103rd Anniversary
19 May 2005


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On Thursday, May 19, 2005, the 103rd anniversary of the Fraterville Mine disaster, a dedication ceremony was held at Fraterville Miners’ Circle in Leach Cemetery, Lake City, Tennessee.  Lake City was formerly known as the town of Coal Creek.  Over 100 descendants of those miners and friends were in attendance to recognize the Miners' Circle's placement on the National Register of Historic Places, our Nation's official list of cultural resources which define who we are as a people and a Nation.  The dedication ceremony celebrated the lives of those miners.  Click here for the program in Adobe Acrobat Reader format.

Official bronze plaque
Opening Prayer:
Rev. Roy Daugherty opened the dedication with a prayer

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Legacy18.jpg (27799 bytes)

A portion of the farewell letter written
by Jacob Vowell before he suffocated
in the Fraterville Mine


History Lesson about the
Coal Creek Miners

Some contemporary descriptions of the  Coal Creek miners call them “poor, illiterate, mistreated, and abused”.  If they were so poor, how did they afford these elaborate headstones and how could many of them own their own homes and land as they did?  If they were illiterate, how did they write all those farewell messages before suffocating after the mine disasters?  If they were mistreated and abused, and if being a miner was such a terrible job, then why did they literally go to war to protect their jobs during the Coal Creek War?

Greg Gaylor, great grandson of
Jacob Vowell, reads Jabob's
farewell message

Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle
sang original songs written for
the play "Measured in Labor:
The Coal Creek Project"

Dr. Eirug Davies, a Welsh Scholar at Harvard, has answers to some of those questions.  The first miners who came to Coal Creek after the Civil War were Welsh immigrants.  They came to America because the English never liked them.  Their problems started in 1787 when the English needed a way to populate their new colony in Australia.  Since they didn’t like the Welsh, English “Bobbies” arrested and banished them to the prison colony of New South Wales, Australia, where Sidney is now located.  Then it got worse in 1847 when British Parliament banned the use of the Welsh language.  Since their Sunday Schools were practiced in Welsh, that impacted the way they worshipped.  America needed experienced coal miners at that time, so they came here to live their lives on their own terms. 

Briceville Church built by
immigrant Welsh coal miners

Most of the Welsh immigrants who came to Coal Creek were well educated, only in the Welsh language, not English.  The first thing they did here was to build schools and churches so their children, and those of the other miners, could be educated in the English language.  That’s why so many of the Fraterville Miners had the ability to write farewell messages after being trapped underground. 
The Welsh miners, like those in Coal Creek, celebrated their heritage by holding annual Eisteddfod cultural festivals.  At the ones in Knoxville in 1890 and Chattanooga in 1891, Welsh miners from Coal Creek joined miners from ten states to compete in literary and musical competitions.  The judge at those festivals dressed up like a Welsh druid.  After announcing the winners, he drew his sword, and asked, “Do you want peace or war in the land?”  Not knowing if he was going to honor the winners or lop off their heads, participants yelled, “PEACE”, to guide his decision.

Briceville first graders were
tasked with decorating
the ceremonial sword

In that tradition of competition, Briceville and Lake City Elementary School students this year competed in the 2005 Coal Creek Eisteddfod Literary Competition by writing essays and poems about the Coal Creek miners. 

Barry Thacker dressed as a
Welsh druid to announce the winners
of the literary competition
during the ceremony

Michael Matlock was the grand winner
of the literary competition.
Victoria Wright was runner-up.

The word “eistedd” in eisteddfod means “to sit”.  The tradition is for the winners to be seated in a ceremonial chair after they are announced.  It’s similar to the way the head of a company or committee is called the chairman.  Also, in the tradition of the Welsh miners, they used fake names on their entries, so nobody knows the winners until they are announced.

Dedication of Miners’ Circle on National Register of Historic Places

The miners of Fraterville were literate thanks to the schools built by the Welsh immigrants.  Those letters were printed in newspapers around the world.  From them, everybody in America knew the name of a coal miner.  It raised public awareness about the dangers of early 20th century coal mining, starting us down the long road toward safer working conditions in the mines today.  In 1902, 216 miners died in the Fraterville disaster alone.  Last year, 28 coal miners died nationwide while producing the coal that provides over half of the electricity we use in this country. 

Janet Whaley was one of the descendants who read names of the miners.  Her great grandfather Slover perished in the mine.  Janet found cousins and family she had not seen in over 30 years at the dedication ceremony.

While we mounted the official National Register marker, descendents of the miners read some of the farewell messages left by those miners and the names of the miners on the monument.  We left off some of those names because we don’t know them.  Itinerant miners died in the disaster without anyone knowing their names.  They are buried by the abandoned railroad track in Fraterville. 

Tony Thomas from Coal Creek and the Mystery Mountain Boys sang about those unknown miners.  Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle sang us a song from the play about the Fraterville miners, “Measured in Labor”. 

Tony Thomas and the
Mystery Mountain Boys performed
their songs about the miners

Louise Nelson and sister Marie Morts
lost their grandfather David DeZern
and four of his brothers in the disaster.

 Descendants and friends gather around monument for special ceremony

We ended our program by hearing from some of the descendents of the Fraterville miners.    The Coal Creek Watershed Foundation would like to thank Mr. Tony Van Winkle with the East Tennessee Development District without whose help in submitting the application to the National Register, this would not have been possible.

Click on images below to view more photos of this special day:

Read the news articles published
about the event:

Courier News

Knoxville News Sentinel

Oak Ridger

The Tennessean

Fraterville Mine Disaster

For more information about the history of Coal Creek and efforts to preserve it, visit:

Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc.
3502 Overlook Circle
Knoxville, Tennessee 37909
Phone: 865-584-0344

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