David Campbell (1779-1859) was the 27th Governor of Virginia from 1837 to 1840. He was born in a part of Washington County, Virginia, that later became Smyth County. He was a successful merchant in Abingdon, Virginia, and served in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. Both of his parents were of Scottish descent. As governor, Campbell unsuccessfully advocated creation of a statewide system of compulsory education. He called a special session of the General Assembly that helped Virginia weather the financial Panic of 1837.
Campbell wrote the letter to Thomas Parks (1804-1870) of Franklin, Tennessee. From the letter we learn that Thomas’s brother, William Parks, was contemplating investing in a iron-ore furnace located in Wayne County, Tennessee, which — apparently — David Campbell had at least a partial interest in. We learn that a Mr. Croft has been serving as the on-site manager of the furnace.
Addressed to Thomas Parkes, Esqr., Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee
11th August 1837
I staid with your brother William last night and spent the day today with him, and had considerable conversation with him on the subject of the proposed partnership and examined the property but of that, I am of course unable to form an opinion, being no judge of such matters. As to his present views, I think him still undecided whether to embark in the business or to decline it — rather inclined, however, to do the former. I made for him at his request an estimate of the business for the last week — say fro, Friday today. This calculation included the hire of hands for that time, the expense of keeping the teams, and running the works, and amounted to the sum of $276 which is perhaps under instead of over the present actual expenses. There was made in the same time twelve tons, three hundred and ninety-one pounds of metal which at $21 per ton will make $300, leaving a profit of $24 for the week’s work. But if an accurate calculation of everything were made, the probability is that the furnace has in that time sunk money and that seems to be the opinion of your brother. Indeed, as now conducted, he says the furnace must lose money.
Croft has the character of an upright, honest and industrious man but one who is so easy in his disposition that he allows all his workmen to impose upon him, and pick his pocket — or to use the language of for brother, to thrust their hands into his pocket up to the elbows. He has now in his employ a set of men four-fifths of whom it is perfectly plain to a man with half an eye are not worth the salt that would season their meat, and who work when they please and as they please, but take good care to perform as little labor as possible for their wages. They evince a good deal anxiety less he should go there and take the control of the business. According to the account William kept of it, it took twenty-two hundred & fifty-four bushels of coal to run the furnace this week. I visited the ore bank now worked and it seems very rich, but has been and is now worked in a very clumsy manner. From appearances, there will be plenty of ore for many years to come. The whole bowels of the hills seem to be filled with the ____ and if necessary a good one can be had nearer the furnace than the one now used, that _____ is near enough.
The timber of about half the land has been used, nit indeed all cut, but culled in such a way that no coaling ground can be had. The hands lazy man like having taken the smallest trees and those which were most easily cut, and left the balance. The road along which the coal and wood have now to be hauled is up a hill, or rather down it towards the furnace, about as steep as Roper’s Knife and three times as high. The house and stables are extremely poor buildings and in bad condition.
I have told you all I observed that can interest you, and perhaps much more than was necessary to weary out your patience. Upon the whole, I think your brother will decline this business. The notion, however, that he will have to invest no capital, but can make the ore of the furnace which he is to have pay for his share in the time, has taken strong hold on his mind and he is loath to relinquish the prospect and appears disposed — as I think — to look upon the whole matter too favorably. Of this, however, I am no judge. If he concludes to leave here, he speaks of going to look at a water power near Waterloo.
Be kind enough to send my wife word I am well. Yours truly, — David Campbell