Jackson Ferry Shot Tower

Shot Tower
Location W of jct. of Rte. 608 and U.S. 52, Shot Tower Historical State Park, near Max Meadows, Virginia
Coordinates 36°52′12″N 80°52′14″W / 36.87000°N 80.87056°W / 36.87000; -80.87056Coordinates: 36°52′12″N 80°52′14″W / 36.87000°N 80.87056°W / 36.87000; -80.87056
Area 0 acres (0 ha)
Built 1807 (1807)
NRHP Reference # 69000286[1]
VLR # 098-0016
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 1, 1969
Designated VLR November 5, 1968[2]

The Jackson Ferry Shot Tower is 75-foot (23 m) tall shot tower located in Wythe County, Virginia.[3] It is one of only a few remaining shot towers in the United States. It was built by Thomas Jackson and is the centerpiece of the Shot Tower Historical State Park. Construction began on the tower shortly after the American Revolutionary War and was completed in 1807. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 1, 1969.


Shot Towers were often referred to as Shot Factories during the industry's heyday. Today they stand as testaments to ingenious yet antiquated technology. The purpose of the shot tower was to produce lead shot to be used in firearms. Firewood and lead were taken to the top of the tower, where a furnace was fired to melt the lead. The molten lead was then poured through a sieve, which would form individual drops of lead of a specific size. Different sieves were used to produce shot of varying size. The molten drops would then free-fall 150 feet, during which they would become spherical in shape, and cool enough to become rigid. A large kettle full of water at the bottom would finish the cooling process, and provide a soft enough landing to keep the shot from deforming. The finished shot was then sold to hunters, traders and merchants.

An advertisement in the August 30, 1791 edition of the Virginia Chronicle detailing the manufacturing of shot at the Shot Factory in Southwest Virginia may suggest that the tower dates back to before 1800.

Welshman William Herbert, an expert ore smelter, and his extended family were living in Bristol, England when he accepted the offer to come to the Virginia wilderness and make the mines profitable. He designed the "shot tower" much like the one he was familiar with in Bristol, built in 1753 by William Watts, his former employer. William Watts later patented the method used to drip the molten lead from a considerable height into the body of water below, a process "for making small shot perfectly globular in form and without dimples, notches and imperfections which other shot hereto manufactured usually have on their surface".

The deed of this land was recorded in William Herbert's name on March 28, 1767.[4] Herbert also purchased land in the nearby counties Russell and Washington. Herbert had a patent for land between Dungannon and Gray's Island on Clinch River. Richard Staunton settled very early on Staunton's Creek in Scott Co., Va. and it was for him the stream was named. In the early 1750s, Richard was living with his father Thomas Staunton at present day Poplar Camp in Wythe County, Virginia Thomas Staunton sold his land to Capt. William Herbert and moved to North Carolina.[5]

William Herbert came to America by request of Colonel John Chiswell for the purpose of developing the ore rich mines discovered by Chiswell and financed for development by Chiswell, John Robinson and William Byrd III. The mining and ammunitions business became very successful. The pioneer fort, Fort Chiswell was built not only for the protection of the local citizens but also to protect the financial interests of Chiswell's group. Citizens complained and thus the mining operation was deemed to be in violation of a treaty with the Cherokee Indians. The Commonwealth of Virginia ordering a cease of lead production until the beginning of the Revolutionary War.[6] In the lawsuit "Herbert vs. Ferrell" information in gained about the immigration of Wm Herbert, his father, brother, brother-in-law and other "Welsh miners". According to this, William Herbert signed a seven-year contract in Bristol England with Col. John Chiswell representing John Robinson & Wm. Byrd to manage their mine and smelting/refining works in the colonies. Herbert who had been raised in the city, was forced to learn how to farm. When Chiswell tried to reclaim the land and homes of the Welsh miners, William Herbert's extended families were made to other states and find ways to make a living.[7]

The mines were alternately referred to as the Chiswell mines and Welsh Mines and was the main supply of ammunition during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.[8] The Shot Tower is sometimes erroneously credited to Thomas Jackson; perhaps he restored or rebuilt it. There was clearly a shot tower built and used there well before Thomas Jackson came to America.[9] J Thomas Jackson was employed as a mining smith at the Austinville lead mine. In 1804 Jackson purchased an interest in the mine, long after the death of William Herbert (according to architectural historian Richard M. Casella).

The Wythe County Lead Mines was the main source of lead for the colonies during the American Revolutionary War. According to the Mary Kegley book, Wythe County, Virginia - A Bicentennial History 1989, William Herbert and wife, her maidservants, his parents David and Martha Herbert, his brother David, Jr. and his sister, Mary, all came to Wythe Co, Virginia at the request of John Chiswell and his business partners, William Byrd III and John Robinson (Chiswell's brother-in-law), from Wales because (William) Herbert was "knowledgeable in the art or mystery of smelting and refining ores and metals, for he had been brought up in that business. In, fact when he was married to Sarah Fry in Bristol Dec 1758, he was identified as a "smelt refiner of silver". p. 328 "... the Welsh miners came from Bristol, England to the wilderness of Virginia and had produced lead successfully ... it soon became apparent that the lead mines were vital to the War for Independence ... there was a great scarcity in this country ... the New River Lead Mines became the primary source of lead for the colonies." p. 330

Captain William Herbert served his new country as Militia Captain in Lord Dunmore's War and the American Revolution including the Battle of Point Pleasant. He may have been too ill to have participated in the Battle of Trenton as there is record of him visiting a doctor in 1765 at Bethabara North Carolina Moravian settlement.[10] It is doubtful that he died at the Battle of Trenton (Dec 1776).Captain Herbert likely died from lead poisoning.[11] On 3 September 1776 his will was recorded in the Fincastle-Montgomery Will Book B, p. 31. It confirmed that the Herberts had lived in Parish of St. Philips & Jacob, Bristol, England and were of Welsh heritage.[12]

William Herbert's plantation was called "Poplar Camp" and was located near the present day community of the same name in Wythe County, Virginia, just across the road from the main entrance of the Shot Tower State Park on state route 52 behind the present day Jackson house. He owned many thousands of acres of land there; he was the first person to build a ferry across the New River which ran through his property.[13][14](Now called Jackson's Ferry).[15] This ferry was operational through the year 1930.[16] When the new County of Botetourt was formed, William was Justice of the Peace in 1770. He was one of the founders of Boiling Springs Presbyterian Church.[17]

"Chalkey's Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia": extracted..., Volume II" states: "In 1770 William Herbert made a settlement upon wasted and unappropriated land on Cubb Creek in Washington County, and occupied it until 1776, when his overseer was killed by the Indians when Rawley Duncan took possession. Herbert died testate in 1776, which was proved on 3d September, 1776, Fincastle County, leaving William Herbert [Jr] heir at law..."

Moses Austin (father of Stephen F. Austin) and his brother Stephen Austin owned the lead mines and surrounding operations during the 1790s. Within the Austin Papers (a collection of writings, letters, and business ledgers by Moses and descendants) the manufacturing of shot in Wythe County is referenced on several occasions. Shot is itemized in a 1794 business ledger. Shot is also referenced in a desperate letter from Stephen Austin to James Austin in Austinville dated 12 September 1798. "as in paying part cash and goods should sopose you may imploy waggon and I want all the shot rushd on to Linchbourgh (Lynchburg, Virginia) possible that it may be ready at Richmond to ship before the river closes". In 1798, James Austin was superintendent of the lead mines operation in Austinville VA, just 3.5 miles from the Shot Tower.


The Wythe County Shot Tower is unique for several reasons. Unlike most other shot towers, which were constructed of brick, this shot tower was built of limestone. The 2.5-foot-thick solid stone walls not only made the Shot Tower an extremely strong structure, but kept its interior temperature cool and consistent, improving the quality of the shot it produced. Since the lead needed to free-fall around 150 feet to form proper shaped shot, the designers decided to use the natural terrain to reduce the height of the tower they had to construct. They decided to build the tower on the edge of a cliff, and dig a vertical shaft 75 feet deep, which reduced the height required of the actual tower to 75 feet. Access to the bottom of the shaft was made by a horizontal adit that opened up near the shore of the New River.

In a series of writings, letters, and business ledgers collectively known as the Austin Papers, Moses Austin refers to the necessary design elements of Shot Factory. The following quote is from hand written remarks by Moses Austin concerning the English patent for drop shot, dated August 1, 1791, "by experience I have found a much better mode to introduce arsnic and find the white much preferable to the yellow from it[s] purity in strength. And that a material difference of the height is required in the Climate of America in the different seasons of the year".

See also


  1. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  3. Staff (May 2, 1969). "National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved March 11, 2009.
  4. Title Early Adventurers on the Western Waters: The New River of Virginia in pioneer days, 1745-1805 (2 pts.), Volume 3 Authors Mary B. Kegley, Frederick Bittle Kegley, Publisher Green Publishers, 2004 ISBN 0-9641315-0-1, ISBN 978-0-9641315-0-7
  5. DAR; Russell Co Va Militia: article entitled Williams Hays
  6. "Wythe County, Virginia - A Bicentennial History" 1989 by Mary B. Kegley
  7. Title Glimpses of Wythe County, Virginia Author Mary B. Kegley Publisher Pictorial Histories Pub. Co., 1988 Length 199 pages Subjects Wythe County (Va.)
  8. Glimpses of Wythe County, Virginia by Mary B Kegley 1985
  9. Early Adventurers on the Western Waters by Mary B. Kegley
  10. Soldiers of Fincastle Co.. 1774 Compiled by Mary B. Kegley, 1974, reprinted 1990, soft bound, 89 pages, index. Approximately 1600 names appear in 21 militia companies and public service records.
  11. Daughters of the American Revolution
  12. Index to Wills and Administrations Mongomery County, The Library of Virginia
  13. A guidebook to Virginia's historical markers By John S. Salmon, Margaret T. Peters, Virginia. Dept. of Historic Resources
  14. The Brooks historian, Volumes 5-8 By Madeline S. Mills, Brooks Historical Library
  15. Wythe County Virginia: A Bicentennial History By Mary B. Kegley. 549 pages
  16. Early Adventurers on the Western Waters, Vol. III and The New River of Virginia in Pioneer Days, 1745-1805 by Mary B. Kegley
  17. History of Abingdon Presbytery Goodridge A. Wilson, Jr.

External links

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