Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

The Charcoal Queen of Sharon Mountain

By Brandon Lisi, Curator

On the morning of May 2nd, 1887, a young woman of 17 years passed through New York Harbor and stepped foot on American soil after a week-long voyage across the Atlantic. She would have been hard to miss, standing over six feet tall with merry blue eyes and curly blonde hair. Augusta Malcuit arrived with two acquaintances, none of whom could speak a word of English. It must have been an intimidating experience. The bustling streets of New York were, after all, a far cry from the small Burgundian village in France where she was born. Intending to live with her extended family in Connecticut, Augusta ended up on the wrong train, arriving in Albany instead of Bridgeport. Thanks to the intercession of a French-speaking restaurateur, she eventually found her way to Sharon Mountain, where she settled in with her cousins, working as a domestic servant in their house.

Augusta Malcuit Jasmin (top left) and her family, c. 1901., Photographic print. 2009.19.02, Sharon Historical Society & Museum Archives.

On the morning of May 2nd, 1887, a young woman of 17 years passed through New York Harbor and stepped foot on American soil after a week-long voyage across the Atlantic. She would have been hard to miss, standing over six feet tall with merry blue eyes and curly blonde hair. Augusta Malcuit arrived with two acquaintances, none of whom could speak a word of English. It must have been an intimidating experience. The bustling streets of New York were, after all, a far cry from the small Burgundian village in France where she was born. Intending to live with her extended family in Connecticut, Augusta ended up on the wrong train, arriving in Albany instead of Bridgeport. Thanks to the intercession of a French-speaking restaurateur, she eventually found her way to Sharon Mountain, where she settled in with her cousins, working as a domestic servant in their house.

In two years, Augusta not only learned English but, as her granddaughter would later recount, “She had found the wonderful world of books and the printed word. She never ceased to study whenever she could.” At the end of this period, Augusta was reunited with her sweetheart. Emile Jasmin followed his lady love to America, and they married in Sharon on March 4th, 1890. In need of money, Augusta hatched an idea. The Barnum and Richardson Company, a major producer of railroad car wheels, was in desperate need of high-quality charcoal to power over a dozen iron furnaces in the area. Dressed in a tailor-made gray flannel suit with a fitted jacket and full-length skirt, Augusta arrived at the offices of company owner Milo Richardson.

Impressed with her knowledge of charcoal, Mr. Richardson placed an order for one ton.

“Charcoal Annie” and her husband, undated.
Photographic Print. 2009.19.04, Sharon Historical Society & Museum Archives.

When she arrived home, Emile was flabbergasted. He was only one man. To fill an order of that size, he would need an entire crew working day and night, with a team of horses for dragging logs. According to family legend, Augusta responded, “Work never killed anybody.” And work she did.

To fund the venture, she went to a banker, presenting him with a plan to break into the charcoal business. By the end of the meeting, the Jasmin Company was born.

Emile and Augusta both understood the value of the hardwoods on Sharon Mountain and with their crew, worked at all hours of the day making charcoal. Soon, their first order was fulfilled. Mr. Richardson was so satisfied with the final product that he granted Augusta an unrestricted contract for all the charcoal her company could produce. For over twenty years, the Jasmin Company fulfilled that contract, developing a reputation for quality and fair dealings. Augusta, a woman who towered over most people, became something of a local legend and was known in most circles as “Charcoal Annie.”

Her husband, gentle Emile, served as the company’s foreman, but everyone knew Augusta was the boss. She housed her crew of eighteen men and fed them four meals a day, seven days a week, all the while raising four children born over a span of five years. She kept meticulous records, maintained strict discipline, and allowed only one visit to the saloon per month. These rules applied to her husband as well. One night, Emile and the crew went into town for their monthly trip to the saloon. When they didn’t return in the morning, Augusta went looking for them. She quickly learned that they’d been arrested “for disturbing the peace with their singing on Main Street after midnight.”

We can be sure they all got an earful once released. In the ensuing years, the size of the crew doubled, and their operation grew more complex as deforestation forced them to move around. The crew lived in portable shanty towns that could be transported to a new location when necessary.

“Charcoal Annie” and her dog, undated., Photographic print. 2009.19.03, Sharon Historical Society & Museum Archives.

After more than two decades, time finally caught up with the Jasmin Company. Railroad lines crisscrossed the country, and it became cheaper to import soft coal from Pennsylvania rather than relying on ever-dwindling forests for charcoal.

But this did not deter Augusta and Emile. They bought a sawmill, supplying local builders with lumber. Now in their 50s, the couple finally retired in 1921, living on a small farm in Canton, Connecticut. Shortly thereafter, Augusta became an American citizen. The judge presiding over her swearing-in inquired about where she had been educated. She replied, “Your Honor, I taught myself.”

With the passage of the 19th amendment, Augusta even had the right to vote, though her husband (still a non-citizen) did not.

In 1950, she died at the age of 80, leaving behind ten grandchildren, whose descendants live across Connecticut’s northwest corner to this day.

Augusta Malcuit Jasmin was a woman who defied every norm of her time, who landed on these shores with passion in her heart and purpose in her eyes. Hers is a quintessentially American story of self-reliance, hard work, and limitless determination. Though the charcoal pits have long disappeared and the forests regrown, the tale of Charcoal Annie will live on, inspiring us all for generations to come.

Sources and Further Reading:

• Kirby, Ed. “Charcoal Annie.” In Seldom Told Tales of Sharon, Book One, 85–87. Sharon, CT: Sharon Historical Society, 2004.
• Ravenscroft, Loretta. “Charcoal & Augusta.” 2009.19.06 (Available through the SHS Archives)

*click right arrows for subpages