle William Hunter manage his store in Fredericksburg. After William’s death in 1753, James purchased a large plantation called Stanstead from Charles Carter (1707-1764). The Stanstead house stood behind what is now the McDonald’s restaurant at the I-95/Rt. 17 interchange. The plantation was quite large and extended all the way down to the Rappahannock River. James recognized the need for a local iron works and in the mid-1750s conceived of building one on the river just above Falmouth. This was in operation by about 1759 or 1760. In addition to pig iron, Hunter built a forge for processing pigs into usable iron products such as tools and hardware, which was much in demand. He also built a still for making whiskey or brandy, a wire mill for making all manner of objects from eyeglass frames to chain. This mill also made the pins used in cotton and wool combs, necessary implements for making wool and cotton fabrics. His initial intention was to produce domestic goods needed by local patrons. Being unfamiliar with iron manufacturing, he hired Quakers who were often employed by Chesapeake iron companies. As relations between America and England deteriorated, Hunter’s manager, John Strode, altered and expanded the facility to produce arms and supplies for the military. Within the iron works complex, Hunter and Strode established a gun manufactory that made a wide variety of pistols, rifles, carbines, amusettes (a cross between a cannon and a shoulder arm), and swords. In 1770 British customs officer, John Williams, called Hunter’s “the greatest Iron Works that is upon the Continent.” In reality, Hunter’s operation didn’t peak until 1776 and 1777. This facility was a major producer of weapons and supplies during the American Revolution.