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The son of French and Swiss immigrants who moved to what is now Lincoln County, Peter Forney became a leader in politics and industry in the region. Born in 1756, Peter served in the military during the Revolution, fighting against the Cherokee and British troops throughout the frontier. During the marches of General Cornwallis through the area, his home was taken over as British headquarters for a while, resulting in much damage to his crops, livestock, and property. Forney was promoted several times and used his men to harass and delay British troops, eventually receiving a commission as a general in the militia after the war.
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After the war, Forney returned home and began building an ironworks and, along with other investors, received a grant from the legislature in 1789 for the iron deposits near Lincolnton called the Big Ore Bank. Forney acquired full control of the deposits but later re-sold some interests to investors to create the Vesuvius Furnace. Forney also helped to establish other furnaces and forges in the county that produced iron products, including cannonballs used in the War of 1812.
While involved in industrial development in his home county, Forney participated in politics, serving in the North Carolina legislature for two years, the state Senate for two years and on the Council of State in 1811. He was a presidential elector five times and in 1813 he was elected to the U.S. Congress, voting with Republicans and supporting President James Madison in the War of 1812. Forney chose not to run for re-election in 1815 and declined public service thereafter. Forney’s children continued his furnace operations but, by the end of the Civil War, his works were in disrepair and the Madison furnace ceased operation in 1878 when it was washed away during a freshet.
While expanding his iron industries, Forney also constructed a home for himself called Mount Welcome. His son Daniel followed his father’s footsteps in politics and home construction, building an impressive home, Ingleside, near his father’s using plans drawn up by Henry Latrobe. Forney died in 1834 and was buried in the family cemetery.
Lester Cappon, “Iron-Making: A Forgotten Industry of North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1932): 331-348
W. L. Sherrill, Annals of Lincoln County (1937)
Clarence W. Griffin, History of Old Tryon and Rutherford Counties (1937)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 222-223—sketch by Laura P. French
Catherine Bishir and Michael Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)