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Geary, John White


Governor of Pennsylvania from Jan. 15, 1867, to Jan. 21, 1873, was the youngest of four sons, and was born near New Salem,** in Westmoreland, on the 30th of December, 1819. The family was originally Scotch-Irish, but for several generations his ancestors had enjoyed the privileges of American birth. Richard Geary, his father, a native of Franklin County, had received a liberal education, and was a man of refined tastes, amiable disposition, and superior moral excellence. His mother, Margaret White, was born in Washington County, Md., and was in all respects a worthy companion and helpmeet of her husband. His father had engaged in the manufacturing of iron and had failed, when in this trying situation he fell back upon the resources of his early education and opened a select school in Westmoreland County. The remainder of his life was devoted to this profession, at all times honorable.

Being himself possessed of liberal culture, it was the earnest desire of his father that his sons should receive a collegiate education. Prompted by paternal love, every sacrifice possible was made to compass this end, and after passing the usual course of preliminary studies the youngest son was entered a student at Jefferson College, Cannonsburg, Pa. By the sudden death of his father his career was thus interrupted. To suitably provide his mother he left college and opened a school on his own account. He then subsequently returned to college.

On leaving college he turned his thoughts on commercial pursuits, but soon evinced a preference for civil engineering. This he intended to adopt as his fixed vocation. With this end he went to Kentucky, where he was engaged, partly in the employ of that State and partly in that of the Green River Railroad Company, to make a survey of several important lines of public works. Returning to Pennsylvania, he soon after became assistant superintendent and engineer of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. While thus engaged the war with Mexico broke out. In a short time he raised a company in Cambria County called the American Highlanders. At Pittsburgh the command was incorporated with the Second Pennsylvania Regiment, commanded by Col. Roberts, of which regiment Geary was elected lieutenant-colonel. Shortly after the surrender of the capital Col. Roberts died, and he was elected to succeed him. The services of the regiment in Mexico are well known to all.

On the 22d of January, 1849, being in political sympathy with the administration in power, President Polk appointed him postmaster of San Francisco and mail agent for the Pacific coast, with authority to create post-offices, appoint postmasters, establish mail routes, and make contracts for carrying the mails through California. On the 1st of the next April he entered upon the duties incident to his appointment. President Polk’s successor, President Taylor, appointed Jacob B. Moore Geary’s successor. But eight days after his removal he was elected first alcalde, though there were ten different tickets submitted to the choice of the electors. Shortly after he was appointed by Brig.-Gen. Riley, the military Governor of the Territory, Judge of First Instance. These offices were of Mexican origin, and they imposed onerous and important duties. The alcalde was sheriff probate, judge, recorder, notary public, and coroner. The Court of First Instance exercised both civil and criminal jurisdiction throughout the city, and, besides this, adjudicated all those cases arising under the port regulations which usually fall within the cognizance of Courts of Admiralty.

On May the 1st, 1850, in a vote upon the first city charter and for its officers, Judge Geary was elected the first mayor of San Francisco by a large majority. He declined a re-election, but accepted a place on the Board of Commissioners, which had been created by the Legislature for the management of the public debt of the city, and was made its president. As chairman of the Democratic Territorial Committee, he was instrumental in securing the Free State clause in the constitution of the State, and the, reference of that instrument to the people for their sanction.

In February, 1852, he returned to Westmoreland, where his wife, in failing health then, soon after died. He engaged in farming interests here, and specially directed his attention to the rearing of stock. In 1855 President Pierce offered him the Governorship of Utah Territory, which he declined. He, however, accepted the Governorship of Kansas, and was commissioned in July, 1855. He arrived at Fort Leavenworth September 9th, and his administration extended only from that date to March, 1857, at which time the Presidency of Buchanan commenced.

Gen. Geary was in Westmoreland when the civil war commenced. Immediately on receipt of the attack on Fort Sumter he opened an office for recruits, and offered his individual services to the President. They were accepted, and he was commissioned a colonel, and authorized to raise a regiment. In the course of a few weeks he received applications from sixty-six companies, soliciting permission to join his command. On account of the numerous and urgent appeals he was permitted to increase his regiment to sixteen companies, with one battery of six guns, making the full complement to consist of fifteen hundred and fifty-one officers and men. The artillery company was that which subsequently became the celebrated Knapp’s battery.

The services of Gen. Geary in the civil war on the part of the Union army were so varied and so distinguished that they may be relegated by us with propriety from a provincial history to the history of the nation, to which they belong. The general reader has at hand so many varied and comprehensive histories of this struggle that we are sure that whatever we might say here would be useless verbiage.

Gen. Geary, who was a Democrat until the breaking out of the war, at the ending of it became a Republican, and in 1866 was elected by that party Governor. He was inaugurated on the 15th of January, 1867. On the expiration of his first term he was, renominated without much show of opposition and re-elected by something of a reduced majority. He served out his term and died.

Governor Geary was married on the 12th of February, 1843, to Margaret Ann, daughter of James R. Logan, of Westmoreland County. By this marriage he had issue three sons, one of whom died in infancy, and another was killed in the battle of Wauhatchie; the third is an officer in the regular army. Mrs. Geary died on the 28th of February, 1853, and in November, 1858, he was married to Mrs. Mary C. Henderson, daughter of Robert R. Church, of Cumberland County, and had issue several children.

Governor Geary through life was a man of good habits and strong physical powers, and greatly owed his success to great energy, prudence, and temperance. He was a Presbyterian in religion, and belonged to a number of secret societies. He was proud of his military titles and somewhat fond of show and ostentation.

** Mr. Armor, in his "Lives of the Governors of Pennsylvania," says Gen. Geary was born near Mount Pleasant. On this point there is not a unanimity of opinion. is a genealogy site compiled of biographies from old county history books, user contributions and other sources. Compilation, design, artwork and concept covered by copyright. Copyright ©2013, All rights reserved. Contact me.  Privacy Policy.