William Larimer, Jr

line.gif (2154 bytes)

WILLIAM LARIMER, JR., was born at Circleville, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, October 24, 1809, and died near Leavenworth City, Kansas, May 16, 1871.

The original family name was French, Lorimier, derived from the Latin Lorum, a thong. The English form, Lorimer, may be found in many of the English dictionaries. It indicates the name of an ancient trade; not the trade of working in leather, as the word "thong" might suggest, but the "Lorimer" was a maker of bits, spurs, stirrup irons, and all kinds of metal mountings of brass and iron, including armour. The name suggests this last, as it is sometimes recorded as being derived from the French, "L'armor." The first record of the name as yet found by us is in 1800, when a certain Durand Lorimer went from Caen, France, to Scotland, doubtless with the forces of William the Conqueror. In Scotland, Lorimer is quite a common name at the present time.

The first record found of the Larimers in this country relates to Robert Larimer. the lineal ancestor cf William Larimer, Jr., with whom our sketch deals. This Robert Larimer was born about i6go and came to this country from Scotland, where his ancestors had located when driven from Alsace-Lorraine by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He settled in Berwick township, York count-, Pennsylvania, early in 1700, and died in York county in 1772. During his residence in America he had accumulated considerable property, as there are records of taxes paid on a farm of two hundred acres in Berwick township, and of a farm in Mount Joy township.

The children of Robert and Sarah Larimer were Thomas, John, William,. Mary, Margaret. Jean. and Robert. Thomas, the eldest son, was born about 1i45. To this son was deeded the farm in -Mount Joy township, and there he established his home. He married Catherine , of Berwick_ township. During the Revolutionary war, Thomas Larimer served in a German regiment commanded by Colonel Weltner. He died at his homestead. in Mount Joy township, Adams county, in September, 1816. His lands and bonds he bequeathed to his children. The homestead still stands near the town of Gettysburg. The children of Thomas and Catherine Larimer were: William, Sr., Thomas, Margaret, Mary, Sidney, Nancy, and Elizabeth.

William Larimer, Sr., eldest son of Thomas Larimer, was born in 1771. About twenty years of his life was spent in Adams county, but about 1790 he had removed to Westmoreland county. He was twice married. His first wife, Martha McNease, of  Westmoreland county, died young, leaving two children,  John and Catherine. The second wife was Anne Sheakley, of Adams county. The children of William and Anne Larimer were Margaret, George, William, Jr., .Martha, Washington, Hamilton, James, Anne, Thomas, and Mary.

William Larimer, Sr., was an energetic man, possessed of good business qualifications. When he died, September 18, 1838, he left his affairs in a flourishing condition and his children were unusually well provided for. Anne, the wife of William Larimer, Sr., was a woman well fitted both by character and inheritance to be a helpmeet to her husband in their pioneer life in Westmoreland county. Her grandfather, William Sheakley, was a man of ability and wealth. When it became evident in 1773 that the colonies would take up arms against England, he was elected one of the committee of observation for York county. Anne's father, George Sheakley, was commissioned ensign under Captain John Mollvain, at the age of nineteen, during the Revolutionary war.

The home of William and Anne Larimer was known as the "Mansion Farm," now the site of Circleville, North Huntingdon township. The homestead has been remodeled, but the large oak logs of the original house are still there, and are more like iron than oak, their dark brown coloring similar to the antique oak of today. There, on the "King's Highway," (the old turnpike) between the far East and the Ohio river, William and Anne Larimer lived for about fifty years, and there entertained many of the prominent men of the time who journeyed to the West or the South, among whom were William Henry Harrison and Aaron Burr. Anne had seen General Washington also as he passed her childhood home in York county in his carriage. Washington was President of the United States at that time (1794). An interesting incident is related in regard to a business transaction between Mr. VT. H. Harrison and William Larimer. The latter sold a negro girl to Mr. Harrison, neither of them knowing at the time that a law had been passed making the buying or selling of slaves in Pennsylvania illegal. As soon as Mr. Larimer was cognizant of the error he at once returned the money to Mr. Harrison, and the girl was returned.

William Larimer, Jr., third child of William, Sr., and Anne Larimer, was born in the old Larimer homestead, now Circleville. Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, October 24, 1809. His wife was Rachel AlcMasters, daughter of John and Rachel Hughey McMasters, (who were also wealthy pioneers) whom he married at her home at Turtle Creek, Alleghany county, October 16, 1834. The children of William and Rachel Larimer were John, William, Edwin, Thomas. Cassius, Joseph, George, Annie, and Rachel. The two daughters, Annie and Rachel, settled in Pittsburg. Annie married T. M. Jones, of the firm of Jones and Laughlin. in 188. Rachel married James Ross Mellon, son of Judge Thomas and Sarah Negley Mellon, of Pittsburg, in 1867.

William Larimer, Jr., was one of the prominent business men of his day. Larimer township, in Somerset county; Latimer station, on the Pennsylvania railroad: Larimer avenue, in Pittsburg; Larimer county, in Colorado: Larimer street, in Denver; and Fort Larimer, in Arkansas, were all named in his honor.

At Larimer Station he and Hon. John Covode organized the Westmoreland Coal Company, which is still one of the largest in the state. But his first extensive business enterprise was with his friend and neighbor, John Irwin, of Invin, Pennsylvania, in the "Conestoga Wagon System." By means of wagons they carried goods between Pittsburg and Philadelphia as early as 1830, many years before the railroad was projected. His next business venture was in partnership with his brother-in-law, John McMasters, Jr., in merchandising. It was a time of new enterprises, and in many of them William Larimer was interested. For over twenty-five years he was very successful, and held many important positions. He was the first president of the Pittsburg and Connellsville railroad; treasurer of the Ohio and Pennsylvania (now Pittsburg. Ft. Wayne, and Chicago) railroad: chief proprietor and creditor of the Youghiogheny Slack Water System; chief projector and builder of the Remington Coal railroad at McKees Rocks; and a large share-holder in numerous California gold mining enterprises, and Overland Transportation Companies. He was uniformly successful in all his enterprises and acquired considerable wealth, indeed a large fortune for those times. His public spirit, enterprise, and generosity made him hosts of friends to whom the hospitality of his homes, one in Penn avenue, Pittsburg, and the other in Larimer avenue, East End, was ever free.

Politically, Mr. Larimer identified himself with the anti-slavery movement, and assisted in the organization of the old Liberal party, supporting Birney for president in 1844. From this time up to the defeat of General Scott in 1852 he was in sympathy with the principles of the Whig party, and took quite a prominent part in the politics of Pennsylvania. He was made major-general of state militia in 1852, and was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor. Religiously he was an old school" Presbyterian. He was also an enthusiastic temperance worker, and gave substantial aid to the cause.

After financial difficulties which reached a climax during the general business depression in 1854-55, General Larimer decided to start anew in the West, and left Pittsburgh for Nebraska the next year. Soon after his arrival he was elected to the legislature of that territory. He took an active part in behalf of Republican principles, and the meeting at which the Republican party of Nebraska was organized was held at his home in Omaha. He moved to Kansas in 188, but remained there culy a few months. During the Pike's Peak gold excitement of that year he went to Colorado. He was one of the founders of the city of Denver, and he built the first house on the site of the present city, on the land which he and his son William H. H. Larimer had pre-empted for their own private possession. While a resident of Colorado, General Larimer served for a time as United States commissioner and judge of probate for the First Judicial District of the territory. He became well known throughout the West. being prominently identified with the public interests of Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado for more than twenty years.

At the outbreak of the Civil war, General Larimer raised the Third Regiment of Colorado Volunteers, and was its first colonel. After a short term of service he resigned and returned to Kansas, but soon entered the service again as captain of General Blunt's bodyguard. After the massacre of Baxter Springs he was commissioned captain of Company A, 14th Kansas Cavalry, by Governor Thomas Carne-.

After the war General Larimer was a member of the Kansas state senate, 1867-70. At that time it was said of him, "He is earnest in his convictions; conscientious in the discharge of his duties, and zealously labors for the good of the people he represents." At this time he was frequently spoken of by the press of the state in connection with the gubernatorial chair and United States senatorship. While General Larimer was living in Pittsburg he was personally acquainted with prominent bankers, journalists, and statesmen of New York. Philadelphia, and western Pennsylvania, and many of them were entertained at his home in Penn avenue. The great editor and philosopher, Horace Greeley, was a frequent guest. Mr. Greeley looked more like a farmer than a noted man of letters. One morning when Mr. Greeley and Mr. Larimer were walking down Penn avenue, a neighbor, seeing them, stepped back into his house, TO spare Mr. Larimer the embarrassment of introducing his country cousin," thus missing an introduction to the great journalist. In later years Mr. Greeley visited General Larimer in his cabin in the early pioneer days of Denver City. After years c-f friendship and correspondence, it was natural that General Larimer should take a prominent part in the Greeley campaign in 1872, and should be the first man to suggest the name of Mr. Greeley in connection with the presidency. After Mr. Greeley's death, in response to his daughter's request, his letters to General Larimer were sent to her. When the letters were returned, Mrs. Smith sent her father's favorite pen to his lifelong friend. Another friend of General Larimer's was Governor Samuel Houston, the liberator and first governor of Texas. He expressed his appreciation of the General in gifts of value: at one time presenting Mrs. Larimer with a beautiful brocade gown, and on another occasion with two miniatures of himself in solid gold frames.

Not only was General Larimer loved by his friends, but he had a personal magnetism that held an audience's attention when he was called upon for a public speech. He was a man of fine appearance, with a martial bearing due to his lifelong military training. His height was about six feet, his hair a soft brown, his eyes hazel. He could speak in public without notes or the slightest preparation. He had command of a great fund of general knowledge,. and never seemed at a loss for words with which to express himself. The way in which he was received by an audience is shown in the following quotation from the Rocky Mountain New's of September 11, 1862. At the time he delivered the speech mentioned, (two paragraphs of which only are given), he was recruiting officer for the Third Regiment of Colorado Volunteers:

The war meeting held here Saturday night last was the largest and most enthusiastic ever held in the territory. The meeting was scarcely organized before General Larimer was called for by the immense crowd in attendance. He came forward and was received with hearty cheers and most kindly feelings. Lights were called for in order that they might see his face. When these were brought, the applause was renewed. The General spoke as follows:

"Mr. Chairman and fellow citizens: I am an old pioneer. I came to this country in the fall of 188. I am one of the first settlers of our Rocky Mountain Territory. I wrote one of the first letters ever written from this country,. certainly the first ever written from Denver City. I had dated my letter the night before, "Golden City," but after writing it, we met and changed the name to Denver, after our Governor, an honor to his country and to his name. Well,. Denver is there still, and I believe will be for ages to come.

"Abraham Lincoln has been trying to preserve the Constitution and the Union. sustaining every state in all its rights, whether real or fancied, and to leave slavery untouched wherever it existed, believing that the National government was not responsible for it. He has been moving slowly, and has done everything that could be clone to conciliate and assure the south that their institution should be untouched. In this course I have been disposed to stand by the President. Now I begin to think that I can see the hand of God in this matter. Had this war been ended a year ago, slavery would have remained untouched; the millions who have so long been bowed down by tyranny and oppression would never have scented the air of freedom and universal liberty as it passed on every breeze over the plantations of the south from every far-off blood-stained battlefield; but now they have breathed its breath, heard its-words, drunk in its spirit, and `as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth into the west, so has the light of universal freedom flashed tongue to tongue and mind to mind over all the land."'

William Larimer, Jr., spent the last years of his life on his farm near Leavenworth, Kansas, where he died on Sunday morning, May 16, 1875. Of him it may be truthfully said, he was a man of ability; genial and companionable; broad-minded; always ready to give the best he had; true to his Huguenot descent and principles. He served his country as an officer of the National Guard of Pennsylvania and of Nebraska, and in the Civil war. The following are his seven commissions: i. Second Lieutenant, Eighth Infantry, August 3, 1828, by John Andrew Shulze, Governor of Pennsylvania. 2. Major First Battalion of Sixth Regiment Allegheny County Volunteers, April 15, 1845, by Francis R. Shunk, Governor of Pennsylvania. 3. Brigadier General, June 4, 1848, Pennsylvania Troops, by William F. Johnston, Governor of Pennsylvania. 4. Major General, December 22, 1852, by Willliam Bigler, Governor of Pennsylvania. 5. Captain La Platte Guards, October i7, 1855, by Mark N. Izard, Governor of Nebraska. 6. By Hon. James H. Lane, August 7, 1862, to raise Third Regiment Colorado Volunteers. 7. By Governor Thomas Carney, August 7, 1863, Captain Company A, Fourteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry.

Source: Page(s) 652-657, 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 (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)

Westmoreland County Genealogy Project Notice:

These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format, for any presentation, without prior written permission.

Return to Westmoreland County History Project


Return to Westmoreland County Home Page

(c) Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project