Editor’s note: Each week, “Miner Recollections” will spotlight Georges Creek coal heritage, and the sacrifices made by those who mined it, by drawing upon biographical sketches, family narratives and historical research.
The Report of the Bureau of Industrial Statistics and Information drew the line between boyhood and manhood at age 17.
In 1908, the Maryland mines employed 10 children between the ages of 12 and 14 and 95 children between the ages of 14 and 16. Samuel Miller was one of those boys.
Samuel’s mother, Rebecca Metz Miller, knew what it was like to go to work as a child. Due to “indigent circumstances,” her widowed mother, Magdalene Metz, indentured Rebecca as a servant in the home of James Storey.
According to the contract, Rebecca would work for him from age 12 until 18.
In return, he was to “clothe, feed, teach and instruct her… she was to serve faithfully and obediently her master, and behave herself towards her master, and honestly and orderly serve the rest of the family.”
Upon the expiration of her indenture, she was to receive “two sets of wearing apparel, one suitable for Sunday and the other for working days.”
So when Rebecca Metz married Norman Miller in the Presbyterian Church in Lonaconing on June 22, 1883, her dowry was two sets of wearing apparel — literally the clothes on her back.
There were additional reasons why 1883 became a “year of celebration” for the Metz family.
In addition to Rebecca’s wedding, her sister Martha married John Bradley; her mother, Magdalene, whose first husband had died, married Moses Beeman, the grandfather of “Lefty” Grove.
Norman and Rebecca Miller were blessed with their first child, the son they named Samuel, on Jan. 7, 1885.
Her prior indenture that had included caring for the Storey children was put to good use — nine more children were born into the Miller household between 1887 and 1908.
Norman had been a farmer as a young man. It is unknown why he made the switch to coal mining, but that is how he supported his ever-growing family.
Child labor in Maryland coal mines was an undeniable economic factor during the 19th century.
Samuel Miller was the oldest of the six siblings (Samuel, Margaret, Joseph, Charlotte, Norman and Alexander) and in 1897 it was economically imperative that he become a wage earner.
So like his mother Rebecca had done, Samuel went to work (sometime between age 12 and 13) and joined his father, Norman, in the underground mines around Lonaconing.
By 1890, most mine operators would not permit boys younger than 14 to work as “half-turns.” However, no one was really looking at age. Most children were delivered at home and did not have birth certificates. If they were big boys, no one questioned how old they were.
A half-turn entitled a miner to an extra coal car; if the standard was two cars per day for an adult, the miner who had a son with him could get three cars.
The family income could be augmented significantly in a month’s time. One miner complained about this, stating, “The majority of boys work with their father or older brother as miners claiming not less than half a turn, which is, I think, a detriment to all men who have a family to support and who have no boys. Thus, a boy will receive on pay day half as much as an able-bodied man.”
In response to this, an official of the Bureau of Industrial Statistics and Information suggested the “establishment of factories to employ the girls, who could not work in the mines, and must work at something when there are a dozen or more in the family.”
A statement of the times, but cruel and callous words by today’s standards.
Samuel Miller worked in one of the mines close to his home in Lonaconing.
On May 30, 1899, he was crushed by a fall of breast coal, causing severe internal injuries. He died from internal hemorrhage five hours later.
One can only imagine the pain he must have suffered at such a young age; however, the pain that his parents and siblings endured was just as great and lasted a lifetime.
Perhaps the family’s sorrow was tempered a bit when another son, William, was born seven months later. William was followed by Jane and Jean in 1902 and Thomas in 1908.
Fourteen-year-old Samuel Miller nearly fell through the cracks. If we had not, just by chance, found his death certificate, he would have been forgotten.
Samuel was born after the census of 1880, there is no census for 1890 and he died before 1900.
There is no stone marker to identify his final resting place. If a wooden cross once marked his grave, it has long since rotted away. A search of Ancestry.com revealed nothing; Samuel was not mentioned on any family tree.
The maiden name of his mother led me to Nancy Metz Radcliffe, a family member; Nancy knew of his parents, Norman and Rebecca, and she had a list of Samuel’s siblings. Samuel, once lost to the ages, can again be included in the Miller family history.
It is an honor and a privilege to bring young Samuel’s story to light.
He may never have a grave marker, but his memory will not be forgotten when his name is engraved at the Coal Miner Memorial in a special section reserved for children whose lives were lost in the treacherous underground mines of Western Maryland.
Our committee would like to thank Nancy Metz Radcliffe of Keyser for her assistance with this Recollection.
“Miner Recollections Volume Two 2019” is a compilation of stories, pictures, maps, and an updated list of deceased miners. Proceeds support the installation of a life-sized bronze monument and the educational landscaping that will surround it. Books are available at Armstrong Insurance in Frostburg or by contacting Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bucky Schriver at email@example.com.