Derby History Quiz

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Coal and Derby may not seem to be much of a mix, however it was Abijah Smith of Derby who first introduced a cargo of anthracite coal for sale in the United States in 1807 - the same year in which he brought it to Derby for the first time. This quiz proved to be the toughest one that we have ever had as only Randy Ritter was able to supply the complete answer. Our thanks to Derby Neck Librarian Judy Augusta for suggesting this quiz.

This account is contained in  Samuel Orcutt's "History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut":

The first coal introduced into Derby was in 1807, by Abijah Smith, father of the founder of Birmingham. The first cargo of anthracite coal offered for sale in this country was by Abijah Smith. He left Derby in 1806, and in 1807 mined fifty tons of coal in Plymouth, Penn., at the old mine which is now rented to the Lehigh and Wilkesbarre Coal Company, known as the Smith red-ash coal. In November, 1807, Smith purchased an ark for $24, which had been used for the transportation of plaster, and on the 4th day of that month this ark was floated to Plymouth and loaded with fifty tons of anthracite coal and was floated down the Susquehanna river. Safely landed at Columbia, Penn., the German settlers looked with wonder at what they called "black stone," and said Smith must be a crazy man to think of selling such stuff as that. In order to demonstrate the value of coal as an article for fuel Mr. Smith arranged with a landlord of that place, for the use of his fire-place, procured a grate made under his directions by a blacksmith, put it into the fire-place, built a fire of wood and put on the coal, but the wood burned out leaving the coal only a little ignited. They poked it much and worked to make it burn, but not succeeding well, left it and went to dinner. ‘When they returned there was a splendid fire, and the effort a victorious success. Persons from Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York beheld with wonder and delighted surprise the burning of this ‘black stone.’ The effort being satisfactory Mr. Smith, joined by his brother John Smith in 1808, sent three ark loads of coal to Havre de Grace, and there transferred it to a schooner named Washington and sent it to New York in care of Price and Waterbury, which company sold the coal on commission, disposing of it by chaldrons, and not by tons. After 1808 Abijah and John Smith followed the business of transporting coal in arks down the Susquehanna for a number of years, the annual average of sales to 1820 being about six ark loads. Nearly all the early operators in the coal trade made failures except the Smiths. Some of their descendants are still prosecuting it successfully.

In 1820 the annual product of coat for the whole country was less than a thousand tons now annually thirty-five thousand tons are brought to Derby and the whole amount mined and consumed in the United States (1879) is estimated at 20,000,000 tons.

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