A Comparison between the Richmond Coal Basin and Pennsylvania's Anthracite Fields: Slave Labour, Free Labour and the Political Economy *
At the onset of the nineteenth century, Richmond, Virginia emerged as the likely centre of America's coal trade. Coal mines in the small, but rich, field, a few miles up the James River, had been in operation for decades. This chapter examines the competition between the Richmond bituminous region and the Pennsylvania anthracite fields in the early American coal trade during the first three decades of the nineteenth century in order to shed some light on these questions. Richmond Basin colliers scrambled to fill out their labour force with hired slaves, free blacks and unskilled white labour. A Philadelphia-based campaign to change consumer preferences towards anthracite coal along the eastern seaboard flourished in the years following the War of 1812. The highest accolade, the gold medal, was explicitly reserved for improvements in the utilization of Pennsylvania's coal and iron resources. In the grand scope of American industrialization, the story of Richmond bituminous and Pennsylvania anthracite might appear insignificant, even trivial.