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CLEMENT  Genealogy -
William CLEMENT (d. 1760) of Amelia County, Virginia - A Study of His Descendants

Charles LYNCH letters, 20 Nov 1775
Information and Transcripts by Joy Fisher, 21 September 1998, posted here by permission

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[I hope everyone is aware of the the partnership of Charles Lynch and Benjamin Clement in the manufacture of gunpowder for the colonists before and during the Revolutionary War.

Lynch sent a letter to Alexander Purdie, publisher of the Virginia Gazette describing how to recover salt petre (now called potassium nitrate) from the dirt floor of the plantation smokehouse where meats are smoked. Salt petre is an important ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder. Purdie published the letter, complete with a recipe for boiling the saltpetre out of the soil on 16 June 1775.

A second letter was published on 11 August 1775 where Lynch acknowledges his partner, Benjamin Clement - and gives Clement credit for being the first man to make gunpowder in the colonies.

Most Clement researchers are not aware that this is just the beginning of the story.

On 13 October 1775 Lynch published another letter in Purdie's VA Gazette describing the dicovery of an outcropping of naturally occurring salt petre. This letter created interest in the Continental Congress.]

From the Journals of the Continental Congress, Thurs., 26 Oct 1775 -

"Ordered, That the delegates of Virginia send an Express to enquire into the truth of the fact, and to bring a sample of the mineral."

[The letter sent to Lynch has not been found, but his reply is in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson]

From Charles Lynch -

DEAR SIR Bedford County Virginia Novr. the 20th. 1775.

        receiv'd your favour dated Philadelphia Oct. 26th by the Express. In answer thereto I assure you I have not the least doubt but we shall be able to procure that Necessary article of Salt Petre if Attended to. I find Gentlemen here loath to risk as much cash as wou'd Make the Necessary preperations. I have been kept back my self by sickness in my famely, and have been much indispos'd my self. I was first determind to se the mineral Salt Petre before I fix'd on a plan. I have describ'd the Place, the Mineral, and my intentions in answer to the Joint letter of our worthy Delegates. I gave three Negroes a part pay for the Place as cash was scarce with me. I have hands to hire, workmen to imploy, Provisions to buy, boilers &c. to purchase, that it will be attended with a good deal of Expence at first setting Out, Especially at the distance of one hundred Miles from me, but I am firmiy of Opinion if I can carry it on with spirit as I beleive can be done with two or three hundred Pounds, I shall make great quantitys of Salt Petre. As there are several Other places works may be carryed on and when it is known that it may be done to advantage I doubt not but it will be done, and we shall be supply'd with that necessary article. I could set several Places cleverly a going with five hundred Pounds. I wou'd by no means have the country neglect their floors and to have trash. As to sulpher there is abundance in many Places, but no one that I know of has attemt'd to refine it. For my own part I have not had time, but make no doubt but I cou'd do it. You wrn be the best judges after this information and trying the mineral what will be best to be done for the good of the country. For my part I intend to push it as far and as fast as I am Able. I receiv'd by Express from the committee of Safety not long since, their letter informing Me of their kind intentions of giveing Me every reasonable incouragement in manufacturing the article of gun Powder, lending me money if Wanted &c. In answer I let them know Salt Petre was the Principle thing Wanted, and Possably I might apply With proper Security for Money on that Occation. I had not then determin'd on the place or plan. I have not yet Apply'd for any Nor heard farther from them. I am Sir With great regard your freind & Humbl. Servt,



[The letter to the Delegates (below) was enclosed with the above letter.]

From Charles Lynch to the Virginia Delegates in Congress -

  From Charles Lynch
  to the Virginia Delegates in Congress
GENT Bedford county Virginia Novr. the 20th 1715.

     The express Messenger has been long detain'd, by my not being at home. It so hapend I was out in serch of the Mineral Salt Petre when he came to my house. I have at sundry times had small parcels of Salt Petre made from that mineral to manufacture into gun powder and find it to be very good, when properly refin'd. But no one attemting to carry on the business so as to be of Use to the Country I resolv'd to Exert My self that way as far as my small fortune woud admit. I have purchas'd a place on New River Where a small river cal'd Reed Iseland emtys in about Eight Miles below the Led mines. The Mineral lies on the south West side of Reed Iseland river facing the North East. It is three or four hundred yds. long from one to two hundred feet high. It aperars White, yellow, Purple and blue in places Promiscuously, on the south west it is cover'd With a large hill of earth. In some parts this Mineral produced Nitre in Others a Salt I take to be that of the Glober Kind. I have not any of the Mineral Salt Petre in its refin'd state by me, but have sent you samples of the Mineral. I only broke into the rock about Eighteen inches deep. The Salt Petre appear'd, betwen the diferent Stratums of Mineral. You will observe the thickness of each layer by the rock sent you. I have sent a small matter of the Salt Petre as it appears betwen Each layer of rock, also sample of the other salts Just as it is found there. I am told by the Man I purchasd of that the cold north East winds and freezing ralns, moulter the Rocks and bring it down in great quantitys. On the north East Side of Reed Iseland River, almost Opposite the rocks, on a piece of clear'd ground about half an acre The Salt Petre appears on the surface of the Earth and small Stones rather first on a soft redish stone a Sample of Which you have. It is on decending ground and When rain Washes all off, Which Appears again in twenty four howers fair weather, and so shoots out trn wash'd of [off] again. This hapen'd Twice in four days that I was there. This place I intend to cover for Sweepings and of the Moulter'd and pounded rock With dirt to Erect Pillars under Shelters like those describ'd at Hanover. If I can be able to compleat these I doubt not of Success. I intend immediately to set about it, but what quantity I can Make in a year you will be as good judges as Myself As I have fairly represent'd the Whole. I am informed there are Several places in those Parts Where the Mineral is preferable to that I have describ'd. I made choice of it for two reasons to Wit-that of the Salt Petre Appearing Spontaneously on the Surface of the Earth and small stones, and for an Exceeding good Spot of ground Adjoining to Rayse bred. I have Sent a sample of Salt Petre Made from dirt. A number of People in thoseparts Make Salt Petre from floors of Old Houses; Although in small quantitys and Many Make it into gunpowder. Pardon Me if I have been short in anything, While I assure you I am with the greatest Esteem Gent. your most Obet. most Humb. Servt.,       CHAS. LYNCH

Marna L. Clemons

(858) 486-6099

Created December 2000
Last Revision -
Wednesday, 04-Jan-2017 00:48:26 MST

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