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Lead and Gunpowder in the Wilderness – Virginia Lead Mines Part 2

This is Part 2 on the Virginia New River Lead Mines. Check out Part 1, if you missed it…. These blog posts are excerpts of the materials provided to me by my good friend, Jim Webb, a lifelong resident of the New River area of Virginia, mixed in with some of my editing, commentary, and scavenging experience. One little spot in Virginia, now completely abandoned and mostly lost to history, played an amazing part in American history. During the 18th century on the Virginia frontier, this little known spot was the center of activity, and possibly made the difference between life and death….

Lead and Gunpowder in the Wilderness: the Virginia Lead Mines – Part 1

This is the story of the logistics fueling the violent struggle for survival on the Virginia frontier. It’s a story of geography, geology, politics, murder, suicide, and wilderness warfare. It’s taken mostly from the handwritten materials of the legendary Jim Webb, a true Appalachian artist, and a close friend of ours, who is perhaps the last man standing to receive the oral tradition and history, handed down through generations, from the beginning to the end of this story. It’s a story about one important spot in Western Virginia, along the New River valley, near the present-day town of Wytheville, Virgina, at a place usually referred to as Fort Chiswell. It’s a story fueled by the desire for wealth, new opportunities, and adventure.

Cleaning 250 year-old hewn white oak logs at Byrnside’s Fort

This is the best way I’ve found so far to clean the interior side of the original (extremely hard) white oak hand hewn logs. This is the Northwest second floor corner. Since this was eventually turned into a formal entry way, long before the plaster was installed over the logs, they were given various coats of whitewash white paint, in order to make the walls look like they were plaster, rather than logs. Such was the trend, since there was nothing glamorous about having a log plantation house.

Revolutionary War Narratives and Byrnside’s Fort

I recently discovered additional Revolutionary War veteran pension applications mentioning Byrnside’s Fort. These first-hand narratives, mostly from the 1830s, are the recollections of the 18th century frontier soldiers of the Greenbrier Valley. They’re the best documentation we have on life and service on the Virginia frontier. They paint a good picture of the importance of Byrnside’s Fort, as well as James Byrnside himself during the Revolutionary War era. There’s strong evidence through these narratives that our fort was in active military use from around 1774 through 1782, which for the most part is the entire timeline of Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolution.

“Tub Mills” on the 18th Century Virginia Frontier

When you travel in our southern mountains, one of the first things that will strike you is that about every fourth or fifth farmer has a tiny tub-mill of his own. Tiny is indeed the word, for there are few of these mills that can grind more than a bushel or two of corn in a day; some have a capacity of only half a bushel in ten hours of stead grinding. Red grains of corn being harder than white ones, it is a humorous saying in the mountains that “a red grain in the gryste (grist) will stop the mill.”

French Trade Axes

Most trade axes found on French influenced archaeological sites were manufactured in France. The sites where trade axes were found coincides exactly with the areas where French influence was felt : Saint-Lawrence valley, the Richelieu and the Lac Champlain region, the Great-Lakes region, south of the Mississippi, etc. In isolated cases, a few French style axes have been found on the east coast of the United States. Some east coast areas must have had provisional, or secondary, trade routes for the French trade goods.