History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. 

Knoxville, Tenn., July 7, 1936

(Copy of an article written in Ohio by T. Russ Hill.)

     For over sixty years, Philip Francis of Knoxville, Tenn., has been digging under the ground. As a mere lad, not even in his teens, he started by picking slate out of the coal in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.
He can tell you about days of hunger, almost starvation, when as a boy, he ate raw potatoes to keep alive, Sunday after Sunday. A step father fitted him in fist fights against other boys. The prize was a bucket of beer to the father of the winner. Phil usually won.

     Panics are not new to Philip Francis. He vividly remembers those of the last century. During one of them he practically walked from Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains in search of work. He found it and again he was digging under the ground; this time for lead and other ores. He was one of the first developers of the coal fields of Kentucky and Tennessee. He went there when the coal sections were ruled by the fist and the gun as mine superintendent he handled those rough, pioneer men in their own way. He engaged in 21 bare knuckle fights during those days and the other fellow went to the hospital each time.

     Today Philip Francis is a successful coal operator. He is still vigorous and can outlast most men who are supposedly in their primes. These last few years haven't worried him. He has seen too many rough spots. His pet piece of advice is, "Keep serene and keep digging." Figuratively Philip Francis has never dropped his pick and shovel. Almost from infancy he has been in love with his work. His faith in himself and his job has never waivered. It has been mentally easy for him to pay the price of success.

     We commend his philosophy to you today. It will make this last week of the sales period a success for you and your men.

     (Taken from a copy of the Knoxville Sentinel, June 7, 1936):

      "Francis 83 today. Rose to mining heights after start as a bound boy. Man who became noted expert, went back to work when 80 years old." Philip Francis is 83 years old today. A man in his late 50's would consider himself fortunate to look and feel like Mr. Francis does at 83, yet he says he did not attain his age by conserving his strength, but by working hard, even when it was no longer necessary.

     Mr. Francis spent 72 years mining coal. He mined coal with his tools even after he had risen to be a mining expert and manager.

     Of Welsh parentage, he was born in Pennsylvania in 1853. His father died two months later and at the age of four Philip Francis was an orphan, bound out, as was the custom, to a family of the mining town, Wadesville, now called Wade. He had a sister, but he never saw her again until after he was grown. He doesn't know where his parents are buried.


     He received a few months of schooling about this time, but by the time he was 8 he had done with formal education. He ran away and went to work at less that 20c per day as a fan boy and slate picker in the mines. Often he went hungry for days at a time. His friends, the miners were English, Welsh, Irish and German. Others had not begun to trickle into the Pennsylvania anthracite coal fields at that time. It was in the early days as a coal miner that he first escaped death by a small margin. This escape was to be followed by many others. Two others drove him and his buddy away from their choice station and a few minutes later the one who was standing where young Francis would have been, was killed by a falling block of coal. I walked home thinking I'd never go back in a mine, he said.


     Unnerved though he was, Mr. Francis did return to the mine. His career under ground was just beginning. At Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, he married Annie Meyrick, January 9, 1875. A year later he left his wife in Pennsylvania while he came to Tennessee, and Knoxville, with another man from Pennsylvania. Strike and labor disorders had made mine life in Pennsylvania very difficult. Mr. Francis was impressed by Knoxville and its people. He liked the country. Pennsylvania was rocky and severe, but grass and evergreens grew on the hills of East Tennessee. He loved to walk up the hills of East Tennessee. He loved to walk up the hill to the mines of Fort Sanders. The old fort and the cannons were still there, he said today. You can pick up musket and cannon balls. But he did not stay long in Knoxville. Caryville was his next destination. The East Tennessee Coal Co., was operating a little mine there. He worked there four or five months. Then the state brought in convicts to work the Fraterville Mine and Mr. Francis returned to Pennsylvania. But Tennessee had left an impression with him which was to be transfigured into a desire to return. From the mining standpoint, Tennessee was superior to Pennsylvania for the mines were safer. The gas problem was not present.


     He was not satisfied in Pennsylvania and left his family to go to Leadville, Colorado, in 1877. Mr. Francis walked the 100 miles from Denver to Leadville and was not to return for three years. During that time he prospected on a grub stake and climbed 14,000 feet searching for silver and minerals. Again he returned to the mines of Pennsylvania in his longing to see his wife and children. But foreigners were invading Pennsylvania coal fields and native miners didn't trust them. In the mines the safety of your life on me and mine upon you was evident. If one man was careless all might be killed, Mr. Francis explained. We didn't trust the foreigners.

     In 1883 he came to Jellico, Tennessee. He mined for the East Tennessee Coal Co. three years and one day he was made foreman. Later he invested $1500 in the mine which was in bad financial condition. It looked like I'd thrown it away he recalled. But the condition of the mine improved and he was made General Superintendent of the Company. He was with the Company for 13 years. Then he went to work for the Proctor Coal Company and was there nearly 22 years as General Superintendent of their mines. He was out of the Company's employment for a while, when in 1900 he was employed by John D. White eastern millionaire, to buy up all coal lands in eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee by the $100,000.00 at a time.


     But this advancement through the years couldn't come from mere hard work as a miner. It's a wise farmer who looks over the fence of his neighbor, Mr. Francis declares. I learned about mining the last day I was in a mine, he will tell you. When one of my men got to know all about mines and said, "You can't tell me anything about mining", I let him go, he said.      
At this time Mr. Francis had become a noted expert in mining, receiving as much as $300.00 for a day's visit to a mine. People had confidence in me, he said. I might never have seen the buyer of the mine and the owner whom I knew might offer me as high as 15% if the sale went through, but he made honest reports nevertheless. All this time his lack of education worried him. I kept my mouth shut to keep people from knowing how ignorant I was, he said. He went back to Proctor and developed new mines for the Company.


     He was living in Jellico and citizens told him he was shirking his duty as a citizen by not holding public office. They elected him mayor in 1914 over his protest. At the next election he refused to campaign and lost the election by about 7 votes, but by the next election both political parties were anxious to have him for mayor. Again he was elected without opposition, but would not accept. They even let him select his own school board. I don't know why you should elect an ordinary coal miner with the town full of doctors and lawyers, he said to the people.


     "All my life," Mr. Francis said, "I had looked at the people inside the churches and said to myself, I am better than they are. I wouldn't think of doing the things they do. I was a moral man. I never swore. I kept my men from swearing and they were pretty rough men. I was never drunk in my life. I was afraid if I joined the church that I would do those things that church goers do. Then one night in 1923 I attended one of Dr. Fred Brown's revival services at First Baptist Church of Jellico. I usually avoided revival services because when they asked for every one who wanted to be prayed for, who wanted to go to Heaven, stand; I just sat there and felt that I was bad for the morale of the meeting. But I loved music and wanted to hear the people sing and for that reason I attended. It was Saint Patrick's Day. Dr. Brown said that God gave man the will power to resist His kindness and to push His hand away. I was living in a fine house, had a splendid large family and believed I had done it all myself. But I thought of the circumstances. All the neighbors who had families smaller than mine, had deaths, but mine had none. It must be that He is kind to me, I said. I have made investments in mines but none in my soul and my soul is my greatest possession. I was pushing His hand away. I got up and walked right down the aisle and made a short statement."

     Since 1923 Mr. Francis' children, Mrs. John W. Williams, Louis Francis, J. D. Van Huss and Mrs. G. W. Stone have all lived close to him. He is living at 2129 N. Broadway and his children live nearby. Tom and Paul Francis are at LaFollette, Mrs. T. R. Hill lives in Toledo, Ohio. Other children and 16 grand children together with four great grand children, are scattered about.


     A less gruesome experience for Mr. Francis was the mining of the largest single block of coal ever mined in Tennessee. It weighed 3800 pounds. It took him two to three days, he said. He can mine a bigger one still when he can find a bigger entrance. Mr. Francis had an uneasiness in passing out the position of mine inspector to politicians. Mine inspecting should be done by mining men, he declared. Mine safety depends in a large measure on the mine inspectors. Lawyers and people who have never been inside a mine in their lives, have been appointed, he said


     His wife died September 5, 1933. He went up to the mines, got his tools and went to work. He was 80 years old. He worked there two or three weeks and his sons persuaded him to return to Knoxville. He had intended to round out 75 years as a miner. Now he stays at home and reads on many topics. He is interested in astronomy. He will tell you of the cosmic ray, its tremendous power and the mystery surrounding it.

     (The preceding was taken from the book, "Seventy Years in The Coal Mines," Permission for the use of this material was given by Philip Francis' Great-Grandson, Bailey Francis.)

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