On April 28, 1842, the Perry County (PA) Democrat remarked that “if the ghosts of starved-to-death animals were permitted to haunt the men who have so cruely [sic] used them, we have some men in our mind’s eye who would have little quiet sleep about these days.”
The above statement is pertinent in relating for Halloween the account of an iron-master and his abused hounds. Now largely forgotten, this tale was told concerning the Colebrook Furnace built by Robert Coleman in 1781, in what is now Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. The legend is recounted in a number of publications available here at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The collection also contains the original ledgers for the Colebrook Furnace and many others, which were once scattered about the state.
The “Legend of the Hounds” has sometimes been confused with another similar tale involving Peter Marmie and the Alliance Iron Works, located in present day Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Marmie is said to have committed suicide “by plunging into the mouth of a heated furnace” after he had first thrown his hound into the roaring or blazing “Alliance Furnace and jumping in after him.” This appears to be merely legend as the Holker Papers reveal Marmie was still alive after the furnace “went out of blast” in 1814.1
The “Legend of the Hounds” tale of Lebanon County was largely popularized by the famed poem penned by George H. Boker as early as 1869 and reprinted along with a work by Henry C. Grittinger, “The Iron Industries of Lebanon County,”2 According to legend, “Squire” Jacobs, the manager of the Colebrook Furnace, was famous for his cruelty, greed, and mean disposition toward both man and beast. Like most bullies, he was also a braggart, and in an age of foxhunting he consistently swore about the tracking abilities of his pack of hounds led by Flora, his prized dog. A heavy drinker, Jacobs, frequently became angry and violent when under the influence of alcohol.
After returning empty-handed from a special hunt that was meant to show off his dog’s skills, Jacobs was particularly angry and embarrassed. According to an account published by Arthur C. Bining3, the disheartened ironmaster “drove the entire pack up the furnace road to the open blazing tunnel head” where he then, “with whip in hand,” forced each dog into the flames of the furnace. Flora, loyal to the last, even licked his hand but Jacobs threw her into the blazing heat while cursing the dogs aloud.
After murdering his faithful hounds one by one, the ironmaster was said to have been unable to sleep, lost what few friends he had, drank even more than before, and mostly stayed in bed. On many occasions, he’d rise up and declare that “the hellish pack were pouring from Colebrook furnace” in an attempt to obtain their vengeance. He was eventually found by his servants “seated upright in bed---dead, his hunting whip in his hand and his eyes set in terror.” Soon after Jacob’s death, residents and workers at the furnace claimed to hear the “baying of hounds” on stormy, winter nights, and of seeing the cursed spirit of the ironmaster himself running before the pack in fear.
Boker concludes his poetic discourse by saying:
"The Squire and all his race are gone;
But this wild legend still lives on.
Christ save us from this wretched fate
Of him who dared his wrath to sate
On God's dumb creatures, as of old
Befell the Squire of whom I told!"
1 E. Earl Moore, “An Introduction to the Holker Papers,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol.42, No.3, September, 1959: pp’s. 225-339.
2 Paper Read Before the Lebanon County Historical Society, June 17, 1904, Vol.III, No. 1, pp’s. 33-50.
3 “Pennsylvania Iron Manufacture in the Eighteenth Century,” Publications of Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Vol. IV, 1938, Harrisburg, PA, pp’s. 42-43.