Thursday, April 10, 2014

#AtoZChallenge: I is for Iron Plantation

I is for Iron Plantations

When people think about Ohio they usually don't think about plantations. Iron companies would buy hundreds of acres of land rich with iron ore and other resources required for their operations. They would then establish an iron plantation. The iron plantation was so isolated that is operated by it's own rules and customs. In fact, many workers and their families had no idea of what went on in the world outside the plantation.
The Iron plantation was set up much like the plantations in the south. The workers consisted of slaves, indentured servants and labors. The slaves and indentured servants generally were given the lowest of jobs while labor was given specialized jobs such as woodcutters. Even though the labor worker was a free man he had very limited mobility in moving up in rankings. Even though they workers and their families did not have many material possessions they were not poor. In fact, poverty was unheard of on the Iron plantations even when the nation was going through a depressions. Workers were not paid with money. Their wages were recorded on a balance sheet that was offset by the expenses the worker and his family occurred at the stores.
The Iron plantation was characterized by the large mansion that sat upon a hill overlooking the iron furnace. The mansion was home to the ironmaster and his family. The ironmaster was responsible for investing capital in construction and maintenance of the charcoal furnace used for the refining and working of iron and for hiring skilled labor. He and his family frequently interacted with the workers but were not equal to them. The ironmaster was responsible for maintaining the welfare of the worker and their family. He often times built a school, church, hospital, stores and whatever else his workers might need. If one job closed he wouldn't just fire a worker but would find him another position on the plantation. In school and church, the workers and their children learned about industriousness and deference. Some ironmasters allowed for liquor to be sold in there stores but most of them did not because the ironmasters required their workers to be disciplined. They often encouraged the workers to be sober and have steady work through written agreements. An iron plantation was no place for a drunkard. The ironmaster emphasized his superiority over the workers by providing them with smaller houses than his own.
The mansion often sat on hill overlooking the furnace and village. Everyone knew if you lived in that house then you were better than them. While the workers had very few materials to call their own the ironmaster's family enjoyed the luxury of many expensive items. The children were taught with private tutors and the family was afforded with opportunities to travel.
The first Iron plantation was the Hopewell Furnace. It was opened in 1771 by ironmaster Mark Bird and thrust America into iron production.


  1. Wow, I learned something new today. Iron Plantation. Sounds like money to me.