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Personal Artifact

Alexander Brooks                                                                                


Writing for Social Sciences

Professor Furlong

Essay #1: The Coal Miner

I chose this statue, “The Coal Miner”, made of real coal, that sits on a shelf in my Nana’s house because whenever I look at it or touch it, I feel a sense of pride and connection to my ancestors that I did not get a chance to meet. My Nana always talks about growing up in Man, West Virginia, as a coal miner’s granddaughter and how much that statue means to her. My Nana’s family migrated from Europe into West Virginia in the 1800’s. Grandpa Payne was raised in a coal mining camp and came from a large family. There were several coal mining companies in West Virginia and they all built their own housing for the coal miners to rent for their families. The first commercial coal mining company was opened in Wheeling, WVA. in 1810. The coal mining companies had their own company stores and that is where the coal miners shopped for food for their families. Two of the coal companies my Nana’s family worked for were Guyan Eagle Coal Company, Amherst, WVA. and Buffalo Eagle Coal Company, Becco, WVA. (2 1/2 miles from Man, WVA.). All the Coal Companies lined the 13 mile Hola which ran through Man, WVA., where my Nana was born and raised. 

He was married twice, because his first wife died, and he had eight children, losing one after just turning a year old, leaving 5 girls and 2 boys to raise. Grandpa Payne worked his way up through the mining company and eventually was able to buy his own house outside the coal mining camp. This meant that he had to live in the coal mining camp during the week when he went to work in the mines and came home on the weekends. My Nana was raised by her grandfather after her mother died when she was 10 years old. He eventually adopted my Nana and her sister, and to them he was just like their father. Nana remembers her grandfather always saying “give from your heart, don’t give to receive”. Now my Nana always tells me “ it is okay to give to help others who have less than you have”. My Nana was raised around all her aunts, uncles and cousins, a very close knit family. One of her aunts, aunt RubyDear,  gave her, and each niece and nephew, “The Coal Miner”statue, to remind them of the significance of their family history. All the men in the family before my Nana’s generation, were coal miners. Women were not allowed in the coal mines because the mines were considered dangerous and bad luck.

My great, great grandfather was schooled until the age of ten, then he went to work in the mines to help his family, earning $.50 per week.. This was before John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960, unionized the mining industry, improving the working conditions of the miners and not allowing young boys to work in the mines. My great, great grandfather worked his way up to become a foreman in the mines and eventually left the mines to open his own country store. He is to me, “The Coal Miner statue” and everything it stood for. Having to give up his childhood and go to work like an adult in the coal mines, under such  harsh and dangerous work conditions, makes me feel very lucky that I never had to experience anything like that, because of the sacrifices he made long before I was born. His values and work ethics have pushed me to always do my best and follow through, no matter what the circumstances. 

Coal miners were paid in script from the coal company they worked for, not in money. Script was like a NYC subway token and could only be used in the coal company’s company store or sold to another person for money and they would use the script to buy merchandise from the company stores. My great, great grandfather would exchange the miners’ script for money, then go to the company store to buy meat, etc. with the script, to stock his store. He wanted to make sure everyone benefited and were able to take care of their families. He would also give the miner families merchandise on credit and would allow them to pay off their debt each pay day by accepting their script as money.

He was a recognizable force in his community and guided by his faith, he helped to raise monies to found the Man Church of the Nazarene. This money also helped the congregation move their church services from a small house to a brick dwelling that became the new Man Church of the Nazarene and still stands today. I visited this church on my first trip to Man, WVA. I remember my Nana showing me the plague on the wall with my great, great grandfather’s name on it, Lemuel M. Payne. He died on May 10, 1952 at the age of 67, leaving behind six children and ten grandchildren. He had lost one daughter, Anna Mildred, my Nana’s mother a couple of years before he died.

“The Coal Miner” statue is made of polished coal and depicts a real coal miner and what he wore. Black and sleek to the touch, he is dressed in overalls and a long sleeved shirt, a coal miner’s hard hat with a light on the top and a belt around his waist. His boots have metal toes to protect his feet, in case hard coal rocks fall on his feet while he is mining. “The Coal Miner” carries a lunch bucket, his lunch in the bottom and water on top. He has a wad of tobacco in his jaw which all coal miners chewed to keep the coal dust from getting into their throats.

Growing up, as I got older I really took notice of the statue and asked my Nana about our family background and the culture of coal miners. When I began to ask her about her growing up in a coal mining town and how the men in our family were a part of the coal mining industry, I wanted to know more and more about “The Coal Miner” statue and what it represents.

“The Coal Miner” statue is a symbol for everything my great, great grandfather stood for. I am proud of  his strong values that  he passed down to his children and grandchildren. If someone in his community needed help, they were always welcomed at his table. He believed he always had enough to share with others.

I think that other people who see “The Coal Miner” statue might be inspired by the history of my family as coal miners and what their lives were like working in the mines. A person may be intrigued enough to do more research on the mining culture and how the mining industry was shut down. I am proud to be a descendant of a major part of industrial history.