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Hon. James Sheakley, ex-member of Congress and Governor of Alaska, was long a man of national prominence and is still a revered citizen of Greenville, the progress of which is also so much indebted to his wisdom and generosity. William Sheakley, Governor Sheakley's great grandfather, came from the province of Ulster, Ireland, in 1740, and located in the fertile valley of the little Conawango in what is now Mount Pleasant, Adams county, Pennsylvania, near the settlement made by the Calverts in Maryland, which became part of Pennsylvania by the running of the famous Mason and Dixon line. There were five hundred acres of land in this tract. In 1792 William Sheakley sold this land and removed to Franklin township, four miles north of Gettysburg, where he built the house which is still known as the Sheakley homestead. Soon after the commencement of the Revolutionary war, November 3, 1775, he was elected one of the committee of safety of York county, his two sons, John and George Sheakley, serving in that conflict as ensigns.
William Sheakley was of Scotch-Irish descent and came to Pennsylvania with a colony of his people, who brought with them all the characteristics of their race. They were moral, industrious and intelligent, mostly Presbyterian or Seceders; frugal, as the Scotch always are; plain in their mode of living, but cordial and hospitable. They were universally men of undaunted courage and patriotic feeling, and when the alarm of the Revolutionary war rang out through the land, it called no truer or more willing men than the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. It may be of interest to his descendants to know something of the farm—the Sheakley homestead in York county, Pennsylvania. This farm of one hundred and forty-one acres was sold to William Sheakley by Hon. John Penn, of Stoke Poges, county of Berks, England, (one of the proprietors of Pennsylvania) and Hon. Richard Penn of Queen Ann street, parish St. Mary le Bone, county of Middlesex, England. The property is still owned by descendants of William Sheakley. It was upon this historic farm that the first blood of the battle of Gettysburg was shed, June 30, 1863, when Rhodes' Confederate division swept down from Carlisle and occupied the Sheakley farm for the night. On the morning of July i the Federal artillery near Gettysburg opened fire on them, a solid shot from the Union cannon killing several and wounding many. The wounded were brought to the barn, and a stable door, unhinged and nailed across a hogshead placed on the floor, was used as an amputation table. The cattle on the farm were guarded for the use of this improvised hospital, but Lee's defeat and hasty retreat saved the animals, while all of the neighbors' live-stock was driven off to Virginia. Several members of the Sheakley family lie buried on the hill in the Evergreen cemetery.
The aforesaid William Sheakley was born in 1720; died in 1810; married Janet Moore, widow of James Moore, Mount Pleasant township, then York (but now Adams county), Pennsylvania; and had two sons and one daughter, as follows: John Sheakley, born January 29, 1755; died September 25, 1816; married Margaret Jenkins: left Gettysburg in 1804, and settled in Mercer county; George Sheakley, born 1760; died 1813; married Margaret McCurdy; Margaret Sheakley, married a Mr. Duff and settled in Ohio.
The children of John Sheakley and his wife were as follows: Margaret, born June 5, 1780; married James Brush, of Georgetown, Pennsylvania, near Sheakleyville; Ann, born May i, 1782; married Hugh Moore, of French Creek, Pennsylvania; William, born May 7, 1784; married Esther Wallace, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; Moses, born in September, 1786; married Susanna Limber, October 29, 1818; died in 1840. George, born September 2, 1791; died in 1884; married Mary Wallace, and, after her decease, Cynthia Culbertson. Alexander, born October 14, 1793; stricken with fever in the war of 1812, returned home and died in 1814; Fanny, born July, 1796; married Adam Hill of Jamestown, Pennsylvania; and John, born April 8, 1799; married Susanna Hays, of Hagerstown, Pennsylvania.
The children of George Sheakley and his wife (Margaret McCurdy), residing at the Sheakley homestead, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, were: Ann, born May 8, 1792; died August 23, 1853; married William Larimer; William, born in 1792; died November 17, 1848; Robert, born May 19, 1795; died December 7, 1868: Margaret, married John Hamilton, grandparent of Colonel and Joseph Hamilton of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Nancy, married William Bailey, of Laurel, Marion county, Ohio. Ann Sheakley and her husband, General William Larimer were the grandparents of Mrs. James Ross Mellon of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, who furnishes the above record.
The children of Moses Sheakley and his wife. Susanna (Limber) Sheakley, residing at Sheakleyville, Mercer county, were as follows: Malinda, born May 29, 1821; died March i, 1898; married in 1843 to Colonel Andrew J. Christy, of Greenville, Pennsylvania. Thomas George, born January 20, 1823; died in 1878, unmarried. James, born April 24, 1829; married December 25, 1855, to Lydia Long; Harvey, born November 10, 1833; died June 10, 1906; married Lydia Hay; Mary, born November 24, 1836; married Jerome Leech, who died April 29, 1902. Susanna, born May 27, 1838, died 18—.
The children of Governor James Sheakley and his wife (Lydia Long) were: Ida Belle, born September 25, 1856; died October 22, 1879; Clara Agnes, born April 8, 1859; died December 8, 1881; Frederick Edwin, born May 5, 1864; unmarried.
Governor Sheakley'.s mother was the granddaughter of William and Susanna Huston, the former being an officer in the American army during the Revolutionary war. He was wounded by a sharpshooter August 18, 1779, which shot caused his death two years later, and he was buried at West Point, New York. Mrs. Susanna Huston, widow of Captain Huston, married the Rev. John Taylor in 1789, her second husband serving as rector of Trinity Episcopal church, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, for twenty-one years, from 1798 to 1819. She herself died January 16, 1829, aged seventy-five years, and was buried in Trinity churchyard, Pitts- burg, Pennsylvania. Governor Sheakley was born April 24, 1829, the same year in which his great-grandmother died. This coincidence calls to mind the newness of the United States, as the French and Indians had possession of Fort Duquesne and all the land west of the Alleghany mountains, when Mrs. Susanna Huston Taylor was born in 1754. These two lives cover the whole history of civilization in western Pennsylvania from 1754 to this date. After the death of his wife, in 1829, it was the custom of Rev. Mr. Taylor to leave his home in Pittsburg and reside with his step-daughter, Mrs. Thomas Limber, in Salem township, Mercer county, during the summer time, and return to Pittsburg in the winter. He was devoted to the study of astronomy and calculated a calendar, which was published under the title of the Franklin Almanac and was the first work of that kind published in the country. On August 10, 1838, the Rev. John Taylor was instantly killed by a stroke of lightning at the age of eighty-four years. His death occurred in Salem township and he was buried on the shore of the Shenango river, and those rippling waters which gave him so much joy in life will be his perpetual requiem in death.
One William Byers had title to five hundred acres of land in Sandy Creek township, Mercer county. The county was organized in 1800, and in 1803 Mr. Byers was appointed its sheriff, then moving to Mercer, the shire town. John Sheakley, Governor Sheakley's grandfather, bought this tract from William Byers in 1803, and removed from Gettysburg, Adams county, to Mercer county, and occupied the land in the summer of 1804. Directly north of a strong spring he erected a commodious hewn log house, which was also near the Indian trail leading from Fort Pitt to Lake Erie. All transportation by this time was by pack-horse only. During the war of 1812 this trail was made a military road by the state, for the purpose of transporting munitions of war and other goods by wagons.
When John Sheakley came to Mercer county in 1804 it was a densely timbered wilderness, but he was well equipped to conquer the privations and hardships of pioneer life in the "backwoods," as this was then called by the eastern people. He had four sons ranging from thirteen to twenty- two years of age, all able and willing to do their share toward making a home in the new country. He also had six negroes, four men and two women, who had been owned by the Sheakley family as slaves. By the act of Gradual Emancipation which had been passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1780, some of them were to be free at the age of twenty-eight years, and the older ones kept during life on the place where they had been held as slaves. These negroes were allowed to go and come as it pleased them. Some would go away for a year, but always returned, as they found that it was not easy to live apart from their old masters. With such forceful assistance a large plot of land was soon cleared and put under cultivation; six hundred apple trees were planted and a grist mill and saw-mill erected. Trails were blazed through the timber, so that neighbors six or ten miles distant could exchange visits without getting lost in the woods. Social life was more keenly enjoyed than in older communities. Grandfather John Sheakley died September 25, 1816, and the original tract of five hundred acres was divided among his four sons— William, Moses, George and John.
William was the first of the sons to marry and establish a home, some of the negroes remaining with him on the farm until 1845. Moses Sheakley and Miss Susanna Limber were married in 1818 and Hannah, one of the negro women, lived in their family until she married Peter Logan, a negro, in 1835. The Pittsburg and Erie turnpike was located through Mercer county in 1816, and opened for travel two years later. Moses Sheakley built a large frame house near this highway in 1820, which was kept as a hotel for many years, it being half way between Mercer and Meadville.
Governor Sheakley was born in this house April 24, 1829. At five years of age lie commenced to attend private school, no public school being established in Pennsylvania until 1840. He had read the Bible through when eight years old and all the books in the neighborhood were gathered into his library. A gentleman living near by owned Captain Marryat's novels, but refused to loan them to any one, so young Sheakley worked all day in the harvest field for the privilege of reading the two volumes, ''Peter Simple" and "Mr. Midshipman Easy."
Moses Sheakley, the Governor's father, died in 1840 at the age of fifty-three, when James was ten years of age. The boy worked on the farm and attended school until he arrived at the age of sixteen years. He intended to become a lawyer but his mother objected, saying she had two sons who were lawyers, and wanted one honest man in the family. In 1845, therefore, James went to the city of Meadville to learn the business of manufacturing furniture and attend the Meadville Academy. He re turned to Sheakleyville in 1849; bought the old homestead farm and resided with his mother until December, 1851, when he started for California by way of Nicaragua, and arrived in San Francisco February 2, 1852. He followed gold mining three years, returned to the old home at Sheakleyville in 1854, and was married to Miss Lydia Long, December 25, 1855. He remained on the farm until 1859, when he engaged in the mercantile business with his brother-in-law, William Achre, at Greenville, Pennsylvania. In 1859, soon after Colonel Drake demonstrated that oil could be obtained by the drilling process, Mr. Sheakley became interested in drilling a well near where the Drake well was producing oil. In August, 1864, he held an interest in the Grant oil well at Pithole and was superintendent of the company, the well producing a thousand barrels of oil a day and the produce selling for six dollars a barrel on the ground.
Governor Sheakley followed the oil business along the line of the oil development until he was elected to the Forty-fourth Congress in 1874. His. district, which was composed of Butler, Crawford and Mercer counties, and had always been Republican, elected Sheakley, who had always been a Democrat. While a member of Congress in 1876 he introduced and advocated the enactment of an anti-rebate bill for the purpose of stopping the payment of rebates on freight paid to the railroads for the transportation of oil, crude or refined. The bill was prepared by Lewis Emery, Jr. He opposed the Electoral Commission bill, and led the filibustering movement on the floor of the house for the purpose of stopping the counting in of Air. Hayes by the commission and to have the house of representatives elect Tilden. Each state having one vote, the Democrats had twenty of the thirty-eight states then composing the Union. He also advocated and carried through the house of representatives an amendment to the appropriation bill to sustain and enlarge the bureau of education in the government of the United States. The success of this bill made him many warm and lifelong friends, including such men as General John Eaton, Dr. Sheldon Jackson, William T. Harris, Senators Lamar and Blackburn, and many others who were interested in the cause of education. At the assembling of the Forty-fourth Congress in December, 1875, the house of representatives had a Democratic majority of seventy-five, and it was the first time the party had control of the lower house since the war between the states. This was a great surprise and disappointment to the Republicans, as they relied on the negro vote to give their party perpetual control of all departments of the government for all time. The house of representatives of the Forty-fourth Congress contained many men distinguished for experience, ability and patriotism, which gave Mr. Sheakley an opportunity of making the acquaintance of many leading statesmen of the country, such as Samuel J. Randall, Heistor Clymer, William Mutchler, Levi Maish and William D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania; Alexander H. Stevens and Benjamin Hill, of Georgia; Carter H. Harrison, Adlai E. Stevenson, William Morrison, "Uncle" Joe Cannon, and William M. Springer, of Illinois ; William S. Holman, of Indiana ; John Young Brown, J. Proctor Knott, Henry Watterson and Joseph C. S. Blackburn, of Kentucky ; James G." Blaine, William P. Frye and Eugene Hale, of Maine; General N. P. Banks, George F. Hoar and J. H. Seeley, of Massachusetts; L. Q. C. Lamar, H. DeSoto Money and General Charles Hooker, of Mississippi; Richard P. Bland, of Missouri; S. S. Cox, Fernando Wood, Elijah Ward, A. S. Hewitt and T. C. Platt, of New York; James A. Gar- field and Henry B. Payne, of Ohio; Roger Q. Mills and John H. Ragon, of Texas ; John Randolph Tucker and Eppa Hunton, of Virginia; Stephen B. Elkins, of West Virginia, and many others known to fame.
Congress passed an act approved May 17. 1884, creating a civil government for the territory of Alaska, the judicial department to consist of one United States district court and four inferior courts, the judges of which were called United States commissioners, to have jurisdiction and powers of commissioners of United States circuit courts and all the powers to a justice of the peace under the laws of Oregon; also to have jurisdiction in all probate and testamentary matters and to hold regular terms of court. In July, 1887, Grover Cleveland, president of the United States, appointed James Sheakley one of the commissioners to reside at Fort Wrangell, Alaska, and he arrived at that place to begin the performance of his official duties August 9th of that year. In addition to the duties of United States commissioners and probate judge, he was appointed superintendent of the government school in Alaska by the commissioner of education at Washington, District of Columbia. During the five years of his official service in Alaska he did much to educate, civilize and improve the condition of the natives, and also rendered great assistance to the missionaries and missions of all denominations in all parts of the territory, for which the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions of New York made to him grateful acknowledgment. He was the only Democratic official to serve through the administration of President Harrison. In May, 1892, Mr. Sheakley was elected one of the two delegates from Alaska to attend the Democratic national convention which met at Chicago, June 21, 1892, for the purpose of nominating candidates for the offices of president and vice president of the United States, resigning his official position in Alaska that he could be free to attend this convention. In making the nomination for president the delegates from all of the states voted previous to the territories, and when the territories were called the two delegates from Alaska, Hons. A. K. Deloney and James Sheakley, voted for Grover Cleveland, their two ballots giving him the two-thirds majority required for a nomination. The entire delegation from the state of New York was opposed to the nomination of Mr. Cleveland, with Gen. Sickels and Bourke Cochran as their leaders, and when the result was announced by the chairman, they all cried out, "Alaska did it: and it is not fair. Alaska is not in the United States, and had no right to a voice in this convention." But Grover Cleveland was elected president of the United States for the second time in November, 1892, and was inducted into office March 4, 1893, appointing James Sheakley governor of Alaska on June 28th of the same year. Mr. Sheakley arrived at Sitka, the capital of the territory, August 28th, and assumed the duties of his office as governor of Alaska on that day. While governor, Mr. Sheakley continued the good work of promoting schools and missions, protecting the Indians against whisky smugglers and executing the laws for the punishment of all law breakers. Peace, good order and safety, for both persons and property, prevailed throughout the territory during his administration, and he even refused the assistance of United States troops, they being withdrawn from the territory through his influence and upon the representation that the civil government and judicial bodies were sufficient to enforce the laws.
On board the revenue cutter "Richard Rush," Captain Calvin Hooper, of the United States Navy, commanding, Governor Sheakley made a voyage to the westward, visiting many of the Aleutian Islands, meeting with many Indian tribes and making himself acquainted with their conditions and needs. He also visited the Seal Islands in Bering Sea and remained several clays on the island of St. Paul, for the purpose of inspecting the mode of driving, killing, skinning and preparing the seal pelts for shipment.
The city of Sitka, a seaport, situated on the beautiful bay of Sitka. Baronof Island, was founded by Alexander Baronof, governor of the Russian-America Fur Company in 1798, and was with proper ceremonies turned over to the United States, Friday, October 18, 1866. Naval vessels of all nations cruising in the North Pacific ocean frequently visit this port, the regulations requiring all officers in command of a war vessel, both foreign and domestic, immediately after arrival to go ashore in full dress uniform and call on the governor. They are warmly received by his excellency, and after exchanging short biographies with each other and relating how they wandered so far from home and narrating a few other fables the commander returns to his ship, and the governor is received with great ceremonies on shipboard the following day. A United States man-of-war is stationed at Sitka, the officers of which take part in doing the honors while a visiting ship is in port. The receptions, banquets and other festivities given while the visitors remain invest the social life at Sitka with a charm not realized elsewhere, and compensates for many privations endured in this land of the midnight sun.
Having served his full term of four years, Mr. Sheakley resigned his commission as governor and returned to his old home at Greenville, Pennsylvania, where he now resides. From his youth up he has been laboring for the good of all the home people. He was elected a member of the Greenville school board of directors in 1862, when he immediately advocated the erection of a Union school building, large enough to accommodate all of the schools in the town, eight in number, and to provide for a graded system. The plan was successful, a brick building of eleven rooms was completed, and Greenville has been favored with excellent and progressive schools from that date. Mr. Sheakley served on the school board for eleven years, or until he was elected to Congress in 1874. He was also deeply interested in having Thiel College located at Greenville. On the suggestion of Dr. D. B. Packard he went to Pittsburg, where he met the synod of the Lutheran church at that place and explained to that body the advantage of Greenville for the location of an institution of learning. He also informed the synod that Dr. D. B. Packard would donate the land for the building and campus, and that the citizens of Greenville would give ten thousand dollars toward buildings. The synod appointed a committee to investigate Mr. Sheakley's proposal, the report of which resulted in having Thiel College located at Greenville permanently. He was one of the original incorporators and first president of the Greenville Water, Company in 1882, which has been of great benefit to this community. In a word. Governor Sheakley always held that a public office was a public trust, and his whole official life, whether at home or in Alaska, was marked by strict integrity and an honest endeavor to perform the duties which fell to him with justice and equity. Governor Sheakley was elected burgess of Greenville, February, 1909, and represents this city with honor and ability. He is one who presents the advantages of the city for residence or other purposes in such a way that men with money to invest become interested.