Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Apple #146: Cornish Copper Miners

So I have this cookbook that my mom got at some rummage sale someplace and gave to me years ago. It's The New York Times Heritage Cook Book by Jean Hewitt, and I absolutely love it. My copy was published in 1972, but a much newer version is still available. It's arranged by region of the country: Southwest, Midwest, South, etc. So you might find three different recipes for standard things like banana bread, and you pick the one that sounds best to you. And because this copy is pretty ancient, it's got all sorts of delightfully weird stuff in it like Tripe Stew and Venison Ragout, and Scrapple, and many of the recipes call for lard or bacon fat, but of course you can substitute margarine or whatever else for that stuff.

Anyway, this cookbook has been a tremendous gold mine. I have discovered recipes for Orange-Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Sweet and Sour Green Beans, and another recipe for cole slaw that is I think the best cole slaw I have ever had. But yesterday I found in this book something else entirely.

I have had this cookbook for at least a decade, but only yesterday did I discover a piece of paper with a recipe, handwritten in pencil, called "Pastry for 4 pasties," and on the back, instructions for how to make the filling. In case you're not familiar with pasties, they're like meat pies, and they originate from England, specifically, Cornwall. The word pasty rhymes with last.

You can order Cornish pasties like these from Cornwall Flag

Most interesting to me on this found item is the note written at the top of the recipe:

Cousin "Jenny" & C. "Jack" = Cornish names for people who came to UP [Upper Peninsula of Michigan] between 1850 & 1890 to work in copper & iron mines. Brought the pasty (Mrs. Pearl Brailey - dtr. of Cornish miner - lives near 1st MI. mine (the Jackson).

The Upper Peninsula (UP) has a lot of people of Cornish background? Why were they called "cousin"? More information, please.

  • First of all, Cornwall is a part of England, which, much like Ireland and Wales, was invaded and taken over by the Anglo-Saxons. It's the little tail that sticks out from the mainland of England, and though it looks like just your basic peninsula, it's actually separated from the rest of the mainland by a river.

Map from the Penzance Travel Guide pages

Now to the mining and the history.

  • According to an article from the BBC, Europeans in general migrated in droves in the 19th century. In Cornwall in particular, 20% of the Cornish male population migrated abroad from Cornwall, in each decade from 1861 to 1901. That amounts to over a quarter of a million people who left Cornwall in 40 years.
  • Most of the working men of Cornwall had been making their living mining for copper, but the mines were starting to run out. So the men left, looking for other places to work and earn a living. By 1866, the mines were really scraping bottom, there were far fewer people in Cornwall to dig up what little was left, and the price of copper crashed.
  • Cornish men traveled all over the world, looking for gold, silver, and copper to mine. Not only did they go to North America, but they went to Latin America, Peru, the Transvaal, and the "Cornish triangle" in Australia.
  • The Cornish were among the best, if not the best, at mining in the world. They had developed new, highly respected mining technologies and they were often heavily recruited to work in other people's mines. The best workers were paid $3.50 per day. Once they started working and making tremendous progress in the mines, some regions even built statues in honor of the Cornish miners.
  • Actually, the Cornish were not strangers to traveling, even before the copper mines at home began to play out. In previous centuries, Cornish fishermen had traveled to Newfoundland to trade, some had gone as far as Caribbean plantations where they served as indentured servants, and in 1770, a group of Cornish miners was recruited to inspect the copper deposits around Lake Superior.
  • Wherever they settled, the Cornish formed very strong communities and continued with their regular pastimes: wrestling, singing their Cornish carols to brass bands at Christmastime, and eating pasties and saffron cakes. Many communities where the Cornish originally settled still carry on with these same traditions.
  • Some -- but probably not even half -- of the communities where the Cornish established a very strong presence that still exists today:
    • Grass Valley, California
    • Nevada City, California
    • Keewenaw Peninsula, Michigan, near Lake Superior
    • Mineral Point, Wisconsin
    • Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (first iron furnace in the County)
    • Salt Lake City, Utah (the Cornish superintended construction of Temple Square)
    • Wallaroo, Moonta, and Kadina, Australia (a.k.a. the Copper Triangle)
    • Cornwall County, Jamaica, (the western third of the island)
    • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • A lot of the miners searching for gold in the California gold rush were Cornish. Possibly the phrase "There's gold in them thar hills" wasn't some sort of hillbilly dialect, but in fact the result of a Cornish accent?
  • As to the "Cousin Jack" phrase, there are two suggestions for its origin:
    • Cornish miners were called "Cousin Jacks" because they were always asking for jobs for their cousins back in Cornwall. I'm not sure I buy this one. If Cornish miners were so highly sought-after and respected for their trade, why would they be seen as begging for jobs?
    • The second suggestion is that the Cornish had a habit of calling each other "cousin," and Jack happened to be the most popular first name among Cornish men at that time. I'm leaning more in favor of this one, since it corresponds well with the fact that the Cornish formed very strong communities no matter where they traveled to. They probably did regard each other as something like family.
  • As far as the last sentence of the note I found:
    • It looks like it's possible that the information about the cousin Jacks and the copper miners was told to whomever wrote the note by a woman named Mrs. Pearl Brailey, who was Cornish herself, or at least the daughter of a miner who was Cornish. That last name Brailey comes up in a lot of genealogical pages as being linked to people who are Cornish.
    • "The Jackson" is the name of an iron mine, operated by The Jackson Iron Company from 1848 to 1855. This was also the site of the first iron forge in the Lake Superior region. The Jackson Iron Company is now defunct, but this region still produces iron today, up to 1/4 of the total amount of iron ore mined each year in the United States.
  • I also came across a song called "Cousin Jack." The chorus makes me think of those who have died in the recent coal mining accidents:
    • Let's drink to every Cornishman wherever they may be,
    • Let's drink to every mining man in every country.
    • Let's drink the health and we'll drink the wealth,
    • As we pass the jug around,
    • Let's drink to every Cornishman who works below the ground.
Penzance Travel Guide (did you know that Penzance is in Cornwall?)
BBC Legacies, Immigration and Emigration, I'm alright Jack
New World Celts, Cornish Mining and Migration
Cornwall University, The Great Nineteenth Century Cornish Emigration
California Gold Rush Stories, Cornish Miners Followed Vanishing Gold Underground, by Don Baumgart
Eagle Harbor, Michigan's web, The Keewenaw Kernewek Parallel Walk, by Jean Ellis
Michigan.gov, About the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, Negaunee
Cape Cornwall Singers, Cousin Jack


  1. Just searching around and saw this... It's nice to see her name still around, you see Pearl was my grandmother and taught her family how to make Pasties (She was in LIFE magazine for it). She, herself, was not Cornish but married my grandfather who did come over from Cornwall at the age of 17 (I believe) to work the iron ore mines in Michigan.

    Thanks for bringing back good memories and for making me smile.


  2. Alan, I'm glad you found another bit of your family history. It seems your grandmother and her cooking influenced a lot of people! May her legacy continue -- and now, through the internet!

    --the apple lady

  3. Update for you. I found a archived copy of one article on the web. Here is the link for those interested.




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