John Peter Salley (Salling) was the first to discover the potential of coal mining in what would become West Virginia. Salley's discovery might have been lost, as he was imprisoned before he made it back from this exploration to his hometown in Virginia. The area where he first found coal is now a historical landmark, and the nearby historical marker offers a brief history of the importance of coal in Racine.
John Peter Salley (Salling) was born in Germany in the early 18th
century and traveled to America where he ended up settling down in Augusta
County, Virginia. He was an explorer and he was traveling up and down the east
coast and even to Canada to find new places for the British to expand. In fact,
John Peter Salley was on an expedition with five other men when he stumbled
upon the discovery of coal. He was in a small town, that is now called Racine
in Boone County in the heart of the southern coalfields of West Virginia.
Salley was in the great state of West Virginia, because he
was asked to go on an expedition in John Howard, this was funded by none other
than the Governor’s Council of Virginia. John Peter Salley’s main purpose for
going on the expedition was for the sole purpose of being promise approximately
10,000 acres of land if the trip was a success. During this time period the
British was trying to expand the land they owned, and push forward into the
west, so if this trip was a success, meaning they were able to expand without
trouble, Salley would be granted the 10,000 acres of land that he wanted. They
started on the New River with a boat made completely of buffalo hides and he
and his crew went down as far as they could before it was too dangerous,
forcing them to go ashore and walk across over to the Coal River, there they
sailed on down into Mississippi where they were then taken captive and were
imprisoned for being spies.
Salley refused to stay imprisoned, and after two years, he
had enough. On October 25, 1744, John Peter Salley escaped and started his
travels back up the Mississippi. From there he returned back to his home in Augusta
County, Virginia. It was there that the people credited him for the discovery
of coal on the Coal River. Salley went on to travel more and help out with
expeditions as best as he could; however, finding coal was quite possibly the
exact turn around that West Virginia needed. Although Salley did find coal in
the 1700’s, coal was not actually mined until the mid-1800’s, because many were
not able to figure out just how to extract it and even once they did, they
could not figure out what to do with it.