Garrett RoweX

Born: 1854

I asked my grandfather Jay Rowe of Hancock if he knew any stories of a family member who had a very difficult time in his life. My grandfather said he had a story. His G-Grandfather John James came from Cornwall England in 1854 to work as a copper miner here in the Keweenaw of Michigan. John James came from a family of miners who worked the copper and tin mines near St. Ives Cornwall. John James family lived in a small hamlet called Cannonstown in the South and West of Cornwall. His family of miners had to walk 3 miles to work each day up and around Trencrorn Hill one of the highest places of Cornwall. John was just a young teenager, but his job was to set gunpowder into holes in the copper ore vein and set off an explosion. He was known as a “blaster”. The James family living in a small home at the time in Cannonstown, was getting to the point that some of the family had to leave. John decided to come to America. The mining jobs were becoming scarce in Cornwall, starting in the mid 1840s during the Potato Famine which affected Ireland and parts of England. Life in Cornwall was very difficult during John’s early years, he hoping things would be better in Michigan at the Cliff Mine. Cliff Mine was the most successful copper mine in the world at the time. John was just 15 years old when he and Robert Phillips of neighboring town of Towednack left for the United States from Plymouth, England on a canvas mast sailing ship. They of course slept in steerage as did most passengers. The trip to America would take 6 weeks of tossing and rolling on board the ship, a very difficult time. The food on board was not the best and was served in meager proportions. John reached the Port of New York, (no Ellis Island then), and traveled by train or boat to Albany and then via the Erie Canal to Lake Erie. The two miners travelled again by boat to Detroit and again by boat to the St. Mary’s River Rapids. The Sault at the time was the largest settlement on Lake Superior. John arrived at the Sault in June 1854 when construction of the first lock was in the progress. The new lock would allow ships to be elevated to the higher Lake Superior lake level. At that time all cargo of incoming Detroit ships would be unloaded and put on a small horse drawn rail train. The cargo and passengers (like John James and Robert Phillips) would be brought up to the higher Lake Superior Landing. There cargo and passengers were loaded on a sailing ship for delivery to settlements on Lake Superior. The following year 1855, the Sault Lock began operation. John James was an early pioneer of the Lake Superior region. John James boarded a paddle wheeler sailing ship at the Sault for Eagle River in Keweenaw. He then walked to the Cliff Mine along a trail to find a job at the Cliff Mine under the management of a fellow Cornishman, who succeeded Cornish Agent Edward Jennings. Later in November 1854 a crew of workers sought to explore and find a suspected copper lode at a location down the road near Eagle Harbor. The location was later to be called Central Mine. John James at age 15 was the “blaster” in this party, who set gun powder in a pit that had previously been mined by Native Americans several hundred years previously. This was the first discovery of the Central Mine lode in 1854. John James saved a piece of mass copper from this first blast, it still in the possession of his descendent Rowe family of Calumet. John James was one of the first employees of Central Mine in 1854 and was working the last shift at shut down in 1898. He set off the last blast. He had worked At Central Mine for 44 years. He and Capt. Trevarrow were then moved south to Mohawk where John James set the first blast of the Mohawk Mining Company. John James married Eliza Jane Jilbert in 1859; she with her parents and 7 siblings lived on Isle Royale from 1850 to 1853 as copper miners and also operated a boarding house. The Jilbert family left Isle Royale for Eagle River to work at the Cliff Mine. John and Eliza had a daughter Ida James who married Cornishman John Rowe in 1896. They started the Rowe Dray Co. with a wagon and a team of horses. The succession of Rowe moving companies ceased operation in 2010 after nearly 114 years in the Rowe family. I believe my ggggrandfather John James had a very interesting but difficult life. Does anyone in this class as a 13-15 year old, think they have the courage to attempt the same?

Contributed by: Garrett Rowe