by Bucky Schriver
For the Frostburg Express
The Bishop and the Boy Miner
During the mid to late 1800s it was expected that boys in the Georges Creek coal region would begin their apprenticeship in the coal mines at age 10 or shortly thereafter. Children began as either "trapper boys" who opened the doors in the mine to let the trams in and out and to regulate ventilation, or as mule drivers who would lead the teams as they pulled the mine cars. In other coal regions, many boys became "breaker boys," who separated the slate from the coal. The high quality of the Georges Creek coal made this unnecessary. Due to severe economic conditions in their native country, James Murray and his wife, Ann (Kirkwood) Murray, emigrated from Scotland in 1856 in search of a better life in Western Maryland. Consistent with established tradition, their eldest child, John Gardner Murray, served as an apprentice in his father's Lonaconing coal company office when he was 11 years old. At 14 years old, he worked as a mule driver in the Lonaconing Jackson Mine. John Gardner Murray went on to become a Methodist minister, and upon the death of Bishop Paret in 1911, he succeeded him to become the Bishop of Maryland. In 1925, Murray became the first elected Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. Previously, it was customary for the senior most Bishop to assume the title. Murray's childhhood friend, Frank Gibson Porter, became a Methodist minister who served several parishes during his life in the Georges Creek region. During the mid-to late-1880, Porter kept a journal of his day-to-day duties as the Methodist minister in Lonaconing. On Nov. 3, 1887, Frank Porter noted the sad circumstances of the death of boy miner David Peebles:
"November 3, 1887--How sad a day! It makes my heart sick to think of the agony and sorrow in Sister Rachel Peebles' home. Davie, a lad of 16 years, went to the mine with laughter on his lips and was brought home before noon a mangled corpse. He worked with his father and brother, but on this morning he took the trapper boy's place. His father had told him at times never to take the place, but the lad wished to accommodate a sick friend. His duty was to open and shut the door, as the cars went in and out. The smoke from the engine settled in this place, and the trapper boy had to go to the mouth of the mine between trips to keep awake. As a trip of loaded cars was coming out this morning, the brakeman felt a slight jar. He put down the brakes and whistled to the engineer, who was behind, to stop the engine. As they went forward to see what the trouble was, the engineer stepped over a head... Little Janet with Typhoid fever in one room and Davie in the next...."
Fortunately, sister Janet survived her bout with typhoid and lived to be 48 years old. Life as a coal miner was a dangerous proposition, and for those who survived, the experience motivated them to great accomplishments. For many boy miners like Davie Peebles, that opportunity never came.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational Memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all of our George's Creek Valley 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
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