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Spotlight: Nathan Vernon Madison – Historian, Author, Neighbor and Pop Culture Enthusiast

04/26/2018 10:32 AM by

Featured Image: The Tredegar Town Council presented Nathan with an award for promoting Tredegar’s history and heritage. Here he is with Kevin Phillips, the documentary director from Tredegar.

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Nathan Vernon Madison, Historian and Author, met with me at the Front Porch Café this past week to talk about “How The Welsh Changed the World: The Tale of the Two Tredegars”, a documentary airing on PBS this Thursday, April 26 at 10 P.M.  Watch the trailer here!

Nathan is an historian of various aspects of American history, including that of popular culture and industrial history: he is a two-time nominee for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for his books on the history of comics and graphic arts, and is a regular panelist and speaker at San Diego Comic-Con, and related venues. But another interest is that of the industrial and economic history of the South, particularly that of the Richmond area. “Everywhere you go, every place has a story.  Main Street, for example, has been Main Street since roughly 1737. When I walk by some coffee shops I’m close to where Benedict Arnold and his troops marched through Richmond. So when they say Benedict Arnold marched through Main Street, that’s where he was. Or if something in particular was happening during the Civil War at Broad and 13th, it’s the same Broad and 13th that you’re walking by today”.

Nathan’s journey with Tredegar started with an email. He pitched a potential redesign of the Museum website. This later turned into a much bigger project. Nathan was now in charge of researching archives and images for new signage and exhibits around the site with the intention to educate the public about the history of the complex.  “Not a whole lot had been done regarding Tredegar, post-1865, as everybody focused on the Civil War years. A good number of visitors that came into the museum thought that the site had blown up at the end of the war, when it actually stayed in operation until 1957.”

This inspired him to write Tredegar Iron Works – Richmond’s Foundry on the James (History Press, 2015). It was during research for both site signage and the book, that he began working with his Tredegar counterpart, the late Peter Morgan Jones. “When I got in touch with him he was just absolutely awesome. He said they had been trying to get somebody from over here to talk about what the connections were, but had had no real luck; why there was a place that was named after their town, or a similar name over here in America.” This led to Welsh documentary filmmaker, Kevin Phillips, to visit Richmond in 2014 and talk with Nathan about the prospects of a documentary detailing a parallel history between the intercontinental sites.

Here’s an excerpt on “The Two Tredegars – A Shared Heritage” by Nathan:

Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works, known primarily for its role as chief cannon maker to the Confederacy during the American Civil War, has a long and storied history beyond those four years of bloody conflict. For over a century Tredegar was one of Richmond’s most powerful economic and industrial enterprises; the largest employer in the city for much of its existence, its workers produced everything from the simplest of horseshoes to the complex mechanisms required of locomotive and stationary engines. A Southern dynamo, its products were sold across the nation, and around the globe; ironically, the same company that provided structural iron for the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. in 1859 also rolled the iron plating for the C.S.S. Virginia just three years later. However, the history of the Tredegar Iron Works extends into the past much further than its 1837 founding along the banks of the James River. Its heritage spans 3,000 miles of ocean, two continents, and several centuries.

Read more here!

Watch a C-SPAN interview with Nathan here

And don’t forget to check out “How The Welsh Changed the World: The Tale of the Two Tredegars”, a documentary airing on PBS this Thursday, April 26 at 10 P.M.

All images courtesy of the Tredegar Museum and the filmmakers.


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