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INDUSTRIAL SLAVERY - THE BALTIMORE IRON WORKS
The Baltimore Iron Works located at Mount Clare was one of the largest industrial enterprises in colonial America. Dr. Charles Carroll had shares in the company and sold part of the tract of land he named “Georgia” to the company. In 1733 the company completed its first forge located on the Gywns Falls and production began that year. The Baltimore Iron Works used enslaved labor from the beginning. This is most likely because its owners were Maryland landowners who already had extensive enslaved laborers on their agricultural lands prior to the inception of the ironworks venture.
18th Century Iron Furnace at Catoctin, Maryland
When it first went into operation the Baltimore Iron Works had a labor force of eighty-nine individuals. Forty-seven were white (thirty-eight were free men on wages, nine were indentured servants) and forty-two were enslaved African Americans. At the height of its development in 1763 the Baltimore Iron Works owned one hundred and fifty enslaved African Americans and hired still more free African Americans. Little is known of the company’s history after this period, but its operations must have been extensive. In 1785, when a one-fifth share of the Baltimore Works was put up for sale it was described as “consisting of a Furnace, and Two Forges, with upward of 28,000 acres of land and more than two hundred Negroes and also stock of every kind.”i Few iron companies operated on such a scale or used as many enslaved workers.

The enslaved workers performed a wide spectrum of jobs within the ironworks, many of them skilled. By 1737 the forty-three enslaved individuals at the Baltimore Iron Works were listed as performing many duties including miners, colliers, woodchoppers, farm hands, cooks and at least one skilled blacksmith. In 1753 when Dr. Carroll corresponded with a potential furnace owner he wrote:

As soon as he Can conveniently do it to get Young Negro Lads to put under the Smith Carpenters Founders Finers & Fillers as also to get a certain number of slaves to fill the Furnace Stock the Bridge Raise Ore & Cart and burn the same. Wood Cutters may for some Time be hired there. There should be Two master Colliers one at the Furnaces another at the Forge with a Suitable Number of Slaves or Servants under Each who might Coal in the summer and Cut wood in the winter.
Collier Making Charcoal.
Photographer: Leo E. Landis
By 1817 in the widow Margaret’s inventory the enslaved individuals’ skills were even broader and included carter, smith, mason, basket maker, cook, hammerman, filer, carpenter, coler (sic), wood cutter, and sailor.

The Baltimore Iron Works established a Company store from which its workers, both free and enslaved, purchased supplemental provisions and even some “luxuries”. The Iron Works established a system of what was called “overworking” for its enslaved work force. Under this system an enslaved person that produced over his quota of work could accumulate credits. Most of the overwork earnings acquired by enslaved ironworkers was spent at the company store. Although the overwork system was designed primarily to motivate slaves, it also provided the employer with means to discipline them. If an enslaved person spent more money at the company store than he earned, he was forced to do extra work. In addition many ironmasters sometimes deducted the value of uncompleted work from the accounts of enslaved workers who did not produce their quotas.

Conditions for the workers, both enslaved and free were far from desirable. The Baltimore Ironworks periodically suffered from food shortages for the hands, at least during the late 1760s and early 1770s. In 1777 one manager wrote that the people and stock were almost starving. The correspondence between Clement Brooke, manager of the Baltimore Iron Works during the 1770s and Robert Carter, a partner in the company, is filled with constant requests for food.

Under these conditions the managers realized that the incentive to escape would be great. Working with the white indentured servants also likely gave the enslaved individuals additional opportunities and increased their chances of successful escapes.

Indeed, throughout the mid 1700s Charles Carroll posted several ads in the Pennsylvania Gazette, for runaway indentured servant and convict laborers. It appears that planning and group efforts were often involved as most of the runaway postings indicate the escape of multiple individuals simultaneously along with the theft of horses, food and supplies.

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