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C&O Canal workers
buried at Monocacy Cemetery:



C&O Canal Heroes Remembered

By Jon Wolz, published in the Monocacy Monocle in 2023.

People who lived or visited the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Montgomery County, Maryland, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries either knew of or came in contact with the Collier family. There were two occasions in which a member of the Collier family saved a child from drowning in the canal. Richard H. Collier, Sr. and his wife Mary lived along the canal, first at Edwards Ferry and then at Great Falls. Along the canal, they raised several children.

Last December, I was at the Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville to participate in the Wreaths across America event that was being held there in which holiday wreaths are placed on the graves of veterans. As people gathered for the event, I noticed the door of the chapel was open. There were some people inside, and I went in. This was the first time I had been inside. A framed poster hung on a wall that was titled, “Notable Burials at Monocacy Cemetery.” The poster contains names and a short biography of twenty-four people. As I glanced at the poster, I wondered to myself if there were any lockkeepers. I came upon Thomas Walter on the poster. Thomas was a lockkeeper at Lock 27 and then a boatman on the C&O Canal. Under Thomas’s name it reads, “1801-1877” followed by, “Walter saved the Monocacy Aqueduct from the Confederate Army during the Civil War.” The poster did not say that Thomas was the lockkeeper at Lock 27 during the Civil War. I know there are many more lockkeepers buried at the Monocacy Cemetery, yet they all seem to be forgotten.

Subsequently, I began compiling a list of Montgomery County C&O Canal workers. The last year of the boating season for the C&O Canal was 1923. I began looking at the Federal census for Montgomery County beginning with the 1920 census and working back to the 1850 census; the census for 1850 was the first-time occupations were shown in the census. Then I began looking at C&O Canal payroll and labor records. Those records are incomplete. I also began looking up burial sites for the workers. So far, I have 240 names on my list, and I am not finished with my research. From January through March, I visited the Archives in Adelphi, Maryland four times to scan/photograph labor records from the 1880s. These records did not include all years for the 1880s. The records end in 1889. After that year, the railroad began managing canal affairs after resuming operations after the great flood of 1889. The C&O Canal National Historical Park headquarters at Williamsport has scanned railroad records that are located in Baltimore and is determining whether or not there are canal labor records subsequent to 1889.

Last year, Glenn Wallace of the Monocacy Cemetery offered a free gravestone he had for the grave of John Whalen who was the last lockkeeper at Lock 27. John did not have a gravestone. He died in 1926. With contributions from William and Rita Bauman and me, we had Sugarloaf Monuments obtain engraving for the stone. Glenn placed the gravestone on John Whalen’s grave. John Whalen’s wife, Frances “Fannie” Collier Whalen, is buried next to John. Fannie died tragically by drowning in Lock 27 in 1911. Next to Fannie are children, Mary, age one when she died in 1881, and John A. Whalen, age one when he died in 1887. On the other side of John Whalen is Mary Collier, John’s mother-in-law. Beside Mary is her husband, Richard Collier. Fannie was a daughter of Richard and Mary. At the opposite end of the row from Richard is son Henry L. Collier. Everyone in the row had gravestones except for Henry.

Richard H. Collier, Sr. and his wife Mary Frances Daily were born in 1824 in Virginia. In 1849, they were married in Washington, D.C. By my count, they had ten children of which eight survived their childhoods. They both appear in the 1850 census as living in Loudoun County, Virginia. Their post office was Belmont. They had a six-month-old daughter named Mary. Daughter Mary does not appear again in census, and there is no record of her death. In the 1860 census, Richard was a keeper of a warehouse living in Loudoun County with his wife and growing family. Children living with them were, John, 10, Thomas, 6, Charles, 5, Frances, 2, and Eugenia, three months. John and Thomas attended school. Eugenia does not appear in future census records, and there is no record of her death. Son Charles does not appear again living with the family in future censuses. He reappears in the 1900 and 1910 census for Washington, D.C. where he was living. Living with the Colliers in Virginia was Mary C. Newman, 17, serving as a cook and washer. Living near the Colliers were boatmen with families of Charles Clark (Black) and Silas Simpson (White). It is likely the warehouse goods were loaded onto the boats and were poled across the Potomac River to Maryland, entering the Goose Creek River locks before entering the C&O Canal.

By 1865, Richard and Mary had moved their families across the Potomac River where Richard took over lockkeeper duties from William Rollison at Lock 25, Edwards Ferry. In the 1870 census, living with Richard and Mary were children, John, 20, Thomas, 16, Francis (Fannie), 12, Henry, 8, Valentine, 6, Richard, Jr., 5, and Mary (Mollie), 3. Richard, Jr. and Mollie were born in Maryland. All of the other Colliers were born in Virginia. Also living with them was Franklin Soper, 18. Mrs. Collier was keeping house, and other than the lockkeeper, no other occupations were indicated on the census. Lockkeeper Richard made $52 per month in the 1860s and 1870s from the C&O Canal Company. Their nearby neighbors were ferryman Samuel Mansfield with his family, and Charles F. Elgin with his family. Charles was a “boss on the canal.” Samuel Mansfield became a lockkeeper at Lock 17 at Great Falls in the 1880s. By 1873, Charles Wood became lockkeeper at Lock 25, replacing Richard Collier. Charles Butler replaced Charles Wood later in the 1870s. From the payroll records, Charles Wood moved to Lock 26 to serve as lockkeeper.

On the evening of May 15, 1880, a three-year-old daughter of Lock 25 lockkeeper Charles Butler and his wife Frances fell in the canal at Edwards Ferry. The news report stated: “But for the presence of mind and bravery of Richard Collier, she would undoubtedly [have] drowned.” The little girl was Corrie Butler and was one of nine children. She never married and lived to be seventy-six.

In the 1880s, the Collier children began moving out of their parents’ household. In the 1880 census for Edwards Ferry, Richard’s occupation in the census had him “at home.” There were four children living with their parents. Valentine and Henry were working on canal boats living with their parents. Son Thomas was married and living nearby, and he worked on a canal boat.

On September 24, 1880, it was reported by the Montgomery County Sentinel that “Captain Collier took 4,400 bushels of wheat to Georgetown on Tuesday raised by farms near this place (Edwards Ferry). He will bring back thirty-five tons of fertilizer.” I do not know which Collier son this was, but possibly it was Thomas who was the oldest of the Collier “boatmen” and had moved out of his parents’ household. In 1882, tragedy struck the family of Thomas and his wife Martha. On August 8, their infant son, William Peyton, died of cholera infantum “after a week of intense suffering.” He was four months old.

By 1884, Richard had moved down the towpath to Lock 20, Great Falls. There the lockhouse adjoins the Great Falls Tavern, or Crommelin House as it was officially known back then. Richard’s pay was $40 monthly. Son Thomas became lockkeeper at Lock 23 (known as Violette’s Lock today). Thomas also worked on canal work crews. Children of Thomas attended the Seneca Mills School on River Road. Son Valentine became a canal laborer and would eventually be in charge of his own canal work crew in the early 1900s in Georgetown. Son Richard, Jr. was a canal laborer. Daughter Fannie married canal worker and future lockkeeper of Lock 27, John Whalen. Fannie served as a cook for canal work crews, earning $10 a month when she worked. As the 1880s progressed, pay for lockkeepers decreased. Richard’s pay dropped to $30 monthly and then $20 monthly by 1889. During winter months, his pay was $15 a month. At times, someone else signed for his pay, possibly a person who gave Richard a payday loan. The adult Collier children would eventually leave the canal for other ventures except for Fannie and Henry who spent their entire lives on the canal. All of the adult Colliers are buried at the Monocacy Cemetery with their spouses/families except for Valentine and Charles who are buried in Washington, D.C.

In May 1885, the Sentinel reported, “Some little excitement has been caused by the charges against Mr. Thos. Sullivan, the gatekeeper of the Washington Aqueduct at Great Falls. Mr. E. E. Fisher (Lock 18 lockkeeper) and Mr. R. H. Collier (Lock 20 lockkeeper), both worthy gentlemen, are applicants as the position is a lucrative one, and are backed by their many friends. Mr. Sullivan is charged with using his office to further the interest of a certain political party. The charges have been laid before the Secretary of War.” Neither Fisher nor Collier got the position and remained lockkeepers through the 1880s.

Locks along the C&O Canal are from ninety feet to a hundred feet long, and the lock walls are sixteen feet high. When the locks were full of water, the water depth could be up to sixteen feet of brown murky water. People living and working along the canal generally did not know how to swim. There were many unfortunate stories of drownings. On December 18, 1885, the Sentinel reported that George Jewell fell overboard while attempting to board a grain boat belonging to Elijah White and Edward Wootten. The boy “was rescued with extreme difficulty by Mr. H. L. Collier of Great Falls.” That was Henry L. Collier who did the courageous rescue. George Jewell was four years old at the time. He would grow up to become a streetcar motorman, marry, and together with his wife, have five children.

In December 1886, in the Sentinel, it was reported, “When the payboat Maryland passed up (the canal) last week, our old friend R. H. Collier received very serious injuries by falling between the boat and the lock. The timely assistance of Mr. James Daily and others saved him from going under the boat and drowning. He is now slowly recovering from many bruises and a severe cold.” James Daily was a laborer living along the canal in the Great Falls vicinity. The available canal records do not show James as working for the canal.

During the mid-1880s and continuing through the end of the decade, three of Richard, Sr.’s children were actively involved in the Knights of Pythias, Crommelin Lodge, No. 89, located at Great Falls. Sons, Valentine, Henry, and Richard, Jr., held offices with the lodge at different times. Richard, Sr. appears not to have been a member as his duties of lockkeeper were a full-time job requiring him to be on duty twenty-four hours a day. The Knights of Pythias supports charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social activities. The Crommelin Lodge had one hundred members by 1889. In January 1888, the Sentinel reported that “Mr. R. H. Collier, Sr. had a surgical operation performed by Dr. L.V. Chamption. Mr. Collier is doing well under the circumstances.”

On June 1, 1894, Richard Collier, Sr. died at Great Falls. The Sentinel reported, “The death of Richard H. Collier removes from our county a good citizen, an oldtime gentleman, and a noble-hearted friend to those who enjoyed his confidence.” He was seventy years old. His wife Mary died in 1904 in Potomac, Maryland.

In 1910, Henry Collier was living with his brother-in-law, John Whalen, and John’s sister, Fannie Whalen, along with their grandchildren at Lock 27. There was no occupation mentioned for Henry. In 1920, Henry was still living at the lockhouse with John, along with John’s granddaughter and her husband. Henry’s occupation was level walker where he kept an eye out along the canal to insure there were no leaks and the towpath was clear of trees or limbs. A level walker was also required to walk twenty miles a day checking on the canal. In 1926, John Whalen died. The Sentinel reported on January 3, 1930, “Henry L. Collier, aged seventy years, a well-known and lifelong resident of the upper section of this county, was found dead in bed last Friday (December 27, 1929) in the lock tender’s house at Campbell’s Lock (Lock 27) on the C&O Canal near Dickerson. He was unmarried and lived alone in the house where he died.”

From my research, I have found there are twenty-four C&O Canal workers buried at the Monocacy Cemetery, including seventeen lockkeepers. At their gravesites, there is no indication they were associated with the canal. I am working with Glenn Wallace of the Monocacy Cemetery to come up with appropriate ways to recognize these people who are virtually forgotten today. As for canal hero, Henry Collier, there is no gravestone at his burial site. Through the contributions of William Bauman, Tom Mears, and me, one is on order for Henry through Sugarloaf Monuments.

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