The Deep River Coalfield

Two Hundred Years of Mining in Chatham County, North Carolina


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About the Book

The region along Deep River in central North Carolina once boasted a small but significant coal mining industry that from the early 1800s to the end of the 20th century provided fuel for manufacturing and domestic use. Confronted by natural obstacles and other challenges—including a devastating explosion in 1925 that killed 53 men and boys—entrepreneurs made numerous attempts (some successful, some not) to harness the power of coal in a state still defining itself in a modernizing nation. Iron forges and hearths required ample supplies of coal to meet local demand, and the Deep River deposits provided them when no others existed.

About the Author(s)

James H. Chapman has for twenty years researched and written about his family’s involvement in coal mining in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and in Wales. He lives in North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

James H. Chapman

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: 62 photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6898-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2902-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction 3
1. Geological Aspects of the Deep River Basin 7
2. Early History of the Deep River Coalfield 12
3. Geology as a Science Stimulates Geological Surveys 19
4. The Antebellum Period 36
5. The Deep River Coalfield at the Time of the Civil War 48
6. ­Post–Civil War Considerations 60
7. The 1880s Through 1900 78
8. The 1895 Mine Explosion at Cumnock 94
9. The 1900 Explosion at Cumnock 109
10. Coal Production in North Carolina, 1900–1925 115
11. Tragedy Strikes Coal Glen: May 27, 1925 127
12. The Nature and Causes of Mine Gases 138
13. The State of Coal Mining After 1925 142
14. New Challenges for Coal Mining 145
Conclusion 155
Appendix A: The Dan River Coalfield 157
Appendix B: Jackson’s Survey of the Deep River Coalfield 159
Appendix C: ­Daddow-Bannon Map of the Deep River Coalfield 162
Appendix D: Transcript of Inquest Concerning the December 19, 1895, Disaster at Cumnock 164
Appendix E: Individuals Killed at Farmville Mine, 1925 168
Appendix F: Total Tonnage Mined Yearly at Deep River 172
Appendix G: Company Records 174
Appendix H: Active Coal Mining Companies, 1867–1896 176
Chapter Notes 178
Bibliography 217
Index 225

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Chapman has written a surprisingly broad history on a narrow topic, not only a thorough case study on a specific area, but an excellent introductory history to coal mining and industry particularly as they pertain to North Carolina”—The North Carolina Historical Review
  • “documents the history of mining in Deep River, North Carolina”—ProtoView
  • “valuable…The study fills a niche in the history of coalmining in America and illustrates the universal dangers and hazards of mining bituminous coal.”—Crandall Shifflett, Virginia Tech, author of Coaltowns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960
  • “Although we rarely associate coal mining with North Carolina history, James H. Chapman makes this story of industrial development in the Tar Heel State come alive with lively writing and exhaustive research. From its origins in the antebellum period through the tragic explosion at Coal Glen that killed fifty-three miners in 1925, the Deep River Basin’s economic potential lured investors in pursuit of profits and miners in search of work. While Deep River coal never quite lived up to the expectations of investors, its story sheds light on the complicated story of industrialization in the American South.”—Sean Patrick Adams, professor of history at the University of Florida and author of Home Fires: How Americans Kept Warm in the 19th Century