Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Talented Tuesday: They Were Coal Miners

Well you might not ordinarily think of an occupation as being a talent but I'm willing to bend the definitions and I think that you too will go along with it and come to see my ancestors and their lives with coal as a sort of a talent. That's what we'll be doing today with the Geneabloggers prompt of Talented Tuesday.

Great grand father Daniel Williams (1852 - 1920) was born in Wales into a mining family, The area where he was born was a lead mining area, but the men there often went south for a period of months to work the coal mines as the tin mines were worked out by the mid-1800s.  On the Wales census of 1841 and 1851 the family men are listed simply as "collier", and everyone knew what that meant: they worked in a coal mine. So we might say that coal was in their blood.

We feel that he was superior at his work because when he came to America and worked in the Greorge's Creek coal fields, he was a boss at the mine. Aunt Betty emailed me a while back with these details:

As far as we know, Daniel lived in Midland and Ocean, MD after he arrived in the United States. He was Foreman of Mine No. 16, Consolidation Coal Company. He was a member of the George’s Creek Valley Lodge of Masons in Lonanconing, MD. He was selected to take a large lump of coal from Ocean Mines, Maryland to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He was elected as a Trustee in the Ocean School District #18 on June 22, 1907.

Pretty heady stuff, being asked to accompany the record-breaking lump of coal to Chicago!

Aunt Betty also told me that he owned two mines, one was a coal mine in Mount Savage, Maryland and the other, possibly a tin and/or silver mine, in West Virginia. It was his intention to work these mines with his sons, and presumably, make a ton of money. Looks like he purchased the land during the boom-times of coal and coal mining. But after WWI the market for coal lagged seriously. Then Daniel died in 1920, leaving the mines to be worked by his sons. The land in Mount Savage, Maryland is still in the family, as per Aunt Betty who keeps up with these things. The land in West Virginia was lost in the 1930s to back taxes. It was the Great Depression and presumably Daniel's sons couldn't find a way to put food on the table and pay taxes for land over in West Virginia that might or might not have tin and silver in it.

There were other coal miners in Mom's line. Benjamin Thomas whom I wrote about here came to American in 1838 specifically to work for the George's Creek Coal Company in Ocean Maryland. It's my suspicion that the management of the George's Creek Coal Company, who had executives in London as well as Baltimore, knew of the difficulties of the Welsh coal miners and sought out families to have their passage subsidized in some way. At present I have no proof of this and imagine it will be difficult to connect the dots. That said, I look at the list and see that there are five strong healthy men to work their mines in Ocean Maryland. Sounds like a deal was made to me... but I have not proof as yet.

Manifest of the Barque Tiberius, left Wales on 31 June 1838

Then there was the Price family line and there was at least one, maybe more miners there, and you can read the recent post on this family here celebrating Surname Saturday so I won't spend too much time on them. Look for William Price 1829 - 1872.

The last on my list of coal mining men is my grandfather on my father's side, John Lee Kelly (1892 - 1969) who contracted black lung disease from working in the mines. You can read about him here. Taken from school in the sixth grade, this smart man with the inquiring mind was sent to work in the coal mines and earn what was called a "half turn" or half or quarter pay of an adult man. Times were very hard, the men were struggling with the thought of joining a union and the mining companies were cutting wages whenever they could.

Grandpop Kelly sitting on the front porch.

I first heard about the coal mines and mining from Grandpop Kelly. He described it in detail. But I couldn't wrap my mind around it, until I visited the Frostburg Museum last fall. There was a display there, as exact as possible, of a typical coal mine interior arranged with a number of tools of the trade, including a couple of lunch pails.

As I stood there I was dumbfounded at the closeness and darkness of it. And I am sure there was a smell because open earth always has a smell. It wouldn't be a pretty smell either: moist and dank. I thought of my grandfathers, all, working there, making a living there. Day after day, month after month, dealing with often stingy mine owners dictating wages. All they wanted in the world was a decent wage and a peaceful family life with a loving home to come to at the end of the day. Most of them got it, somehow.

Frostburg Museum: typical coal mine interior.

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