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The Workers of Endor

Endor Iron Works Ledger, 1864-1868

Item 670: Endor Iron Works Ledger, 1864-1868

The ledger also shows that while under the control of the Downer Group, the Endor Iron Company employed a large labor force.  The Downer Group provided regular pay to workers throughout the seven months that the furnace operated in 1864, and the ledger’s entries provide evidence to suggest the type of workforce Endor employed. Under the McRaes, foremen and administrators were paid workers while the laborious tasks of making the pig iron were assigned to slaves leased from their owners. (Wiesner 2007, 58) Jobs reserved to slaves included mining, transporting of ore to the furnace, charging both the furnace and the steam boilers around the clock, and casting and breaking the pigs. It was grueling physical labor in an environment hotter than the fields of the plantations. According to Wiesner, in 1862, the Endor Iron Company under the McRaes leased 62 slaves from various owners in the area. (Wiesner 2007, 58)

Evidence from the ledger suggests that the labor structure under the Downer Group was much the same. There was a paid workforce recorded in payroll entries including William Downer, his colleagues, engineers, and foremen, as well as a staff of slaves. The existence of slaves at Endor during this time is proven by an entry into the expenditures of Endor on April 11, 1864, where the Downer Group paid one hundred and twenty-five dollars for the jail fees of “runaways.” (Item 670) Other expenses also existed for food and clothing, suggesting that the slave-labor force lived at the site. This makes sense as, due to the nature of the blast furnace at Endor, the furnace had to be kept hot around the clock, every day. The steam boiler and engine providing the blasts of hot air constantly needed to be charged with coal in order to keep the furnace hot. (Wiesner 2007, 57) If the furnace was allowed to cool, it would have to be pre-heated again before use, resulting in long periods of unnecessary downtime. Slave labor may have also been a necessity considering that Confederate Army conscription most likely drained the pool of labor in the area.  The strong workers required to staff Endor as well as other sites of heavy industry would have been hard to come by, so it would make sense from a business standpoint to lease slave labor as a substitute. 

The labor needed to operate the furnace also required little to no skill; a slave could be easily trained to work it. Historian Patricia A. Schechter states that unskilled slave labor was traditionally used at furnaces like Endor. (Schechter 1994, 170) She argues that the use of slavery for skilled positions contributed to the strike at Tredegar in 1847 as it created unrest within the white labor force whose jobs were being filled by slaves leased from plantations much in the same way as they were acquired for Endor. Most of the jobs at the furnace would have required minimal training, and there was likely not a large supply of free labor as mentioned before, so labor disputes such as the one at Tredegar probably never happened, though the memory of the strike may have influenced the decision to keep salaried positions available at the furnace.