THE NORTHAMPTION FURNACE
In this writer's opinion the interest and importance of the Ridgely estate as an early industrial-agricultural complex has been too much neglected. This is partly due to the fact that the furnace was abandoned in the mid-nineteenth century and its ruins afterwards disappeared under waters of the Lock Raven reservoir. Some interesting Ridgely buildings, not on the immediate grounds of the Mansion do survive and are worth attention and preservation to illustrate the economic underpinning of the estate.
According to the late architect John H. Scarff, the first white inhabitant of the Hampton area was a shadowy frontier figure--perhaps a hunter squatting on the land--by the name of Peterson. He gave his name to "Andrew Peterson's Run," afterwards called "Long Quarter Branch." As early as 1695 names for the area included "the Valley of Jehosophat" and "Northhampton."  Colonel Charles Ridgely (1702-1772), Baltimore merchant, bought the 1500-acre Northampton tract from Ann and Clement Hill in 1745.  This fine plantation lay in the valley of the Gunpowder River and was to become the seat of an important iron works and the nucleus of much larger land holdings.
The future builder of Hampton Mansion was "Captain" Charles Ridgely (1729-1790), son of Colonel Charles the merchant. At the age of twenty-eight we find him master of the ship Baltimore Town in the London trade. He crossed the Atlantic at least seven times in seven years and then settled down to manage his properties ashore, marrying Rebecca Dorsey of Belmont plantation in 1760. Under the Captain's direction the family landholdings continued to grow. 
About the year 1760 the Northampton Furnace was erected on the property and put in blast. This was the tenth iron-making establishment in the Maryland colony, where it was an important industry. Articles of partnership dated the following year show that Charles Senior and his two sons, John and Captain Charles, were co-owners.
When John, the oldest son, offered his share of the works for sale in 1770 the Maryland Gazette of Annapolis described the improvements:
In addition to the furnace--which produced pig iron and castings such as stove plates and hollow ware--the Ridgelys also owned the "Long Cam" forge on Gunpowder Falls where iron was wrought into bars. 
Ridgely was exporting substantial amounts of iron in this period, as related by Dr. William D. Hoyt, Jr., in his excellent essay "Captain Ridgely's London Commerce:" 
In the meantime the furnace tract had grown to 2,000 acres.  Historian Carl Bridenbaugh has shown that the great size of such an iron-making establishment was typical:
Hampton can be thought of as one of the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution in both Baltimore--where the iron-steel business is still of great importance--and in America. As we shall see later, the Northampton Iron-works played a part in the logistics of the American Revolution. It ceased operation in or about the year 1850. 
Before news of the peace treaty had reached Baltimore, Ridgely was converting the production of his furnace and forge to the domestic markets, as witness the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser for January 14, 1783:
The early operation of the furnace was summed up by iron historian Joseph Singewald on the basis of data furnished by the Ridgely family:
Colonel Ridgely, the merchant, died in 1772. He had already disposed of most of his great landholdings as family gifts. His one-third share of the ironworks he left to his three married daughters, Plaisance Goodwin, Achsah Holliday, and Rachael Lux with Darby Lux, his son-in-law, as trustee. 
Captain Charles, his son, as we have seen, was already in control with a two-thirds ownership. At this point he seems to have moved his residence to the iron-works. To judge by a daybook for the period 1772-1775 there was considerable development going on at what he called the "Plantation in the Forrest." Early in the year 1772 Moses Dillon was paid £ 11.13.0 for "Stone work on my house" which may have been what is now called "the Overseer's House."  Thomas Todd provided posts for enclosing a garden and both Jehu Howell and William Richardson (employed years later to build the big Mansion) were at work along with other carpenters.  On February 24, 1773, James Lennox was paid for trimming 722 apple trees. The size of such an orchard implied a commercial--and perhaps overseas--market for that fruit. The production of cider and brandy may well have been a factor in the plantation economy.
The Revolution found Ridgely aligned with the American cause. In May of 1774 he was chairman of the Baltimore Committee of Correspondence  and on November 9, 1778, his schooner Camden, Captain Jeremiah Allen, was commissioned as a privateer. 
During the War the Northampton Furnace was apparently busy with defense work, though no one seems to have really developed that story as yet. Four days after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia the Maryland Council of Safety, having been informed that the Northampton Furnace was in blast, notified Ridgely that they needed "some Swivels and small Cannon from four Pounders downwards,"  probably for arming boats. A week later they contracted for three hundred camp kettles.  Soon afterward the Council urgently needed "a number of round shott of the different sizes, particularly 18, 19, 6 & 3, also some Grape."  Orders and disbursements continued through November.  Salt pans for Henry Hollingworth's salt works were also cast at Northampton Furnace by an arrangement shared with one Henry Howard. 
We know very little of the manufacture of ordnance at the Northampton Furnace, but the operation was dangerous to friends as well as enemies. We read of
Griffith's Annals of Baltimore mentions another accident in 1780 when an artillery officer, Captain Fulford, was killed and several persons wounded during the testing of cannon there. 
The extent of these orders by the military may never be known but it is interesting to note that on November 6, 1776, the Council ordered payment to Ridgely the large sum of £ 1000.  Leander James Bishop's History of American Manufactures states that the pig iron of Ridgely's furnace was reported to be "the best in the State" and some of it was even purchased by Massachusetts gunmakers at £ 10 per ton.  In any case the Northampton Furnace seems to have made a substantial contribution to the war effort. Miss Edmonds summarizes the expansion of the establishment:
But the capstone to Ridgely's fortune seems to have been his speculations in war-confiscated real estate which must have been aided by his position as "political boss of Baltimore County."  At this time each of the Maryland counties seated four men in the House of Delegates at Annapolis and Captain Ridgely was elected ten times in the period 1777-1787.  A combine trading as "Charles Ridgely and Company," which included the leading politicians Samuel Chase  and Governor William Paca, invested over forty thousand pounds in confiscated British property and led the legislative fight for cheap paper to pay for it. Ridgely, like many other Americans, had owed money to British merchants before the war and took advantage of the situation to write off his debts in depreciated currency. 
At the time of his death Captain Ridgely possessed over twenty-four thousand acres of land. Hampton Mansion was truly a product of the Revolutionary War.
Last Updated: 07-Jul-2008