A 1902 Letter From Trapped Coal Miner To Wife Is A Chilling Reminder Of Horrors That Workers Faced

One of the worst mining accidents in history, the Fraterville Mine Disaster in Tennessee, killed over 200 miners in 1902.

But, according to the website Letters of Note, “for the 26 who survived the initial blast, a side passage of the mine proved to be a safe haven, but not for long—when rescuers eventually reached them, all had suffocated. Found next to a number of the those 26 bodies were letters to loved ones, one of which can be seen below. It was written by Jacob Vowell to Sarah Ellen, his beloved wife and mother to their 6 children, one of whom, 14-year-old Elbert, was by his side in the mine. (‘Little Eddie’ was a son they had lost previously.)

All but three of Fraterville’s adult men were killed that day; over a hundred women were instantly widowed; close to a thousand children lost their fathers. The Fraterville Mine disaster remains the worst of its kind in Tennessee’s history.”

The letter reads, with transcription below:

“Ellen, darling, goodbye for us both. Elbert said the Lord has saved him. We are all praying for air to support us, but it is getting so bad without any air.

Ellen I want you to live right and come to heaven. Raise the children the best you can. Oh how I wish to be with you, goodbye. Bury me and Elbert in the same grave by little Eddie. Godbye Ellen, goodbye Lily, goodbye Jemmie, goodbye Horace. We are together. Is 25 minutes after two. There is a few of us alive yet.

Jake and Elbert

Oh God for one more breath. Ellen remember me as long as you live Goodbye darling.”

Jacob Vowell with his daughter Lillie

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