The Catoctin Furnace African American Cemetery represents what is thought to be the most complete African American cemetery connected with early industry in the United States. More than 100 individuals who labored at the iron-working furnace and in its surrounding community from the 1770s to the 1840s were buried there. Many of these individuals were enslaved workers, some of whom appear to have been brought directly from Africa for their valuable iron-working skills. Other individuals were probably part of the free black population that also lived and worked at the furnace. The labor pool included skilled artisans such as forge workers, colliers, masons, and carpenters. The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society is committed to increasing public awareness of the role African Americans played in the iron industry at Catoctin Furnace and elsewhere and to highlight the impact of African Americans on the industrial history of the United States.
First established in 1774, Catoctin Furnace played a crucial role in American history. For more than 125 years it manufactured iron used to produce household tools and Franklin stoves for the growing country. It also produced historically important arms and ammunition, including the bombshells fired by George Washington’s army in defeating the British at the Battle of Yorktown. The role of Catoctin Furnace in the industrial development of Maryland and the country as a whole is well known. What is much less well known is that the majority of the 18th and early 19th century workers at the furnace were enslaved African Americans. While many of these individuals are buried in the Catoctin Furnace African American Cemetery, their visibility in historical interpretations of the furnace and early industrial America has thus far been minimal. Though the cemetery is privately owned, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society is dedicated to the preservation of the site and making known its important history.