John Ralston

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Concerning the ancestors of the subject of this biography but little need be here said, as they have prominent places elsewhere in this volume. His father, David Ralston, a pioneer of Scotch-Irish descent, settled in Plum Creek township, Armstrong county, in 1800 and met with a tragical death nine years later.* His grandfather, upon the maternal side, was the famous Capt. Andrew Sharp + , an officer in the revolutionary army, who, coming from Cumberland county to what is now Indiana county, settled near the Armstrong line in 1784, and subsequently had some thrilling adventures with the Indians. His mother, Agnes Sharp, second daughter of the gallant captain, born February 21, 1785 - the first white child who had its nativity in the region - was married to David Ralston in 1803. John Ralston was their third son, and was born January 30, 1807, in Plum Creek township. His life was spent upon the farm which was his birthplace, and in the near-by village of Elderton; but although thus passing his days in rural or semi-rural quietude, and never seeking public honor, he became one of the best known citizens of Armstrong county. As he was also one of the most respected and much loved, it is fitting that these pages should contain a few lines to revive the recollection of those who knew him, and convey some idea of the man to those who come after.

His life was without important events - unless we call important those seemingly little incidents which tend to develop the sturdy character - to make the manly man.

When about 22 years of age he entered the dry-goods store of William Lytle at Elderton as clerk, and he doubtless exhibited in that capacity the qualities in embryo which eventually made him the successful man of business, for we find that he was taken into partnership in 1832. This partnership was dissolved in 1838, and Mr. Ralston immediately opened a business house of his own, which he carried on with signal ability and success. Keeping apace with the growing wants of the people, he increased his business until he made it tributary to the patronage from the farmers for many miles in every direction. Fair and honorable dealing made him extremely popular. He procured for and supplied to the agricultural population everything they needed, and in return bought and shipped their produce of all kinds.

We will remark here that upon June 26, 1833, Mr. Ralston was united in marriage with Miss Jane Sloan, of Blairsville. Through her good management and very good judgment, she was a very efficient helper to Mr. Ralston in his efforts. His business required him to be much away from home, and thus more than usual care and responsibility fell to her, which she proved fully competent to assume. Their family consisted of four sons - Andrew S., now in Titusville; D. Alexander, now a citizen of Kittanning; William M. and Thomas N., both residents of Elderton.

These sons, as they arrived at a suitable age, were taken into the business by their father, and thus obtained a practical knowledge of business affairs, and a successful start in life.

Mr. Ralston was identified with the business of producing petroleum from the time of its discovery on Oil creek, and was one of the original members of the Ralston Oil Company, which consisted of himself, his brother and the Kirkpatricks of Pittsburgh. Later in life he was a member of the wholesale house of Romberger, Long & Co., of Philadelphia. He was one of the original stockholders in the Indiana County Deposit Bank, of Indiana; had an interest in the banking house of John Ralston & Co., of Elderton, and also in the Fairview Deposit Bank.

Mr. Ralston was far too large a man to be successful in naught but business. His life was a blessing upon the community in which he lived, and one rich in good results, material and moral, to individuals and to society. His kindly counsel was the impetus of many a good career entered upon by young men, and his influence was one which had much effect upon men who were abreast of him in the march through years. His liberality was proverbial. He was one of the original members of the Elderton United Presbyterian church, and until the close of his life one of its strongest supporters. For a number of years he sustained with a few others an advanced school, and he was afterward one of the promoters and steadfast friends of the Elderton Academy. Public-spirited in a high degree he was the leader in almost, and the hearty assistant in all, measures for the good of the people among whom he dwelt. His own farms - he owned several - were among the best improved in the county, and the same spirit of neatness and order which made them so led him to take advanced steps in beautifying and practically benefiting the village of Elderton.

Ever a friend of peace and harmony, he stopped many a lawsuit by his friendly intercession. His intervention was effective because he was highly esteemed by all who knew him. Owing to his unswerving integrity he was often called upon to act in the capacity of arbitrator when difficulties arose between people in the neighborhood.

One of the marked characteristics of the subject of our sketch was his faculty of close observation and reflection upon what he saw. The difficulty attending the shipment of petroleum during the early years of its production set him to thinking whether some more economic method might not be devised than that of barreling it. He was not long in arriving at the idea of building tanks upon platform cars. Not long afterward, the plan occurring to someone else, such tanks were constructed and proved a success. He traveled much, was quite an assiduous reader, and by these and other means he secured the varied stock of information which proved a greater education to him than many possessed who had better school advantages.

Politically Mr. Ralston was a republican and an active worker in politics. Although frequently urged to become a candidate for the higher offices, he was unwilling, by accepting them, to break in upon a successful business career, for which he considered himself better adapted.

He took a warm interest in the prosecution of the war, and aided, by his influence, the raising of troops in his vicinity. He personally took supplies to the troops, visiting them in Virginia, and later, during the invasion of Pennsylvania, he accompanied to the field a company raised in the immediate vicinity of Elderton, and went with the organization subsequently to Ohio, where it was engaged in the movements which led to the capture of Morgan. Although not subject to the draft, he paid a large bounty to one man and sent him into the field, as in a certain sense his representative, for which he received an acknowledgment from the government in the form of a diploma.

The death of John Ralston occurred at his home in Elderton, August 24, 1879, and was preceded by that of his wife, who died August 9, 1874.

The following tribute to the memory of John Ralston is contributed by Judge James B. Neale:

Experience shows that a successful career is often denied to some, not on account of natural deficiencies unfitting them for every vocation, but because of special disqualification for certain kinds of labor or enterprise. We often recognize in the successful, even distinguished professional man, one who has utterly failed in other undertakings, and as often we discover in the professions men who have wholly mistaken their calling. They fail, and we attribute their want of success to general incompetency. A criterion of success in any pursuit, in a majority of cases, is adaptation. This, in the individual instance of John Ralston, was peculiarly true; his was a successful career, because he was admirably adapted, by natural inclination and talent, to the duties which he had undertaken. He was essentially a business man, and whether his field of labor was limited or extended, he was bound to succeed, and he was as certain in the end to embrace all that his circumstances and surroundings would admit of - even if a whole community must be built up to accomplish that result.

He made business a study, and life and experience was a constant development of business capacity. He did not wait for opportunities; he created them. Out of the unpromising materials of an inland rural village he developed sources of income, thrift and enterprise. The mere trading that could be carried on in a village store did not satisfy him. He reached out for more, and a whole section of country responded. He made a market for the entire productions of a wide extent of country, and in order to increase that production and to improve its quality to the highest standard, he took a personal interest in the seed that was planted, and in all the stock that was raised upon every farm. He instilled into the mind of every man the true idea that it cost but little more, and that only in the original outlay, to produce the superior qualities of grain or to raise the better grades of stock than the inferior. He managed his own farms upon this principle, and the example was widely contagious. He did not barter with his neighbors by the narrow methods usually pursued, but dealt with them always with a view to their own advantage as well as his own; by allowing higher prices for better articles, he made it an inducement to excel, and excited a competition that produced most beneficial results. Standing at the head of the community in which he lived, his influence was felt in every direction; the higher grade of schools were established and liberally patronized, churches were erected and religious observances earnestly encouraged. In the course of time he was recognized as the arbitrator of all disputes among his neighbors, and by his instrumentality litigation and strife were measurably restrained. In nearly everything his counsel was sought, and his advice implicitly followed. It was so fully understood that he was acting for the good of all, that in everything he did his conduct was beyond cavil, and his influence prevailed at all times with old and young alike, and when death finally laid his hand upon him to remove him from a field of so much usefulness, it was regarded as a bereavement to every household - the taking off if its truest, most devoted benefactor. 

Source: Page(s) 591-593, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
June 2000 by Carol Barnard and James R. Hindman for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Carol Barnard and James R. Hindman for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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