Duwamish Coal Company is established near Black River on October 20, 1853.

  • By Eleanor Boba
  • Posted 3/11/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1958
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On October 20, 1853, the Duwamish Coal Company is formed to mine coal near the Black River just south of Lake Washington. This is the first coal mined and shipped from King County.

Bigelow's Find

White settler Dr. R. M. (or R.H. or just M.) Bigelow discovered a coal seam during the summer of 1853 near the site where later Renton coal mines would be established. On October 20, 1853, Bigelow, along with two or more other men, formed the Duwamish Coal Company to mine the claim. Early historian Thomas W. Prosch identifies the location of the mine as the Clymer farm, land claimed by Christian Clymer on the west side of the Black River and across that stream from a Duwamish village.

Early sources differ on the names of the men involved. Prosch, who meticulously documented the early history of Seattle, refers to them as Leonard M. Felker and L. M. Collins. Clarence Bagley names them as Obediah Eaton and Joseph Fanjoy. Luther M. Collins was one of the very first white men to settle in the greater Seattle area. Felker was a ship captain. 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. According to Bagley, Webster was also an investor in the short-lived enterprise. Henry Tobin, another newcomer and neighbor who built a sawmill on the Black River, was likely also involved.

The early venture in coal mining lasted only a short time. In August 1854, 300 tons of coal were shipped to San Francisco on the Water Lily and sold for $30 a ton. During the winter of 1854-1855, 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 Seattle with her hold only one-third full. In the meantime, the Water Lily had been lost at sea. Things went downhill from there. Partner Henry Tobin took sick and died in 1855. Eaton and Fanjoy, hearing of a gold strike east of the Cascades, headed into Indian territory and were killed. This incident was one tipping point in what came to be called the Indian War of 1855-1856. Bigelow, seemingly left alone with his mine claim, disappeared from the historical record as did the exact location of the mine. The Duwamish Coal Company went out of business.

The Duwamish Coal Company is notable as the first coal mining enterprise in King County. Twenty years later, in 1873, coal was re-discovered in the Black River district leading to a boom in coal mining throughout East King County and the official founding of the town of Renton.


Morda C. Slauson, Renton: From Coal to Jets (Renton: Renton Historical Society, 1976), 1; David Buerge, Renton: Where the Water Took Wing (Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publishing Co., 1991), 22; Thomas W. Prosch, "A Chronological History of Seattle From 1850 to 1897," Typescript dated 1900-1901, Northwest Collection, University of Washington Library, Seattle, 54-55; Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. 1 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916), 26, 29, 123-24, 210. Note: This entry replaces an earlier item on the same subject.

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