William J. Hitchman

WILLIAM J. HITCHMAN, of Mount Pleasant, was held in honor as one of the most prominent citizens of Westmoreland county, his busy activities during a long and successful career having been extended into all those lines which afford to the man of real ability a position of commanding influence. He was a potent factor in the development of the southern part of the county, and aided largely in whatever could be of advantage, whether in material, educational or moral ways, and was recognized as one of the most accomplished and broad-minded financiers in western Pennsylvania. Mr. Hitchman came of a distinguished ancestry, English on the paternal side, and Scotch-Irish on that of the mother. His paternal great-grandfather came to America as an officer in a British regiment during the reign of George III. He became interested in the affairs of the colonists, and sympathized with them in their yearnings for political freedom. These considerations led him to resign his commission and identify himself with the colonial cause. His sense of honor, however, would not admit of his drawing his sword against the country whose uniform he had worn, and he steadfastly declined all overtures to take military service, although he was offered several important posts in the continental army. His extreme sensitiveness with regard to fine points of honor seem to have been reflected in his descendants to the present generation. He made his home in Virginia, whence his son William removed to Pennsylvania, locating on Redstone creek, in what is now Fayette county, but which was then regarded as being within the boundaries of the "Old Dominion." William Hitchman married Nancy Gillespie, an estimable woman, and a member of a prominent family. They removed to near Mount Pleasant. Westmoreland county, where Mr. Hitchman died, on what has long been known as the Robert Hitchman farm. He was the founder of the Hitchman family in Westmoreland county. His children were six sons and two daughters: John, James, Robert, Samuel, David, Gillespie, Ellen and Elizabeth.

Major John Hitchman, eldest son of William Hitchman, was born in Westmore1and county in 1789, and died in 1846. He was a man of great ability, and was a leading figure in military affairs. When troops were called out for the war with Great Britain in 1812, he enlisted in a company commanded by Captain Reynolds, under whom he became first lieutenant. He accompanied his regiment to Baltimore, and was among the defending forces there until peace was declared. In 1828 he was elected brigade inspector with the rank of major in the Pennsylvania militia, and served in that capacity until 1836. For several years he was engaged in a mercantile business. He married Mary Thompson, a descendant of an old and highly respected family of the Cumberland Valley. She was a woman of strong character and christian worth, with intelligence and culture far beyond her time in the region in which she resided. She was born in Mercersburgh, Pennsylvania, February 18, 1799, and died March 30, 1870, having long survived her husband, who died in March, 1846, at the age of fifty-seven years. Their remains rest side by side in the Mount Pleasant cemetery.

William J. Hitchman, only child of Major John and Mary (Thompson) Hitchman, was born at Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, July 8, 1838. He was only eight years old when his father died, and in straightened circumstances. Mr. Hitchman has always felt that he owed to his revered mother much of the better part of his manhood, and that substantial foundation upon which was built his honorable career and its attendant success. She carefully guarded his youth, instructing him in those true and noble lines of thought and action which distinctly characterized his mature manhood. Educational advantages were meager, and from her he derived much of the knowledge which there were not schools to adequately provide. He was also brought tip to habits of thrift and industry. In his boyhood at Laurelville, a small village at the foot of Chestnut Ridge, he was actively employed and carefully trained to labor and business in the mill the shop and the store meanwhile constantly adding to his fund of general information, absorbing all that stood in the place of school room instruction, and thus laying the foundations for a useful and honorable future. Before he was seventeen years old, he was so well advanced that he acquitted himself creditably as a teacher, following that occupation for several years, and always taking an active part in teachers' institutes and in whatever effort arose for the advancement of educational interests. Meanwhile, and after entering the school room as a teacher, he continued to be a student, and completed an academic course in his native town.

At the threshold of his mature career, he was tempted to enter the field of law and politics, for both of which inviting domains he possessed a strong predilection and considerable qualifications. His judgment, however, moved him to turn away from their allurements, with their promise of early prominence and success, to enter upon a business life. From the beginning, he steadily progressed, through no fortuitous circumstances or adventitious aid, but by diligent labor and the exercise of sound judgment. He saw his commercial undertakings constantly widening, though at times distressing circumstances arose that would have led into questionable conduct one of less moral fibre. In all he held fast to the loftiest standards of honor, and preserved an unimpeachable integrity. As his means increased he extended his activities into fields which ever broadened before him, and came to be regarded as one of the leaders of his section of the state, in all relating to financial and real estate affairs. For many years he had been interested largely in the banking houses of Mount Pleasant, and had accumulated important landed interests, besides investing largely in other enterprises, financial, commercial and industrial. It is to be said, in order to arrive at a just estimate of his character, that at the outset he did not expect nor covet wealth. He entered upon his effort with modest ambitions, born of his necessities, and his larger success followed as a natural outgrowth of well directed effort. Nor when his wealth was accumulated did he prostitute it to ignoble purposes. He used it as he did his mental attributes and traits of character, devoting it to the highest purposes, making it useful to others in providing avenues of employment, and contributing liberally to all those beneficent agencies which make for the better life of the community-the church, the school, and those material benefits which make for healthful and happy homes and surroundings.

Mr. Hitchman was identified with the Republican party from the years of its formation. He was not old enough to vote for its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, in 1856, but his sympathies were with "the Pathfinder" and the principles of which he was the representative, and he took such part in that stirring campaign as a non-voter could. His first vote was cast for the immortal Lincoln, in 1860, and from that time he was numbered among the most intelligent and devoted supporters of the party, and recognized as a leader of commanding ability and wide influence, yet, withal, in no manner a political aspirant or self-seeking, but shaping his political conduct as he did his personal life-its mainsprings honor, and its end the betterment of society at large, and upholding of high moral principles and practices by the nation at large as well as by the individual. In his personal life, he was held in honor not alone for his wel1 rounded character, but for his intellectual attainments. He had constantly enlarged the boundaries of his knowledge, and in every direction. He was liberally informed in history, biography and general literature, and had long been recognized as an indisputable authority upon banking and finance.

He married, January 2, 1861, Elizabeth Shields, daughter of James Shields. With her his domestic life proved most fortunate and peculiarly happy. Mrs. Hitchman has ever been a real helpmeet to her husband, in the broadest meaning of the word, sympathizing with him and affording her counsel and encouragement in whatever commanded his interest. To them were born six sons and two daughters: James S., Edward T., Arthur, John D., Walton M., William M., Mary and Alice E. Hitchman.

Source: History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Volume II, by John N. Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906, Page 265-6.
Transcribed by Carol C. Eddleman for the Westmoreland County History Project.
Contributed for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)

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