Coal Creek history
comes to life for
Briceville 4th & 5th graders

20 May 2016


Thank you, Briceville School!!!


Students at cannon atop Militia Hill during the
16th Annual Briceville School History Field Trip

Students from Briceville School's fourth and fifth grade classes got a lesson on Coal Creek history from Welsh miner/engineer David R. Thomas, who was born in Carmarthen, South Wales in 1839.

Mr. Thomas told how he came to Coal Creek after the American Civil War as part of a contingent of Welsh miners who developed a coal mine to fuel the mills of the Knoxville Iron Company.  He lost his job to convict labor in 1877, but found work in the Fraterville Mine where he later became an apprentice engineer to C. G. Popp, which qualified him for his job as an engineer with the Provident Insurance Company.

Mr. Thomas explained how miners met at Thistle Switch, located between Briceville and Fraterville, in 1891, to devise a plan for ending convict leasing. After the meeting, the miners captured the convict stockade in Briceville.  Miners marched the guards and convicts along the railroad tracks to the train depot in the town of Coal Creek and put them on a train to Knoxville.  They then learned how Governor Buck Buchanan visited Briceville at a meeting with miners in Tennessee Hollow to justify convict leasing.  Miners did not buy his explanation, which led to additional hostilities.

Briceville students sanding off initials carved in cannon by
disrespectful punks, with their
Principal Travis Hutcheson supervising their work


Do you know that three of the sites visited today -- Fort Anderson on
Militia Hill, Fraterville Miners Circle, and Briceville Church and Cemetery --
are listed on the National Register of Historical Places?
Do you know that the Coal Creek labor
saga is now part of Tennessee education curriculum?




Students pointing to the notch in the railroad tie from
where Dick Drummond was hung during the Coal Creek War

Our first stop today was at Drummond Bridge where students saw the notch in the bridge from where Dick Drummond was lynched during the Coal Creek War. Students learned about Dick Drummond this year when they studied Chris Cawood's book, "Tennessee's Coal Creek War: Another Fight for Freedom."

At Fort Anderson on Militia Hill, students got to see the breastworks dug around the fort where the Tennessee National Guard had its base of operations during the Coal Creek War.  They also did a re-enactment of the siege on Fort Anderson with fourth graders portraying the miners and fifth graders portraying the soldiers.  At the cannon atop Militia Hill, Thomas told how miners lost the final battle, but won the war to abolish convict leasing in Tennessee. 

Descendents of Fraterville miners

At Fraterville Miners Circle in Leach Cemetery, students heard stories about the worst disaster in the history of mining in the South where 216 men and boys died on May 19, 1902.   Thomas told of being on the rescue crew that found 26 miners trapped behind a barricade.  Ten of those miners wrote farewell letters to their families before suffocating.  All the letters had two common topics—God and family—which tells you all you need to know about life’s priorities in 1902.

To learn more about the Fraterville Mine Disaster, you can watch reporter Amanda Hara's recent story on Knoxville's WVLT CBS Channel 8 News:

At Longfield Cemetery, students read the farewell letters of Jacob Vowell and Powell Harmon over their headstones.  After lunch at Cracker Barrel, students visited Briceville Church, built in 1888 by Welsh miners, which served as a classroom where Thomas described the 1911 Cross Mountain Mine disaster and rescue. 

Longfield Cemetery

Students then competed in the 2016 Dixie Eisteddfod for the best historical fiction essay.  The original Dixie Eisteddfod was held in 1890 in Knoxville, which was attended by Welsh miners from 10 states.  It was how they preserved their language and culture at a time when it was illegal to even speak the Welsh language in Great Britain.  Students rang the church bell in honor of those who perished during the Fraterville and Cross Mountain Mine explosions.

2016 Dixie Eisteddfod Winners (shown above L to R) Madison Daugherty (Fifth grade -- 2nd place), Jonathon Brown (Fifth grade -- 1st place), Emily Fairbank (Fourth grade -- First place), Alexis McCoy (Fourth grade -- second place). The competition was adjudicated by David R. Thomas, whose bardic name is Gwalch Gwalia (Welsh Rascal).

The field trip ended at Briceville Public Library where students learned about the historical markers there—The Legacy of Condy Harmon and the Welsh in Coal Creek


Most people have heard the metaphor, a canary in a coal mine, which refers to any advanced warning of danger. What most people don’t know is that the first use of canaries in a coal mine occurred in 1911 during the rescue of miners after the Cross Mountain Mine exploded in Briceville.  The caged canary is the symbol used on the tee-shirts distributed to Briceville students during the 16th annual Briceville School history field trip.  Miners wore red bandanas as their uniforms during the Coal Creek War, which explains why students wear red bandanas during our field trips.  

Reading the farewell message of Jacob Vowell over
his grave and that of his son Elbert

Powell Harmon's great, great, great grandson at the
graves of Powell and his son Condy Harmon

Carol Moore takes a selfie with students at Cracker Barrel with
their teacher (Center) Ms. Peyton Stooksbury and
their Principal Mr. Travis Hutcheson (back right)

Very special thanks to Geoff Trabalka (Anderson County Solid Waste), Chief
Avery Johnson (Anderson County Sheriff's Department), and volunteer inmates
for clearing the overgrown railroad tracks leading to historic Drummond Bridge.

Accompanying us on the tour were Sandee Sharp Saverese
(part-time director of the Coal Creek Miners Museum) and
Robert Gregory (President of the Briceville & Anderson
County Public Library Foundation, Inc.)

L to R:  Fifth grade teacher Ms. Jackie Byrge, Library/Technology teacher
Janis Bishop, Principal Travis Hutcheson, and one of our fine bus drivers
from M & R Bus Company


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