Coal Creek history
comes to
life for UT students

22 March 2016

Students from Dr. Bob Hutton's History of TN class
from the University of Tennessee gather around the
cannon mounted at Fort Anderson on Militia Hill

Students from Dr. Bob Hutton’s History of Tennessee class (History 449-001) at the University of Tennessee got a lesson on Coal Creek history by Welsh miner/engineer David R. Thomas, who was born in Carmarthen, South Wales in 1839. 
At Fort Anderson on Militia Hill, 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 to engineer C. G. Popp, which qualified him for his job as an engineer with the Provident Insurance Company.  At the cannon atop Militia Hill, Thomas told how miners fought to abolish convict labor during the Coal Creek War.

The history lesson begins in the parking area of
Fort Anderson on Militia Hill overlooking
the abandoned "Convict Mine"

Barry Thacker (in character of Welsh miner/engineer David R. Thomas)
led the history lesson for the UT class

Standing at the site of the Fraterville Mine disaster
with the area where the mine opening was located

At the abandoned Fraterville Mine portal, 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. Many of those miners were veterans of the Coal Creek War.  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.   

Remnants of the steam engine foundation at the
abandoned Fraterville Mine portal


Briceville Church, built in 1888 by Welsh miners, served as a classroom where Thomas described the 1911 Cross Mountain Mine disaster and rescue.  Have you heard the phrase, “A canary in a coal mine?”  Canaries were first used to test air quality in a mine during the rescue at Cross Mountain.  Students got the opportunity to ring the church bell in honor of those who perished during the explosion.

Ringing the beautiful church bell at
historic Briceville Church
The lesson concluded at Longfield Cemetery where students read
farewell messages over the graves of the miners who wrote them

Reading the farewell message left by Jacob Vowell
over the grave of Jacob and his son Elbert who were buried
in the same grave as their message requested

For more information about
tours of the historic Coal Creek
sites, contact Carol Moore at
865-584-0344 or


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