Interview with William Henry Miller, 1984 February 16 [audio]

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  • Miller's family history from the 1700s; Family who worked in the DuPont powder yards; Visiting the powder yards after they ceased operating
    Keywords: Barley Mill Road; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; Explosions; Flutes; Hagley Yard; Henry Clay (Del.: Village); Holly Island; Immigration; Ireland; Siblings; Smokeless powder; Tancopanican Band
    Transcript: Miller: My name is William Henry Miller, III, address 1955 Prospect Road, Canby Park, Wilmington, Delaware, age is 57. My Father's name was William Henry Miller, Jr., born in Henry Clay in 1874, Henry Clay. My Mother's name was Mattie Parsons Miller, she was born in Salisbury, Maryland, and I don't know the date exact. I had two sisters, my oldest sister, Frances Parsons Miller and my younger sister, Ella Miller. My Grandfather's name, William Henry Miller, Sr., birthplace, Henry Clay, he was born May 4, 1841. My Grandmother's name Ella White Miller, I don't have the date. The interview supplied by Alfred I. du Pont, 1922 but who was the interview by?

    Woman: It was done by Alfred du Pont.

    Miller: By Alfred du Pont, states Henry Miller, which the name is really William Henry Miller.

    Wagner: Now, if you'll go ahead with what you have.

    Miller: Okay, George Miller was born in Bernally County Derry, Ireland, on June 11, 1764. After the death of his father, George and his two brothers came to America with their widowed mother and settled in Wilmington, Delaware, Christiana Hundred, where they farmed the land. George married Sarah Taylor and on November 9, 1802, their first son, Martin, was born, followed by Jonas W. in 1804, and Joseph in 1805. All three brothers were land owners in Brandywine Hundred. James B. was born in 1807 and lived to be 23 years old. Hiram was the next son, no date, followed by George L., who was born in Brandywine Hundred at the Blue Ball Inn on November 11, 1811. George, Sr. was innkeeper at the time. Two sisters were next, Maria, Mrs. Robert Kirk, and Sarah, who died in youth. George acquired 86 acres of land in Brandywine Hundred, and with the help of his sons, cleared and farmed this land. Jonas, a young age at this time, was apprentice to Richard Rambo, Wilmington to learn the millwright trade.

    On March 19, 1818, the DuPont Mills in the Upper Yards exploded and Jonas was there to help. E. I. du Pont liked the way he helped and gave him a job. Jonas worked at the powder mills for more than fifty years, fifty-five years exact. Most of the time being millwright foreman, Jonas died as the result of an explosion in the year 1873.

    Jonas sold his 68 acres of land, Miller Road and Lea Boulevard to his brother, George L., and returned to Christiana Hundred.

    George Miller entered the Du Pont Works at the age of 18, studying under Mr. William Murphy, millwright and having served his apprenticeship, worked in the Du Pont Works for twenty years. In 1848 George abandoned his trade and farmed the land purchased from Jonas. Joseph Miller left home at the age of 15 to learn carpentry under Mr. William Boyd, manager of the DuPont Works carpenter shop. After he became a skilled carpenter, he was placed under Mr. William Murphy, millwright at the DuPont Works and for 18 years worked as a carpenter and millwright, receiving $24.00 per month. In 1838 Joseph purchased 66 acres of land, known as the Garland Tract in Brandywine Hundred where he farmed and raised cattle.

    Jonas W. Miller, born in Christiana Hundred, February 13, 1804, son of George and Sarah Taylor Miller. Jonas W. Miller was married to Jane Higgins, daughter of Andrew Higgins, a member of the Delaware Blues during the Revolutionary War. Jonas and Jane had 13 children, six of whom died in infancy, those who reached maturity are John S.; Sarah J., Mrs. John Newland; Anna Maria, Mrs. James Newland; George; Catherin, Mrs. Joseph Walker; who moved to Indian territory after the death of her husband; William H., his father's successor at the DuPont Works; and Jonas W., Jr.

    Jonas W. Miller, Sr. died July 3, 1873 from the effects of injuries received in an explosion which occurred that year at the DuPont Works.

    John S. Miller, son of Jonas and Jane Higgins Miller, entered the service of the DuPont Company, and having served his apprenticeship under his father, became a skillful millwright and for 21 years worked as a journeyman. In 1864 John left DuPont and opened a general store for general merchandise in Henry Clay. In 1896 he retired and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Henry Gregg.

    Three brothers operated the Barley Mill, which gave its name to the Barley Mill Road. The mill was located near the present entrance gate at the Hagley Museum. The three brothers who operated the mill in its last years were John S., the second brother, George, and the youngest brother, William H., who was the most active running the mill. He was known by his middle name and lived in one of the houses on Barley Mill Road, which was torn down during the construction of the Tyler McConnell Bridge.

    William Henry Miller married Ella White and were members of Greenhill Presbyterian Church. William and Ella had ten children, not necessarily in this order: Jonas, George, William H., Jr., Garnet, Joseph, Robert and four daughters: Jennie, Ella, Victorine and Mary.

    The Millers lived in a house on Barley Mill Road and Mr. Miller worked at the DuPont Mills running the barley mill. William Miller was also a Delaware State Senator.

    Wagner: Keep right on talking, just play like it's not even running.

    Miller: Okay. I recall when I was a youngster my Father telling me the ghost stories of the powder mills. He'd have four or five children sitting around listening to the stories and scaring them to death about figures walking around the mills before they exploded, and so forth and so on. Also when I was a youngster, my Father, almost every other Sunday or so we would walk from Rockford up to the powder mills, stopping on the way meeting all the old friends of my Father's in Henry Clay. Then we'd go through the mills and he would show me how to pick up smokeless powder, bits of smokeless powder. And we'd walk down the Brandywine toward Bancroft Mills and we would pick up bags, the amount would end up in bags full of pieces of smokeless powder, that due to explosions, storms or whatever, would wash down the Brandywine and settled on the banks. And I'd pick up all these little pieces of smokeless powder, it wasn't black, it had all different colors to it and if you set a match to it, it would go off like a flash, a photographer's flash because that's all it was, smokeless powder.

    Wagner: Were any of the the housing, was any of the housing still standing when you were a boy and went down, such as Walker's Banks or any of the village houses?

    Miller: Yeah, all those houses were, including my Father's house where he was born at, were still standing then. And like I say, we met the Bonners and other people that were old powder people and we'd go visit them before we went up into the mills.

    Wagner: And they stayed pretty much in that same area, they didn't relocate throughout Wilmington?

    Miller: Until, they stayed in that area until after the mills were closed, then my Grandfather, my father moved to West or 22nd Street: 22nd and Concord Avenue, right where they meet.

    My Grandmother would tell me, you know, because I was about six years old at the time and she'd tell me that things were tough and I can recall, they lived on 22nd Street and Concord Avenue and they still had their stove, cook stove that they had when they were in Henry Clay. It was a big coal stove, or wood stove and that's how they did all their baking. And my Grandmother would bake bread all the time, it really smelled good. I can remember to this day, and she would tell me that they ate bread and a lot of things up there - not a lot of money and things were kind of tough. I do recall that bread she made.

    Wagner: That tends to stay with you, doesn't it?

    Miller: One interesting thing that my Father told me when he was a youngster, and like I say, my Father would be 110 years old now, so they used to go out onto the Brandywine in the winter and chop ice, cut blocks of ice and use it to keep the perishables fresh, wrap it in sawdust and keep it for, you know, even into the summer and it would be ice off of the Brandywine.

    Also used to tell me that the famous spot for outings was Holly Island which is still up there and I'm sure if you went and looked on some of the trees, you'd see a lot of Millers names, because he would tell me how they would climb the trees and carve their initials into the bark of the trees, and I'm sure they're still there.

    Wagner: And how did they get out to Holly Island?

    Miller: They walked or swam or whatever, I'm not sure how they got out to the island, but it wasn't that far out. I'm sure they got there easy enough. A bunch of youngsters, a little bit of water is not going to hold them back.

    Also something else that might be interesting, my Father played in Alfred's band. He played the flute, they were friends. Well, my Father was friends with a lot of du Ponts because he lived there and of course his father knew a lot of people, and his grandfather, so he was quite friendly with all the du Ponts.

    Wagner: Now this band was in operation for a number of years?

    Miller: My Father, when he played, I don't think that he played as a regular all the time, but he'd tell me that many times Alfred would ask him to come up and play with him and he did, and that's the way it was. He played the flute.

    Wagner: And probably very well.

    Miller: I think so.

    Wagner: Do you remember the name of the band?

    Miller: No, he just told me it was Alfred's band.

    Wagner: Alfred's band, I see.
  • Miller's family history
    Keywords: Blue Ball Inn; Brandywine Creek; Christiana Hundred; E.I. du Pont den Nemours and Company; Explosions; Green Hill Presbyterian Church (Wilmington, Del.); Gregg's store; Hagley Yard; Henry Clay (Del.: Village); Mills; Mt. Salem United Methodist Church (Wilmington, Del.)
    Transcript: Miller: George Miller, after leaving the Blue Ball Inn, went back to farming in Brandywine Hundred. He was instrumental in building the Newark Union Church. John S. Miller, son of Joseph - or Jonas Miller - was instrumental in building Mt. Salem Church and he moved, after he passed his general store to his son-in-law, he built a house in the Highlands, which was called the Highlands, right next to Mt. Salem Cemetery. His father, William, Sr., was instrumental in Greenhill Presbyterian Church where he was the head of the cemetery burial for the church.

    John S. Miller, Highlands, New Castle County, Delaware, son of Jonas and Jane Higgins Miller was born on a farm on the banks of the Brandywine August 15, 1828. Mr. Miller's father, Jonas W. Miller, son of George Miller and brother of Joseph and George L. Miller, old citizens of Brandywine Hundred, was born in Christiana Hundred February 13, 1804. His only educational advantages were offered by the public schools of the district. Mr. Miller was a close student and continued his education by reading and observation until he had acquired a large fund of general information. When quite young, he was apprenticed to Richard Rambo, millwright. On attaining his majority, Mr. Miller entered the millwright department, the DuPont Works. He was faithfully employed for more than fifty years.

    The greater part of time being spent as foreman of the department, most of his life was passed on the banks of the Brandywine. He was a skilled mechanic and an infallible worker.

    Jonas W. Miller was married to Jane, daughter of Andrew Higgins, who was a member of the Delaware Blues and during the Revolutionary War served for three years in the Continental Army. Mr. Miller was born June 1, 1808. Jonas W. and Jane Higgins Miller had 13 children, six of whom died in infancy, three reached maturity: those who reached maturity are (1) Jonas S., (2) Sarah J., Coatesville, Pennsylvania, born June 5, 1831, (3) Anna Maria, Mrs. James Newland, deceased, born April 14, 1833, (4) of Stockton, California, born February 14, 1836, (5) Catherine, widow of Joseph Walker, born December 16,1838, resides in Indian Territory, (6) William H., his father's successor at the Du Pont Works, born June 4, 1841, (7) Jonas W. of Kinsley, Kansas, born September 28, 1847.

    Mr. Miller and his wife were members of the Presbyterian church. He died July 3, 1873 from effects of injuries received in an explosion which occurred that year at the DuPont Works. His widow died November 16, 1875. Both were buried in Mt. Salem M.E. Church - or cemetery.

    John S. Miller attended the public schools at Sharpley, Brandywine Hundred and completed his scholastic courses at the Academy in Brandywine Village. In early youth he entered the service of the DuPont Company, having served his apprenticeship. Under his Father, became a skillful millwright and for 21 years, worked for the Company as a journeyman. In 1864 Mr. Miller abandoned his trade, opened a store for general merchandise at Henry Clay, New Castle Country, Delaware. In 1896, after carrying on a successful business for 32 years, he retired from active life and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Henry Gregg.

    By close application to business, Mr. Miller acquired a competence and for the past two years has been enjoying well and rest in his beautiful home in the Highlands in Wilmington - in Wilmington Hundred. He is a life-long Republican and he has never sought to accept office. Mr. Miller is an influential citizen, highly esteemed in the County.

    He was Past Master of DuPont Lodge, No. 29, A.F. & A.M., Post Grand of Brandywine Lodge No. 18, I.0.0.F.

    Jonas Miller was married in Brandywine Hundred, March 6, 1856 to Anna Marie, daughter of Abraham and Rachel Jackson Husbands, old citizens of Brandywine Hundred. Their children are: Adelaide Henry Gregg, Mrs. Henry Gregg, of Henry Clay, Delaware, (2) Almira Day, Mrs. Henry Archer of New York City, (3) Catherine Walker, Mrs. George Casey of Brandywine Hundred, (4) Anna Maria, Mrs. William Jack, (5) Abraham - Abraham drowned at the age of two, and six - two years and six months, (6) Adam Lindsey, (7) Rachel H., (8) Sarah H. – died in youth, (9) Marion, one of the finest alto singers in this State, Mrs. Cora, and two who died in infancy.

    Mr. Miller has given his children every advantage that he could command. Mr. Miller and his wife were members of Mt. Salem M.E. Church for nearly fifty years. His membership has been in a congregation in which he has different times served in every office except Superintendent of the Sunday School. That's it.

    Wagner: You said one child burned - there was a fire and one child...

    Miller: That wasn't John's, that was Martin's son. Yeah one of Martin's sons, and like I said, Martin had nothing in connection with the mills that I could ever find. That's why he's sort of left out on his own. I'm not sure which one of the sons it was, it's probably back in one of these other records that would tell that (flips pages searching for that information). That's the whole record of...

    Wagner: On with Joseph.

    Miller: Joseph Miller, P. O. Grubs Store near Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware, son of George and Sarah Taylor Miller, was born in Christiana Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, August 25, 1805. Mr. Miller's father, George Miller, was a native of Ireland. After his father's death, George, then quite young, accompanies his widowed mother and two brothers to America. They settled in Christiana Hundred where Mr. Miller devoted himself to cultivation of the soil.

    He afterward moved to Brandywine Hundred in the same County and assumed the management of the Blue Ball Tavern. Five years later he purchased 80 acres of wild land which, with the help of his sons, he cleared and brought under cultivation. He erected on his farm a comfortable dwelling with a barn and outbuildings and by careful, intelligent labor, made of this wasteland a valuable property.

    Mr. Miller was a Democrat and a follower of Thomas Jefferson, highly esteemed and respected in the County. George Miller was married to Sarah Taylor, a relative of the Springer family of New Castle County, Delaware, and a distant relative of the late John G. Blaine of Maine. Their children are (1) Martin, deceased; (2) James; (3) Jonas; (4) Joseph; (5) Hiram, deceased; (6) George of Brandywine Hundred; (7) Maria, widow of Robert Kirk; (8) Sarah, died in youth. Mr. Miller and his wife were consistent members of the Newark Union M.E. Church. He not only helped to build this church, but was always ready to contribute liberally to its support. He lived to celebrate his 87th birthday, beloved and honored by all who knew him. He and his wife died on the farm and are buried at Newark Union Cemetery.

    Wagner: Give us a location, something we can relate to as to where this farm was located. Give us a landmark in today’ s terms.

    Miller: I have to search out on the map I had because I don't recall just where that would be.

    Wagner: Is it in the envelope?

    Miller: Did I put it in the envelope? There it is. Joseph Miller's farm was right off of Carr Road, close to Newark Union Church.

    Joseph Miller was educated in the subscription schools of Brandywine Hundred. He was unable to attend school except during the shorter winter sessions. The summer months, all his leisure hours were devoted to assisting his father in cleaning the homestead.

    At the age of 15, Mr. Miller left home to learn carpentry under William Boyd, Manager of the carpenter shop at the DuPont Powder Company, and having become a skilled workman in that department, was placed under Mr. Murphy, millwright, also of the DuPont Works. For 18 years he was employed as carpenter in the millwright shop in the DuPont Works, receiving $24.00 per month.

    In 1838 Mr. Miller purchased the homestead, 66 acres of land known as the Garland Tract. For the past 60 years he has devoted himself to farming, market gardening, and raising farm cattle. He has made many improvements to his property, erecting handsome buildings, barns and outhouses.

    George L. Miller, P. O. Wilmington, Delaware, son of George and Sarah Taylor Miller. Was born in the Blue Ball Hotel, actually the Blue Ball Inn, Brandywine Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, November 11, 1811. George L. Miller was educated in the subscription schools of the district.

    He remained at home, attending school during the winter months and helping his father to clear and improve the homestead. At the age of 18 he entered the DuPont Works, studying under William Murphy, millwright, and having served his apprenticeship, worked at his trade in the same establishment for 20 years.

    In 1848 Mr. Miller abandoned his trade and purchased his present home, a farm, 68 acres, then owned by his brother, Jonas Miller. The farm was located, which is now Miller Road and Lea Boulevard. He has lived, for the past 50 years, devoted his time to farming, market gardening and raising cattle. He has made many improvements, erecting house, barn, beautifying the property.

    With the exception of his brother, Joseph Miller, he was the oldest inhabitant of Brandywine Hundred, as he was past his 87th birthday.

    George L. Miller was married in May 14, 1834 to Jane, daughter of Robert Akin, an influential farmer in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Miller was born in Donegal, Ireland, and was in early youth when her parents immigrated to America.

    Mr. Miller cast his first vote for Andrew Jackson in 1832, but voted for the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison, in 1840. In 1860 identified himself with the Republican party.

    In 1818, when Jonas left his home looking for work, he went down to the Brandywine and was standing looking across the Brandywine when four people came - I think it was four - and it ended out that it was Victor du Pont, this was March, 1818, the day that the Upper Yards exploded. Victor du Pont and Marshall Grouchie, who was one of Napoleon's generals and a friend of Victor du Pont - they saw Jonas standing on the shore so they called over, the boat from the other side and they took Jonas across. When they got in the middle of the creek, that's when everything exploded. And that's when he pitched in and really started helping them out, and that's when E. I. du Pont actually saw what he was doing and gave him a job on the spot.

    In 1873 when Jonas died, he was working on three powder bins when they struck fire and all except Jonas got out of the building, but Jonas was caught in the explosion and he died three days later from burns and he had 55 years’ service.

    Wagner: Okay, to get to Mr. Miller's house, go south on Union Street, take a left into Canby Park, Bill's Flowers will be on the right hand side, turn left into Prospect Drive, Mr. Miller's house is halfway down the block.