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Newburg Mine Disaster – John Conaway and 38 Others Die


The 1886 Preston County Coal Mine Disaster
By Robert Moore

On 21 January 1886, 39 coal miners lost their lives at the Orrel Coal Company in Newburg, Preston Co. WV.  At 2:45 that Thursday afternoon an explosion of a gas called fire damp, resulted in the worst disaster in Preston County history. The following is an extraction of the names of the victims as well as other useful genealogical information taken from the Preston County Journal of January 28, February 4 and 11 of 1886. Robert Moore extracted the info and I have appended some material to John Conaway and Morgan Freeman. [These disasters were agonizing for families and whole communities but they brought the coal miners’ plight into light and aroused public sympathy. Eventually they forced child labor laws into being and were instrumental in the successful rise of the unions as many who might not have supported unions for other reasons rallied to their cause to force mine owners to ensure safer conditions. Looking back I find it pathetic that men who owned the mines fought so hard to avoid spending money on safety despite the fact that many on this list and others like it were members of their extended families. John Conaway and Morgan Freeman for instance were cousins of Waitman Conaway and Aretas Fleming who owned and controlled many of the mines.]

Clinton ALBRIGHT of Newburg, age 23.  Son of David ALBRIGHT and grandson of John ALBRIGHT who lives near Kingwood.  Clinton was married 24 December 1885 and is buried at Newburg.

Richard BIRTLEY of Newburg, age 52.  Father of Nicholas BIRTLEY, stepfather of Joseph, Harry and Thomas GUY, and stepfather-in-law of John BYER, Jr. The family came from the County Durham, England, some five years earlier and resided in Fairmont until about two months earlier, when they moved to Newburg.  Richard leaves a wife and three small children.  Nicholas, his son, was 15 years on age in November.  Harry GUY,stepson, was 29 years old, and leaves a wife and child in England. Joseph GUY, a brother of Harry, leaves a wife and was 25 years of age in October last.  Thomas GUY, another brother, was 19 years old and unmarried.  John BYER, Jr. was 24 on the 29th of last October, and leaves a widow, sister of the GUY brothers.  They were all buried at one time at Fairmont on 25 January, 1886.

John CARROLL of Newburg,  married.  Buried at Newburg.

Michael CLARK of Newburg, not married.  Had been in this country for two or three years, and was the only support of an aged father and six children still in Ireland.  Buried at Newburg.

John CONAWAY, Jr. of Newburg, age 21.  Brother-in-law of Morgan FREEMAN. [He was the son of John Coleman Conaway and Elizabeth Tennessee Metz.] Buried at Barrackville, Marion County.  Morgan FREEMAN of Irontown, leaves a wife and one child.  Buried at Newburg. [He was married to Cora Alice Conaway who lost her husband and her brother that terrible day.]

John EDWARDS of Newburg, not married.  Son of Thomas EDWARDS  and brother of Edward EDWARDS who drown in the mine shaft in February, 1884.

A. E. FORTNEY of Newburg, not married.  Brother of the wife of Arther OGDEN and of Mrs. Fred BOONE, of Palatine.  Buried at Union Church on 27 January, 1886.  His parents reside near Shinnston.

Peter HANLEY of Newburg, not married.  Brother of Miss Ella HANLEY, a teacher in the Newburg public schools, and the support for his widowed mother. Buried at the Catholic Cemetery, in Grafton, on 27 January, 1886.

John HORNBY of Newburg, not married.  Has no relatives in this country. Buried at Newburg.

Joseph JOHNSON of Newburg, was married.  Besides his own family, he supported his mother and two small brothers.  Buried at Union.

Joseph Ross KELLY of Newburg, leaves a wife and three children in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, from where he came to Newburg.  He said he left his wife and decided to stay away until she got a divorce.  Buried at Newburg.

Michael J. KENNY of Newburg,  not married.  He was sole support for his widowed mother and sister.  He was the brother of Timothy KENNY, proprietor of the Kenny House at Piedmont, and of Thomas F. KENNY, bookseller and stationer at Piedmont. Buried at Grafton, Taylor Co. in the Catholic cemetery on 27 January, 1886.

Henry LAMBERT of Newburg, brother of John, leaves a wife and one child. Henry and his brother were the only support for their widowed mother.  Buried at Newburg. John LAMBERT of Newburg, leaves a wife and one child.  Brother of Henry.  Buried at Newburg.

William and Frank LAYMIRE Of near Independence.  Bill and Frank were twin brothers and started work at the mine on the Monday before the explosion.  Had brother who cut his throat in the Asylum at Weston.

James McGOWAN of Newburg, not married.  Buried at Newburg.

Albert McWILLIAMS of Newburg, leaves a wife and four children.  He was a laborer in the mine.  Buried at Newburg.

Daniel MILLER  of Newburg, leaves wife and four children.  Cageman at bottom of mine shaft.  Buried in Newburg cemetery. His 15 year old son J. Bird MILLER, age 15, was a driver of the mules.  Buried at Newburg beside his father.

Frank MOON of Newburg, not married.  The only support of his old widowed mother. Buried at Newburg. Newton MOORE of Newburg, leaves a wife, the sister of Frank MOON. Buried near Evansville.

Arthur OGDEN of Newburg, leaves a wife and two children.  Buried at Union Church on 27 January, 1886.  Parents reside near Shinnston.

George RIGGINS of Scotch Hill, leaves a wife and two children.  Buried on Scotch Hill.

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