LETTER FROM JESSE FELL, ESQ., DESCRIBING HIS FIRST
EXPERIMENT IN BURNING COAL FOR DOMESTIC USE.
(Reprinted from Volume II, MemoirČ of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.)
WilkesbarrŽ, December 1st, 1826.
ESTEEMED COUSIN :
When I saw thee last, I believe I promised to write to thee and give thee some data about the first discovery and use of the stone-coal, in our valley. (I call it stone-coal because every body knows what is meant by that name.)
The late Judge Gore, in his lifetime, informed me, that he and his brother, the late Captain Daniel Gore (both being blacksmiths), were the first that discovered and used this coal in their blacksmith's fires, and found it to answer their purpose well. This was before the Revolutionary war, and as near as I can recollect information, about the year 1770, or 1771, and it has been in use ever since, by the blacksmiths of the place.
In the year 1778, I used it in nailery, and found it to be profitable in that business. The nails made with it, would neat the weight of the rods, and frequently a balance over. But it was the opinion of those that worked it in their furnaces, that it would not do for fuel, because when a small parcel was left on their fires and not blown, it would go out. Notwithstanding this opinion prevailed, I had, for some time, entertained the idea that if a sufficient body of it was ignited it would burn. Accordingly in the month of February, 1808, 1 procured a grate, made of small iron rods, ten inches in depth and ten inches in height, and set it up in my common- room fire-place, and on first lighting it, found it to burn excellently well. This was the first successful attempt to burn our stone-coal in a grate, so far as my knowledge extends. On its being put in operation, my neighbors flocked to see the novelty; but many would not believe the fact until convinced by ocular demonstration. Such was the effect of this pleasing discovery, that in a few days there were a number of grates put in operation. This brought the stone-coal into popular notice. I need not mention the many uses to which it may be applied, as you, who are in the coal concern, have the means of knowing its value.
I find we have various qualities of coal, but our best specimens are said to be superior to any yet known, and we have it in sufficient quantity to supply the world. Here it is - but the best way of getting it to market is yet to be discovered.
The market at present is down the Susquehanna River, but great improvements must be made in the river ere it can be a safe and sure conveyance. Looking forward, Wilkesbarre is but about eleven miles from Lehigh below the junction of all the creeks you pass, from the Pokono to Wilkesbarre mountain. This, I suppose, is known, and I believe the principal transport of our coal will, in time, pass that way and down the Lehigh ; but this I do not expect to live to see.
I am, thy affectionate cousin,
Jonathan Fell. JESSE FELL.