Fred (Frederick Charles) Brenckman.

History of Carbon County, Pennsylvania; also containing a separate account of the several boroughs and townships in the county, online

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Online LibraryFred (Frederick Charles) BrenckmanHistory of Carbon County, Pennsylvania; also containing a separate account of the several boroughs and townships in the county, → online text (page 6 of 44)
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captives, excepting Benjamin Gilbert and Abigail Dod-
son, were happily reunited at Montreal. Leaving there


on the twenty-second of August, 1782, tliey reached
their old home at Byberry in safety, two years and five
months having elapsed since they had })een rudely
driven forth into the wilderness by the Indians.

In 1785, Thomas Dodson, a cousin of Abigail, deter-
mined to go northward into the Indian country to make
a search for the missing girl.

After many wanderings his diligence and faith were
rewarded. He found her in the Genesee Valley with
the tribe of Indians by which she had been adopted.
It appeared that her return at some time had been
anticipated by the Indians, they having decided that
if any of her friends ever came for her she should be
allowed to go.

When Thomas Dodson arrived, the chief of the tribe
was absent, and the family of which she was a mem-
ber, although loath to part with her, for they had
learned to love her, consented, and preparations were
made for her departure. A new suit of Indian gar-
ments, ornamented with beads, was made for her, and
feasts were given in her honor, at which many gath-
ered. When all was ready, with many fond farewells,
the pair started. The young man had left his horse at
a settlement, a few miles away, and upon reaching the
place and applying for his property, the man in whose
care the horse had been left refused to give him up,
except upon the payment of one hundred dollars, Dod-
son did not have that much money, and was obliged to
leave the horse behind. He succeeded, however, in
making arrangements whereby they were taken to To-
wanda, and from that point they floated down the Sus-
quehanna to Salem in a canoe. There a horse was
secured from a man named Nathan Beach, and they
proceeded on their way to the Mahoning Valley, where
they arrived in October, 1786.


Abigail had been absent from home for five years
and six months; she had lived with several different
tribes, and had learned their languages. As she ap-
proached the familiar dwelling of her childhood, she
went alone to the door. Her mother opened in re-
sponse to her knock, and then, turning to the girl's
father, said: ''Here is a squaw, and a pretty good-
looking one, too." Neither of the parents recognized
their child, whereupon she exclaimed, "Mother, don't
you know me ! ' ' Her rescuer entered the house at this
moment, and bewilderment gave place to unbounded
joy as the father and mother beheld in the comely
squaw their own long-lost daughter.



The Indians who inhabited eastern Pennsylvania
knew of the existence of anthracite coal in various
localities of that section long before this valuable min-
eral, which is now one of our leading natural products,
was discovered by the white settlers.

That the "black stones," as coal was commonly
termed a century ago, were capable of combustion and
of generating heat was not known to the aborigines.
Had they been familiar with the properties of coal
and the use to which it may be put, they would have
carefully guarded the secret of its presence or loca-
tion. To have pursued any other course, as experi-
ence had taught them, would have been equivalent to
an invitation to have their lands trespassed upon or
taken away from them by the whites.

Loskiel, the Moravian historian, in speaking of the
settlement of Gnadenhiitten, relates that the Indians
of the vicinity made their pipe-heads of a soft black
stone, which was undoubtedly coal.

The Connecticut pioneers of the Wyoming Valley
were the first to learn of the existence of coal in that
portion of the region, while its presence was early
suspected on the headwaters of the Schuylkill.

Coal, in the Lehigh region, was discovered on Sharp
mountain, where Summit Hill now stands, in the year
1791, by Philip Ginter.

This discovery, like so many others which have been
fraught with great import to humanity, was purely
an accidental one, and it eventually led to a true ap-
preciation of the value of the mineral on the part of



the general public, and to its being mined and placed
on the market. The element of romance attaches
strongly to the story of Ginter and his epoch-making
discovery. He was a hunter, and on locating among
the rugged mountains of the upper Lehigh, he built a
rough cabin in the forest, depending solely on the pro-
ceeds of his rifle for the support of himself and family.
The game he shot, including bear and deer, he carried
to the nearest store and bartered for the other neces-
saries of life.

On the eventful day of his finding coal, he was mak-
ing his way over Sharp mountain in a despondent
frame of mind. The family larder was bare, and his
search for game had been entirely unsuccessful. With
a drizzling rain beginning to fall, and the shades of
night forming about him, he bent his course homeward.
Suddenly he stumbled over an object which, by the im-
pact of his foot was driven before him; there was
enough light remaining for him to distinguish that the
object was black, and as it was traditionary that coal
existed in the vicinity, it occurred to him that this
might be a portion of that "stone-coal" of which he
had so often heard.

Taking the specimen with him to his cabin, he carried
it the next day to Colonel Jacob Weiss, who lived at
what was then known as Fort Allen, now Weissport.

Taking a keen interest in the matter, Colonel Weiss
immediately took the specimen with him to Philadel-
phia, submitting it for inspection to John Nicholson,
Michael Hillegas and Charles Cist, the last-named
being an intelligent printer, who ascertained its na-
ture and properties, authorizing the colonel to satisfy
Ginter for his discovery upon his pointing out the exact
spot where the coal was found.


Ginter readily agreed to this proposal, accepting in
exchange the title to a small tract of land, upon which
he afterwards built a mill, and of which he was unhap-
pily deprived by the claims of a prior survey.

In the beginning of the year 1793, Hillegas, Cist,
Weiss and others formed the Lehigh Coal Mine Com-
pany, but without being incorporated. They pur-
chased from Jacob Weiss the tract of land upon which
Summit Hill is now situated, afterward taking up,
under warrants from the commonwealth, about ten
thousand acres, embracing most of the coal lands now
owned by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company.

Coal was found in unmistakable quantity at the point
of Ginter 's discovery, and all that remained necessary
to the most triumphant success was a market and the
facilities of transportation. But here was the great
difficulty. The public knew nothing about the new
fuel; wood was then plentiful and low-priced, while
there was a total lack of highways or navigable streams
leading to the region. Small quantities of coal were
mined, but people were slow to appreciate its value,
and it required vigorous exertions to induce them to
attempt to use it. Its very appearance was against it,
and the majority of persons approached were entirely
incredulous as to its being anything else than a stone,
incapable of being burned by any inherent qualities it
possessed. Not only the coal but the fact that it was
coal had to be discovered. Even as late as the year
1812, when it was sought to secure an act authorizing
the improvement of the Schuylkill river in order to
convey coal to Philadelphia, the representative of
Schuylkill county in the state senate declared there
was no coal in his district; that there was a kind of
black stone that was called coal, but that it would not


The Lehigh Coal Mine Company expended the sum
of ten pounds in Pennsylvania currency on the con-
struction of a road from the mines to the Lehigh, a
distance of nine miles.

After many fruitless attempts to get coal to market
over this nominal road, and by way of the river, which,
in seasons of low water, in its unimproved state, de-
fied the floating of a canoe over its rocky bed, and after
calling for money from its stockholders until calling
was useless, the company became tired of the experi-
ment, suffering its property to lie idle for several

Notwithstanding the inauspicious circumstances
which involved the company, Colonel Weiss deter-
mined that the coal should, at least, be introduced to
the acquaintance of the public. Filling his saddle bags
from time to time, he rode around among the black-
smiths of the lower country, earnestly soliciting them
to try it. A few accepted the proffered supplies, using
the coal with partial success.

In the year 1806, William Turnbull had an ark con-
structed at the mouth of the Nesquehoning creek which
took to Philadelphia about three hundred bushels of
coal. A portion of this cargo wa& sold to the managers
of the water works, located in Center Square, where
the city hall now stands. Upon trial there, it was
deemed rather an extinguisher of fire than anything
else, was rejected as worthless, and was broken up
to be spread on the walks of the surrounding garden
in place of gravel.

The company, anxious to have its property brought
to notice and developed, leased its mines to different
individuals in succession for varying periods of years,
finally adding the privilege of taking timber from its
lands for the purpose of floating coal to market.


During the war of 1812, bituminous coal became very
scarce and high-priced. At this time Jacob Cist,
Charles Miner and John Robinson held the lease of the
mines on the Lehigh, and taking advantage of the fa-
vorable opportunity oifered, made a valiant attempt
to bring anthracite into general use in Philadelphia.

They succeeded in getting several arks to their des-
tination in safety, while others were wrecked upon the
rocks which obstructed the channel of the Lehigh.
The coal was sold for twenty-one dollars a ton, but
even that high price was insufficient to fully defray
the cost of mining and transportation.

The return of peace found these men in the midst of
their enterprise, and with the return of normal condi-
tions they were compelled to abandon it because of
their inability to compete successfully with the pro-
ducers of bituminous coal.

Soon after this failure, Josiah White and Erskine
Hazard, who were engaged in the manufacture of wire
at the Falls of Schuylkill, having obtained good re-
sults in their experiments with the coal they had pur-
chased from Cist, Miner and Robinson, secured control
of the entire property of the Lehigh Coal Mine Com-
pany under the terms of a lease for twenty years.
George F. A. Hanto joined them in the venture, and
was largely depended upon to secure the necessary
financial assistance to make the property productive.
Under the conditions of the lease, it was stipulated
that, after a given time for preparation, they should
deliver for their own benefit at least forty thousand
bushels of coal annually in Philadelphia and the sur-
rounding districts, and should pay, if demanded, one
ear of corn as a yearly rental.

After these preliminaries, the next step necessary
was to procure an act for the improvement of the Le-


high river; on this project the various parties previ-
ously operating the mines had expended many thou-
sands of dollars under successive acts of the legisla-

During the month of April, 1818, White and Hazard
surveyed the river from Stoddartsville, above Wliite
Haven, to Easton, using instruments which they had
borrowed from the Delaware and Schuylkill Canal
Company, there being no others to be found in Phila-
delphia at that time.

Following this, these enterprising pioneers began
to solicit stock subscriptions for the purpose of raising
the capital needed to carry forward the work they
were about to begin.

In view of the disastrous termination of all previous
attempts to put the property on a paying basis, the
project was generally viewed as chimerical, and they
encountered many difficulties and discouragements.
The leading capitalitsts of the day were appealed to,
among the number being Stephen Girard, who replied
laconically that he formed no partnerships.

Joseph Bonaparte, in a reply by letter through his
secretary, respectfully declined joining in the enter-

One confessed, after being polite enough to listen
to the promoters, that he was unable to appreciate
their remarks; another agreed to give them a hearing
on the subject for five minutes by the watch. Still
another appointed an evening for a conference, but,
when called upon, had gone to a party.

Finally, some were found who were willing to join
in the improvement of the river, but had no faith in
the value of the coal. Others were of the opinion that
the river improvements would never pay the interest
of their cost, while the coal business would prove


profitable. This diversity of opinion gave rise to a
separation of the two interests.

On August 10, 1818, the Lehigh Navigation Com-
pany was formed, and two months later the Lehigh
Coal Company was organized. Their combined capital
stock amounted to two hundred thousand dollars, and
White, Hazard and Hanto were the dominant figures
in both companies. Hanto was soon found to be an im-
postor, however, and after some difficulty, together
with a heavy pecuniary sacrifice on the part of the
other two, he was, during the spring of 1820, elim-
inated. Immediately thereafter the two companies
were merged, under the title of the Lehigh Coal and
Navigation Company. It was not until February 13,
1822, that a charter was secured.

The improvement of the Lehigh was begun at the
mouth of the Nesquehoning creek, during the summer
of the year 1818, under the personal supervision of
Josiali White. The plan adopted was to contract the
channel of the river in the form of a funnel, wherever
it was found necessary to raise the water, throwing
up the round river-stones into low walls or wing dams,
thus providing a regular descending navigation.

But it soon became apparent that the carrying out
of this plan would not insure sufficient water in seasons
of drought to float a loaded ark or boat, and the success
of the whole enterprise hung in the balance.

In this contingency, Josiah White, who was a man
of great resourcefulness and mechanical ingenuity,
resorted to the expedient of creating artificial freshets.
Dams were constructed in the neighborhood of Mauch
Chunk, in which were placed sluice-gates of peculiar
design, invented for the purpose by White, and by
means of which water could be retained until required
for use. When the dam became full and the water


had run over it long enough for the river below to
regain its ordinary depth, the sluice-gates were let
down, while the boats, which were lying in the pool
above, passed down with the artificial flood. In this
manner the difficulty was overcome.

While the work of improving the river was going
forward a wagon road was also being built from
Mauch Chunk to the mines at Summit Hill, and the
promoters of the undertaking had at their command
the largest force of men that had until that time been
engaged in a private enterprise in the wilderness of

The line of this road had been surveyed in 1818
by White and Hazard, and is believed to have been the
first ever laid out by an instrument, on the principle
of dividing the whole descent into the whole distance,
as regularly as the ground would admit of, and having
no undulation. A pair of horses could haul from four
to six tons of coal upon it with ease.

While the descending navigation of the Lehigh was
not perfected until 1823, three hundred and sixty-five
tons of coal was sent to Philadelphia in 1820. This
quantity stocked the market, and was disposed of with
great difficulty. The price asked therefor was eight
dollars and forty cents a ton. Two years after this
the Schuylkill region was opened, while it was not
until 1829 that the coal trade of the Wyoming region

In 1821, one thousand and seventy-three tons were
sent down the Lehigh, and in 1824 the quantity shipped
by this route reached nine thousand five hundred and
forty-one tons. This year marked the turning point
in the use of anthracite coal. People were now be-
coming accustomed to the new fuel, and prejudice
against it was fast dying out.


During 1825, more than twenty-eight thousand tons
of coal from the Lehigh reached Philadelphia, and the
trade which has since reached such enormous propor-
tions was firmly established.

The coal at Summit Hill lay close to the surface,
being simply quarried in the open until about 1844,
when, owing to the dip of the veins, the uncovering
became too expensive to be profitably conducted, and
was, therefore, abandoned and underground work re-
sorted to.

The boats used during the early years on the Le-
high consisted of square boxes, or arks, from sixteen
to eighteen feet wide, and about twenty-five feet long.
At first two of these were joined together by means
of hinges, to permit of the undulations produced in
passing the dams and sluices. As the men became
more expert in their work and as the channel was
straightened and improved, the number of sections
was increased till, finally, their whole length reached
one hundred and eighty feet. They were steered with
long oars, like a raft.

Boats of this description were used on the Lehigh
to the end of the year 1831. During that year more
than forty thousand tons of coal passed down the
river, which required the building of so many boats
that, had thej^ all been joined in one length, they would
have extended over a distance of more than thirteen

These boats made but one trip, being broken up in
Philadelphia, where the planks were sold as lumber,
while the iron work was returned to Mauch Chunk by
land, a distance of eighty miles.

The men employed in running the boats walked
back for several years, when rough wagons were
placed on the road for their accommodation by some of
the tavern-keepers along the route.


It soou became evident that the traffic could not be
extended as fast as the demand for coal increased
while it was necessary to build a new boat for each
load of coal that was sent down; besides, the forests
of the Laurytown Valley, where most of the lumber
came from, were fast disappearing. Under these cir-
cumstances, it became apparent that the time had ar-
rived for the introduction of slackwater navigation on
the Lehigh.

Accordingly, in 1827, the building of the Lehigh
Canal, extending from Mauch Chunk to Easton, a dis-
tance of forty-six miles, was begun. The engineer in
charge of the work was Canvass White, who had taken
a prominent part in the construction of the Erie Canal
across the state of New York.

The canal was completed in 1829, costing about
eight hundred thousand dollars. During the ensuing
quarter of a century, or until the building of the Le-
high Valley Railroad, it commanded all the traffic of
the Lehigh region, in the development of which it was
a vital factor. In 1838, under the supervision of E. A.
Douglass, the canal was extended from ]\tauch Chunk
to White Haven, from which point it was connected
with Wilkes-Barre by railroad.

From this time forth until 1862, when the upper
section of the canal was destroyed by flood, never to
be rebuilt, it carried a considerable portion of the out-
put of the Wyoming coal field.

During the latter part of 1827, the state began the
construction of the canal along the Delaware, from
Easton to Bristol. Its completion was delayed until
1831, obliging the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Com-
pany to continue the use of temporary boats, which,
owing to their peculiar design, were very expensively
moved on the canal, but were the only kind that could


be used upon the channels of the Delaware, which were
still necessary used to reach Philadelphia. This seri-
ously impeded the development of the Lehigh region,
and turned the attention of persons desirous of engag-
ing in the coal industry to the Schuylkill field, causing
Pottsville to spring up with great rapidity. In this
manner the Schuylkill coal trade, thus early, out-
stripped that of the Lehigh.

During the summer of 1827, a railroad was built
from the mines at Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk. With
one or two unimportant exceptions, this was the first
railroad in the United States. It was nine miles in
length, and occupied the route of the old wagon road
most of the distance.

Summit Hill, lying nearly a thousand feet higher
than Mauch Chunk, the cars on the road made this
descent by gravity, passing the coal, at their destina-
tion to the boats in the river by means of inclined
planes and chutes. The whole of this plan was evolved
by Josiah White, under whose direction it was con-
summated in a period of about four months. The rails
were of rolled bar-iron, three-eighths of an inch in
thickness and an inch and a half in width, laid upon
wooden ties, which were kept in place by means of
stone ballast.

The loaded cars or wagons, as they were then
termed, each having a capacity of approximately one
and a half tons, were connected in trains of from six
to fourteen, being attended by men who regulated their

Turn-outs were provided at intervals and the empty
cars were drawn back to the mines by mules. They
descended with the trains in specially constructed cars,
affording a novel and rather ludicrous spectacle.
Thirty minutes was the average time consumed in


making the descent, while the weary trip back to the
mines required three hours.

The cost of transporting coal in this manner was
trifling as compared with the old plan, and the saving
thus effected benefited producer and consumer alike.

In 1830, the Rhume Run Railroad, operated on the
same principle as the other, and carrying the output of
the Nesquehoning mines to Mauch Chunk, was begun.

By the spring of 1844, the demand for coal had in-
creased to such an extent that improved facilities were
demanded for its transportation from Summit Hill to
Mauch Chunk. The idea of a back track from the
river to the mines, which had for years been contem-
plated, was now put into execution, under the super-
vision of E. A. Douglass. This required a piece of
bold engineering. In carrying out the plan, a plane
was constructed from the head of the chutes at Mauch
Chunk to the summit of Mount Pisgah, about nine
hundred feet above the level of the river. Up this
ascent the cars were drawn by means of stationary
engines, and thence allowed to run by gravity to the
foot of Mount Jefferson, six miles distant. From this
point they were raised to the top of the mountain, as
in the previous instance, traversing the remainder of
the distance to Summit Hill by gravity. The back
track was completed in 1845.

During the succeeding year, active operations were
begun in the Panther Creek Valley. The coal produced
by these mines was hoisted to Summit Hill on inclined
places, similar to those of Mount Pisgah and Mount
Jefferson. The use of a Y in the operation of the
railroad in this valley gave rise to the term ''switch-
back," which designation has ever since been applied
to the entire system.

With the opening of the Nesquehoning Valley Rail-
road, the Rhume Run gravity road was abandoned,


while the Switchback ceased to be used for coal carry-
ing purposes. The latter is still maintained and is
operated under lease during the summer months for
the accommodation of sightseers.

Great as has been the improvement in the facilities
of transiDortation since the beginning of the coal trade,
there has been a still greater improvement in the means
and appliances employed in the mining of coal and in
its preparation for shipment and use.

The large body of coal at Summit Hill, lying near
the surface, materially simplified production there
during the early days, enabling teams to descend to the
quarry for their load.

In other localities, less favored, pits were sunk from
which coal was hoisted in buckets by means of a com-
mon windlass, operated by hand. Usually, at the
depth of thirty or forty feet, the water became be-
yond control, and the pit was abandoned and another

A little later, the gin, operated by horse power, was

Online LibraryFred (Frederick Charles) BrenckmanHistory of Carbon County, Pennsylvania; also containing a separate account of the several boroughs and townships in the county, → online text (page 6 of 44)