The du Ponts

The E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company built its first gunpowder mills in America in 1802. The du Pont family was closely involved in the lives of the powder mill employees, both at work and outside of the powder yards. The du Ponts lived in a large house overlooking the yards, and its members regularly interacted with the employees. Workers recalled the family's involvement in oral history interviews, and company records illustrate the benefits workers' families received in times of hardship.


Elutherian Mills drawing, 1806

Charles Dalmas, brother-in-law of company founder Eleuthère Irénée "E.I." du Pont, drew this sketch of the company's original powder yard, Eleutherian Mills. The du Pont family's two-story home, also named Eleutherian Mills, is shown on the hill overlooking the original powder yard. The site is currently operated as Hagley Museum and Library.

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont portrait, 1919

French immigrant E.I. du Pont founded the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which he led until he died in 1834. He initiated the company's recruiting efforts and established a pension plan for families of workers killed in the volatile gunpowder manufacturing business. This portrait, also by Clawson Hammitt, is a copy of an original painting by Rembrandt Peale.

Employee record books, 1804 and 1818

The company's wage records, called "petit ledgers," offer incredible details about the nature of work and many other aspects of life in the Irish workers' community. This page from an 1804 employee record book shows wages paid to Richard Dougherty for his labor. An immigrant from County Donegal, Dougherty was among the first Irishmen employed and trained by E.I. du Pont. In 1815, Richard and his brother Patrick were killed along with seven others in the first deadly explosion in the powder yards. A page from the 1818 petit ledger documents pension payments to Richard's widow, Nancy Dougherty.

Henry du Pont portrait, 1919

Sixth child of E.I. du Pont and third president of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Henry du Pont headed the company for nearly forty years from 1851 until his death in 1889. The workers referred to him as "Boss Henry," as he was ubiquitous in the powder yards during his tenure. This portrait, by Clawson Hammitt, is a copy of an original painting by Frank Wright.

Philip Dougherty interview, 1955

Born in 1874, Phillip Dougherty began working for the du Ponts in the Henry Clay Keg Factory at the age of thirteen and later worked in the Eagle Packing House. His father had also worked for the company in the saltpeter refinery. When he was interviewed in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1955, Dougherty summarized his favorable feelings toward the du Pont family.

Additional Sources

Many maps and plans of the Hagley Power Yards and surrounding areas from the nineteenth century survive. They were used to track the development of the powder mill community over time, to identify the locations of small areas of workers’ housing, like Squirrel Run, and to understand spatial relationships to essential places, such as St. Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church and other communities, like Rockland and Wilmington.

A selection of Hagley's extensive collection of 19th-century employee records.