Henry Lester was born June 24, 1848 in St Helens, Lancaster county, England. Lancaster county would later be renamed Lancashire. Henry was born to Mary Lester daughter of John and Ann (Penketh) Lester. Henry's mother married James Dagnall on May 20, 1849 when Henry was close to one year old. Henry was raised by his mother Mary and James Dagnall in St Helens where James worked in the coal mines. The town of St Helens thrived during the industrial revolution with its rich coal deposits powering the steam engines of the mills and ships, providing heat in winter months, and used to heat the materials to make another of St Helens main industries the plate glass works. James Dagnall a collier, which is the term for a experienced coal miner in England, worked the St Helens coal seam in the Ravenhead area near the glass works.
Henry went to work in the St Helens coal mines at an early age with his stepfather. Their was no schooling for these children they did not learn to read or write his classroom was the pit to toil in the dark damp cool earth learning the trade of a collier. Colliers and their families where looked down on in English society they where considered uneducated, wild, hard drinking and of low moral charcter. The collier James would actually excavate the coal and the boys Henry would load and push it in carts on iron rails out to the foot of the shaft. All of this was done in complete darkness with only a lantern and candlelight to show the way. Gases in the earth and the extremely flamable coal dust could ignite at any time causing a deadly explosion, or just the lack of oxygen that can cause unconscoiusness and death in seconds known as blackdamp are some of the hazzards. They would work a 12 hour day 7 days a week, Henry a wagoner would make about 12 shillings a week and James the collier would generally make 40 shillings. The wage was calculated by weight of coal brought out of the mine, seven tons of coal was called a "work" which the proprietor of the mine would pay the collier 10 shillings and 6 pence. The collier would then inturn pay his laborers which would be Henry and other boys and even women that worked for him. They would lower each other into the pit usually about 3 O'clock am Henry would take a dinner of bread and cheese down with him which he would eat in the pit. They would work 10 to 12 hours and then accend from the pit covered black with coal soot 3 at a time in a bucket drawn by a mule and a pully system. Henry and James would then walk home through the crowed streets of St Helens to their flat on Barrow St. At the age of 18 Henry became a collier his education complete in the art of "getting" coal.
Henry wed Mary Watkin on January 22, 1871 in the Parish Church of St Thomas Eccleston, Henry was 22 and his wife Mary was 21. Henry was a English coal miner Mary a homemaker they had six children, James, Joseph, Henry, Robert, Lucy, and William. Henry's sons would now go to work with him in the pit it was the only way to survive. The family resided on Barrow St. in St Helens, Lancashire, England which is across from the Town Hall. The family lived in the crowded flat on Barrow St. for several years. On May 29 1882 their 2 year old son Robert died of pneumonia in the family home. He was buried in St Helens Cemetery
Henry's wife Mary died July 15, 1886 in their flat on Barrow St. Henry was at her side when she passed away, Mary was 36 years old. Mary Lester was buried with her son in St Helens Cemetery. Henry remarried on December 25, 1886 in the Parish Church of Prescot to a widow Mary Ellen Morley (her maiden name Chisnell). Henry along with his son James and Mary Ellen's son Fredrick Morley immigrated to the United States in 1887. They arrived in the Port of Philadelphia on October 16, 1887 and settled in Phillipsburg, Centre county Pennsylvania where they all went to work in the coal mines. Mary Ellen along with their newborn son Richard, and Henry's sons Joseph, Henry, and William followed a year later in 1888. In 1895 Henry and Mary Ellen became naturalized United States citizens and By 1900 Henry along with his wife Mary Ellen and sons William and Richard resided in Barnesboro, Cambria county, Pennsylvania. The family lived at 140 Chestnut St. Henry and his 14 year old son William worked in the Lancashire mine for the Barnes and Tucker Coal Company. At the time 14 years old was the legal age to work under ground in the mines. The life of a coal miner in the late 19th and early 20th century was a hard, dangerous, and exausting existance. Henry would succumb to cancer of the stomach around 9 O'clock P.M. May 3rd 1903 in his home on Philadelphia Ave. Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. Henry left all his earthly posessions and effects to his beloved wife Mary Ellen and his will was registered at the Cambria county Court House on May 25th 1903. Henry was intered in North Barnesboro Cemetery on May 6, 1903 he was 55 years old.
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