Daniel Dickinson (1637-1699): Coal and Tobacco

Daniel Dickinson (1637-1699) :  Coal and Tobacco

IN PROGRESS - there are likely to be substantial alterations, both of fact and interpretation, and I need to add references.

Background 1650-1700


West Cumberland fizzed in the second half of the seventeenth century. Everything came together in a perfect storm to promote those who were ready and demote those who weren't. The Dickinsons did very well, but not as well as others.

The wealth creator was coal. The West Cumberland coast sat on an immense coal seam, and suddenly supply and demand came together to exploit it. The main beneficiaries by far were the Lowther family; but others, quick on their feet, bought in; or sold out and, maybe, used the money to emigrate and start a new life.

Fuel and Power in West Cumberland



Four natural resources were important for supply: water, peat, wood (and from that, charcoal) and coal (and from that, coke).



Water was an almost limitless source so far as the Lake District of Cumbria was concerned (the only pressure on it came in the nineteenth century, as population and industry boomed).

Water was a source of wealth for communities generally, providing clean drinking water for humans and livestock, water meadows, and irrigation. Clean water was also essential for breweries.

As well as powering corn mills, water was fundamental to the textile industry. Every viable beck and river would have had its fulling mill. Later, paper mills.

One problem, of course, was that the greater the industrial use, the worse the pollution and health hazard. Would you really want to live downstream from a fulling mill and its associated dyeing industry?



Peat was also pretty much available. This was an essential fuel for households. One of its big advantages was that once lit it would stay lit, so providing homes with a continuous background heat. Indeed, Cumbrian families are said to have prided themselves on the number of years thay could keep a peat fire alive.

Wood and Charcoal


West Cumberland had been heavily forested. You can see this in local names that still survived - the Wood family of Woodend (a couple of farms away from Streetgate), the Woodhall (or Woodall) family of Woodhall in Dean (ancestors of Daniel), the Woods of Woodside in Dean, and so on. But a lot of woodland in this area had been cut down - a squirrel could no longer 'hop from tree to tree, From Lamplugh Fells to Moresby' - and reforesting (which was actively attempted) was generally not successful. The main culprit was charcoal burning, an activity that had vastly expanded in the sixteenth century to provide the temperatures needed for smelting. Even coppicing didn't stop the rot.

Wood though was needed for other purposes than 'industrial'. It was needed as domestic fuel, for building fences, for making barrels and carts, for building houses, for building ships. The pressures on its use were intense, and so wood was guarded jealously by the manorial lords (broadly, the lord owned the timber, the occupier what fell to the ground). Timber rights and mining rights were the two things that the yeomanry desperately wanted control over - hence the process of enfranchisement, which proceeded rapidly in this area after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Coal (and Coke)


Coal provided the answer. The coast of West Cumberland sat on a huge coal seam, the exploitation of which is recorded from at least the thirteenth century.

The problem about coal, however, is that it is an expensive resource to mine and it is only profitable when there is a large demand for it. Even then, the ability to mine is often limited by techology, which naturally tends to be a step behind demand.

Both the Curwens in Workington and the Fletchers in Distington in the early seventeenth-century were mining coal, but these were relatively small-scale endeavours. The great change came with the Lowther development of Whitehaven from the 1640s. Whitehaven had been a largish hamlet, with 6 householders, in 1566; rising to a village by 1624, with 24 householders. The Lowthers set about transforming the area into a major planned port and town (84+ householders in 1677); and began buying tenements on the coal seam - so creating a monopoly of supply and distribution.

Demand for coal


Supply and demand is chicken and egg.



A problem with coal, so far as domestic heating is concerned, is that coal requires an enclosed environment in which to draw the flame. It doesn't do so well in the broader hearths that peat is able to fill. So that means a narrow hearth, a hood and a chimney. On top of that, house design then says - well let's use the heat from the chimney to warm the upper floor. Then the more sophisticated start thinking about how the heat can be used to keep spices dry in the hearth. Then the socially ambitious realise that they need all this just to keep up with their neighbours.

So yeomen rebuilt their houses. They may not have needed coal, but now they did. Yeoman rebuilding here has tradionally been seen as 100 years behind developments in the south, but at least William and Robert Grindal rebuilt in the sixteenth-century - interestingly, in St Bees, sitting on the coal seam, and a family from which Daniel was descended. William Dickinson, his father, rebuilt Streetgate in 1674.

One of the big demands in the marriage contract of John Hamilton with Faith Dickinson (see below) was the rebuilding of his house in Whitehaven as a dower.

Of course, housing for a few elite yeomanry was hardly going to provide the stimulus.



The overwhelming demand came from Ireland.

The great thing about Ireland, from a Cumbrian point of view, was that it had little locally-seamed coal.

Two things came together to make Ireland the focus. The first was that Dublin had a dreadful plague 1649-51 that cut the population in half. The second was that Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s massively extended the Elizabethan conquest of the island. These two factors created a vaccuum that sucked in settlers and entrepreneurs from the western coast of England (and indeed elsewhere).

Dublin by the 1680s/90s was a boom city, its population rapidly expanding (to become the second most populous city in Britain after London) and with huge demand for coal. It was a perfect market.

Shipping (or getting supply to demand)


Cumberland didn't have many ships in the 16th century - in 1582 only 12, all under 80 tons - but with the Lowther establishment of a proper port at Whitehaven in the 1650s, and the lure of Dublin, that situation was to change rapidly.

Looking at port records in 1687-1688, a number of ships using Whitehaven were from Silloth and Allonby. Perhaps more interestingly,  one ship 'Patience' was registered at Hastings (and owned by Robert Wingfield - not a local name), but mastered by Peter Peil (definitely a local name) - not greatly profitable, to judge by its cargo.

By the early-eighteenth century, Whitehaven traded with more ports than any other in England, 154 (In) and 258 (Out); as compared to Liverpool [130, 135], Bristol [88, 63] and London [41, 51]. It had also become England's most important tobacco port.


War with France


War started with France in the late 1680s (the Nine Years War 1688-97) and continued, if not quite continuously, for more than 100 hundred years. The standard  route across the Atlantic was from Gravesend, but this now had to content with French interceptions, let alone traditional Ottoman piracy (hence the use of convoys, much like strategy in the two modern-age world wars). Northwestern ports were more secure for transatlantic voyages, and their ship masters obtained additional revenue as captains in government service.


The Triangular Trade


A triangular trade developed (somewhat different to the classic goods-sugar-slaves). This took coal, tobacco, and goods between Whitehaven, Dublin and Virginia/Maryland. This developed rapidly from the 1690s. Generally, Whitehaven was not a slave port; and Cumbrians (with some notable exceptions) were not Caribbean sugar plantation owners. Lutwidge (an Irish family in Whitehaven) was a slave trader, as was Isaac Milner of Whitehaven (24 expeditions from London or Whitehaven to Africa 1698-1712 - information from Hugh Thomas 'The Slave Trade'). The RAC [Royal African Company] only lost its monopoly in 1698, and possibly it took time for the 'Ten Percenters' [the independent traders] to get a foothold into the slave trade.



Ships also took passengers. It's best to think of the Irish Sea as a commuter belt, taking Cumbrians to and from Dublin; and the Whitehaven-Virginia/Maryland route as equivalent to a London-New York/Boston flight today. Some passengers were settlers, and many Quaker, but many went back and forth.

Dickinson involvement in Coal and Tobacco


The Streetgate family weren't new to coal. They had connections to Camerton and Flimby in the late sixteenth century and, as Stewards to the Lamplughs, oversaw tenements that had coal deposits. There was a clear trend under Daniel's father William towards family ownership of such tenements. He obtained Whillimoor Head as a dowry. He purchased a tenement at Stubscales in Distington (the Lowthers purchased the rest), and his brothers set up in Clifton and Branthwaite Edge. Daniel's brother Nathaniel purchased into Whillimoor and Moresby, probably with Daniel's help.

Daniel's main efforts were aimed at the sale and distribution of coal rather than its ownership. He did this in two ways. The first was through a marriage alliance with the Hamiltons of Whitehaven. An early post-marriage voyage of John Hamilton, his son-in-law, was to Virginia on the partly Dickinson financed ship, the 'Union'. The second was through working with the Lamplughs. They had a mine in Parton in Distington, and together with the Fletchers, and with nonconformists, attempted to set up a rival to the Lowther coal monopoly. Ultimately they failed ... but John Dickinson, Daniel's son, was acting as their agent in the sale of coal from Parton to Dublin from 1694.

The Hamilton Connection


The Hamilton family are supposedly one of the original 6 households of Whitehaven in 1566. They can certainly be traced back to at least Thomas Hamilton, who was producing a family there in the 1620s. Fortunately his two eldest sons, John and David, are well documented. By the 1690s, both these branches were prosperous.

Anthony Hamilton, son of the John above, in turn had a son John, baptised 10th January 1669. On 4th August 1694, he married Faith Dickinson, Daniel's eldest child. It was a very important match - a top mariner family allying with an important player in the coal trade. As a consequence of the marriage, and the £100 dowry from Streetgate, John Hamilton was able to build himself (or buy into) a ship, the 'Union'. On its first voyage to Virginia, he took two of Faith's brothers, John and Joseph, and apprenticed the latter, on very favourable terms, to learn the art of Navigation. Joseph Dickinson later grew wealthy in his ship 'Westmorland', before being lost at sea at a young age. John Hamilton was also lost at sea - a peril of the profession and a sacrifice to its profits.