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Coal for charcoal, page 2

Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


need for coal was not so pressing. However, early records indicate that the first settlers had no competent knowledge of the use of coal for the purpose of generating intense heat. Charcoal could burn steadily without the assistance of controlled air currents. Coal, in order to burn steady, had to be assisted by controlled drafts of air. Charcoal and our early iron furnaces is another story. We will now proceed with the story of coal.

Glancing at the various records of the discovery of coal here in America it is obvious that it would first be found along the river-banks instead of on mountain-tops. The first trails were not paths through the wilderness; they were mostly water-routes. The wilderness was vast, foreboding, and inaccessible. The Indian trails were but faint traces through an ocean of trees with apparently no beginning or ending. The estuaries, rivers and streams were much more accessible and safe. Even today if one gets lost in the woods it is always prudent to work towards lower ground, look for a stream, and follow its course downwards.

Thus the river banks were the first to reveal the presence of this vast, unappreciated treasure. "With only one exception coal was never used by the Indians before the white man came to America for any purpose except as an ornament, or for paint. Within the past few years it has been discovered that the Hopi Indians in Arizona used lignite for burning pottery about 1000 A. D. as dated by tree-rings." Eavenson.

Radison, the French explorer, in 1660 said "some think that several tribes of Indians along the Missouri used coal as a fuel."

Joliet and Marquette should not only be remembered for their discoveries of territory along the Mississippi but to be actually the first to discover coal along its banks. Joliet spoke of it on his map as "Charbon de Terre." This was in connection with their expedition in 1673-74. La Salle in a letter to Frontenac in 1680 refers to coal. Father Louis Hennepin in 1689 published a report in English of his journeys and observations. He also discovered coal along a river bank. These first discoveries were made mostly by the French in the Mississippi valley. It was not until 1698 that Gabriel Thomas believed coal might be found in Pennsylvania. This was along possibly the upper Schuylkill River. In 1701 coal was found on the James River about fifteen miles above Richmond, Virginia. David Menestrier, a French Hugenot, a blacksmith, is the first person in American colonial history, of which we have record, to use coal in his forge. This was in the year following its discovery near Richmond.

Benjamin Winslow, the surveyor, commissioned by Lord Fairfax to ascertain the fountain-head of the Potomac, late in the year of 1736 on his way up-stream discovered a "coal mine" a short distance above the mouth of the Savage River on the Maryland side in what is now Garrett County. This is the first discovery of bituminous coal in the Appalachian Mountains.


Felix G. Robinson


Collection Location:
Ruth Enlow Library, Oakland

Original Size:
22 x 15 cms

Maryland, History


Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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