A Story of James
by Robin F.
BRAIDWOOD was known for sinking the first deep coal mining shaft in Will
County, Illinois, near the town of Wilmington. In addition to his
knowledge and experience in mining, he was also widely recognized for his
compassion and concern for coal miners and their families. In times of
strife between miners and employers, "Jimmie" Braidwood was a
recognized as a "voice of reason" who had the respect of both
labor and management.
James was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1832. His father
was recorded as James BROADWOOD upon his 1829 marriage to Helen HERCULES
in Abbey Parish, Paisley. Before Jimmie and his two sisters, Janet and Ann
Hodgert BRAIDWOOD, reached school-age, their coal miner father died and
the three children grew up in the home of a stepfather, Andrew DUNSMORE
who married Helen Hercules in 1836. "Jimmie" apparently thought
enough of Andrew DUNSMORE to give that name to his third son.
James "Jimmie" BRAIDWOOD is said to have entered the coal mines
for hire at the age of nine years in Scotland. Apparently he worked in a
number of mines in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. He later learned the trade
of boiler maker with a shipbuilding firm; and, at age 17 1/2, he went to
sea as a fireman, an occupation he followed a few years, although he
seemed to occasionally return to coalmining. Possibly he followed both
occupations when employment was slow in one or the other.
was employed as a coal miner at the time he was married, in 1854, to Miss
Helen RALSTON, also born in Johnstone, Scotland. James soon returned to
the sea-faring life and shipped with the East India Company in its latter
days. According to stories James told his sons, he was shipwrecked three
times, once about 1856, when he was given up for lost after the ship sank
with published reports of "all hands lost". However, he returned
after three days in a lifeboat with neither food nor water. Coming ashore,
he found his wife seeking news of him at the Liverpool shipping office.
After another shipwreck, James is said to have wakened in an unfamiliar
beach hovel to see a ragged man busily sharpening a large knife. Soon the
man left and thoughts of safely escaping became uppermost in James's
thoughts. However, before he could slip out, the shepherd returned with a
lamb, freshly slaughtered. Fear turned to relief and James accepted the
crude, but welcome hospitality of his rescuer.
Another shipwreck James experienced was said to have been a deliberate
grounding of the ship, by its Captain, on the shores of La Corunna, Spain.
One of Braidwood's sons recorded these stories which his father told,
although locating documentation for any of them has so far eluded
In 1859 James returned to mining, probably because he found the sea much
more dangerous than mining, or because his wife and five children
preferred that he have both feet on the ground --- or "under
it". Leaving seafaring behind forever, James became underground
manager for William Dixon, mine owner, at Govan, Scotland. After two years
there, he went to work at The Den in Ayrshire, Scotland.
In 1863 James BRAIDWOOD immigrated to the United States. He went directly
from New York City to coal fields at Middlesex, Pennsylvania, where he
worked a few months before going west to Iowa seeking more opportunity.
There he heard of the newly discovered coal field near Chicago, Illinois.
Because of his knowledge and experience with underground water problems in
Scotland, James BRAIDWOOD was hired by Chicago and Wilmington Coal Company
to superintend the sinking of a deep shaft for mining coal. Later C &
W, named this the "B" shaft. That first coal mine "B"
shaft, and its approximately 300 workers, became the nucleus of the town
which was named Braidwood, in honor of James. It continues to exist today
not far from Chicago.
Being settled with a good job, James sent for his family. His wife, Helen,
and six Scottish-born children arrived about 1865. Finding conditions so
primitive in Illinois, and her home with no roof over it, Helen burst into
tears upon reaching her destination. Recovering herself, Helen gathered
her children and their few possessions about her, and went to work. She is
said to have spent the first few weeks in America, employed at a hotel in
Wilmington, learning to cook and keep house in the "American Way of
Life". Slowly James, with help of friends, built a house for
the family as his work permitted. As soon as possible, the family
moved to the home near the mine, and the older Braidwood sons began to
work as coal miners.
James BRAIDWOOD next
oversaw the sinking of Chicago & Wilmington's "C" shaft, and
another 400 workers came to work in that coal mine. C & W
eventually had about 18 mines in the area and, over the next 50 years,
approximately 50 mines were operated near Braidwood, Illinois, by both
large and small companies. Jimmie BRAIDWOOD joined with others to form a
Cooperative that sank its own shaft called the Eagle Mine. In 1866 they
sold it to C & W, which renamed it the "A" shaft, but after
about four years it filled with water and had to be abandoned.
A town grew around the
mining area, and experienced miners were recruited to come to Illinois,
even being encouraged to immigrate from Scotland. In 1867, a Scot, named
Alexander McDonald, visited the mining village, by that time named
Braidwood in honor of "Jimmie". McDonald reported in the
Glasgow "Sentinel" that he had been greeted in Braidwood,
Illinois by 500 miners, almost all of whom were former Scottish miners.
He stated he was a guest at James Braidwood's well-built wooden home
standing in the midst of land where the family had chickens, a few hogs,
and cows. Calling James by his familiar "call" name of
"Brodie", McDonald stated that he asked how long it would have
taken James to acquire such a home and land in Scotland. Jimmie's
reply was, " Never."
James BRAIDWOOD patented a special type of crib that permitted drilling
where water, marshes and quick-sand were problems. As a result he was
successful, where others had failed, in sinking the first pier for the
Chicago water works in 1874. James then made the first bore under the
Chicago River for a traffic tunnel at what is now Wacker Drive. It would
be of interest to know if that is the same tunnel that flooded down-town
Chicago, Illinois in recent years. The location is about right. If it
was Jimmie's tunnel, it lasted a long, long, time, well over a hundred
years, collapsing near the end of the 20th century, only after
reportedly "gross neglect in upkeep".
Returning to Braidwood, Illinois, James bought the old Eagle mine,
rebuilt it, and named it the BRODIE MINE. He formed the BRAIDWOOD
COAL COMPANY, which was his dream come true. >From poor,
immigrant coal miner he had, with hard work and native intelligence,
moved from miner, through management for Chicago & Wilmington, to
organizing a Co-operative, and finally to becoming owner of his own coal
The Will County History (published in 1879/80) said that James BRAIDWOOD
paid higher wages than other area coal mining companies, which was only
one of the reasons he was honored by having the Illinois town named for
him. James operated the BRODIE MINE successfully for five years,
hiring 85 to 100 men. He was highly respected in the coal mining
industry for his knowledge, experience, and ability, as well as his
concern for others ... especially the well-being of coal miners, which
eventually included all six of his own sons, James Jr., John Ralston,
Andrew Dunsmore, Robert Bruce, Peter Barr, and Alexander. All of
them entered the mines at early ages, at a time when every family member
contributed to the support of the family. The BRAIDWOOD COAL COMPANY
also operated other mines in the area, called the CRUMBIE MINES.
James BRAIDWOOD died prematurely, February 1, 1879, of a sudden illness
... pneumonia, complicated by lung problems associated with long
exposure to unhealthy conditions in the mines of both Scotland and the
U.S.A. News stories at James' death praised him highly. They stated that
he was one of the "cooler heads" in the mining strike that
caused military troops to be sent to the town of Braidwood, Illinois, to
keep the peace, a year or so before James died. Obituaries for James
"Jimmie" BRAIDWOOD made note of his deep concern for coal
miners and their families. He was called, in one obituary, a "voice
of reason" in troubled times. The town of Braidwood turned out en
masse for James's funeral, with a miner's band playing and local
officials accompanying the body. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery where
a tall monument marks his grave to this day. It stands on a small hill
and is visible from the front gate of Oakwood Cemetery.
Nearby is a smaller monument marking the burial spot of James'
first-born son, James Jr., killed by lightning as he prepared to go to
work in the mines some eight
years prior to his father's death. Jimmie's Mother, Helen HERCULES
Braidwood Dunsmore, also lies in Oakwood Cemetery, beneath a large flat
gravestone which was engraved shortly before James followed her in
After James died, the family apparently was forced to sell the BRODIE
Mine. A wry joke of the time was that a bad debt would be "paid
when BRODIE pays." James' oldest surviving son had been an officer
of the BRAIDWOOD COAL COMPANY. However, at age 22, John Ralston
BRAIDWOOD was not able to save his father's dream, and BRAIDWOOD COAL
COMPANY soon "went broke." The family was destitute, partly
due to uncollectible debts due from "those in trouble", to
whom James BRAIDWOOD had loaned money, possibly to help bring Scottish
miners and families from the "auld" country. If James had
lived, these debts would undoubtedly have been repaid over time. When
confronted with the need for immediate repayment, many honest men simply
could not pay the estate. These uncollected debts are listed in James
BRAIDWOOD's probate packet.
All the surviving BRAIDWOOD sons went west, becoming coal miners in
Kansas, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Indian Territory. Her older daughters,
Helen and Ann married and left Braidwood. Within five years Helen
RALSTON Braidwood took her younger children and joined grown sons in
Kansas. She later lived many long years with her youngest daughter,
Janet "Jennie" and her son-in-law, William W. Campbell, in
Monette, Missouri. She died there in 1916 but was buried beside her
husband in Oakwood Cemetery at Braidwood, Illinois.
this day any Braidwood descendant is treated with much interest and
respect whenever they visit Braidwood, Illinois, where colored portraits
of James and Helen are prominently displayed in the Fossil Ridge
library. BRAIDWOOD descendants live all over the U.S.A. and have
contributed much to their native land for five or six generations now.
But after 138 years, their Scottish origin and heritage have never been
Contributed to Electric
Scotland's Mini Bios, June 2001, by Robin
My son scanned the two portraits I have of James "Jimmie"
BRAIDWOOD and his wife, Helen "Ellen" RALSTON Braidwood. Hope
you can see them. They are copied from oil portraits in the
possession of Don BRAIDWOOD of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Many years of
being in an oval frame left some discoloration around that we couldn't
remove, so I framed my 8 inch by 10 inch color copies in oval mats as a