Letter from Claudius Crozet Reporting the Condition of Work Under his Charge, December 1, 1854

Commenting on the unreliablity of Irish labor, Claudius Crozet recommends to the Board of Public Works that they hire black enslaved labor instead.

To the Board of Public works,


I have already had the honor to report, that all the parts of the Blue ridge railroad used by the [?] Central railroad Compn. have been completed and are now under the sole control of that company.

In addition to this, the gang of negroes, who were employed in this operation, will also have completed by next christmas the trimming and ballasting, on all the sections which are waiting for the opening of the Tunnel; so that there will be no occasion for hiring such a gang next year, and that expense will be saved.

As regards labor, things are now very different from what they have been for two years past and we can get hands very readily. Still it is the opinion of Kelly and [Lasguey] themselves, that it will be advantageous to hire as many negroes as practicable for the Tunnel; because the numerous holy days of the Irish and their practice to stop work when any one, even a mere child, dies, causes a considerable loss of time this was severely felt during the sickly year just elapsed; when, frequently, for every death, there was a suspension of labor sometimes of two days, which, here, not only occasions delay, but likewise adds to the cost of the work; there being many expenses which are not suspended by the suspension of the work.

It was difficult last year to hire negroes for the Tunnel; but now the nature of the work is better understood and I think we can obtain a greater number. There is, however, some difficulty at present to fix the price of hire, while things are so unstable; and yet it is important to secure hands before christmas, in order that they may be on the work soon thereafter: probably, if the Board will again hire negroes, the safest plan would be to do so upon some sliding scale regulated by the price of white labor; I believe some such bids will be submitted to you.

The Bricks made by Word and Richardson are very good, though made with rather inferior clay, and the arch under the dangerous rock in the main tunnel is progressing. The foundation for two feet in height is of limestone.

The Brooksville tunnel is getting more and more dangerous; to-day the front at the western side, which had stood two years without a support, took a slide; though, out of abundant caution, I had had stout frames placed under it very recently the slide involved the first two frames, under which men had been working yesterday; fortunately the accident happened during the night and no one was hurt: It will not cause any serious delay, and I hope that the arch, which is advancing rapidly, will secure this point very shortly; and then, being beyond the reach of frost, we can get with the arch to the dangerous cavity in the middle by the time the new brick is made for this place.

On the subject of these bricks, I am sorry to report that Mr. M. W. Harris, to whom and Crobarger the contract had been awarded, provided he produced satisfactory evidence of his ability as a brickmaker, has furnished me only two certificates; one from a person unknown to me residing in Stanardsville where he comes from, and the other from a Mr. Macon of Barbounville who gives no decided opinion. Moreover, I have letters from Barbounville and from Mr. Shands, who is well acquainted in Stanardsville, from which it appears that Mr. Harris is very little known there; in addition to which some disagreement has already sprung up between him and Mr. Crobarger. Under these circumstances, while I would feel disposed to encourage an industrious going man in his calling, the matter is of too vital importance to hazard any thing; and I would deem it prudent to give the contract to the actually lowest bidder, Mr. Robert Richardson, the same who is making the bricks for the main tunnel, and than whom there is no better hand at this business. The bid of Mr. Richardson had been somewhat conditional; because he had not examined the neighbourhood; but, since that, he has, in my company, searched the fields near the tunnel and formed clay identically like that of Crobarger in some other field, which removes the doubt connected with his bid.

The Board may form an idea of the skill of Mr. Richardson by the result of the experiments I have made, as in my usual practice with all the materials I have to use. While Mr. Dettor's ordinary brick was crushed under a pressure of 522 pounds to the square inch and his best by 1,000 pounds that made by Richardson out of doubtful clay required 966 pounds for inferior and 2,450 for the best per sq. inch.

Farthermore [sic] I tried to force a piece of iron, of an inch square into both kinds of bricks, which is probably the best mode of experimenting; it penetrated Dettor's brick under a pressure of 2,119 pounds, while under a pressure of 5,454 it did not make the least impression on the surface of Richardson's, which merely split, probably from unequal bearing on its supports.

With these important facts before me, and my previous knowledge of Mr. Richardson, I have no doubt that he can make, with such clay as he has discovered here, bricks that will bear as much as 4,000 pounds to the square inch, a consideration of great value where it will have to with stand such enormous pressure and probably shocks, under which I would not trust to Dettor's bricks, though I deemed it safe in the Greenwood Tunnel, where there is no comparable difficulty.

It is important that the contract should be soon closed, in order that the contractor may turn over the clay to be improved by the action of the frost during winter, and make other preparatory arrangements to deliver the bricks early in the Spring.

Very respectfully submitted
C. Crozet
Chf Engr. B. r. r. rd

About this Document

  • Source: Letter from Claudius Crozet Reporting the Condition of Work Under his Charge, December 1, 1854
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Extent: 3 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box RG 57, Box 216, Folder 3
  • Date: December 1, 1854