John White Geary

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JOHN WHITE GEARY was born in Westmoreland county, December 30, 1819. His parents were Scotch-Irish, but several generations of the family had been in this country before his birth. His father, Richard Geary, was a native of Franklin county. He had been well educated and was a man of considerable force of character. His mother, Margaret White, who was born in Washington county, Maryland, was a woman of superior taste and amiable disposition. Richard Geary was engaged in the manufacture of iron, and for a time was a resident of Laughlintown, when Washington Furnace was in blast. Failing in the iron business he became a teacher of a select school in Mt. Pleasant, and followed this profession during the few remaining years of his life.

John W. Geary entered Jefferson College at Canonsburg Pennsylvania, but the sudden death of his father cut his college course short, for to assist in the support of his mother he began teaching school and never returned to college. He was also a clerk in a store, and began to study surveying and civil engineering. In this employment he went to Kentucky, where he was in the employ of the state and of the Green River Railroad Company to lay out several important lines. On his return to Pennsylvania he became assistant superintendent of the Portage Railroad. crossing the Allegheny mountains, and was thus engaged when the Mexican war broke out. He raised a company in Cambria county, called the American Highlanders. It was taken into service at Pittsburg and became part of the Second Regiment. tinder command of Colonel Roberts, with Geary as lieutenant-colonel. On the death of Roberts, Geary succeeded him as colonel of the regiment. His services in the Mexican war were without special incident. At its close he went to California, where President Polk had appointed him postmaster of San Francisco in 1849. He was also mail agent for the Pacific coast, with almost unbounded authority in the way of appointing postmasters. establishing mail routes, and in making contracts for carrying the mail throughout California. When Zachary Taylor became president he removed Geary from office, but eight days afterwards he was elected alcade of San Francisco by a popular vote. Soon after this he was appointed governor of the territory of California and judge of the First Instance. These offices were of Mexican origin. The office of alcade combined that of probate judge, recorder, notary public and coroner. The Court of First Instance had extensive civil and criminal jurisdiction, and passed also on cases arising on the seas, cases usually passed on by Admiralty courts. On May 1, 1850 he was elected first mayor of San Francisco. He declined a re-election, but was put on the board of commissioners to manage the public debt of the city, and was made chairman of the board. He was also chairman of the Territorial Committee, and as such secured a Free-State clause in the constitution of California and had the clause referred to the people of the state for ratification.

In February, 1852, he returned to Westmoreland county because of the failing health of his wife, who died February 28, 1853. Here he was engaged in farming, his farm being near New Alexandria, paying special attention to the raising of fine stock. In 1855 President Pierce offered him the governorship of Utah, which he declined. Soon afterwards lie was appointed governor of Kansas, and was commissioned in July, 1855. He removed at once to Kansas. He was governor of Kansas Territory till March, 1857. He then returned to his farm and remained here till the breaking out of the Civil war.

Then Fort Sumter was fired on he opened an office for recruits, and tendered his services to President Lincoln. They were promptly accepted and he was authorized to raise a regiment. he being commissioned a colonel. So great was the war feeling among our people that sixty-six companies offered to enter his command. He was permitted to increase his regiment to sixteen companies, with one battery of six guns, the full regiment consisting of 1551 officers and men. The artillery subsequently became the somewhat renowned Knapp's Battery.

His services in the Civil War greatly distinguished him, and were such as, would call for a much more extensive review than the space in a county history will permit. They belong naturally to the state and nation, and may be read with interest in any good history of the Civil war.

Geary was a Democrat at the breaking out of the Civil war, and as such entered the service. At its close he was a Republican, and in 1866 was nominated by the Republican party for the governorship of Pennsylvania. He was elected and was inaugurated governor on January 15, 1867. In 1869 he was again nominated, without serious opposition, and was again elected for a term of three years. The term of his second election expired in January, 1873. He had arranged to go west to engage extensively in railroad building, but was taken ill and died suddenly in Pittsburg a few days after the close of his second term of governorship.

In personal appearance he was of large build, and apparently had many years of usefulness before him, for he died at the age of fifty-three. He was a Presbyterian in religion, and was a man of exceptionally good habits. His first wife was Margaret Ann, a daughter of James R. Logan, of Westmoreland county. By her he had two sons who grew to manhood. One of them became an officer in the regular arniy, and the other, Edward, was killed at the battle of Wauhatchie, in the Civil war. In November, 1858, he was married to Mrs. Mary C. Henderson, of Cumberland county. He was naturally a man of executive ability and of great energy rather than a man of brilliant intellectual powers.

Source: Page(s) 658-660, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2008 for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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