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By 1770 an early colonial ironworks had been established on Troublesome Creek in present-day Rockingham County. The ironworks, initially called the Speedwell Furnace, played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. Before and after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781, both British and Whig troops camped at the site. George Washington retraced General Greene’s retreat from Guilford Courthouse during his southern tour in 1791, and visited the ironworks at that time. The original site was partially destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1915.
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Joseph Buffington, an experienced Quaker iron master originally from Chester County, Pennsylvania, constructed Speedwell Furnace on Troublesome Creek. He purchased the “mine hill” in southern Rockingham County, as well as the land for the iron works. Additionally, Buffington constructed a rock dam to create waterpower, a bloomery for pig iron, and an iron forge for finishing items. Unfortunately, Buffington soon discovered that the iron deposits in the area contained far too much titaniferous dioxide to produce valuable iron. He sold the works in 1772, and the site passed through the hands of various people through the course of the Revolutionary War.
In February 1781, General Nathanael Greene led his Patriot troops over the Dan River into Virginia as Cornwallis’s British forces pursued them, camping overnight at the Troublesome Creek works. Soon after, Greene’s forces returned to North Carolina, where they camped at various locations including Speedwell Furnace. Greene created earthen fortifications and gathered ammunition. After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, General Greene continued to plan for a second attack by Cornwallis, returning his troops to the works at Troublesome Creek. For five days Whig forces camped at Speedwell Furnace, pursuing Cornwallis to Ramsey’s Mill.
After the Revolutionary War, three Whig veterans purchased the ironworks: Colonel Archibald Lytle of Hillsborough, and brothers Peter and Constantine Perkins from Virginia. In 1782 the new owners established a grist and flour mill at the site. Purchasing the site in 1790 were George Hairston and John Marr of Virginia, who hired Benjamin Jones to manage the works. Jones managed the facilities between 1790 and 1792, hosting President George Washington for breakfast at the works in 1791. The Troublesome Creek Ironworks continued to operate under various owners through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, producing lowgrade iron ore and other goods. In 1954 local historian James McClamroch purchased the site and donated it to the Rockingham Historical Society.
Lindley S. Butler, “Speedwell Furnace: The Ironworks on Troublesome Creek,” Rockingham County Historical Society pamphlet (1972)
Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter, III (2005)
Archibald Henderson, Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791 (1923)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)