Monday, February 12, 2007


John A. Harper
December 5, 1811 – April 5, 1891

John A. Harper, president of the Bank of Pittsburgh, is remotely of English descent. From the reign of James I till the death of Robert Harper, the great-grandfather of John, in 1780, his ancestors were the owners of one of the townlands in County Tyrone, Ireland and were men of high character. John Harper was born in County Donegal Ireland Dec. 5, 1811. At the age of nine (or in 1820) he came with his parents to Washington DC, where he received a thorough practical education under the superintendence of a relative, Alexander McCormick, Esq., who is still living at the age of ninety. In his boyhood he was distinguished for the strength of his memory, as well as for his domestic tastes and habits. His father, Hugh Harper, died in 1821, and in 1826 his mother, with her children, moved to Jefferson County Ohio (his brother Lecky Harper, still living, has been a newspaper editor for more than fifty years, and is ex-senator in that state). When fifteen year of age he took a subordinate position in a mercantile house at Steubenville, and four years later he had become bookkeeper and confidential clerk. During his clerkship he was noted for his studious habits and the scholarly attainments he acquired. At this time, Edwin M. Stanton was employed in a neighboring store and between the two young men an intimacy sprang up that terminated only with the life of Mr. Stanton. In 1831 Mr. Harper became a bookkeeper in the house of M. & A. Leech, of Pittsburgh, and on Sept. 19, 1832 he was chosen, without his solicitation, to a position in the Bank of Pittsburgh, where he soon became principal clerk. In 1827 he was sent to Beaver as a cashier in the branch bank at that place, but was soon recalled to become assistant cashier in the Bank of Pittsburgh. He was chosen cashier on the resignation of that office by Mr. John Snyder, and subsequently succeeded Mr. John Graham as President of the bank, which position he still occupies (1889). It is proper to remark here that during his service of more than half a century the bank has passed safely through all the financial crises that have occurred: that there was never a defalcation in its accounts, or a misdemeanor by any of its officers involving the loss of a dollar. It has never repudiated its obligations and never failed to pay a semi-annual dividend. Mr. Harper has occupied many other responsible positions. He has been president of the Pittsburgh Clearing House ever since its organization, is president of the Western Pennsylvania Hospital of which he is one of the founders, president of the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Suspension Bridge Co., a director of the Monongahela Navigation Co., a trustee in the Western University of Pennsylvania, a corporator and director of the Allegheny Cemetery, a commissioner of the sinking fund of Allegheny County and a member of other useful associations.

Mr. Harper married in June 1836 Miss Lydia Electa, a daughter of Nathan W. Metcalf of Otsego County NY. Mrs. Harper’s genealogy runs through an honored line to Michael Metcalf, who came from Norwich, England, to the colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1637, because of the religious tyranny of Bishop Wren of Norwich. They have five sons and one daughter and to all these who survived their childhood were given a collegiate education. The family record might end here but a few words more may not be amiss. The issue of the subject of t his sketch might suggest inquiry as to the quality of their fruit. Major Harper, whose life history follows this sketch, died unmarried. The only daughter, Lydia, married George B. Mallory, civil engineer, of New York, and died at the residence of her parents October 4, 1884, leaving a son John Harper Mallory. John A. Harper, born June 29, 1839 in Pittsburgh married, May 30, 1882, Flora, daughter of Col. Edward Warner Sherburne, of St. Louis, MO., and they have three daughters. Orlando M. Harper, born Sept. 17, 1846 in Pittsburgh, married Nov. 22, 1887, Kathleen Theodora, daughter of John Livingston Ludlow, M.D., of Philadelphia, PA. They have two daughters, and reside in New York. Charles S. Harper, born March 5, 1853 in Pittsburgh, married, October 26, 1882, Julia, daughter of Gardner Bower Murfey, of Cleveland Ohio, they have one daughter and reside in New York. The subjects of this sketch, John Harper and Lydia Electa, his wife, celebrated their golden wedding June 4, 1886, with mental powers unimpaired. Both are able to look back without regrets on long and well spent lives.

Source: History of Allegheny county, Pennsylvania : including its early settlement and progress to the present time ; a description of its historic and interesting localities ; its cities, towns and villages; religious, educational, social and military history ; mining, manufacturing and commercial interests, improvements, resources, statistics, etc. ; also, biographies of many of its representative citizens. Chicago : A. Warner Co., 1889.:

John A. Harper was a member of the Duquesne Club. John Harper and Ruben Miller served as directors of the Bank of Pittsburgh, located on Fourth Avenue, founded in 1814.

The Harper’s son John Arunah Harper, shared in his father’s banking profession. John Arunah Harper’s children: Granddaughter Florence married Herbert Fulton Byram; granddaughter Lydia Electa married Ralph E. Brush and lived in Greenwich, CT.

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About John Arunah Harper, son of S F F & H C member John A. Harper:

John Arunah Harper, a faithful citizen and veteran banker for thirtyeight years associated with the Bank of Pittsburgh National Association,the oldest financial institution west of the Allegheny Mountains, JohnArunah Harper was born on Penn Street near old Marbury, Pittsburgh, June 29, 1839, son of John Harper and Lydia Electa Metcalf Harper.

John Harper, son of Hugh Harper, was born in County Donegal, Ireland, December 5, 1811, and following the father's death in 1821, the mother and children came to America, settling in Washington, DC. In 1826 the family moved to Jefferson County, Ohio, and one of the sons, Lecky Harper, became a United States Senator from Ohio. Among John Harper's intimate boyhood friends was Edwin M Stanton whobecame President Lincoln's famous Secretary of War. John Harper became an expert bookkeeper and in 1831 accepted a position with one of the large mercantile houses of Pittsburgh, a year later being elected to a position in the Bank of Pittsburgh. Within the following year he was promoted to chief clerkship and his subsequent long career was a succession of advances to posts of increasing responsibility, culminating in his election to the presidency. He assumed the duties of this office in 1866 and remained at the head of this institution until his death in 1891. Not only did he guide the Bank of Pittsburgh in paths of prosperity, usefulness and honor throughout a quarter of a century of his presidency but as one of the organizers and the first president of the PittsburghClearing House, he rendered a valuable service to the cause of financialand commercial stability in the district. As a financier he was without a superior, his excellent judgment havingits source in comprehensive knowledge of economic and banking laws, and strengthened by intimate touch with all phases of the industrial and business life of the community. He was president of the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Suspension BridgeCompany, director of the Monongahela Navigation Company, and a corporator ofAllegheny Cemetery. For several years he was trustee of West Penn Hospital, a trustee of theWestern University of Pennsylvania for many years, and a commissioner of the Sinking Fund of Allegheny County. His home life was of rare beauty and in his home he had gathered one ofthe finest libraries in Western Pennsylvania. He was endowed with a marvelous memory and his mind was a veritable storehouse of the contents of the volumes of his library.

John Harper married in June, 1836, Lydia Electa Metcalf of Otsego, NewYork, daughter of Nathan Metcalf, granddaughter of Arunah Metcalf, and a direct descendant of Michael Metcalf who came to New England from his English home in 1637. Arunah Metcalf was for many years sheriff of Otsego county, New York; served in the New York Legislature and the National Congress, and was a neighbor and friend of James Fenimore Cooper. Arunah Metcalf married Eunice Williams, a direct descendant of William Williams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and they lived to celebrate their Golden Anniversary.

John Arunah Harper, son of John Harper and Lydia Electa Metcalf Harper,was educated in the Griff and McDonald Academy of Pittsburgh, the Western University of Pennsylvania, and Kenyon College of Gambier, Ohio, being graduated from the last named institution in the class of 1860. In the same year he attained his majority and he entered the Bank of Pittsburgh and for many years served in various official capacities, his service interrupted only by a term of enlistment in the Union army as a private in Company D, Fifteenth Regiment, Pennsylvania Militia, dating from June15, 1863. His influence in Pittsburgh financial circles was the counterpart of that of his father, steadying and strengthening the public confidence, inducing trust and good will wherever he appeared, and these qualities constituted a large part of his contribution to the bank's welfare. Mr. Harper had numerous business affiliations outside financial circles, and was a director of the Eagle Cotton Mills, and a director and for a longtime secretary and treasurer of the Sixth Street Bridge Corporation. His philanthropies were numerous and important, prominent among his interests of this nature being the West Penn Hospital of which he was a staunch friend from 1860, serving as its president from 1891 until his resignation in 1898. He found time for social and club activities, was a member of Post No 259, Grand Army of the Republic, sons of the American Revolution, the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society of which he was a trustee, and from his college years was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. His club was the Duquesne of Pittsburgh. In religious affiliation the Harper family is Episcopalian.

Mr Harper married in Pittsburgh, May 30, 1882, Flora Warner Sherburne, daughter of Edward Warner Sherburne and Jane Marie McLaughlin Sherburne. They were the parents of the following children:

Alberta Harper, born December 17, 1883, married Franklin C Irish of Pittsburgh;

Florence Harper, born August 2, 1885, married Herbert Fulton Byram of Pittsburgh;

Lydia Electa Harper, born January 1, 1887, married Ralph E Brush ofGreenwich, Connecticut.

John Arunah Harper died December 28, 1920. His death marked the closing of a record of remarkable service of father and son to one of the city's great financial institutions, and more important still of notable cooperation for the advancement of the civic, educational and philanthropic interests of Pittsburgh.

Source: Vol. 3 History of Pittsburgh and environs, from prehistoric days to thebeginning of the American revolution. By George Thornton Fleming p 858


Kevin Borland said...

Thanks for posting these bios. I am a descendant of John's cousin Mary E. (Harper) Kail, the poet and songwriter. My branch of the family settled in Leesville, Ohio, near where John A. Harper Sr.'s brother James Harper lived.

Vicomte Flesym said...

Hi Kevin, and many thanks for sharing your family story.