Currently viewing the tag: "Catoctin Furnace Historical Society"

For millions of Americans who are descended from enslaved Africans, genealogical research often hits a dead end at the era of slavery because there were few written records of enslaved people’s lives. That has now changed for thousands of Americans who are descended from 27 enslaved workers who were buried at the Catoctin Furnace iron forge in the state of Maryland. 

Published August 4 in the journal Science, researchers from Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, 23andMe, and the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society analyzed the DNA of the remains of 27 individuals buried at Catoctin Furnace and compared it to people who have submitted their DNA to genetic genealogy databases.

The results revealed how the 27 individuals at Catoctin Furnace were related to each other, genetic conditions they may have had, and their African ancestors and American descendants.

Elizabeth Anderson Comer, CFHS President: “The search for a descendant community has been the principal quest of CFHS for more than a decade. Catoctin Furnace is an example of the tragedy of slavery writ large: namely, the erasure of the black population and collective heritage from the area, manifest in the lack of an identified descendant community. This latest research has the potential to identify individuals and reconnect this lost legacy of skilled ironworking.”

The research compares novel ancient DNA technology, which sequences genetic data from human remains to data from consumer genetic testing services, to establish relationships between the enslaved African Americans at Catoctin Furnace and modern Americans. The new method was developed by a team led by David Reich, professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, and first author Eadaoin Harney, a population geneticist at 23andMe. Until now, it has been difficult to trace family lines from enslaved people because of the absence of birth and death certificates and census listings. Before this research, there were no known descendants of the enslaved ironworkers.

By comparing the genetic profiles of the 27 Catoctin Furnace workers to millions of American DNA profiles, 41,799 relatives were identified. Of those, 2975 participants were found to be close relatives of the Catoctin Furnace workers. The results have a profound impact on our understanding of the history of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

The research also shows that the people buried at Catoctin Furnace were descended from people in West and Central Africa, particularly the Wolof and Mandinka of Senegambia and the Kongo of Central Africa. Fifteen of the Catoctin workers were part of five genetic families who were buried close together.

Elizabeth Anderson Comer, CFHS President: “This research may increase our understanding of knowledge transfer of ironworking skills from the continent of Africa. For example, well over forty thousand smelting furnaces have been counted in one eighty-kilometer section of the Senegal River Valley in Mauritania, illustrating the prevalence of ironmaking. These results may inform future research linking knowledge transfer of ironworking to the colonies, that was then exploited by owners who realized great wealth and power for themselves.”

The Catoctin Furnace study moves genetic research into African American family trees forward and helps to right some of the historical wrongs that were created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Catoctin Furnace was built in 1774 by four brothers, James, Baker, Thomas, and Roger Johnson, to produce iron from the rich deposits of hematite found in the nearby mountains. The iron furnace at Catoctin played a pivotal role during the Industrial Revolution in the young United States; American cannonballs fired during the Battle of Yorktown came from here. The furnace supported a thriving community, and company houses were established alongside the furnace stack. Throughout the nineteenth century, the furnace produced iron for household and industrial products. Catoctin Furnace ceased production in 1903.

In 1973, The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc. was formed by G. Eugene Anderson, Clement E. Gardiner, J. Franklin Mentzer, and Earl M. Shankle to “foster and promote the restoration of the Catoctin Furnace Historic District…and to maintain the same exclusively for educational and scientific purposes,” as well as “to exhibit to coming generations our heritage of the past.”

Catoctin Furnace maintains much of its original layout and structures, which were constructed primarily between 1774 and 1820. The village introduces visitors to the area’s historical importance and heritage resources, providing the look and feel of an early industrial complex yet retaining the freshness and charm of a small community at the foot of Catoctin Mountain. It is located 12 miles north of Frederick on Maryland Route 806 (Catoctin Furnace Road). For more information, call 240-288-7396 or visit

Pictured from left are Russ Thompson, Program Committee; Ray Ediger, Program Committee; Elizabeth Comer, guest speaker; and Harold Staley, Program Committee.

Courtesy Photos

Elizabeth Comer, an archaeologist who serves as the president of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc. and president of EAC/Archaeology, Inc., was the guest speaker of the March meeting of the Lewistown Ruritan Club. 

Comer gave an interesting presentation on the historic industrial iron furnace and village at the foot of Maryland’s beautiful Catoctin Mountains.  She described the restoration project of this area that commemorates the state as a center for the craft of iron making. Her presentation was well received by the club members and guests, as evidenced by the lively question and answer period afterward.

In addition, the Lewistown Ruritan is proud to welcome Greg Daniels as a new member. Greg was sponsored by Jeff Barber, Lewistown Ruritan Club member. This is the fourth new member that Jeff has sponsored for the Lewistown Ruritan. 

The Lewistown Ruritan Club works to improve the community through funds raised from its famous chicken BBQs and other fundraising events. They always welcome new members to the Lewistown Ruritan.

The Lewistown Ruritan Club is proud to be an organization of positive people doing positive things in our community. The club meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Lewistown United Methodist Church.

The Washington Revels Jubilee Voices performed at Harriet Chapel as part of the Iron Festival which is presented through the dedication of volunteers from The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Catoctin State Park, Harriet Chapel, The Thurmont Library, and numerous other community organizations.

The performance was generously sponsored by PNC Bank and centered around the lives of enslaved people who worked in the Catoctin Iron Furnace and helped build many of the structures in the Village of Catoctin Furnace.  The Washington Revels Jubilee Voices ensemble is a professional musical group committed to the preservation of African-American history and traditions—presenting songs and stories of struggle and perseverance, trials and triumphs, expressed through a cappella music, drama, and dance.

Catoctin Voices Evening of Poetry opens its 2018 series with guest poet, Jessica Flynn, on Friday, April 20, at 7:00 p.m. in the Collier’s Log House, located at 12607 Catoctin Furnace Road in Thurmont. Flynn, of Gardners, Pennsylvania, has written poetry for sixteen years and performed as a Spoken Word Artist for over four years. She represented the USA as an award-winning Poet of 2015 in the International Poetry Festival in Macedonia. Her YouTube channel, “The Hippie Housewife,” currently features fifty-nine videos on topics such as art, crafts, food, nature, family, animals, tattooing, dreadlocks, hula hooping, children, and more. She produces two videos per week. Her husband, Dustin Nispel, is also an award-winning published poet and Spoken Word Artist.

Catoctin Voices is open to the public and features a guest poet from the region every third Friday of the month, from 7:00-9:00 p.m., April through November. The venue is held in the village of Catoctin Furnace at the historic Collier’s Cabin, courtesy of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society. Anyone who writes poetry or has a favorite poem by another author may share up to three pieces during the 45-minute open mic time. Students are most welcome! Open readings precede the featured poet and refreshments are always served. For more information, call 301-418-3375.

Jessica Flynn, featured guest poet at Catoctin Voices Evening of Poetry on April 20, 2018.

Deb Spalding

As we enter the Holiday shopping season, it’s important to be prepared and, sometimes, cautious. Here at The Catoctin Banner newspaper, we encourage local shopping—with our valued advertisers, of course!

Statistics suggest that shopping locally helps support our local economy, since the money stays in our community. Another major plus is that it strengthens our community by providing jobs.

In support of shopping locally, we’d like to remind shoppers to “beware” should you decide to meander to a big city or play in cyberspace. It’s a nasty world out there, sometimes. Here are some examples of situations where you should be cautious. Don’t be a sucker!

Sucker Tip #1: Do not respond to unsolicited emails on the computer or unsolicited offers on the street, in the mall, or on your computer. While working on the computer, I opened an email that turned out to have a virus attached. I spent a lot of time and money removing it. Something might look appealing to click on and possibly purchase; however, be weary if you don’t know the site or the sender. In the aftermath, I am fed up but wiser. May my sentiments carry us all safely through shopping season.

Sucker Tip #2: Avoid filling out forms both online and in person. Did I tell you, I just won a wonderful vacation from those nice people “giving away” free vacations at an event I attended this past summer? NOT! If I fulfil my sucker destiny, I will spend a few thousand on a vacation to some place I had no plans to visit. I get something for free, but the end doesn’t justify the price.

Sucker Tip #3: Are the deals really worth the hassle? I waited in line on Black Friday last year and missed the deal. The last one was given to the lucky sucker five up in line from me. If you really want the prize, be sure to calculate your risk and reward ratios. It’s cold outside!

So, save yourself time, gas, and headaches and see what your neighbors are selling (this is only a partial list of local ideas for gifts; sorry to all who are not mentioned. Please check out the ads in this issue for more ideas.)

The Thurmont Lions Club is selling some great holiday gifts of mural designs created by Artist Yemi. Commemorative gift items include all six murals, signed prints, individual mural prints, ornaments of etched glass, and a full color giant book Thurmont – Murals and Memories.

Each year, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society members decorate wreaths to your design with bows, pinecones, ornaments, icicles, and more, during the Traditional Village Christmas event on December 6, from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Coffee gift baskets are available at Holy Grounds Café in Emmitsburg.

Browns’ Jewelry has beautiful fine jewelry, watches, and gifts in stock in Thurmont.

Schedule your appointment with Nails By Anne for a fresh holiday manicure or pedicure!

Hunters might like their trophy mounted by Quirauk Skull Works.

We have many auto repair professionals throughout The Catoctin Banner reading area. It may be time for a tune up, a shine, or some new tires.

Vigilant Hose Company members are selling Gun Calendars and Spring Fling Tickets. Get yours today!

White House Ornaments, honoring President Warren G. Harding, are being sold by the Catoctin Area Civitan Club.

Gateway Candyland Market will hold a candy making open house with a large selection of Christmas gifts and crafts, including an open door into At Home Primitives, where home décor is abundant.

Get your Shot Shell Christmas lights from the Frederick County 4-H Shooting Sport Club.

There are unlimited sources for gift certificates in our local area.  Patronizing local artists, authors, and photographers is a unique alternative for meaningful gifts.

Members of the Catoctin Area Civitan Club are offering 2014 White House ornaments that honor President Warren G. Harding. If you would like more information, please call 301-676-9752.

The ideas listed here are just a sampling of ideas to get you started. Remember, don’t be a sucker and enjoy the Holidays!