Then Again: The rise and fall of the Ely Copper Mines – by Mark Bushnell ( – October 21, 2018)

Editor’s note: Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author of “Hidden History of Vermont” and “It Happened in Vermont.”

Ammunition was handed out to the troops: 20 rounds per man. The state militia planned to bring order to the town of Vershire.

Before dawn on the morning of Saturday, July 7, 1883, roughly 200 militia members climbed into wagons that would transport them to the outskirts of town. A group of striking miners had controlled Vershire since Monday. Word had spread that the miners had seized explosives and were threatening to start blowing things up if their demands weren’t met. One rumor had it that the miners were holding company executives, town officials and others hostage.

Their complaint was simple: they weren’t getting paid. Miners hadn’t seen a paycheck in months. Company officials claimed the mine was nearly bankrupt, but workers believed, or in desperation at least hoped, they were lying.

That the Vermont Copper Mining Co. would cry poor would have seemed impossible just a few years earlier when the copper business was booming. The price of copper was high and Vermont mines were yielding 60 percent of U.S. production.

The Vershire mine opened in 1854. By the mid-1860s, in the midst of the Civil War, the price of copper had risen sharply, but so too had wages. Money was tight at the mine, but the company president convinced board members to pay investors a series of five lavish dividends that the company could ill afford.

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