Dr. R. M. Bigelow discovered coal during the summer of 1853 near the site where the Renton coal mines would be established. On October 20, 1853, Bigelow, along with Leonard M. Felker and L. M. Collins, formed the Duwamish Coal Company to mine the claim. The firm hired William Webster, captain of the steamboat Water Lily, to transport the coal down the Black and Duwamish rivers to Elliott Bay fronting Seattle.
In August 1854, 300 tons of coal were shipped to San Francisco and sold for $30 a ton. During the winter of 1854-55, the bark Sarah McFarland attempted to get a cargo of coal. The Duwamish Coal Company was beset by numerous delays in loading the coal and the ship left with her hold only one-third full. Because of poor organization and the 1855-1856 Indian War, the coal company went out of business.