A Coal Miner’s Prayer

Allegany County, ~1845

Take a look at these hands, Lord.
They’re worn and rough.
My face scarred with coal marks. My language is tough.
But you know in the heart lies the soul of a man.
Who toils at a living that few men can stand.
There’s sulphur and coal-dust and sweat on my brow.
To live like a rich man — I’d never learn how.

But if you’ve got a corner when my work is through,
I’d be mighty proud to live neighbors with you.
Each dawn as I rise, Lord, I know all too well
I face only one thing — a pit filled with Hell.

To scratch out a living the best that I can.
But deep in this heart lies the soul of a man.
With black-covered faces and hard calloused hands,
We ride the dark tunnels, our work to begin.
To labor and toil as we harvest the coal.
We silently pray, “Lord, please harvest our souls!”

Just a corner in Heaven when I’ve grown too old.
And my back it won’t bend, Lord to shovel the coal.
Lift me out of the pit where the sun never shines,
‘Cause it gets mighty weary down here in the mine.

But I’d rather be me, Lord, Tho’no riches I show,
Though tired and wary, I’m just glad to know
When the Great Seal is broken the pages will tell
That I’ve already spent my time in Hell.

~Author Unknown
(Courtesy of Marion Chappel)

“From the Washington Union.
Sketches ~ Of a tour through the great Coal and Iron Region, Allegany county, Maryland

The town of Cumberland is located on the Potomac river, near the junction of the three great States of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It is built upon the site of old Fort Cumberland, which, during the French and Indian wars in 1755, was one of the extreme frontier British outposts, and the safeguard of the colonists against the incursions of the French and Indians. We were shown, with feelings of no ordinary interest, the site of the venerable work. From its wall issued that splendid army, under the command of the rash but ill-fated Braddock, which after weeks of toil, privations, and sufferings, found massacre and a bloody grave on the borders of the Ohio. We were shown also the spot where, one year ago, stood an humble log house, sanctified as being once the head quarters of George Washington, then a lieutenant colonel commanding the provincial troops at this post. This interesting relic of frontier history has only lately given place to the elegant mansion; but we were pleased to learn that, previous to its demolition, a sketch was preserved which will probably ere long be in the hand of the engraver, and so be saved to posterity.

To this spot Washington returned in 1794, during the whiskey insurrection, as chief magistrate of the county he had released from British oppression. Who can conceive the feelings of the patriot and statesman, when again seated by the fireside of the humble building in which, in youth, he had mused on those visions which, in after years led him and his country to greatness and renown? Forty years before, his most extravagant ambition had never conceived such a termination to his labors; but, as the future was then dim and uncertain, so, in the executive chair, even his great and noble conception never imagined that, in another span of forty years, the land of Washington would have reached an eminence, and achieved a renown, to which the attention of all the world would be directed with wonder and admiration; and on the very spot whence, eighty-five years anterior, the hut of the young officer stood, were to be seen the indications of improvement and enterprise of the most stupendous character.

We were also shown the traces of the military road constructed under the direction of the indefatigable Washington, through a then almost impenetrable wilderness, the exploration of which was pursued under privations of an extraordinary character, to the very lines of the French and Indian out-posts. It is remarkable, that this identical route was afterwards selected by the United States engineers, for the construction of that great work, the national road; thus showing the wonderful skill of the young hero.

The town of Cumberland is rapidly increasing in prosperity. It has recently received the charter of a city. It contains at present, over five thousand inhabitants, and there are now more than one hundred building in course of erection, and every year will make important additions. It is one of the natural outlets of the products of the great West; and I look forward to the period, at no distant day, when the development of its vast mineral wealth will cause every hill side to smoke with furnaces, and every valley in its vicinity to resound to the clank of the hammer and the forge. Cumberland is the terminus now (and will be for years, notwithstanding the expectations of some of the people of western Pensylvania[sic]) of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. Here also is the destined terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal; and until this work is pushed forward to this point, the capital already expended in its construction had been vainly invested. Cumberland is handsomely located at the foot of the Alleganies, and is justly entitled to its name of “the mountain city”. It lies in the valley, and looks as if reposing in a lovely natural basin, surrounded on three sides by lofty hills covered with wild verdure (??). Seen from one of these mountain heights, it bears some resemblance to Reading, Pa., though not more than half as large. Its vicinity abounds in beautiful scenes, for the pencil of the artist; and i only regret that the genius of Weir, and other skillful artists, has not sought, among its beautiful views, subjects for the exercise for their talents. The residence of some of the citizens are neat and tasteful, the streets broad, and the society refined and hospitable.

Distant about eleven miles from Cumberland is the village of Frostburg, a beautiful spot, greatly frequented during the warm weather, on account of its singularly pure and wholesome atmosphere. It is elevated a great distance about Cumberland & it is a place that deserves to be generally visited. I enjoyed the hospitality of the keeper of the hotel there, Judge Cessna; who, besides being an excellent man, is a good democrat. The northern view from his hotel is a picture of the most lovely and indescribable character, and looks much like a finished painting in the perspective.

But no one who visits Cumberland should fail to see the Mount Savage iron-works, distant, by railroad, ten miles. It is an immense establishment, I was astonished to find, in the very heart of the wilderness, where only five years ago, grew alone the mountain oak and sugar maple, a scene which almost realized the enchantment of Eastern table. I found myself in the midst of a manufacturing town, containing a population of three thousand souls. There are five hundred hands constantly engaged at these works! Over two hundred houses are erected for the accommodation of them and their families. The amount of capital invested is $1,000,000. The works, as you may imagine are really stupendous, and there are about two hundred tons of iron manufactured a week. It is the only American establishment extensively engaged in the manufacture of heavy railway iron – now and heretofore manufactured in, and imported, from England. It is a fact, which is no less singular than true, that the effort made last winter to repeal the duty on railroad iron, was originated and urged before Congress by those very eastern tariff champions who were so anxious to keep the duty on all articles in which they had an interest! A similar effort, and from the same quarter, will be made at the ensuing session of Congress. The Mount Savage iron works are driven by steam; the coal and fuel supplied from their own mines, near the works. The coal is of the same character as that of the Maryland Mining company, referred to in the preceding number of these sketches. They use daily one hundred and fifty tons of coal, and transport one hundred tons daily to the eastern market, by their own railroad (ten miles) ot Cumberland, and thence, by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to Tide water. Passenger cars run twice a day from Cumberland to the works – fare 37 1/2 cents. They have also constructed a turnpike from the works to the same place. The president and manager of this extensive establishment is Colonel Wm. Young, who receives a salary of $10,000 a year! He is assisted by Mr. Wells, who obtains a salary of $5,000 per annum, the agent and engineer of the English stockholders. Both these gentlemen are capable, accommodating, and efficient men.

Such is a brief and imperfect sketch of an undertaking which is bound …….(unreadable)……..important and valuable in the Union, in a few years.”

Alleganian (Cumberland, MD.); Saturday, 27 September 1845


How can you help?

The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of the state Route 36 and the national Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor our Georges Creek Valley miners and name those who perished while mining. Tax-deductible donantions can be mailed to the Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF, P.O. Box 765, Frostburg, MD 21532.

Please email: Polla Horn or Bucky Schriver to share your thoughts and stories.

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