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Charcoal Annie

By Ed Kirby  |  Fall/Winter 2013

Despite the contributions of Bartram, the Stantons, Winchester and others, the story of a very determined lady on Sharon Mountain, sometimes referred to as “Charcoal Annie,” remains the most fascinating in the annals of Sharon’s northeast corner.

‘Charcoal Annie’ and her husband, undated.

Born in Mignavillers, Haut-Saone, France in 1870, Augusta Malquit sailed to the United States arriving at age seventeen at Ellis Island on May 2, 1887. Following a somewhat roundabout route to Bridgeport, she boarded the train to Cornwall Bridge. From there Augusta walked to the home of her cousins, the Malquit brothers on Sharon Mountain.

“She was truly a pioneer outstandingly tall, over six feet, in a time when most women barely reached five feet, her eyes were a merry blue and her hair blonde and curly.”

“Augusta’s ambition and intelligence never left her in one place or at a standstill for long. From her cousins, she entered the home of a family in North Cornwall as a domestic. The best part of this situation was her duties included the care of their son who was a student. From him, in the space of three years, she learned not only to speak English but the basics of the three R’s. She had found the wonderful world of books and the printed word. She never ceased to study, whenever she could, for the rest of her life.”

In her days before coming to America, Augusta had become enamored with a young man named Emile. Whether she followed him to this country or he followed her, Augusta never revealed. Nor did she reveal where and when she and Emile were reunited. Whatever the answers to the questions the two were reunited and Emile Peter Jasmine and Augusta Malquit were married in the Sharon Town Hall on March 4, 1890 by Justice of the Peace Ezra Bartram. “She wore a tailor-made gray flannel suit. The fitted jacket and full-length skirt added to her height. She thought it the proper costume of ‘a Lady.’ Two facts were positive. Whenever Augusta wore her suit the occasion was important, and, her summary of a person who was either ‘Sterling” or ‘Silverplate’ came to let peo-ple know if they were regarded with respect or contempt.”

In the early 1890s the Barnum Richardson Company foundry in Lime Rock was still a major United States producer of railroad car wheels. The iron from local blast furnaces was made using high quality Salisbury ore, lime from the Stockbridge formation for flux and charcoal as fuel. High quality charcoal was key to the manufacture of iron that could withstand the level of shock created between railroad car wheels and steel rails.

From their days in France, Emile and Augusta remembered well the process of making charcoal. They also understood the value of the hardwoods of the Mine Mountain/Mount Easter sections of Sharon Mountain for charcoal production.

Donning the gray suit, Augusta went to Lime Rock and called on Milo B. Richardson, president of Barnum and Richardson Company, the major producer of iron in the region since 1830. Richardson, impressed by her knowledge of timber, lumber and charcoal, and faced with an increasing shortage of quality charcoal, finally gave her an order for one ton.

“But a ton! Gusta, you must be crazy,” Emile said. “I am only one man. It would need helpers and a team of horses for dragging the logs, and a wood-shod sled, and where are we going to get all of these? And it will be a lifetime of work, day and night.” “Work never killed anybody,” she said, “and I will get you men, and a team and a wagon and sled.”

Once again donning the gray suit, Augusta went to a local banker, presented the merits of the venture, obtained the funding and formed the Jasmine Company. Augusta “was unbending yet kind and fair. A stern taskmaster, a jolly friend and as strong as a man. The crew of men who eventually worked the Jasmine Company knew that the gentle Emile was the Foreman – Augusta was the Boss.”

“Record of that first ton of charcoal is vague, but she was true to her word and much respected in the business world. A very satisfied Mr. Richardson granted her an unrestricted contract for all the charcoal the Jasmine Company could produce.

Between the years 1891 and 1895, Augusta gave birth to four daughters, three recorded in the town of Sharon and one in New Milford.

Following World War I the Barnum Richardson Company operation had been reduced to only one furnace (East Canaan #3) and the foundries in Lime Rock. By then charcoal was shipped to the furnace from Vermont and West Virginia. “Augusta and Emile bought a saw mill and went into the lumber business. They supplied The Ansonia Forest Products Company, The Coe Brass Manufacturing Company and Mr. Frank Stowe, Builder, of Ansonia. It was during this time that one of her sons-in-law was the proud ‘Teamster’ of the Blue Ribbon team that took first place at the annual Goshen Fair. Augusta was very proud of that.”

In later years Augusta and Emile purchased a farm in Canton Center, Connecticut. They “retired” to the farm raising chickens, owned a cow and horse and worked the land from dawn to dusk. Emile died at age seventy-two in 1934 and Augusta died in 1950. Both are buried in the Lime Rock Cemetery. Ironically, the foremost monuments in the front corner of the cemetery mark the family plots of Augusta’s greatest charcoal benefactors, those of the Barnums and Richardsons.

While most long-term residents of Sharon would not recognize the name of Augusta Malquit Jasmine, few would fail to recognize the names of the generations that followed Augusta and Emile. Among their grandchildren were such family names as Mitchel (or Mitchell), Douleillet and Deveaux. But most recognizable to all would be those of the Euvrard family, most of who farmed on Sharon Mountain, particularly the East Street section. In the fourth generation of Augusta and Emile, the surnames Miles, Joray, Hubbell, Prindle, Pope, Douchane were added. Across the Housatonic in Cornwall Bridge, the late Charles Orin Tompkins was part the fourth generation and his children part of the fifth.

A truly remarkable woman was Augusta Malquit Jasmine, the legendary Charcoal Annie of Sharon’s northeast corner.

This article originally appeared in “Seldom Told Tales of Sharon Volume 1” by Ed Kirby and is reprinted here with his permission.

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