Stampless letter describing the earliest commercial mining of coal at the site it was first discovered in the United States by Father Hennepin in 1669
Stampless letter describing the earliest commercial mining of coal at the site it was first discovered in the United States by Father Hennepin in 1669

Stampless letter describing the earliest commercial mining of coal at the site it was first discovered in the United States by Father Hennepin in 1669

La Salle, Illinois to London, England: 1857. Unbound. This 3-page stampless letter measures 15” x 9.75” unfolded. The letter is dated July 22, 1857 and bears a circular July 23, La Salle, Illinois postmark. A circular New York City “5/N.York BR. PKT.” postmark (with a high “R” and “T”, see ASSC Vol II, p 105) was applied indicating the cost of inland postage within the United States before forwarding to London. The two “24” handstamps and the manuscript one shilling rate mark indicate the total cost of postage from the United States to London (5 cents inland U.S. postage + 16 cents sea postage + 3 cents British inland postage). A British receiving mark, dated August 11, is on the reverse. The letter is in nice shape. Transcript will be included.

In 1669, Father Hennepin, the legendary Belgian priest who accompanied La Salle during the earliest French explorations of North America, discovered the first coal deposits found in what is now the United States along the bank of the Illinois River not far from the present day cities of La Salle and Ottaway (see The World's Cyclopedia and Dictionary of Universal Knowledge and Mineral Resources of the United States, Part 2, 1913, p 832.) Although the deposits were well known, no attempt to mine them was made until the mid-1850s, when D. Lathrop began to drill shafts looking for beds with coal sufficient to make commercial operations profitable. The La Salle shaft struck a vein in 1856, and two additional successful shafts (Peru, and Kentucky) soon followed. The Vermillion shaft proved successful the following year (see Illinois Coal & Coal Mining History & Genealogy, online, and The Past and Present of La Salle County Illinois, Kett: 1877). Very good. Item #009252

In this 1857 letter Lathrop reports the status of those mines to John Arnold Rockwell, a Connecticut politician, lawyer, and land developer who invested heavily in the businesses related to the westward expansion of the United States. One of his ventures was the Rockwell Land Company which was heavily involved with the development of La Salle, Illinois (see the John Arnold Papers at the Huntington Library).

"The principle amount of Coal now shipped from this place, is from the Kentucky Shaft, . . . and they have demand for all they can take out, which is about 40 tons per day. . . . I think they find their principle sale on the Miss River. For Steam boats. . . . Field & Rounds have sunk their Shaft through the Coal which is 3 feet 2 inches thick of good clean Coal. The bed is 3 feet 4 inches thick. . . . They are going on with their sinking at Peru, and mining the upper bed. I think they have not reached the middle bed yet. . . . I understand they are getting a new Engine and boiler much heavier than the one they now have, some 4 or 6 times as heavy.

"Mr. Loomis is driveing on Entry in each of the two upper beds of Coal, and sinking as fast as he can. I think he is down about 40 ft. below the middle bed. The R.I.R.R. (Rock Island Railroad) take all his Coal to use on the road. . . .

"It is said that a large flour mill is to be erected by the west side of Park’s were house. Mr Parks is to be the principle man in the mater. A Co for the manufactory of fine glass is organised here, and the works is to be erected immediately. A French man who is said to be an experienced glass maker is to take the management of it. Coal is the article that brings it here as it takes 25 tons of Coal to one of sand. The French Man thinks there is no more favorable place for glass making than this in the U.S.

"The work on the new barn is progressing finely. . . . Mr. Faceman tells me he has another Coal Co formed for working Coal on the Mongrove farm, but thinks they will not commence the Shaft this year. The Central R R Co are takeing out the work from the deep cut in the Vermillion. They have a steam engine to raise the rock with and are doing it finely, but the expence will be enormous. The sides are continuing to fall in. One Man was killed there yesterday. They have also an army of Men at work at the culvert near the Kentucky Shaft. . . . Mr. Campbell has abandoned boreing on the prairie south of the river. He found no Coal of any account. He went down about 220 feet, and stoped in Coal measures and has not proved that there is not Coal below." The letter also provides updates on other La Salle projects spurred by the supply of coal including a “gas works” and a large glass factory.

The Illinois Coal Basin is the largest commercial coal bearing region in the United States and during coal’s heyday of the early 20th Century ranked third in production behind only deposits in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. An important document testifying to the origin of coal mining in the United States and the development of the Illinois Coal Basin and the city of La Salle.

As of 2019, no similar first-hand accounts are currently for sale in the trade, nor does the Rare Book Hub contain similar auction records. Although OCLC shows no similar institutional holdings, no doubt some are probably in the John Arnold Rockwell papers collection at the Huntington Library.

Price: $750.00

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