March, James
Autograph Letter Signed. Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, December 16, 1848. to his future wife Rebecca Pratt, Stoyersville, Pennsylvania

folio, two pages, plus stamp-less address leaf, some folds, and creases, else in very good, clean, and legible condition.

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“Dear Rebecca,


…I mentioned in my last letter that it was my intention to go to California but I am happy to tell you that I have done according to your wishes although I am sorry to tell you that I cannot fulfill my promises, that is, to spend Christmas with you as I have been appointed Delegate to Pottsville and Schuylkill County at large for the purpose of carrying out a petition that has been drawn by the Citizens of Tamaqua for the Laboring Man to receive his money and not Store Goods. Said petition to be presented to the Government to pass a Law to that effect so I hop[e] you will excuse my absence…

…I promise you that I will ever be constant to you and none else for you are the highest in my esteem and is esteemed by all who know you. I must now conclude for it is very late and to morrow morning I must commences my journey…”

22 year-old James March, an immigrant from England who had apparently been ready to make the trek to California the week that President Polk formally announced the discovery of gold in America’s new western territory, acceded to the wishes of his sweetheart to remain in Pennsylvania.  His census record describe him as “laborer” rather than a miner, but he seems to have been well-regarded by the disgruntled men who labored in the mines of the Monongahela Valley.  Discontent had been rampant in the region since 1842 when miners of Schuylkill County marched on the County seat to protest low wages, a short-lived strike that was broken up by a local militia company.

Then in 1848, the year this letter was written, John Bates, another British immigrant who had been involved in the Chartist working-class movement for political reform in England, organized a formal union which soon enrolled some 5,000 miners in Schuylkill county.  Perhaps it was this organization that chose March to present a petition with their demands – not for higher wages, but to receive remuneration in cash rather than in kind. Seven months later, the union did strike for a wage increase, to which the mine operators were forced to agree, though the union itself collapsed after word spread that Bates had absconded with its funds.

There seems to be no record of what became of March’s petition, but he, like his countryman, may have said farewell to the Pennsylvania coal mines soon after marrying Rebecca and becoming the father of a baby boy. There is no further census record of March or his wife in Schuylkill County after 1850.