Industrial Archaeology is often associated with excavations and artifacts that open small windows into the past. However, historical archaeology starts in books and documents long before a shovel pierces the ground in most cases. Today I'm attempting to harness technology (the Internet) and my readers to help me find a piece of lost history. This little window into the past was written by a man who lived in Brownsville/Bridgeport, Pennsylvania and was a potter. Actually from reading the only know excerpts he was a jack-of-all-trades. Potter, steamboatman, steamboat builder, fireman, and justice of the peace to name a few. His name was Robert Rogers. (No, not Major Robert Rogers of the Detroit campaign.) Here is an excerpt from his diary taken from Franklin Ellis "History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania" 1882:
Robert Rogers was born in Queen Anne County, Maryland, January 15th 1794 and after the death of his father in 1806, lived with his uncle until the fall of 1807. At that time another uncle, Lambert Boyer, who had settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania, visited Maryland and decided that young Robert should return with him to the west. Once they reached Dunlap’s Creek in Pennsylvania, Robert Rogers decided to stay with his Uncle Isaac Rogers who was living in the Bridgeport area.
On his arrival at Bridgeport, Robert was placed in the store of his Uncle Isaac, and also attended school during the small portion of time in which schools were taught at this place. In the fall of 1809 he was apprenticed in Bridgeport to Cephas Gregg to learn the trade of potter. “ I continued to work”[says Rogers] “ at my trade as apprentice till the middle of January, 1815, when I was 21. Then I left Bridgeport on a flatboat, and went to Pittsburgh for work.” There he was employed in a queensware factory. “Queensware was scarce, and ours sold readily and high.” After the Treaty of Ghent and the Battle of New Orleans, a flood of imports made it difficult for the potters to compete. Robert Rogers returned to Bridgeport in the Spring of 1815 and worked in the shop of John Riley until the fall of 1815… Then he was employed on a steamboat on the river; visited New Orleans in the spring of 1816; in the following fall returned to Bridgeport, where he married and undertook the shop for Cephas Gregg on shares. He again went on the steamboats in 1818 and returned once again to Bridgeport. He died of paralysis on January 27th, 1866, age 72 years.
“About 1811, Daniel French arrived here from Philadelphia with big schemes of manufacturing, steamboat building, and navigating western waters. He told people great advantages would accrue, and induced many prominent citizens to subscribe to stock for a cotton factory and two steamboats, all new to people here; but they were wise enough to secure charters for each company, viz., one for the factory and one for the steamboats, and they felt a deep interest and believed French, the people subscribed liberally to both. Work commenced, but the enterprise was new to all, and it was a long time before it was completed. And when they were ready there was no one experienced in running factories or steamboats, and neither enterprise made money, but run in debt, and the factory was sold by the sheriff, and the boats were sold by the company after they had run them as long as there seemed any hope of profit.”
Many local historians, including myself are looking for this diary or a copy of it. Any information, including those of living relatives is greatly appreciated!
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