Henry Alexander Colwell


HENRY ALEXANDER COLWELL, president of the National Kittanning Bank and vice president and superintendent of the Kittanning Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company, the former one of the leading financial institutions of that borough, the latter one of the most important industrial concerns of Armstrong county, is a citizen whose value has been demonstrated through his long and intimate connection with affairs affecting the welfare of this entire section.

The members of the Colwell or Caldwell family have used various spellings of the name, the form Caldwell prevailing among a large number for several generations. It is also found written Coldwell and Coaldwell. Caldwell applied to place and family is traced in England, Scotland, Ireland and France, and from England, Scotland and Ireland emigrated many of the name to New England. Again, Coldwell as applied to place and family appears as remotely as in the time of the Conqueror, 1066-87, whom it is said the family accompanied to England, participating in the stirring events of that day. In Scotland the Caldwells, of Calswell in Ayrshire, had become a prominent family as early as 1349, at which date it furnished a chancellor of Scotland.

William Colwell, the grandfather of Henry Alexander Colwell, was the first of his ancestors to settle in America, coming from Ireland. His elder brother, Alexander, had preceded him to this country, and lived at Kittanning among the early residents of that place. In 1814-15 he was engaged in the manufacture of nails at Kittanning. He married Margaret Henry. William Colwell was a farmer by occupation. He and his wife, whose maiden name was Bingham, settled in what is now East Franklin township, Armstrong Co., Pa., and they lived to advanced age. They were Presbyterians in religious faith. Among their children were: James, William, John Alexander, Mark and two daughters, Mary A. (who died when a young girl) and Mrs. John Barnett. Mark Colwell's widow lives on a farm two miles west of Kittanning over the river.

John Alexander Colwell, son of William, was one of the leading citizens of his generation in Armstrong county. A native of the North of Ireland, born (Possibly in county Derry) in 1812, he was twelve years old when he came to this country, with the rest of the family. He lived in Kittanning with his uncle Alexander, who was engaged in business as a merchant, and was associated with him as clerk and partner in the store. In 1844, in the Mahoning Furnace on Mahoning creek, in Pine (now Mahoning) township, Mr. Shunk withdrawing from this association in 1845. This was one of the first places where pig metal was made, and though it was not the first establishment of the kind in Armstrong county, Mr. Colwell may be regarded as one of the pioneer iron manufacturers of this region. He continued with his uncle until the latter died, about 1866-67, leaving his interest to his daughters, who sold it to John Alexander Colwell and his son Henry Alexander Colwell, the business being still conducted under the name of J. A. Colwell & Co. until 1878, when they abandoned the plant. In October, 1879, father and son joined James E. Brown, James Mosgrove and Charles T. Neale, of Kittanning, and several Pittsburgh men associated under the style of Graff, Bennett & Co. (John Graff, James I. Bennett, Robert Marshall and Henry King), in the organization of the Kittanning Iron Company (Limited), with a capital of $150,000. Purchasing the property of James E. Brown, Trustee, they enlarged the facilities and began the manufacture of iron on an extensive scale. Within a few years great improvements had been effected and many additions made to the plant, the latter including a large blast furnace, part of the product of which was sold and part manufactured by the company into muck bar. New puddling furnaces were constructed and old ones repaired, and all necessary machinery for the manufacture of iron in all its forms was installed. In its early days the company spent fully $100,000 (then an immense sum) in tracks, etc. Moreover, about a year after organizing they purchased a gas well three miles west of the works, to which the gas was conveyed in large pipes for use in puddling. The company acquired another important adjunct to the business in the ownership of several thousand acres of iron land, and leased several thousand more, in the Allegheny valley, in Armstrong and Clarion counties, using the ore therefrom in the blast furnace without admixture. The pig iron for the puddling furnace was taken from the blast furnace to the rolling mill and was there converted into muck iron. About five hundred pounds of Lake ore was used in addition to the pig iron to produce one gross ton of muck iron. A part of the coke used was made at the works from coal mined in the vicinity. Thus it will be seen that a great plant was built up by this enterprising concern, and the fact that it afforded employment to several hundred men, about four hundred in the neighborhood and three hundred elsewhere, chiefly at the ore mines, made it one of the valuable institutions of this part of the State. It has had a continuous existence to the present, and with increased capital and equipment is now conducted under the name of the Kittanning Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company. A branch has also been established at Pittsburgh. Henry A. Colwell is now the only survivor of the original organizers. The establishment is the only one of its kind in Armstrong county. John A. Colwell continued to be prominently connected therewith until his death, which occurred in February, 1902. He was an able business man, one who gained and held the confidence of his associates. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity and of the Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Rebecca (Pritner) Colwell, had a family of seven children, five of whom are yet (1913) living. Wilson, the first born, died in infancy, and Mary, wife of Edward H. Jennings, president of the Colonial Trust Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., is also deceased.

Henry Alexander Colwell was born July 15, 1844, in Kittanning, Armstrong Co., Pa. He attended school at Mahoning Furnace, Pa., later was a pupil in the academy at Sewickley, Pa., for two years, and for one year attended school at Elder's Ridge, Pa. In 1861 he found employment at Kittanning as a clerk in the general mercantile establishment of McConnell & Campbell, with whom he remained about eighteen months. He next entered the employ of R. L. Brown & Co., who had an iron and rolling mill business at Kittanning, remaining with them about two years, and in March, 1865, took the position of superintendent at the Mahoning iron furnace. So well did he look after the affairs of that company in this responsible capacity that he became his father's partner and remained there until the plant was abandoned, as before related, in the spring of 1878. In 1879 he became a partner and foreman of the coal and iron mines of the Kittanning Iron Company (Limited), of which his father was one of the organizers, this concern in time becoming the Kittanning Iron and Steel Company. He has since been associated with this business, of which he has been one of the owners since 1879, and he is now the last survivor of the original group who organized this company. Upon the reorganization, when the concern took its present title, Mr. Colwell became vice president and superintendent, which position he has since filled. About three hundred hands are now regularly employed, a fact which makes the prosperity of the plant of the utmost importance to the well-being of the locality. Mr. Colwell is an all-around business man, and in addition to his manufacturing and banking interests has valuable holdings of farm lands in the county, which he has managed with the same good judgment which marks his conduct of other affairs. He is prominently associated with local financial institutions, being president of the National Kittanning Bank and a director of the Farmers' National Bank.

On Jan. 16, 1867, Mr. Colwell married Phebe Bratton Mosgrove, daughter of James and Rebecca J. (Brown) Mosgrove, of Kittanning, and they have three children: (1) James Mosgrove, who died at Salem, Va., April 26, 1913, was married twice, his first wife being Marion Hyde, his second Ida M. Sparry. There was one son by the first marriage, James Mosgrove Colwell, and by the second there were two sons, Craig Alexander and Henry Alexander. (2) John A. Married Helen Wally, of Troy, N. Y., and they had two children, Phoebe Mosgrove, wife of John D. Bibb, of Montgomery, Ala., and Henry Alexander. The father died Aug. 6, 1913, at Anniston, Ala. (3) Henry Clifford is unmarried and lives at home in Kittanning.

Mr. Colwell is a Mason, belonging to Blue Lodge No. 244 at Kittanning, and he is a member of the Pennsylvania Society of New York. He and his wife attend the Episcopal Church.

JOHN MOSGROVE, grandfather of Mrs. Henry Alexander Colwell, was born in Ireland, and was quite young when he came to this country. He was one of the first settlers at Kittanning, Armstrong county, having come to this region about the time this place was laid out. He continued to live there until his death, following his trade, that of carpenter, during the greater part of his residence at Kittanning. He married Mary Gillespie, daughter of John Gillespie, a pioneer of Armstrong county. She was a cousin of James G. Blaine. John Gillespie conveyed 116 acres and 100 perches to Nicholas Clark in West Franklin township, June 28, 1848 for $1,000; 71 acres and 106 perches Clark conveyed to James Blaine, April 2, 1858, for $925. Five children were born to their union, two sons and three daughters, namely: James is mentioned below; Andres J., an attorney by profession, entered the united States volunteer service during the Mexican war and died while in the army; Margaret married Thomas B. Storey; Phebe Isabella married Judge Jackson Bogg; Anna Jane married Simon Truby.

HON. JAMES MOSGROVE, son of John and Mary (Gillespie) Mosgrove, was born June 14, 1821, in Kittanning. When a youth he took a position as clerk in the Buffalo Furnace in Armstrong county and from the first showed such remarkable qualities in the way of business ability and trustworthiness that he rose rapidly in the confidence and esteem of his employers, who within a comparatively short time gave him the management of the furnace. About the time of his marriage he entered into partnership with his brother-in-law, James E. Brown, of Kittanning, becoming part owner and active manager of the Pine Creek Furnace, with which he was connected in that capacity from 1845 to 1880. During that period he experienced many phases of the prosperity of the iron business, and he also acquired extensive interests in other lines, his versatility and superior judgment making him a desirable associate in whatever field he chose to enter. He was engaged extensively in the production of oil, was president of the Kittanning Iron Works, and was also prominently connected with the First National Bank of Kittanning, which he served as president from the death of James E. Brown until its charter expired in July, 1882; he was one of the organizers of that institution. He also served as president of its successor, the National Bank of Kittanning, being the largest stockholder in this bank.

Mr. Mosgrove was also prominent in public life, and in politics was always associated with the Democratic party. He was, however, nominated for Congress by the Greenbacks in 1878, not because he had joined the party but because he had for so many years been a champion of its financial doctrines. The Democrats did not indorse the nomination, as was expected, so although he ran far ahead of the normal Greenback vote he was not elected. In 1880 he was again the Congressional nominee, this time of both the Democratic and Greenback parties, and though the district was Republican won the election by 756 votes. In 1882 he was renominated, but he declined to run. His service was characteristic of the man, intelligent, efficient and faithful, and the Twenty-fifth district felt honored in sending so creditable a representative to Congress. He never sought an office of any kind, the honor coming to him entirely without any activity on his part. During his period in Congress and after he came home took an active interest in advocating pensions for soldiers' widows. He was a senior warden and took active interest in St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

In 1845 Mr. Mosgrove married Rebecca Jane Brown, daughter of Robert Brown.

In an old volume printed in 1801, "Baronets Created by King James I.," we find under "Musgrave of Eden-Hall, Cumberland," created baronet June 29, 1611, that the family is of great antiquity and reputation, and came into England with the Conqueror, settling at Musgrave in Westmoreland.

Arms: Azure, six annulets, or 3, 2, and I (that is, three annulets in the top row, two in the next and one in the lower). Crest: Two arms in armor, proper, gauntleted, and grasping an annulet, or. Motto: Sans changer.

Seats: Eden-Hall, Cumberland, and Kempton-Park, Middlesex. There are also Musgraves of Myrtle Grove, County Cork, Ireland; Tourain Cappoquin, County Waterford, Ireland; Ashby, Musgrave and Hartley Castle, County of Westmoreland, England; Norton Conyers, County Cork, Ireland.

In "Ancedotes of Heraldry, in which is set forth the origin of the armorial bearings of many families," by C. N. Elvin, M. A. (1864), we find the story of the six rings, as follows:

The family of Musgrave is of German origin, and they are said to have obtained their arms in the following way: Sigismund, grand duke of Austria, had a daughter distinguished for beauty and accomplishments, whose hand was sought by two of the generals, Musgrave being one of them. As they were of equal rank and had both rendered him important service, Sigismund was very unwilling to prefer one to the other; but finally, at the suggestion of the lady, who secretly loved Musgrave and was aware of his skill as a lance, he decided that the two should run six courses at the ring-a game then very much in vogue-and that whichever of them should bear it off the greater number of times should become the husband of his daughter. The candidates accepted these conditions gladly, and when the day of trial came Musgrave showed the lady that her confidence in him had not been misplaced; for with a degree of skill utterly unprecedented he bore the ring six times following to the utter confusion of his opponent, who however could not repine at the fulfillment of conditions which he had himself accepted. The Grand Duke accordingly gave his daughter to Musgrave, and for arms commemorative of the event six annulets or on a field of azure; with crest, two arms armed proper holding an annulet.

Mrs. Henry A. Colwell has a representation of the arms, done in color.

Mrs. Colwell's mother, Rebecca J. (Brown) Mosgrove, was a half-sister of James E. Brown, partner of James Mosgrove in the Pine Creek Furnace and of him and the Colwells in the Kittanning Iron Company. It is said no other person was so closely connected with the growth and development of Armstrong county. The ancestry of the Brown family had been traced back over two hundred years, to the James Brown who was killed at the battle of the Boyne, and there has been a James in every generation from him since, James E. Brown being the fifth generation to have that Christian name. This soldier was a Scotchman, and was a member of the Farmers' regiment known as the Enniskillen dragoons, composed entirely, according to the old song, of men "six feet two without a shoe". His son James had two sons, John by his first wife and James by his second, Grazilla (Kennedy), and these brothers, John and James, were the great-grandfather and grandfather of Charles E. Brown, the former in the paternal and the latter in the maternal line. John Brown had a son John, who married Margaret Eaton and by her had nine children, Betty (Mrs. Thompson), Jane (Mrs. Hughes), Nancy (Mrs. Montgomery), John, Joseph, Robert, George, James and William. By his second wife, whose maiden name was Irwin, he had Thomas, Frank, Irwin, Margaret and Mary.

Robert Brown, father of James E. and son of John (2), was born in Ireland in 1775, and came to this country about 1795. Soon afterward he married Rebecca Brown, daughter of James Brown, mentioned formerly as uncle of John Brown (2), who was fourteen years older than his uncle. James Brown served as a soldier in the Revolutionary war. He was living in Carlisle, Pa., at the time of his daughter Rebecca's marriage. After marriage Robert and Rebecca Brown settled near Ebenezer, in Indiana county, PA., and there their son James E. was born May 5, 1799. For his second wife Robert Brown married Phoebe Bratton, and she was the mother of Rebecca J., who married James Mosgrove, they becoming the parents of Mr. Henry Alexander Colwell.

Mrs. Phoebe (Bratton) Brown was a daughter of James Bratton, a Revolutionary soldier, who was a native of Ireland and rented a large tract of land in Mifflin county, PA. Among the "killed, wounded and missing" in Colonel Armstrong's Company, Of Kittanning, 1756, we find Ephraim Bratton, wounded. in 1768 James Bratton married Isabella Bratton, and they had six children: Jane (Mrs. Parks), William, Elizabeth (Mrs. Starks), George, Phoebe (born March 13, 1788, married Robert Brown, as his second wife) and Robert, James Bratton's widow married Alexander Stolford, by whom she had one daughter, Margaret, Mrs. Stuart.

Mrs. Colwell has her sampler, worked beautifully in silk, on which we read: "Phoebe Bratton, daughter of James and Isabella Bratton, was born March 13, 1788, and made her sampler in Mrs. Armstrong's school, Lancaster, (Pa.), in the year of our Lord 1805. Teach me the measure of my days thou maker of my frame. I would survey lifes narrow space and learn how frail I am."

Source: Pages 560-563, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J.H. Beers & Co., 1914
Transcribed December 1998 by Connie Mateer for the Armstrong County Beers Project
Contributed for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/armstrong/)

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