Family Tragedy in the Mines of Scranton
Hosiah "Hosie" Thomas, was born in Hyde Park/Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1860. He was the son of John J. Thomas and Elizabeth Davis, Welsh immigrants who arrived in America in 1848, and was likely named after Elizabeth's brother Hosea Davies who appears with Elizabeth's parents in census returns for Brynmawr, Wales. Like his brothers and father, Hosie spent much of his adult working life in the coal mines of Scranton. Over the years, the Thomas family, like most mining families in Hyde Park, suffered through their share of mine-related deaths and injuries, however no one in the family suffered more in this regard than Hosie. By the time of his death in 1932, Hosie had suffered the loss of one brother and two nephews in the mines of Scranton, but perhaps the biggest loss was the death of his son Daniel Thomas in a mine accident that is discussed below. It seems likely that the combination of these multiple tragedies contributed in some way to Hosie's own demise.
Hosie's father John J. Thomas died in early 1876, while Hosie was just fifteen years old. In 1880 his mother Elizabeth remarried John E. Jones of Hyde Park, and Hosie and his younger brothers Frank and Daniel became part of the Jones household. The 1880 census shows us that the Jones family lived in the 2nd ward of Scranton rather than the 4th (Hyde Park). In the census John E. Jones is listed as the head of the family, Elizabeth is listed as his wife, and her children, Hosie Thomas, Frank Thomas, and Dannie Thomas, are listed as John's stepsons. The census also tells us that John occupation was "Saloon Keeper".
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
By 1883 the family had moved from Scranton's 2nd ward to a modest house at 508 North Hyde Park Avenue, By then John Jones had given up saloon/hotel keeping, and resumed his former occupation as a miner.
In the mid-1880s Hosie Thomas married Elizabeth Davis, and the first of their three children, daughter Bertha, was born in 1886, followed by sons Daniel in 1888 and Harry in 1891. Eventually Hosie became a full-fledged miner, which would have meant a nice increase in wages for his growing family. As mentioned above mining was a dangerous occupation, and unfortunately Hosie's younger brother Daniel lost his life in the mines in 1888. The accident that claimed his life was reported by the Inspectors of mines, as follows:
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. Fortunately his death certificate fills in the final details. 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.
Less than four years later, in 1892, another member of the Thomas family lost their lives in the mines. This time it was fifteen year old Frank Thomas, son of Hosie's brother John. Frank too was a mule driver in the mines, and the accident that claimed his life took place on February 20, 1892. Family tradition also claims that Hosie's brother Jeremiah Thomas, who moved to Canada, lost his life in the mines as well, although it is not known when or where the accident occurred.
Hosie Thomas and family lived for many years on Decker's Court in Hyde Park, which is where we find the family in the census of 1900 and 1910. The 1900 census lists Hosie as a coal laborer, while in 1910 he is listed as a coal miner. Daniel and Harry would follow their father into the mines, with devastating results. On December 16, 1916 Daniel Thomas lost his life while trying to rescue another miner. An article from the Scranton newspaper explains the incident.
Gives Up Life For Another
Daniel Thomas Overcome By Black Damp While Trying to Aid Gas Victim.
Other Burns To Death
Men Were Working in Portion of Mine Where Few Others Were Employed.
Daniel Thomas, a mine runner, of 526 Decker court, employed at the Mount Pleasant colliery in West Scranton, sacrificed his life Saturday to help an unknown, who was in danger. Thomas was working at 9 o'clock Saturday morning when he heard agonizing screams of a fellow employee. He ran in the direction where the screams came. Whether he reached the man then struggling with life is not known.
Some time later, employees found Thomas, a victim of black damp. The man he tried to help was Harry Skavinski of Old Forge. Skavinski was burned to death as the result of the ignition of a pocket of gas.
Both men struggled with death in a section of the mine where few are employed. They were working in the Dunmore, No. 2 vein. Mine Foreman Matthew Morris, of Railroad avenue, declared yesterday that the men were found in a part of the mine where Skavinski had no right to be. Gas accumulated, he said, by the miner having left a door open in the airway interfering with the circulation.
The miner was wearing a naked lamp, and this caused the explosion. Flames enveloped him, and he shouted for help. Without thought for his own safety, Thomas left his work and rushed into the gas-filled chamber.
Thomas leaves his wife and one child. He is also survived by his parents, Mr. And Mrs. Hosie Thomas, of Decker court; one sister, Mrs. Bertha Hill, and one brother, Harry, all of this city. The funeral will be held Tuesday afternoon at 2 o'clock, with interment in Washburn Street cemetery. Services will be conducted at the home by Rev. W.A. Edwards of the Tabernacle Congregational church, and the Rev. T. Tiefion Richards, of the First Welsh Baptist church.
For his heroic sacrifice, Daniel Thomas was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal, given to "a civilian who voluntarily risks his or her own life, knowingly, to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person." Unfortunately sometime between Daniel's death in 1916 and 1920 Hosie's other son Harry lost his life in the mines as well, although I have not yet discovered the details of this accident.
By 1930 Hosie and Elizabeth Thomas were living alone in their home on Decker court. Their daughter Bertha married Harry Hill and was busy raising her family of four children nearby. The 1930 census indicates that Hosie had given up mining by then (who could blame him), as he is listed in the census simply as a city laborer. By 1932 the 72 year old Hosie Thomas had witnessed more tragedy in the mines of Scranton than any other family member, and again, we can imagine that these events exacted a heavy psychological toll. A newspaper article found in the Scranton Times describes the unfortunate incident that caused Hosie's death in that year.
The Scranton Times, September 12, 1932
Police Begin Probe As Man Dies After Fight
Hosie Thomas Succumbs In West Side Hospital From Fractured Skull.
Perry Getz Held As Detectives Investigate Altercation.
Hosie Thomas, seventy-two, of 518 North Decker Court, died early this afternoon at the West Side Hospital as a result of a fractured skull he suffered Saturday night. At the same time, city police announced that they are still holding Perry Getz, fifty-seven, of 1004 West Linden street, who was taken in custody after the two men are reported to have engaged in a fight.
The police have announced that the city detectives are now working on the case and that no decision will be reached as to the disposition of Getz's case until they have made a report.
Getz, following his arrest, contended that Thomas came to his home in an intoxicated condition and that the aged man showed fight. He said he succeeded in ejecting him from the house, but that he suffered a bloody nose in the encounter.
Getz told the police officers that he was washing boll away when Thomas fell down a flight of stairs, suffering the head injury.
Neighbors, attracted by the altercation, telephoned the police. The officers upon arrival at the Getz home, found Thomas and removed him to the hospital. Getz at the same time was taken into custody, but no charges were placed against him. -
Hosie's death was ruled an accident and the following day Getz was released. What remains a question, at least in my mind, is, did Hosie "fall" down the stairs as Getz claimed, or was he pushed? It would seem to me that the latter is a definite possibility, given what appears to be the suspicions of Getz's neighbors and the fact that Getz was held overnight. Still, the police apparently had no witnesses and therefore little evidence to pursue a criminal charge against Getz.
Hosie's obituary appeared in the Scranton Times on 15 Sept 1932, and reads as follows:
Hosie Thomas Buried in Shady Lane Grave
Funeral Service For Victim of Fall Held in Decker Court Residence
The funeral of Hosie Thomas, of 518 North Decker court, who died in the West Side hospital from injuries received in a fall down a flight of stairs at the home of Perry Getz, of West Linden street, took place this afternoon from the family home. Many relatives and friends were in attendance. Rev. Dr. T. Teifion Richards, of the First Welsh Baptist church, was the officiating clergyman. Hymns were sung by the singers of the church. The body was interred in the family plot in Shady Lane cemetery. The flowers that were sent to the home were strewn about the grave. The following nephews were casket bearers: John, Willard, William, Roy, Ebenezer and Daniel Thomas.
Although his death certificate and obituary indicate that Hosie Thomas was buried in Shady Lane Cemetery, today he rests in nearby Abington Hills Cemetery, alongside his wife Elizabeth, with his daughter Bertha and her husband Harry Hill on the opposite side of the plot. We know that Elizabeth was buried in Abington Hills in 1936, and apparently Hosie was moved to his wife's cemetery sometime thereafter. Elizabeth died in 1936 and her obituary appeared in the Scranton Republican on 2 May 1936, as follows:
Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas Succumbs in North End
Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas, 1426 North Sumner Avenue, a resident of Scranton for 71 years, died yesterday morning at 9:30 o'clock in the state hospital. She was a native of Wales and came to this country when she was three years old. She formerly had resided in West Scranton. Mrs. Thomas, the widow of Hoisea Thomas, who died four years ago, was a member of the First Welsh Baptist Church and a member of Mrs. Rome's Bible class. She is survived by a daughter, Mrs. Harry H. Hill, with whom she made her home; a son, Harry Thomas; six grandchildren, and a sister, Mrs. Catherine Evans, all of Scranton. The funeral will be held Monday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock from the home with them Rev. Dr. T. Teifion Richards officiating. Interment will be in Abington Hills Cemetery. Howard J. Snowdon is in charge of funeral arrangements.
Hosie and Elizabeth were finally at rest. In his long life Hosie Thomas endured a number of family tragedies, none worse than the death of his brother and son Daniel. It is somewhat ironic that because of Daniel's heroic sacrifice, the Thomas family will be forever linked with the mining history of Scranton.
Jeffrey L. Thomas
Revised January 2007
Below: The Hill-Thomas plot in Abington Hills Cemetery, near Scranton. Final resting place of Hosie Thomas, his wife Elizabeth and daughter and son-in-law Bertha & Harry Hill. Photographed October 2004
Death certificate of Hosie Thomas
Essay on Hosie's son Daniel Thomas
Essay on Hosie's brother Daniel Thomas
Essay on Hosie's father John J. Thomas, of Brynmawr, Wales & Scranton, Pa.
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