Monday, November 12, 2007

In An Old Virginia Town [Part 11 - Gold Mining; Gun Factory]

In An Old Virginia Town - Part 11
Originally published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine
March 1885, pages 601-612.
Author: Frederick Daniel

(continued from Part 10)

During the first half of this century several wild schemes for making rapid fortunes, after the "South-sea Bubble" style, were set afloat in Fredericksburg, quite turning the heads of all save the steadiest old citizens. Upon the discovery of gold in Spotsylvania County a craze arose for mining proportionately equal to the California fever of '48-'49. Greedy, inexperienced speculators sold all their possessions to secure mining capital. On being informed of their proceedings, a noted old Scotch merchant, who had amassed a million penny by penny, replied: "For every sax shillings they get out of it they'll put in saven and sax-pence." And his judgment proved to be correct: The mines ruined all who invested in them, and for a long time were neglected, though of late years they have been properly worked, and have yielded moderate gains. Another craze sprang up afterward for the production of silk. This "multicaulis" or mulberry mania still furnishes a world of humor to the "elders," while narrating their vivid reminiscences of its various phases. Cocooneries were started at every supposed available point, and a rage prevailed to plant mulberry slips in garden and farm. As high a price as twenty-five cents was paid for a single bud. After a while the bubble burst, and the speculators were again caught without any margin. A lady investor, who had rented the garden of the old Scotch merchant mentioned, was short on the rent, and threw herself on his mercy. "Yes," solemnly said the old man, "I'll release you from the rent, but on one condition only, and that is that you grub up every multicaulis plant on my ground before night!"

The sites of an iron furnace and of a gun factory that supplied arms during the Revolution are points of attraction in the neighborhood of Fredericksburg. They were of such importance that General Washington detailed soldiers to guard them from British raiding parties. Nothing save a few crumbled walls overrun with briars and honeysuckles, a few foundation stones, is left to show where these establishments existed. Prior to the Revolution the iron works of the vicinity were the most extensive in the colony of Virginia. They were inaugurated by the colonial Governor Spotswood, who found his profit in supplying the King's American subjects with home-made agricultural implements, and ovens, skillets, pans, and pots for the kitchen, at reduced rates. While attending to his iron interests Spotswood erected a magnificent mansion in the county of Spotsylvania (named in his honor). Still inhabited by one of his descendants, it is in excellent preservation, though over a hundred years old, and compares favorably with modern residences around it.

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