Working Conditions

A painting depicting working conditions inside the Northampton ironworks.
Artist depiction of the iron making process.

NPS/Harpers Ferry Center

Time-books for the colliers, who worked with charcoal at the furnace, give us the work schedule for indentured servants. They were expected to work a twenty-six day month with only Sundays free, year after year. Dr. Randall Hulse, who was employed to care for ailing furnace workers, described general working conditions of the ironworks. In a letter dated February 22, 1777, to Captain Ridgely, Dr. Hulse described workers subjected to “a mean diet and barbarous usage” and a “wanton abuse of power.” He personally witnessed labor and punishment “excesses that call aloud for redress.” In many cases, these practices can only reasonably be defined as torture.

Dr. Hulse cited a laborer, who made for “a miserable spectacle,” whom the overseer had driven to work “with a 56 lbs. chained to his leg.” “The despotic manager,” continued the doctor, “beat him with a stick and he died the next morning.” Hulse charged that any “unconcerned spectator” who witnessed the labor practices of Northampton without a more humane response “must possess a heart of stone and be deaf to every Sentiment of Humanity.”
Between November 1775 and December 1777 the daybooks recorded in the business category of “Profits and Loss” that five servants working at the forges died from the exertion of their forced labor. Historian Kent Lancaster has concluded that the conditions at Northampton were so harsh that, for enslaved individuals and indentured servants, “accidents resulting in broken bones, burns, or crushed feet were frequent.”

Learn More

  • African American man holding a wheelbarrow outside of the mansion
    Enslaved People

    Hampton was the second largest plantation in Maryland. Learn about the struggle, hardships, and lives of the enslaved.

  • An artist's depiction of an overseer in the fields watching the enslaved. With a whip behind back.
    Forms of Control

    From physical to mental abuse for the youngest ages to the oldest. Learn about the harsh truths and forms of control.

  • Enslaved workers working on the plantation farm by the overseer's house and slave quarters.
    Slavery at Hampton

    From the colonial period through 1864, the Ridgelys enslaved over 500 people. Enslaved persons, from young children to the elderly

  • Indentured Servants at Hampton
    Indentured Servants

    Indentured servants made up a significant portion of the Hampton labor force at one time. Read about their stories on the plantation.

  • Drawing of people working on a dock
    Indentured Servants at Hampton

    Indentured servants were not willing laborers and the working conditions at Northampton Furnace was grueling.

  • African American Woman, Nancy Davis, and little white girl Eliza Ridgely
    Learn about more
    People of Hampton

    Hundreds of people lived, worked, and were enslaved at Hampton coinciding America's development as a nation. Explore more of their stories.

Last updated: March 26, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

535 Hampton Lane
Towson, MD 21286


410-962-4290 (option 2)

Contact Us