What types of men opened the Lake Superior Frontier?

Last week, we talked about the earliest pioneers who superintended the opening of the copper district. Before we continue, I must correct a mistake I made last week. That is, I wrote that Curtis G. Hussey owned a number of stores in Ohio. Actually, the stores he owned were in Morgan County, Indiana, where he was practicing medicine at the time. According to Henry Hall’s America’s Successful Men of Affairs: the United States at large, published in 1896, Hussey’s stores shipped produce and provisions to New Orleans.

By 1829, he had accumulated a capital of several thousand dollars with which he purchased general stores in the territory which he covered in his practice, states the World Biographical Encyclopedia Prabook. The stores, bought as an investment, grew so rapidly that soon he devoted his entire time to their management and finally went into the business of dealing in pork, an important product of the section (of the country). In 1840, he relocated to Pittsburgh to more closely supervise the marketing phase of his business, the Prabook states, as Pittsburgh was the center through which goods passed to the east.

As nearly all biographies on Hussey state, it was in Pittsburgh, in 1842, that he “heard rumors of rich copper deposits in the Lake Superior region.” The following year, the Prabook continues (as do most other sources), he sent John Hays to Lake Superior to check things out.

“Hays was impressed with his what he learned,” the Prabook says. From there, the history of the first mining venture in the copper district is as clear as mud.

Some historical documents contradict each other, while others simply repeat each other. Most of the confusion seems to surround Hays. As we mentioned last week, although some documents make the claim that Hays was a druggist living in Pittsburgh in 1842, there is simply no documentation to substantiate that claim. Harris’ Business Directory of the Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, for 1844, lists 23 druggists, on page 13. None of them bears the name Hays. Nor does he appear in the city directory for 1837. Neither does Hays’ obituary mention anything about him having been a druggist or living in Pittsburgh prior to 1845.

Hays’ obituary, printed in the Black Diamond Company’s news publication, The Black Diamond, Vol. 28 in 1902, states that he was born in Zelienople, Butler County, PA. on Oct. 9, 1804, and when a boy, the family moved to New Lisbon, Columbiana County, Ohio.

“In early manhood,” the obituary states, Hays “engaged in mercantile pursuits, but the confinement undermined his health.”

It was at this time, states the obituary, that Hays went to Lake Superior, backed by Pittsburgh capital. If the obituary is accurate, Hays, born in 1804, was involved in the mercantile business for at least 20 years before he went to Lake Superior in 1843. There is no mention of Hays having been a pharmacist, or having lived in Pittsburgh for several years before going to Copper Harbor.

In his 1879 book, History of Columbiana County, Ohio, Horace Mack records that Hays was “one of the early miners at Salineville,” and operated a mine from which 100 tons of coal were extracted daily. Mack also reported that in 1853, Hays, Hussey, and a third partner, Matthew Brown, were mining firms in the same county.

Is Hays’ background or personal history really significant to the earliest period of non-native metal mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula? Probably not. Whether a store clerk, an Ohio coal miner or a pharmacist from Pittsburgh, the historical record attests that Hays performed his duties as the Pittsburgh & Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company’s mine superintendent with exemplary skill and intelligence. Hays did not remain in the copper district for long.

Dr. William Pettit, a director of the P&B company, went to Copper Harbor, arriving in April 1845, he said during a talk he gave during the March 1847 monthly meeting of the Franklin Institute. He left Copper Harbor in June 1846, as mining operations in that area were wrapping up. While he was there, he related, there were 70 persons under his charge.

The prologue of the book, The Honorable Peter White: A Biological Sketch of the Lake Superior Iron Country, by Ralph D. Williams and published in 1907, when Hays arrived at Copper Harbor, in summer 1844, he brought with him nine laborers, along with geologist Alfred Rudolph.

While Rudolph surveyed the eastern arm of the harbor, near the famous “Green Rock,” Hays “built two houses, one for storage purposes and the other for the men to live in –.” After Rudolph completed an initial examination, the decision was made to sink a shaft near (what is now) Lake Fanny Hooe.

Meanwhile, company directors, including Hussey, came to visit the location. Hays reportedly gave Hussey a list of supplies he required to carry the group through the winter. When Hussey failed to purchase the supplies before navigation closed, Hays requested assistance from the commandant of Fort Wilkins, Capt. Robert Clary, for sufficient provisions, which he was given.

Hays, as the superintendent of the location during that first year, did what a good superintendent should have done: He directed his workers to construct shelter while his geologist examined the area. He followed the geologist’s suggestions on where to sink shafts, ensured his crew had the provisions necessary to see them through the winter, and continued to work with his geologist, and direct his miners accordingly.


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