Life of a Coal Mine Superintendent – The Diary of Gilliard Dock, 1867

Gilliard Dock first heard of a job opening at the Lykens Valley Coal Company operations in the summer of 1863, shortly after the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania had receded back into Maryland and Virginia after a three day clash at Gettysburg.

The 36-year-old father was looking for a new opportunity. After attempting to make a go of it managing various industrial interests, he sought a new opportunity.

The rising industrialist and political figure Henry Thomas gave him that opportunity. Thomas, until May 1863, leased out the workings of all mines in Wiconisco Township. He had utilized business-savvy and political gamesmanship into financial success. That nearly dragged him down during a scandal that swept Pennsylvania in early 1863 involving disgraced Secretary of War Simon Cameron.

“Henry Thomas, Sole Lessee” from the Pennsylvania State Archives

Thomas sought out Gilliard Dock for the role of superintendent in the Lykens Valley mines, as much as a favor to Dock’s brother,  George Dock, as to Gilliard’s skillful work as an engineer. George had business ties that ingratiated him with the Harrisburg political elite.

Gilliard and his family did not move to Wiconisco Township in 1863, however. Instead, he was tasked with attempt at opening a new colliery near Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. He referred to a two year stretch working there as “my exile in Lorberry.”

As the Civil War came to its conclusion in 1865, Dock wearied of his troubles in extreme western Schuylkill County. Opportunity came knocking, again in the guise of those owning and operating the mines of Wiconisco Township. He became superintendent of the Franklin Coal Company’s operations at Bear Gap later that year. It brought him little but anger and frustration. That company went into deep financial straits shortly after the war had come to an end, not as a result of Dock’s superintendency  but in spite of it.

From the Harrisburg Telegraph, August 27, 1866

Long court battles in Harrisburg were fought over the aftermath of the Franklin’s collapse. Dock proved himself an able leader and earned the leadership of the Short Mountain Coal Company’s workings on the western face of Bear Gap. It was amid that work that Dock wrote this entry in his exhaustive journal. Dock kept a journal of his experiences in industry and family life throughout his life. They provide keen insight into the work of a anthracite mine superintendent in the months and years after the American Civil War like few that I’ve seen. More posts on this diary will come in the future, but for now here’s an insightful post from 150 years ago in January 1867.

January 20th 1867

Since last, we have passed through our Christmas and New Year jubilating. We varied the performance at Christmas, by substituting a stuffed “Santa Claus” for the Christmas tree. The children were tickled with the change – and we all were pleased.

During the latter part of Dec, I made up a set of careful estimates for work to be done in the mines during the winter., together with the cost of a house for Supt. , a new barn and alterations at slope. These estimates footed up over $40,000—They were approved by the Directors, and I was ordered to proceed with the work. I was also determined to fill up the long line of trestle-work at Millersburg, and we began loading “coal dirt” at our “dirtbank” some ten days since. Pay 40 cents per car –(4 wheeler)

There is a large amount to expend in repairs. I intend also, to put an additional pair of “breaking rolls” into the “breaker” to reduce the waste and large percent of nut coal. To carry all this work through successful, and be ready for an early resumption of business, will keep us all very busy, but I propose to accomplish all I undertake.

On New Year Lavinia and I went to Hbg and dined at Father’s. After dinner he presented to George and me certificates for one hundred shares each of Hbg. Gas Co. Stock – worth about $50 per share. {note: Aug. 1876: I am now compelled by stringent circumstances to sell this stock to raise funds.}

This winter has been one of unusual rigor; cold and stormy days have been frequent. Snow has fallen nearly every week since Christmas. In the spring I expect to build myself a house on Short Mt. ground – a few hundred yards west of ‘breaker,’ as I will be obliged to up this house (brick belonging to Ly. Val. Co) early in the summer. This night is one of the wintriest I have seen in this part of the country. A keen cold wind is raging furiously, sweeping before it snowy blasts that make the air thick, the mountains opposite having their outlines clearly visible through the whirling blasts.

The frozen rain now rifts Against the house with a whispering noise, and take it all in all, old Boreas seems to be on the warpath tonight.

I am sitting here alone in front of our cheerful grate fire with its bright coals and fast changing flames – jotting down my stray thoughts, pondering on the Past and throwing conjecture into Futurity.

Sometimes enjoying fragrant genuine Havana, then dipping into my volume of history, studying the growth of political institutions, and thinking that there may be no more stability in our own government than in the many others whose rise and fall I have traced by the historian’s pen.

Dock often found himself commenting on history and the state of political affairs; he was a Democrat that supported the American Civil War at times, but also feared its political repercussions in the post-war North. An ascending Republican Party seemed to bother Gilliard Dock.

An interesting note – the reason these journals are so lovingly cared for in the Pennsylvania State Archives is because of a important person mentioned in the pages of his journal entry from January 20, 1867.

His daughter, Lavinia Lloyd Dock, was destined for fame as both a nurse and an activist leading the charge in Pennsylvania for women’s suffrage. . Her and her sister, Mira Lloyd Dock, will also be future subjects within this blog, as the work of suffragists and social reformers in the fiery political environment of late-nineteenth century Pennsylvania entices me.

Lavinia Lloyd Dock
The arrest of Lavinia Dock and another suffrage activist outside the White House in 1917.
Mira Lloyd Dock

For now, we will tackle the incredible wealth of details in the business and personal life of their father, Superintendent of the Short Mountain Coal Company.

The Dock Family Collection can be found at the Pennsylvania State Archives, MG – 43. The finding aid for the collection can be found HERE

2 thoughts on “Life of a Coal Mine Superintendent – The Diary of Gilliard Dock, 1867

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s