was known for sinking the first deep coal mining shaft in Will
County, Illinois, near the town of Wilmington. In addition to
his knowledge and experience in mining, he was also widely recognized
for his compassion and concern for coal miners and their families. It is
interesting to note that John P. Mitchell,
United Mine Workers' President from 1898 to 1908, was born in 1870, at
Braidwood, Illinois, nine years before my Great Grandfather died. I
like to think they knew each other, and that perhaps some of James
BRAIDWOOD's ideas helped to form young
Mitchell's dedication to the welfare of coal miners and their families.
born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1832. Growing
up, after age five, in the home of a stepfather, Andrew
DUNSMORE, "Jimmie" entered the
coal mines for hire at the age of nine years; Apparently he worked in a
number of mines in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. He later learned the trade
of boiler maker with a shipbuilding firm; and at age 17 1/2 he went to
sea as a fireman, an occupation he followed a few years although it
seems he returned to mine both coal and iron.
James was employed as a coal
miner at the time he was married, in 1854, to Miss
Helen RALSTON, also born in Johnstone,
Scotland. James soon returned to the sea-faring life and shipped with
the East India Company in its latter days. According to stories James
told his sons, he was shipwrecked three times, once about 1856, when he
was given up for lost. However, he returned, after three days in a
lifeboat with neither food nor water. Coming ashore, he found his wife
seeking news of him at the Liverpool shipping office.
Another shipwreck James
experiences was said to be a deliberate grounding by the Captain at La
Corunna, Spain. A Braidwood son recorded stories his father told,
although locating documentation has so far eluded descendants.
In 1859 he returned to
mining, probably because he found the sea much more dangerous than
mining, or because his wife and five children preferred that he have
both feet on the ground---or "under it". Leaving seafaring
behind forever, James became underground manager for William
Dixon, mine owner, at Govan,
Scotland. After two years he went to work at The Den in Ayrshire,
In 1863 James
BRAIDWOOD immigrated to the United
States. He went directly from New York City to coal fields at Middlesex,
Pennsylvania, where he worked a few months before going west to Iowa
seeking more opportunity. There he heard of the newly discovered coal
field near Chicago, Illinois. Because of his knowledge and experience
with underground water problems in Scotland, James
BRAIDWOOD was hired by Chicago and
Wilmington Coal Company to superintend the sinking of a deep shaft
for mining coal. Later C & W, named this the "B" shaft.
That first coal mine "B" shaft, and its approximately 300
workers, became the nucleus of the town which was named Braidwood,
in honor of James.
It continues to exist today. Being settled with a good job, James sent
for his family. His wife, Helen,
and six Scottish-born children
arrived in 1865. Arriving to find conditions so primitive, and
her home with no roof over it, Helen burst into tears. Slowly James and
his friends built a house for the family as his work permitted.
Recovering herself, Helen set to work, learning the American style of
next oversaw the sinking of Chicago & Wilmington's "C"
shaft, and another 400 workers came to work in that coal mine.
Altogether, C & W had about 18 mines in the area and, over the next
50 years, approximately 50 mines were operated by both large and small
companies in the Braidwood, Illinois area.
Jimmie BRAIDWOOD joined with
others to form a Cooperative that sank its own shaft and called it the
Eagle Mine. In 1866 they sold it to C & W, which renamed
it the "A" shaft. After about four years it became filled with
water and had to be abandoned.
patented a special type of crib that permitted drilling where marshes
and quick-sand were problems. As a result he was successful, where
others had failed, in sinking the first pier for the Chicago water
works in 1874. James then made the first bore under the
Chicago River for a traffic tunnel at what is now Wacker Drive.
It would be of interest to know if that is the tunnel that flooded
downtown Chicago, Illinois in recent years. The location is about right.
If it was Jimmie's tunnel, it lasted a long, long, time ... well over a
Returning to Braidwood,
Illinois, James bought the old Eagle mine, rebuilt it, and named it the BRODIE
MINE. His BRAIDWOOD COAL COMPANY was his dream come true.
From poor, immigrant coal miner he had, with hard work and native
intelligence, moved through management for Chicago & Wilmington into
becoming owner of his own coal mine.
The Will County History
(published in 1879/80) said that James
BRAIDWOOD paid higher wages than other area
coal mining companies, which was only one of the reasons he had been
honored by having the town named for him. He was apparently highly
respected in the coal mining industry for his knowledge, experience, and
ability, and concern for others.
James operated the BRODIE
MINE successfully for five years. He hired 85 to 100 men and was
widely known for his concern for miners. He not only had been a miner
from childhood, but he had six sons who became coal miners. All of them
entered the mines at early ages, at a time when every family member who
was able to do so contributed to the support of the family.
The BRAIDWOOD COAL COMPANY
also operated other mines in the area, called the CRUMBIE MINES.
died prematurely, February 1, 1879, of a sudden
illness-pneumonia, complicated by lung problems associated with long
exposure to unhealthy conditions in the mines of both Scotland and the
U.S.A. News stories at James' death praised him highly. They stated that
he was one of the "cooler heads" in the mining strike that
caused military troops to be sent to the town of Braidwood, Illinois, to
keep the peace, a year or so before James died. Obituaries for James
"Jimmie" BRAIDWOOD made note of
his deep concern for coal miners and their families, which by that time
had included all of his six sons. His was called a "voice of
reason" in troubled times. The town of Braidwood turned out en
masse for James's funeral, with a miner's band playing and local
officials accompanying the body. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery
where a tall monument marks his grave to this day. It stands on a small
hill and is visible from the front gate of Oakwood Cemetery.
Nearby is a smaller monument
marking the burial spot of James' first-born son, James Jr., killed by
lightning only eight years earlier, as he prepared to go to work in the
mines. James Senior's Mother, Helen
HERCULES Braidwood Dunsmore, also lies in
Oakwood Cemetery, beneath a large flat gravestone which was engraved
shortly before James followed her in death.
After James died, the family
apparently was forced to sell the BRODIE Mine. A wry joke of the
time had been that a bad debt would be "paid when BRODIE
pays." James' oldest surviving son had been an officer of the BRAIDWOOD
COAL COMPANY. However, at age 22, John
Ralston BRAIDWOOD was not able to save his
father's dream, and BRAIDWOOD COAL COMPANY soon "went
broke." The family was destitute, partly due to uncollectible debts
due from "those in trouble", to whom James BRAIDWOOD had
loaned money. If James had lived, these debts would undoubtedly have
been repaid over time. When confronted with the need for immediate
repayment, many honest men simply could not pay the estate. These
uncollected debts are listed in James BRAIDWOOD's probate packet.
All the surviving BRAIDWOOD
sons went west, becoming coal miners in Kansas, Arkansas, Wyoming,
and Indian Territory. Within five years Helen
RALSTON Braidwood took her younger children
and joined grown sons in Kansas. She later lived many long years with
her youngest daughter, Janet
"Jennie" and her son-in-law, William
W. Campbell, in Monette, Missouri.
She died in 1916 and was buried beside her husband in Oakwood Cemetery
at Braidwood, Illinois.
To this day any Braidwood
descendant is treated with much interest and respect whenever they visit
Braidwood, Illinois. The Fossil Ridge library in Braidwood, and other
Illinois archives, have references from which some of this information
was gathered through many years by a number of BRAIDWOOD descendants.