by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
On October 22, 1877, Blantyre, Scotland was the site of a horrific mining disaster, 207 miners were killed when a coal mine exploded due to Methane gas. Rescuers were able to reach four survivors before being overcome by the deadly gas. The four were taken to the Glasgow Infirmary, but died within a month. It took ten days to recover all the bodies. The accident left 92 widows and 250 fatherless children. John Canning was born in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on August 4, 1861. He was the son of miner, James Canning (1838-1901) and Margaret Higgins Canning (1840-1901) and was the first of their seven children. In 1877, John and brother, James would have been old enough to work in the Blantyre Mine or, at least, to remember the accident. Many of our Georges Creek miners came from the Lanarkshire area of Scotland where coal was king. They brought with them the knowledge and skill of underground mining. John Canning was one of those skilled miners. John married Catherine Prentice, daughter of John Prentice and Catherine McDowell Prentice, in St. Agnes Chapel, Cadzow, Scotland on May 9, 1884. In 1887, he left his wife of three years and crossed the great Atlantic. Arriving in Western Maryland and looking for work, he did what he knew best-coal mining. One year later, a very courageous Catherine followed her husband. What a strong woman she must have been to board a ship with three small children in tow: three year old James, two year old Catherine Mary, and recently born, Margaret. The family was reunited and settled in the Midlothian area where seven additional children were born: John Michael (1890), George Leo (1893), William Patrick (1895), Thomas Hugh (1897), Joseph S. (1899), Stephen Clark (1901), and Anna Mae (1903). By 1900, oldest son, James, was working with his father to support this large brood. Later, George and John, Jr. would join their father and brother extracting the black gold of the Georges Creek Valley. On September 11, 1907 Mr. Canning and his son John Jr. went to work in the Carlos Mine of the Barton and Georges Creek Coal Company. The two were working side by side when the roof fell, crushing John Sr. to death but sparing his son. From all accounts we know that Mr. Canning was a very knowledgeable and careful worker, his room was well timbered, leaving the inspectors to wonder how this accident could have occurred. Catherine Canning died seven years later on May 11, 1914, leaving ten children ranging in age from eleven to twenty-nine. John and Catherine are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Frostburg. Not having parental anchors, the children began leaving their home in Midlothian. Catherine (Katie) was the first to go, moving to Baltimore. As her siblings left the area, they found refuge with Katie and her family until they found jobs and homes of their own. The youngest children, Stephen and Anna Mae, were shifted from sibling to sibling until brother, George and his wife Mary took them in. Stephen finally settled in Michigan, where he married and raised a family. Only James, John Jr. and Margaret (Maggie) remained in the Frostburg/ Midlothian area. Maggie stayed in the home place where she raised her family, living there until she died.
Frostburg residents, Elsie Adams and Coleen Miller Kenny, and Virginia Gostomski, Mt. Savage, great granddaughters of John and Catherine Canning, shared their memories for this “Miner Recollection”. Christine Hahs of Texas, also a great granddaughter, told us about her one and only trip to Western Maryland at the age of twelve. She said her grandfather, William Canning, who lived in Midland at the time, took her up and down the Georges Creek Valley exploring the mining towns along the way. Our committee would like to thank them for contributing to this “Recollection”.
The Coal Miners Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the junction of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”