Jeremiah in Slate Valley: Taconic Slate

Continued from the previous post …

A contributor to the decline of the North Welsh Slate quarries was the discovery and beginnings of industrial scale slate quarrying in the USA. Slate was discovered in Vermont and New York state in 1839, but it did not start to be commercially quarried until the 1850s. Men were needed to work the deposits and this started the first of a series major recruitment drives to bring skilled Welsh slate workers to the quarries of New England. 300 men came in 1891 as the industry boomed and the region became known as Slate Valley.

The slates are Cambrian-Ordovician in age, very similar in origin, and even appearance to the North Welsh Slates. Multi-coloured slates with reduction spots outcrop in the Slate Valley, almost identical to those from the northern Cambrian slate belt of North Wales. Their formation process is similar too. They were formed in a collisional phase of the Caledonian mountain building phase, which here in the northern Appalachians is called the Taconic Orogeny. Mudstones were deposited in a sea which was about to be crushed, uplifted and emplaced westwards onto the continental margin of what was then known as Laurentia. This crustal scale slab of rock is called the the Taconic Allochthon. The deformation initiated in the Middle Ordovician associated with this slice of the Earth’s crust metamorphosed the mudstones into the slates which now crop out in western Vermont and eastern New York State.

My great great uncle Jeremiah E. emigrated to the USA in 1906. He traveled on the SS Umbria, leaving the Port of Liverpool on 10th March 1906, arriving in New York on 18th March. At US immigration he gave his name as Jeremiah E. Williams and his age as 36 (probably pretending to be a little younger than he actually was … or maybe he had just lost count), he was still single and he gave his profession as a ‘miner’. He was able to read and write and his nationality is given as Welsh, his last residence given as Bodegroes, ‘Dolydelen’. This latter fact, unusually recorded in some detail on the record, securely identifies this person as my (half) great great uncle Jeremiah, who had previously lived at Bod-y-Groes farm. He records his intended destination as Colorado and he also states that he was going to see his brother – but oddly the name W. Brown is given here – at the Clear Creek Company in Denver. But Jeremiah did not go to Colorado. Or at least probably not, admittedly, for four years I cannot trace him.

In 1910, we find Jeremiah living in the heart of the Slate Valley in Granville, Washington County, New York, a town very close to the Vermont border. He is 40 (ish), single and a lodger at 290, Quaker Street. His landlord is another Welsh slate worker, Robert Williams, as are the other lodgers in the house. Jeremiah’s precise profession was a slate maker; someone who split blocks of slate into individual roof tiles. Life in Granville was probably not dissimilar to that in North Wales. There were chapels and Welsh was spoken, although Welsh families were not the only immigrants to work in the quarries, quarrymen from eastern Europe, Italy, Ireland and Canada also came, but the Welsh with their skills and experiences were respected, and improved the processes of extraction and often attained positions of authority in the quarries.

On 4th March 1914, Jeremiah was involved in an accident at the Sheldon Slate Quarry where he worked. The following day, the incident was reported in The Troy Times; “Jeremiah Williams, employed at the Sheldon slate quarry, met with serious injuries yesterday, when his leg was hit by a falling stone, fracturing it in two places. Dr McKenzie attended him. Mr. Williams sustained other painful injuries only a few weeks ago.” Who knows what these previous injuries were, but clearly the quarries were not safe places to work. However this incident may not have been pure accident.

On July 15th 1914, The Troy Times reported; “Granville Man Brings Suit. Jeremiah Williams of Granville, a quarryman, through J. C. Jones of Rutland as counsel, has brought suit in Rutland County Court against The F. C. Sheldon Slate Company of Pawlet to recover $3,000 damages on the ground that he received injuries through the defendant’s carelessness while he was at work in the Sheldon quarry March 4, 1914. A scale of slate fell while Williams was in the quarry pit, some of the debris striking him and breaking one leg.” It seems he successfully sued the company for damages, but clearly these riches were not life changing as he presumably recovered and then continued to work in the Granville quarries.

Jeremiah is recorded in the New York State Census taken on June 1st, 1915. He is living at 19, Irving Avenue in Granville (an address also confirmed by the 1915 Granville Directory), again a lodger, this time in the home of David Thomas, another Welsh-born quarryman. Despite his injury, Jeremiah is still recorded as working as a slate maker. However later that year Jeremiah decided to return home. He left New York on the American Line steamship New York which arrived in Liverpool on 19th September 1915. On arrival he gives his occupation as a quarryman and his age as 45, and his destination address as Mount Pleasant, Blaenau-Ffestiniog.

It is at this point I loose track of Jeremiah E. Williams for 30 years. Did he go to work in the quarries of Blaenau-Ffestiniog or did he go somewhere else and live of his claims? Did he have family members in Blaenau? If so, I have not been able to trace them.

In his later years Jeremiah escaped from the quarries and worked on William Williams’s farm in Trefriw. William was married to Jeremiah’s half sister Leah. Jeremiah died in 1942 aged 75. He died at Leah’s home, Crafnant House of a heart attack. He was also suffering from acute bronchial and respiratory problems probably brought on by years of breathing in dust.

CrafnantHouse Crafnant House, Trefriw

So ends what appears to be a life across two continents. Though his sojourn in the USA was brief, less than 10 years, whilst in America, lifestyle, language, religion and work were probably almost exactly the same for Jeremiah as they had been in the quarries of Dolwyddelen, albeit with probably better pay and rights as a worker. However I would like to know more of his experiences, and also why a man, who in comparison to the rest of his family, had a great adventure, was never talked about in the family.

References

Chan, Y-C., Crespi, J. M. & Hodges, K. V., 2000, Dating cleavage formation in slates and phyllites with the 40Ar/39Ar laser microprobe: an example from the western New England Appalachians, USA., Terra Nova, 12, 264-271.

Goldstein, A., Pickens, J., Klepeis, K. & Linn, F., 1995, Finite strain heterogeneity and volume loss in slates of the Taconic Allochthon, Vermont, U.S.A., Journal of Structural Geology., 17 (9), 1207-1216.

Landing, E., 2012, Time-specific black mudstones and global hyperwarming on the Cambrian–Ordovician slope and shelf of the Laurentia palaeocontinent., Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 367–368 , 256–272.

Slate Valley Museum: http://www.slatevalleymuseum.org/slate-valley-history.html

©Ruth Siddall 2015

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About Ruth Siddall

Geologist, geoarchaeologist and co-author of The Pigment Compendium. Follow @R_Siddall; Facebook|Cultural & Urban Geology
This entry was posted in Geology, New York State, Slate, USA, Vermont and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Jeremiah in Slate Valley: Taconic Slate

  1. Pingback: Lives in Slate Quarry Landscapes: Acadian Slate | Orpiment

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