Peter Hasenclever (1716-1793)

Peter Hasenclever was a German-born international businessman active from approximately 1733 until 1792. From 1764 to 1770, he resided in the British colonies of New York and New Jersey, where he established an ultimately unsuccessful transatlantic enterprise to produce, transport, and market iron and steel.

Updated: January 04, 2016


Peter Hasenclever (born November 24, 1716, in Remscheid, Duchy of Berg; died June 13, 1793, in Landeshut, Province of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia) was a German-born international businessman active from approximately 1733 until 1792. From 1764 to 1770, he resided in the British colonies of New York and New Jersey, where he established a transatlantic enterprise to produce, transport, and market iron and steel. The enterprise, extremely ambitious for its time, was ultimately unsuccessful. Like many entrepreneurs of his time, Hasenclever developed an extended network of family members, business partners, and political patrons, and the collapse of some of those relationships contributed to the failure of his North American venture. Hasenclever departed British North America in 1769, eventually relocating to Silesia, where he was active in business until his death in 1793.

Family Background

Peter Hasenclever was born in 1716 near Remscheid, in the Duchy of Berg in the German Rhineland (now part of the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen). His father, Luther Hasenclever, owned several mills producing steel.[1] Given the technology of the time, these mills likely operated on a very small scale, with steelmakers pounding charcoal into molten iron in order to produce carbon steel, a few kilograms at a time. Solingen, ten kilometers to the west, has been known since medieval times for manufacturing swords and knives, and it is likely that Luther Hasenclever’s business was related to that industry.

Peter Hasenclever was the eldest of twelve children. The family apparently was Lutheran, although Peter Hasenclever was not known for his religiosity. His early years were spent in Lennep, seven kilometers from Remscheid, where his maternal grandfather, Peter Moll, owned a factory that made cloth from Spanish wool. At fourteen years of age, he entered a school in Solingen to learn business, including bookkeeping and mathematics. The following year he began working as a laborer at a Solingen steel mill, wielding a hammer to turn iron into steel. At the age of seventeen, Peter was sent to Liege to learn French, then the language of international commerce. He apparently joined his father’s business immediately thereafter. By 1736, when he was twenty, he had already undertaken two business trips to France, travelling as far as Bayonne – on foot.[2]

Early Business Activities

At some point around 1740, Luther Hasenclever’s steel business failed.[3] Faced with the need to support a large number of dependents, Peter Hasenclever joined a cousin’s textile and garment business at Burscheid, near Aachen. On trips to France, Silesia, Poland, and Russia, he demonstrated his skill as a textile dealer. In 1738, he was sent to Spain to procure wool. This took him to Cádiz, home to the great fleet that sailed to Spain’s colonies in Mexico and Panama with casks of olive oil and crates of glassware and returned laden with what in German is referred to as Kolonialwaren. Hasenclever also traveled to Lisbon, where many German traders were active. He returned to Burscheid with a profit, expecting to be made a partner in the textile business. The partnership offer was not forthcoming, as Hasenclever’s cousin wanted to preserve ownership for his five children. Hasenclever consequently quit the firm.[4]

Hasenclever went to Lisbon in the spring of 1745 to establish a partnership with his uncle, Anton Hasenclever, having borrowed money from a French textile maker to purchase a stake in the firm. Upon arriving in Lisbon, he discovered that his uncle had died, and he instead joined a partnership with two distant cousins, Hermann and Jakob Metzener. Later that year, he married Katherine Wilds, daughter of Elias Wilds, a British ship captain. In 1750, Peter Hasenclever and his family moved to Cádiz, where he set up another trading house, Hasenclever & Timmerman. The following year, a young Londoner, Benjamin Bewicke, was admitted to the partnership, now Hasenclever, Bewicke & Timmerman.[5]

Both of these enterprises were what German historian Werner Sombart referred to as “double commission houses.” They purchased Spanish wool for factories in the Rhineland, where it was spun and woven into cloth. This task would have required the partners or their employees to examine wool for the specific characteristics desired by the factory, select which lots to purchase, package the purchased wool, and arrange its transportation to Germany. At the same time, they received cloth on consignment from textile plants across Europe, for sale in Spain or, if no sale could be arranged there, for export to the colonies.[6] Market conditions were difficult, as French cloth was gradually pushing German cloth out of the Spanish market. Hasenclever lost one-third of his capital. To salvage the situation, he traveled across Europe. In France, he visited factories and studied the latest production methods. He determined that official quality controls were important in assuring the quality of French textiles and recommended unsuccessfully that similar measures be put in place in Westphalia and Silesia. He also provided samples to his clients in the Rhineland and to his brother, Johann Engelbrecht Hasenclever, who he had helped establish as a textile maker in Schmiedeberg, Silesia (now the town of Kowary, Poland).[7]

In 1754 he reached Potsdam, the seat of the Prussian government. At the time, Prussia had sent an agent to Spain to negotiate a trade agreement. Hasenclever, introduced to a cabinet minister, explained why the proposed agreement was unadvisable, and the agent was recalled. This involvement led to a personal meeting with King Frederick II (also known as Frederick the Great). Hasenclever was quick to exploit these new relationships. In November 1754, he wrote Frederick a letter (in French) from Berlin, proposing that his brother, in Schmiedeberg, produce for export to Spain a French-style fabric of higher quality than anything else made in Silesia. He asked the king to subsidize this plan with a seven-percent premium for ten years. Frederick referred this proposal to the minister for Silesia, Joachim Ewald von Massow, who confirmed to the king that Hasenclever “has been praised to me as a capable, refined, and reliable businessman.” After three months of intense negotiations, Hasenclever won the right to make the textiles not only in Silesia but also in the Duchy of Glatz, in Bohemia, where he built a factory for his youngest brother, Franz Hasenclever.[8]  

The hard-fought negotiations apparently left no hard feelings, for Hasenclever continued to advise the king and his minister. When he informed von Massow that the irregular sizes of Prussian textiles were a problem in the Spanish market, the king issued an order standardizing the width of Prussian cloth. Hasenclever also advised Frederick on measures for promoting the Silesian textile industry.[9]

On his return to Cádiz, in July 1755, Hasenclever found that his partners had extended credits to individuals he mistrusted. He terminated his arrangement with Bewicke and Timmerman and entered a new partnership with two Germans, Weerkamp and Böhl. This partnership proved quite successful, leaving Hasenclever wealthy. When he sailed to London in 1758 in hopes of finding a better climate for his ailing wife, he carried 25,000 Reichsthäler (roughly £10,000) and one million Spanish piasters (approximately £67,000) in coin, in addition to considerable merchandise. Hasenclever settled his wife in London and traveled overland to Cadiz in 1759, making a chance acquaintance with the Spanish Inquisitor. The Inquisitor soon visited him in Cádiz, to Hasenclever’s renown.[10]

In 1762, Hasenclever restructured his Spanish partnership once more, then departed on a trip to Northern Europe. Apparently, he had a particular goal in mind. The previous year, in Solingen, he had met with the British general and parliamentarian David Graeme, who had been sent to find a German wife for the newly crowned King George III. Hasenclever advanced the idea of replacing Great Britain’s extensive iron imports with iron from the American colonies. Graeme was encouraging. Hasenclever discussed this subject further with his contacts in London in 1762, then visited works in Sweden that made iron for the British market. He then formulated a plan to develop business in British North America.[11]

The American Company

In 1763, Hasenclever moved to London. Payment of £70 persuaded Parliament to grant him British citizenship, and with it the right to invest in the colonies.[12] He entered into a partnership with two English merchants, Andrew Seton and Charles Crofts. This was a sizeable business, capitalized at £21,000: £8,000 from Hasenclever, £8,000 from Seton, and £5,000 from the third partner, Crofts. None of the three men had been to America, but all had heard tales about the colonies’ vast natural wealth. They knew that Great Britain imported 40,000 tons of bar iron annually at £16 per ton, an enormous annual expenditure of £640,000. The partnership proposed that iron from the American colonies should supplant imports from Sweden and Russia. Hasenclever knew the iron business, and he and his partners reckoned they could earn an annual return of twenty to thirty percent on their investment trading American iron across the Atlantic.[13]

This would not be a simple undertaking for Parliament had long opposed manufacturing in America. This opposition was rooted in Mercantilist ideology, widely accepted at the time, which contended that a country’s geopolitical power could be maximized by encouraging exports of manufactured goods and importing only raw materials. There were also practical reasons for opposing manufactured imports. Trade was financed in silver. If a country ran a trade surplus, it could amass considerable stocks of silver, which could also be used to hire soldiers and build warships. A trade deficit, in contrast, meant an outflow of silver, potentially weakening the country’s ability to project military power.[14]

As early as 1699, an English law prohibited woolen cloth made in any American colony from being exported outside that colony, lest this “tend to the ruine of the Trade and Woollen Manufactures of this Realm.”[15] In 1734, the House of Lords issued a more general order, declaring that settlers in America were to “apply their industry to the cultivation of naval stores and likewise of such other products as may be proper for the soil of the said colonies and do not interfere with the trade or produce of Great Britain." The colonists were meant to send the mother country lightly processed raw materials, such as turpentine distilled from pine sap, dried tobacco leaves, and tree trunks suitable for ship masts. The work of transforming raw commodities into more valuable goods was to be performed in Great Britain, which furnished the colonies with everything from textiles to pottery to window glass. The colonists might weave homespun cloth and make crude furniture, but only for local consumption.[16]

The desire to protect British industry had foundered on a dangerous reality. The Navy Board was by far the country’s largest consumer of iron, using it to make everything from pulleys to cannon balls for the Royal Navy. But exhausted mines and depleted forests meant that British producers could no longer meet the Royal Navy’s endless demand for iron. Starting in the early eighteenth century, increasing amounts of iron, in the form of bars, were imported, mainly from Sweden and Russia.[17]

As international tensions between Sweden and Great Britain intensified in the 1740s, the Navy’s reliance on Swedish iron was increasingly seen as a security risk. This prompted Parliament to open the door to iron imports from the colonies in 1750, exempting colonial pig and bar iron imported through London from import duties. To protect producers in other parts of the country, no American iron could be moved more than ten miles from London, except to the royal dockyards.[18] In 1757, Parliament extended the duty exemption to all American iron bars, regardless of the port through which they entered, and allowed unlimited land transportation within the country.[19] While it remained illegal to establish slitting and rolling mills, plating forges, and steel furnaces in America, exporting crude iron to Great Britain had now received modest official encouragement.[20]

With his move to London, Hasenclever renewed his acquaintance with Graeme, who had become private secretary to Queen Charlotte. Graeme introduced him to George Jackson, soon to be named deputy secretary of the Admiralty, a position from which he would have enormous influence over the Navy’s purchases of iron. These aristocrats and their friends put up £40,000 to form the American Company. Hasenclever would run the company’s business in America, and the partnership of Hasenclever, Seton, and Crofts would transport its products and sell them in Britain.[21]

In January 1764, with permission from the British government, Franz Caspar Hasenclever, a cousin, secretly traveled to northwestern Germany to recruit a labor force. In the face of a ban on the emigration of skilled workers, he offered miners, masons, ironmakers, and forgemen free passage to the new world in return for the obligation of five years’ work for the American Company. Peter Hasenclever set sail from Falmouth on April 20, landing in New York on June 4.[22]

Soon thereafter, he purchased an existing iron works, the Ringwood Company, in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey. The company, according to a newspaper advertisement in March 1764, offered “a new well-built furnace; good iron mines near the same; two forges – one with 3, and the other with 2 fires – a saw mill, several dwelling-houses and coal-houses, and several tracts of land adjoining; carts, wagons, utensils and tools proper for the works.”[23] The purchase came with 10,000 acres of rocky, inaccessible land. The location, near the border between the colonies of New York and New Jersey and barely thirty miles from New York Harbor, was remote. The Ramapos, low but extremely rugged hills, pockmarked with lakes and outcroppings of crystalline rock, were still a wilderness area in the 1760s, posed an all but impassible barrier to the northwest of New York. A century and a half after English colonists first settled on the American continent, the area was almost uninhabited by European settlers.[24]

It was in this unpromising location that Hasenclever proposed to develop the American Company’s iron manufactory. The government of New Jersey colony, the Board of Proprietors, approved his plans after its investigators reported, “In our opinion the land is entirely unfit for any purpose but that Mr. H proposed to employ it in.” The first group of 200 German workers and dependents is believed to have arrived in New York via Rotterdam in June 1764. Others, led by Franz Caspar Hasenclever, arrived in late summer. The old mines were reopened and old hearths relit, and by November 1764 the forge began shipping iron bars to London.[25] In 1765, bolstered by his initial success, Hasenclever ordered massive investments to expand the American Company’s ironmaking empire.

Located in an obscure corner of the British empire, the American Company was a pathbreaking enterprise. It was among the very few manufacturing establishments anywhere that engaged large numbers of employees at regular wages; almost all of the substantial industrial enterprises at the time were involved in spinning yarn or weaving cloth, and much of their production was “put out” to workers who spun or wove at home and were paid on a “piecework” basis for the quantity produced. Also, the American Company was attempting to produce on a massive scale in an industry known for its primitive methods of production.

New Jersey had hundreds of iron mines in the 1760s, mainly in its mountainous northern reaches. These were typically operated by the owner and one or two hired miners, often working with pick and shovel alongside black slaves. As there were no navigable waterways in the area, the ore was loaded on to a cart pulled by horses or oxen. It was then transported overland to an iron works, invariably located on a stream that could provide waterpower. In some cases, the iron works had an adjoining stamping mill, where a hammer driven by a water wheel pounded the ore into small chunks to simplify the iron-making process. In other cases, the ore went directly to a hearth or furnace where iron was produced.[26]

The most common type of smelter for making iron was a bloomery. Bloomeries were little more than glorified blacksmith’s forges for working with ore. The stone hearth was first heated with charcoal. Ore, a flux such as limestone, and more charcoal were then placed atop the hot coals, and a leather bellows powered by a water wheel pumped in air through an inlet to keep the charcoal hot. The ironmaker, often a slave unable to refuse the hot and dangerous job, would work the mass of ore with a bar so that all parts of the ore mass would come in contact with the air. As the iron began to glow, the ironmaker would use the bar to push aside dirt and rock and then lift the glowing mass of metal, called a bloom, on to an anvil. A second water wheel powered a hammer, consisting of a heavy iron block fastened to the end of a wooden beam that would hammer out more impurities. As the bloom cooled, it was placed in another hearth, called a “chafery,” for softening so it could be pounded further. A day of heavy labor in almost unbearable heat might produce a few standard-size bars of wrought iron, 14 feet long and two inches on a side.[27]

Bloomeries were relatively inefficient, but they were much cheaper to build than the main alternative, blast furnaces. A blast furnace was a stone structure 20 feet high and square at its base, tapering toward the top. Within this structure was a beehive-shaped oven a few feet in diameter, designed to sustain very high temperatures for months on end. On one side was the opening for a pipe through which the water-powered bellows would force air into the oven. On the other were two openings, the upper one for drawing off waste material, or slag, and the lower for tapping molten iron. Ore and a flux, such as limestone or oyster shells, were placed in the heated oven, which was then made white hot by blasts from the bellows. The heat, far more than a bloomery could achieve, was sufficient to liquefy the mass, allowing the impurities to rise to the top, where they could be drawn off. Periodically, the molten iron was allowed to trickle through the lower opening into molds in sand, known as “pig” molds. As molten iron was drawn off at the bottom of the furnace, more ore and flux were introduced at the top, allowing the blast furnace to operate continuously. In a week, a blast furnace might produce 25 or 30 tons of pig iron, enough to form a cube roughly five feet on a side. Pig iron was too brittle for many purposes, but the cast pigs could be hauled to a forge, reheated, and beaten into wrought iron bars. After operating non-stop with intense heat for several months, a blast furnace had to be rebuilt or simply abandoned.[28]

New Jersey had eight blast furnaces and forty-two bloomeries or other forges in the 1760s.[29] Each was located in the midst of a large tract of forest. According to one estimate, the charcoal needed to fuel a bloomery making 100 tons of good-quality wrought-iron bars per year would require 250 acres of woodland. This acreage was cut, or “coppiced,” every 20 or 25 years, and then allowed to grow back. The bloomery thus needed a charcoal tract of 5,000 acres to operate on a sustainable basis. It also required a farm to raise feed for the draft animals used to haul timber and iron.[30] 

The iron pigs or bars were typically sold at spot prices either at the furnace or in the nearest town. The owners of iron works often had their wealth tied up in timberlands needed for charcoal and were short of cash, so they normally preferred not to bear the cost and delay of transporting the iron to urban markets, leaving that task to intermediaries. The lowest-quality iron usually ended up in the hands of blacksmiths who would buy a bar or two and heat it again to make horseshoes, hinges, or nails. Higher-quality bars could be made into steel for knives and axe heads by adding carbon. The method was to hammer small pieces of charcoal into molten iron until the carbon in the wood diffused into the metal, making a few pounds of carbon steel at a time.

These were the sorts of facilities the American Company had acquired. But Hasenclever had a far grander vision. His ambition was to create the most modern metals manufactory of its day, furnishing high-quality iron to satisfy the British market, not the low-grade product used in the colonies. He hoped that over time, the American Company would begin processing its own iron into steel. The joint partnerships would increase their profits by controlling every stage of the operation, from mining on remote New Jersey mountainsides to selling metal bars in London.

To realize this vision, the American Company acquired yet more land, until it owned thirty-four square miles of New Jersey forest and fifty-three mines. German stonemasons erected a blast furnace at a remote place called Charlottenburg; another ten miles north, near Long Pond; and a third three miles east of Long Pond, on the Ringwood River. They built two stamping mills for crushing iron ore; seven forges to refashion pig iron into wrought iron bars; and ten coalhouses to turn trees into charcoal. Some of these structures were quite sizeable; the forge at Charlottenburg was forty-five feet wide and eighty feet long. Near each furnace, they built cabins for workers and stone houses for managers. To supply this industrial complex with ore, limestone, and timber, 214 company-owned oxen pulled carts over miles of company-owned road hacked out of the wilderness, crossing ten new company-owned bridges and skirting nine new ponds. New dams impounded four reservoirs; the largest, 860 feet long and twenty-two feet tall, created Tuxedo Lake, which was siphoned off into a three-mile-long canal – perhaps the first canal in America – to power mills to the south, reversing the original flow. Four water-powered sawmills cut lumber to shore up mines and frame buildings. Farms raised hay to feed the animals and food for the American Company’s sizeable workforce. After floods in the winter of 1765, the new dams and some of the other infrastructure had to be rebuilt, burdening the American Company with unanticipated costs.[31]

Labor costs as well turned out to be higher than anticipated. Hasenclever complained that his workers were “refractory,” threatening to quit en masse unless he raised their pay. “I was, therefore, obliged to submit, for it had cost a prodigious expense to transport them from Germany; and, had I dismissed them, I must have lost these disbursements, and could get no good workmen in their stead,” Hasenclever reported.[32] Even with higher wages, some of his indentured workers ran away. On May 29, 1766, for example, seven miners, “all Germans, and talk very little English,” disappeared from Ringwood only one year and eight months into their five-year contracts, wearing soldiers’ jackets and carrying their guns and hammers. Hasenclever offered a reward of £5 pounds for each man returned, a substantial sum, although he made clear that his aim was not to put them back to work but “to get them secured in any of his Majesty’s gaols.” Five of the runaways were captured in Trenton, the jailer warning that if they were not claimed within five weeks, they would be sold “to pay their Charges.”[33]

Hasenclever did not devote his full attention to making iron in New Jersey. In September 1765, barely a year after he had restarted the works at Ringwood and in the midst of the American Company’s massive capital spending program, he found time to travel to Boston and Newport, a trip that kept him away from Ringwood for almost three months.[34] A separate tour took him to Detroit via Lakes Ontario and Erie;[35] along the way, he arranged to purchase 18,000 acres near present-day Herkimer, New York, then a frontier area 240 difficult miles north of Ringwood, to grow hemp, for rope-making, and madder, used in dyes, and to make potash (potassium carbonate) and pearl ash (a purer variant) from the ashes of hardwood trees. All of these products were useful to the flourishing British textile industry, and the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, in London, was offering premiums for their production in North America.[36] He also built an ironworks in Cortlandt, New York, and acquired 40,000 acres in Nova Scotia and an additional 11,500 acres near Crown Point on Lake Champlain, an area known for iron mines. By 1766, Hasenclever controlled more than 100,000 acres (156 square miles) of land in British North America.[37] 

In a stream of upbeat letters to influential men back in England, Hasenclever emphasized the colonies’ promise and urged the government to encourage industry there.[38] He wanted the American Company to invest aggressively while land in America was still cheap. But he had spent more money than his partners had agreed to invest. Although Hasenclever, Seton and Crofts had supposedly made a profit of £6,230, the powerful men who invested in the American Company had received no dividends, because that enterprise was not profitable. Storms destroyed millraces and waterwheels, requiring outlays for reconstruction. The forges could produce iron only until winter made the roads impassible and brought the waterwheels to a halt; for two or three months a year, they made no iron to sell. The iron mines at Crown Point were useless due to the difficulty of transportation; they would eventually be exploited only after completion of the Champlain Canal connecting Lake Champlain and the Hudson River in 1823.[39]

In hindsight, it appears that the conditions needed to make the American Company’s venture successful did not exist in the 1760s. Available machinery would not enable a large mill to produce an iron bar more cheaply than a small mill. Marginal costs may actually have increased with output, as trees nearest the blast furnaces were cut first to make charcoal, requiring that timber and charcoal hauled progressively longer distances in future years. The transport of pigs from furnace to forge and iron bars to the docks along New York Harbor would have proceeded one wagonload at a time, regardless of the quantity manufactured. There were thus few economies of scale or scope that could work to the American Company’s advantage. Moreover, as Hasenclever would later admit, he had projected the enterprise’s costs based on experience in Germany, but America had higher wages and poorer-quality wood and ore, as a result of which “the American Iron turns out so dear.”[40]

Peter Hasenclever’s Disgrace

In 1766, one of Hasenclever’s London partners, Andrew Seton, was declared bankrupt, supposedly owing £15,000 to the partnership. Hasenclever sailed for London in November 1766, learning upon his arrival that the debts were far larger. Meanwhile, Crofts had managed to pull his capital out of the partnership. The scandal enveloped the American Company as well, because Seton had arranged for several men, including Commodore Arthur Forrest, a hero of the Seven Years’ War, to borrow money from Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts to purchase shares in the American Company.[41] Although Hasenclever came armed with a letter of introduction from Sir Henry Moore, the royal governor of New York, attesting to his achievements, the American Company’s investors decided to look at their partnership’s finances more closely. They soon discovered that Hasenclever had spent £54,000 on the company’s behalf, far more than the £40,000 they had agreed to invest. Remarkably, Hasenclever responded by proposing yet another colonial venture, asking the government for permission to buy from the crown an ironworks in Saint Maurice, Quebec, which France had ceded to George III in 1763.[42] Hasenclever may have hoped to obtain this asset at little or no cost, but the proposal was not approved.

Hasenclever’s problems may not have been entirely financial. In March 1765, the British parliament had approved the Stamp Act, requiring that many paper materials in the American colonies, from court documents to playing cards, be taxed to cover the cost of providing military protection for the colonies. The law was strongly opposed in the colonies, with Hasenclever among its many critics. According to one report, Hasenclever allowed The Constitutional Gazette, an anti-Stamp Act broadsheet, to be printed at the American Company’s ironworks in 1765. During his stay in London in 1766 and 1767, Hasenclever missed no opportunity to criticize the law and urge that Great Britain should support the growth of industry in the colonies. His vociferous lobbying may well have antagonized the powerful investors in the American Company, several of whom held high positions in government.[43]

The American Company’s partners insisted that their agreement be renegotiated. Under the new terms, Hasenclever owned only three shares, each valued at £1,000, a small fraction of the partnership’s capital. However, he was to receive a three percent commission on all iron sent to London, a 2.5 percent commission on goods and provisions purchased in America to benefit the company, and a one percent commission on goods received from London. Although Hasenclever claimed that the shareholders praised his work, to obtain the new arrangement he was forced to give the American Company some land he had purchased privately and to cover some expenses he had sought to charge to the company. The compensation structure appears to have been designed to encourage Hasenclever to focus on iron production rather than on expansion. He sailed for New York on June 1, 1767, discovering upon his arrival in August that two buildings used to make charcoal had burned and that the company’s financial records were in disorder.[44]

Unbeknownst to Hasenclever, the American Company’s partners sent a manager to oversee their investment. Jeston Humfray, who arrived in New York just 46 days after Hasenclever’s return, came with full power to manage the iron works. Hasenclever refused to cooperate with him, claiming that the other partners were attempting to cheat him out of his share of the partnership. Two months later, on December 12, 1767, Hasenclsever received a letter from the company’s trustees directing him to send the company’s account books to London and let Humfray run the works. As matters deteriorated, in April 1768 he received word that the trustees had suspended him and that they refused to honor his bills, leaving him personally responsible for costs he intended the company to pay, plus damages. Hasenclever characterized this as the trustees’ attempt to fraudulently steal his assets. “Nothing was omitted to complete my ruin,” he wrote later.[45]

Hasenclever petitioned New Jersey Governor William Franklin to investigate the trustees’ claims that he had mismanaged the company, while his London partners worked through the Earl of Hillsborough, the British official responsible for colonial policy, to request Governor Moore to intervene in Humfray’s behalf.[46]  Three commissioners appointed by Franklin reported in July 1768 that “Mr. Hasenclever has accomplished a great deal” and concluded that none of his expenditures were unnecessary. “He is the first person that we know who has so greatly improved the use of the great natural ponds of the country, as by damming them to secure reservoirs of water for the use of iron-works in the dry season, without which the best streams are liable to fail in the great droughts we are subject to.”[47] Nonetheless, in October 1768 Hasenclever was publicly accused of being an absconded debtor.

In 1769, his erstwhile partners Seton and Crofts were released from their debts, for which Hasenclever was made responsible. Hasenclever determined to return to London to fight his enemies. As a debtor on a “parole of honor,” he was barred from leaving New York. He secretly boarded a vessel bound for Charleston, South Carolina. There, he boarded an England-bound ship at Charleston in June 1769. He would never return to America.

In London, Hasenclever learned he had been made responsible for further debts supposedly incurred by Seton and Crofts. To avoid prison, the fate of many a British debtor, he surrendered his assets, including his shares in the American Company and land patents in the colonies. In May 1770, his creditors agreed to sign a certificate that the matter had been settled, entitling him to enter business once more. But the trustees of the American Company objected to the settlement, claiming that Hasenclever had defrauded them in connection with a land sale. Despite interventions by the King of Prussia and the States General of the Netherlands, the Court of Chancery ruled in favor of his extremely influential antagonists, requiring Hasenclever to pay an additional £4,000.[48] Hasenclever’s self-published book, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, Merchant, was issued in 1773 in a futile attempt to convince the Lord Chancellor that he had been wronged.

Later Years

The American Company sent a new manager to America in 1771. The ironworks were reopened, and would operate for another century. But Hasenclever had no further role in the business. In 1773, he moved to Silesia, first to Gratz, then to Landeshut (now the Polish community of Kamienna Góra), the two locations where he had helped his brothers establish textile factories years before.

In letters and articles, he continued to promote the virtues of America. In a letter now lost, he wrote to Frederick II in September 1772, urging the king to seek closer trade relations with the English colonies in America. Frederick, responding in French, dismissed him, noting that “my subjects will be happy to undertake and maintain [commerce] with the other nations of Europe.”[49] In 1783, just after the end of the American war for independence from Great Britain, he proposed the creation of a trading company to export Prussian manufactures to America. Frederick II eventually rejected the idea. “Nothing can be more dangerous for the state” than trade in manufactured goods with a country that does not pay its foreign creditors, Frederick declared, adding that the only beneficiaries from such trade would be the “speculative businesspeople” who hope the state will subsidize Prussia exports.[50]  Around the same time, the managers of the Ringwood works invited him to return and assume ownership, but Hasenclever declined.[51]

Hasenclever remained active in business to the end of his life, and repeatedly offered proposals to modernize the Silesian textile industry and increase the region’s exports. He never ceased his battle to reclaim his reputation. In 1787, a court in London finally declared that he had satisfied all debts and was once more free to do business in Great Britain. Hasenclever died on June 13, 1793, in Landeshut, at the age of 76. Six months later, the Chancery Court in London ruled that some of the American Company partners who had accused him of fraud a quarter-century earlier owed Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts the enormous sum of £158,400. The money was never paid, as Hasenclever’s antagonists, then living in New York, declared bankruptcy.[52]

As an immigrant entrepreneur, Hasenclever was welcomed in North America, and his effort to build up the colonies’ economy was widely appreciated. He clearly underestimated the difficulties of making iron in a place of which he had no direct knowledge, and which lacked adequate infrastructure, and his incessant efforts to expand the enterprise before core activities were operating profitably proved counterproductive. But a more basic cause of his failure may have been his attempt to run a capital-intensive business without permanent capital. As was common at the time, the iron-making venture was organized as a series of partnerships, each subject to restructuring with the withdrawal or failure of a partner or the entry of a new partner. In this instance, the bankruptcy of a member of one partnership had far-reaching consequences, weakening Hasenclever’s financial position and forcing him to agree to the restructuring of the other partnership in a way that would prove disadvantageous to him and to the iron-making enterprise.    


[1] Details about Peter Hasenclever’s early years are drawn principally from Christian C. Glauber, Peter Hasenclever: 1716-1793 (Landeshut: [s.n.], 1794). This book, published soon after Hasenclever’s death in the town where he spent his final two decades, apparently drew on Hasenclever’s personal stories as well as his writings.

[2] Ibid., 8, 119; H.U. Rattermann, “Peter Hasenclever Aus Remscheid,” Der Deutsche Pionier, 15.7 (1883), 258-267.

[3] Glauber, Peter Hasenclever, 9, attributes the collapse of the steel firm to Luther Hasenclever’s losses in the Mississippi Bubble. This seems unlikely, as this financial scheme unraveled in 1720, two decades before the demise of the Hasenclever steel business.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid., 14-16.

[6] Werner Sombart, Der Moderne Kapitalismus: historisch-systematische Darstellung, 3rd ed., vol. 2, half 1 (Munich and Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1919), 554.

[7] Margrit Schulte Beerbühl, “Commercial Networks, Transfer, and Innovation. The Migration of German Merchants to England, 1660-1800,” in Migration and Transfer from Germany to Great Britain, 1660-1914, eds. Stefan Manz, Margrit Schulte Beerbühl, and John R. Davis, (Munich: K.G. Saur Verlag, 2007), 32-34.

[8] Glauber, Peter Hasenclever, 20-22. On Hasenclever’s negotiations with Frederick II, see the letters appended to Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen: ein deutscher Kaufmann des 18. Jahrhunderts, ed. Adolf Hasenclever (Gotha: F.A. Perthes, 1922), 223-237. Adolf Hasenclever (1875-1938), evidently a descendant, was a professor of history in Halle and later Göttingen, specializing in the Reformation but also known for his work on Egyptian history. This book includes documents obtained from archives in several countries.

[9] Glauber, Peter Hasenclever, 23.

[10] Ibid., 26-30. Approximately £1 million Pounds and £7.8 million Pounds, respectively, in 2011 U.K. Pounds ($1.6 million USD and $12.5 million USD). Historical currency conversions calculated with Measuring Worth “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present,” using the Retail Price Index, available through MeasuringWorth (accessed October 8, 2014).

[11] H.U. Rattermann, “Peter Hasenclever Aus Remscheid,” 261.

[12] An Act for naturalizing Peter Hasenclever, and Johann Peter Rucker was enacted by Parliament December 15, 1763. See Journal of the House of Lords volume 30: 1760-1764 (1767-1830), 430-450. £70 U.K. Pounds is equivalent to approximately £8,400 U.K. Pounds or $13,500 USD in 2011 value. £21,000 U.K. Pounds is equivalent to approximately £2.5 million U.K. Pounds or $4 million USD in 2011 value.

[13] Peter Hasenclever, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, Merchant (London, [s.n.], 1773).

[14] Thomas Mun, England’s Treasure by Foreign Trade (Glasgow: R. and A. Foulis, 1755), 124.

[15] Statutes of the Realm, VII, 324, cited in Curtis Nettels, “Menace of Colonial Manufacturing,” The New England Quarterly, 4.2 (1931), 230-269.

[16] Quotation is from America and West Indies: January 1735, 11-15, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 41: 1734-1735, British History Online. On earlier British trade policy toward the colonies, see Curtis Nettels, “The Menace of Colonial Manufacturing 1690-1720,” New England Quarterly 4 (1931), 230-269. See also S.D. Smith, “The Market for Manufactures in the Thirteen Continental Colonies, 1698-1776,” Economic History Review, new series, 51.5 (1998), 676-708.

[17] Chris Evans, Owen Jackson, and Göran Rydén, “Baltic iron and the British iron industry in the eighteenth century,” Economic History Review 55 (2002), 642-665.

[18] Iron Act, Statute 23 Geo. II c. 29.

[19] Statute 30 Geo. II c. 16.

[20] Thomas Southcliffe Ashton, Iron and Steel in the Industrial Revolution (Manchester: University Press, 1924), 118-124.

[21] Peter Hasenclever, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, 3-4.

[22] Hasenclever’s recruitment plan was discussed by the Board of Trade and Plantations on January 2, 1764; see 'Journal, January 1764: Volume 71', Journals of the Board of Trade and Plantations, Volume 12: January 1764 - December 1767 (1936), pp. 1-14 (accessed August 23, 2014).

[23] New-York Mercury, March 5, 1764, quoted in Charles S. Boyer, Early Forges & Furnaces in New Jersey (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1931), 19. See also The Minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey from 1764 to 1794, Maxine N. Lurie and Joanne R. Walroth, eds. (Newark, NJ: New Jersey Historical Society, 1985), 7.

[24] Peter O. Wacker, “New Jersey’s Cultural Resources: A.D. 1660-1810,” 201, in Olga Chesler, ed., New Jersey’s Archaeological Resources (Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 1982), pp. 199-219 (accessed October 8. 2014).

[25] On the arrival of the first workers, see Susan Maier, “Whatever Happened to Peter Hasenclever’s Germans?” The Highlander (North Jersey Highlands Historical Society), 34.88 (1998). An abridged version of this article is available at (accessed August 24, 2014). The report to the Board of Proprietors is cited in William Roome, Early Days and Early Surveys of East New Jersey (Morristown, NJ: The Jerseyman Steam Press, 1883), 42. The timing of the American Company’s first iron production is given in “Petition of Peter Hasenclever & Company, of London, to the Earl of Shelburne,” January 28, 1767, in Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, vol. IX, ed. Frederick W. Ricord and Wm. Nelson  (Newark, NJ: Daily Advertiser Printing House, 1885), 583-4. John B. Pearse, A Concise History of the Iron Manufacture of the American Colonies (Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott, 1876), 62, states that it occurred in August 1765.

[26] The iron industry in Great Britain appears to have been structured similarly. According to Ashton, Iron and Steel, 22, “the fundamental characteristic of the eighteenth-century iron industry was its scattered nature. Mills were rarely found in proximity to forges, and forges were commonly remote from furnaces. This geographical isolation was usually associated with severalty of ownership.”

[27] New Jersey had hundreds of iron mines during this period and at least 50 furnaces. See E. S. Rutch, “The Story of Ironmaking Bloomery Forges at Picatinny Arsenal,” September 1999 (accessed August 24, 2014); Charles S. Boyer, Early Forges & Furnaces, 3-4.

[28] Ibid., 5-6.

[29] Ibid., 9.

[30] Rutch, “The Story of Ironmaking Bloomery Forges,” 4.

[31] Peter Hasenclever, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, 6-9. The “Report of the Commissioners Appointed by Governor William Franklin of New Jersey to Investigate the Manufacturing Facilities of Peter Hasenclever in North America” is reprinted on pages 64-72 of this book; it does not appear in published volumes of New Jersey colonial-era documents. See Edward J. Lenik, “Peter Hasenclever and the American Iron Company,” Northeast Historical Archaeology, 3.2 (1974), 9-17 (accessed October 8, 2014), for confirmation of the size of the Charlottenberg forge.

[32] Peter Hasenclever, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, 9.

[33] William Nelson, ed., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, vol. XXV: Extracts from American Newspapers, relating to New Jersey, vol. VI, 1766-1767 (Paterson, NJ, 1903), 129; Boyer, Early Forges and Furnaces, 19. £5 U.K. Pounds is equivalent to approximately £571 U.K. Pounds or $900 USD in 2011 value.

[34] Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, ed. Adolf Hasenclever, 83-86.

[35] Peter Hasenclever, “Bemerkungen über Amerika,” Politisches Journal 3.1 (1783), 15-23, reprinted in Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, ed. Adolf Hasenclever, 153-164.

[36] Henry A. Homes, “Notice of Peter Hasenclever, An Early Iron-Manufacturer,” Transactions of the Albany Institute 8 (1876), 199-206.

[37] The land near Herkimer was located near present-day Schuyler, New York. This is across the Mohawk River from an area known as German Flats; that site had been given to German colonists in the 1720s, and the name is not connected to the Hasenclever purchase. The American Company’s acquisitions are summarized in John B. Pearse, A Concise History, 64.

[38] Great Britain Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, vol. II (London: Stationery Office, 1895, repr. Boston: Gregg Press, 1972), 20-21. See also the letters excerpted in Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, ed. Adolf Hasenclever, 92-93.

[39] Gombach Group, “Ironville Historic District,” (accessed August 24, 2014). £6,230 U.K. Pounds is equivalent to approximately £711,000 U.K. Pounds or $1.1 million USD in 2011 value.

[40] Peter Hasenclever, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, 84-85.

[41] Ibid., 11-13.

[42] “Petition of Peter Hasenclever & Company, of London, to the Earl of Shelburne,” January 28, 1767, in Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, vol. IX, Frederick W. Ricord and Wm. Nelson, eds. (Newark, NJ: Daily Advertiser Printing House, 1885), 583.

[43] Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, ed. Adolf Hasenclever, 132. See also Hasenclever’s February 28, 1767 letter to Lord Stirling , Ibid., 112.

[44] Peter Hasenclever, The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, 14.

[45] Ibid., 18-21.

[46] Ibid., 42; “Letter, Earl of Hilsborough to Governor Moore, Whitehall, March 12, 1768,”Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, in Adolf Hasenclever, ed., 120.

[47] “Report of the Commissioners,” in Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, Adolf  Hasenclever, ed., 120, 124-5.

[48] Hasenclever’s version of these events appears in The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, 25-35. By his own telling, many of the claims and counterclaims were related to land transactions. Hasenclever had purchased land in the colonies on behalf of himself, other individuals, the American Company, and the partnership of Hasenclever, Seton & Crofts, and some of the claims seem to have involved accusations of conflicts of interest among these roles. See also “Friederich der Große an Graf von Malzahn,” in Peter Hasenclever aus Remscheid-Ehringhausen, ed. Adolf  Hasenclever,  239.

[49] “Friederich der Große an Peter Hasenclever,” Potsdam, September 22, 1772, in Ibid., 132.

[50] Ibid., 164-165, 196-197..

[51] Glauber, Peter Hasenclever, 79.

[52] Ibid., 92-94. £158,400 U.K. Pounds is equivalent to approximately £18 million U.K. Pounds or $29 million USD in 2011 value.


Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Peter Hasenclever." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved February 25, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship:

Chicago Style

Levinson, Marc. "Peter Hasenclever." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 1, edited by Marianne S. Wokeck. German Historical Institute. Last modified January 04, 2016.

MLA Style

"Peter Hasenclever," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 25 Feb 2018 <>

Painting of Peter Hasenclever, n.d.

  • Vesuvius Iron Furnace ruins, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio
  • Ruins of a blast furnace in Allaire, Monmouth County, New Jersey
  • Workers making sand molds to produce pig iron at a blast furnace in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ca. 1905
  • Entrance to a mine on the former American Company property in New Jersey

See more images »