A Death in the Mines
copright © 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas
Daniel Thomas was the youngest child of John J. Thomas and his wife Elizabeth Davis. He was born in 1872 and was only three or four years old when his father died in either 1875 or 1876. At the time of their father's death, the older Thomas children were married and/or already on their own (Hannah, John Jr., David, Thomas and probably Jeremiah), while children Hosiah, William, Benjamin and Daniel were still underage. City directories for the 2nd half of the 1870s indicate that the widowed Elizabeth Thomas and her underage children either remained at their home on Hyde Park avenue, or moved in with oldest son John Jr. and his family, prior to Elizabeth remarrying John E. Jones in 1880. This may have been the same John Jones who was living next to the Thomas family in the 1860 census, with his wife Caroline and infant son John Jr. As such, Elizabeth's underage children became the step-sons of John E. Jones, who would have been the father Daniel Thomas knew for the majority of his life.
The 1880 census shows us that the Jones family lived in Scranton's 2nd ward rather than the 4th ward, where most members of the Thomas family lived. In the returns John E. Jones is listed as the head of the family, occupation, "Saloon Keeper." Elizabeth is listed as his wife, and her children, Hosie Thomas, Frank Thomas, and Dannie Thomas, are listed as John's stepsons. Son William Thomas is inexplicably missing from the family group. This would be Daniel's first and only census appearance.
1880 Census, City of Scranton, 2nd Ward:
Name Relation Age Place of Birth Occupation John E. Jones Self 44 Wales Saloon Keeper Elizabeth Jones Wife 50 Wales Keeping House John E. Jones Son 20 PA Coal Miner Hosie Thomas Step-son 20 PA Coal Laborer Frank Thomas Step-son 12 PA At School Dannie Thomas Step-son 8 PA At School Emma Thomas Other 17 PA Servant John T. Thomas Other 50 PA Coal Miner Edward Lewis Other 40 PA Plasterer
The returns show that John E. Jones Jr. was already working as a miner, while Hosie Thomas was working as a "mine laborer." Frank (Benjamin Franklin) and Dannie Thomas were both attending school, but would soon join their brothers in the mines. In fact, census returns demonstrate that all of the sons of John and Elizabeth Thomas, with the possible exception of William, worked in Scranton's mining industry. In those days it was normal for boys as young as ten to begin working above ground as "breaker boys" separating unwanted slate from the mined coal deposits. At fourteen a boy could become a "door boy" or "mule driver," before becoming a "mine laborer," and finally a full-fledged miner, usually around the age of twenty or twenty-one.
Most of the Thomas boys were employed in the mines as mule drivers before becoming miners. The driver's job was to lead the mules pulling the cars loaded with coal in and out of the mines. A slightly more detailed description of a mule driver is found on the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) web site:
The most exciting job for the boys was mule driver. The job was usually held by an older boy in his early teens. The mule driver traveled all through the mine coupling full cars together and leaving an empty car behind in the work chamber. The boy started out with one mule and then worked up to a six-mule team. When he was able to drive a six-mule team, he was given a man's wages. The mule driver sat on the front bumper of the coal car and used his voice to direct the mules. If the mule was stubborn, he used a black snake whip. A good mule driver was respected by both the miners and bosses. He had no problem obtaining a job as a miner when he was older. The miners often felt the mules were more important than men were to the company. If a mule died, the company had to buy a new one. If the miner was killed or injured, they only had to hire a replacement.
As mentioned above mining was a dangerous occupation, and mule drivers as well as miners were susceptible to fatal accidents. Most of Scranton's mine accidents were eventually reported to the Inspectors of Mines, and many of these records have now made their way onto the Internet. This is how I discovered notice of the accident that claimed the life of Daniel Thomas, as follows:
Reports of the Inspectors of Mines of the Anthracite Coal Regions of Pennsylvania for the Year Ending 31 December, 1888 . Report of Fatal Accidents in the 1st Anthracite District, comprising of parts of Lackawanna Co, plus, Forest City borough (Susquehanna Co.)
4/3 DANIEL THOMAS, driver, 16, Diamond "Tripp", Scranton
This brief entry tells us the date of the fatal accident (April 3, 1888), and that Daniel was working as a (mule) driver at the "Tripp Slope" in the "Diamond" mine, one of the first mines opened in Hyde Park in the early 1850s. The report also mentions Dannie's age (16). The accident was reported in the local paper two days later in April 5th.
The Scranton Republican, Thursday, April 5,1888
Daniel Thomas, a driver in the Tripp slope, was so badly squeezed on Tuesday between a trip of cars and the "rib" that his recovery is impossible. His age is sixteen years.
The story indicates that somehow Daniel became caught between one of the coal cars and a 'rib" of the mine, or the support beams that lined the mine shaft. The report also makes it clear that, although his injury was deemed fatal, Daniel did not die immediately, however there is no further mention of his death in later issues of the newspaper, leaving open the question of when exactly Daniel died. Fortunately I was soon able to find his death certificate (October 2003), which fills in the final details concerning the accident and Daniel's death..
Return of a Death
To the Board of Health of the City of Scranton
Name of Deceased: Daniel Thomas
Age: Sixteen Years
Married or Single:
Date of Death: April 4th, 1888
Cause of Death: Rupture of bladder by accident in mines
Doctor (MD): W.C. Allen
Undertaker's Certificate in Relation to Deceased
Occupation: Driver in Mines
Place of Birth: Scranton
When a Minor,
Name of Father: John Thomas
Name of Mother:
Street and Number: Hyde Park ave.
Date of Burial: April 6, 1888
Place of Burial: Washburn st.
Undertaker: Wm. Price
Date of Certificate:
The death certificate is important for several reasons. First, it tells us that Daniel died the day after the accident on April 4th, the day before the accident appeared in the local paper. His cause of death is listed as "Rupture of bladder by accident in mines," and the certificate also tells us that Daniel lived for as long as perhaps a day following the accident, in what would almost certainly have been a state of great pain and suffering. Most importantly, the certificate indicates that Daniel was the son of John Thomas and that his home was on Hyde Park avenue, confirming that this Daniel is indeed "our" Dannie Thomas.
Below right: a mule driver in the mines.
Daniel Thomas was buried in the Washburn Street Cemetery in Hyde Park, on April 6th, 1888. Since no stone has been found to mark his final resting place, it would appear that, like his older sister Hannah who died two years earlier in 1886, he lies in an unmarked grave. We know that his father John J. Thomas purchased two cemetery plots in Washburn Street in 1865. John and his wife Elizabeth are buried in one plot, and it's possible that Dannie is buried in the other.
Until recently, all we knew about Daniel Thomas was that he was his parent's youngest child, and he was killed in a mining accident. Now, the pieces of this family puzzle have finally come together, so that today we understand most of the details concerning Daniel's tragically short life and death. It is likely that Daniel was not the first Thomas family member to lose his life in the mines, nor would he be the last, as the coal fields of Scranton had other relatives yet to claim.
Jeffrey L. Thomas
Go back a generation to Daniel's father, John J. Thomas
Return to the main page at the Thomas Family Web Site
Web site copyright © 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved