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Jay Chatman Speaks on Coal Mining History at Concord

By Savannah Cooper
On September 17, 2018

Jay Chatman stands with his memorabilia.
Photo Courtesy of Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Jay Chatman, a member of the McDowell County Historical Society, came to Concord to speak about West Virginia and its coal mining history on Sept. 5 in the J. Frank Marsh Library.

Chatman, a McDowell County native, spent time serving in the Navy before heading to the Welch Daily News to work for thirty-five years. His interest and dedication to his community led to him becoming more intrigued with West Virginia’s history. He now dedicates himself to collecting antiques and promoting West Virginia history.

During his presentation, Chatman spoke about coal mining and West Virginia, specifically the payment methods of coal mining companies. The focal point of his presentation dealt with scrips.

Chatman said, “Due to the rugged terrain and the distance from banks, larger mining companies issued token money to pay their miners. By the 1920s the use of coal mine scrip had become common practice.”

Although scrips are made of materials such as brass and nickel, Chatman explained, “A scrip is no more than a credit card today.”

Chatman brought his own scrip collection to allow guests to see and feel how the payment is presented in person. His collection is held in a large binder with multiple scrips aligned on a page. He admitted to having around sixteen-hundred pieces in his scrip collection.

Each piece has its own personal design that sets it apart from the rest of the coal mining companies. Chatman says, “Most metal tokens were punched with the initial letter of the town in which it was used. The punchout made it easier to recognize and sort the tokens.”

Chatman does not only collect scrips; he has a large collection of lunch buckets, coal mining attire, and lights that were used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

During the presentation, he showed off a hat and a light used by West Virginian coal miners and explained how dangerous the simple process of making a light was for miners during this time period.

Another danger he explained deals with the Coal Mine Wars of 1910 through 1925. He went into detail about the fighting and spying that occurred in Coal Mining Cities, and how many lives were lost in the battles. He made the statement that “West Virginia was looked at as Russia,” due to the spying and large number of missing people.

Throughout his presentation, Chatman focused on the rich history of West Virginia and coal mining that he believes should be shared and learned. Through his book “McDowell County Coal and Rail” and his lectures like the one given at Concord, Chatman is able to spread Appalachian heritage.

His final message at the presentation encouraged people to get involved with the tourism and culture of West Virginian history. He suggests that “tourism is a stabilizer” and making historic cites more available for people would not only enhance the public’s knowledge of history, but also bring money to support the state.

Chatman also spoke at Culturefest in Pipestem to share more of his knowledge and memorabilia with the community/ For any questions, you can contact Mr. Jay Chatman at (304)-585-7243. 

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