JAMES C. ACHESON. No family can boast a prouder lineage, or are more worthy representatives of an honored race, than those citizens of Washington county who bear the name of Acheson. Their ancestors were originally natives of Scotland, who in 1604 moved to County Armagh, Ireland. In 1776 Sir Archibald Acheson became Baron Gosford, subsequently receiving the title of "viscount." The descendants of the family, who afterward emigrated to America, resided on the family estate at Glassdrummond, in County Armagh.
George Acheson, a lineal ancestor of the Washington county family, was born in 1724. He was married to Elizabeth, daughter of David Weir, a merchant of Belfast, Ireland, and she bore him seven children, viz.: George, John, Thomas, William, Hannah, Ellen and David. Of these children George and William died on the homestead in Ireland; the others all came to America and settled here. The father died in July, 1812, having been preceded to the grave by his wife July 29, 1808.
John Acheson came to America before the close of the Revolutionary war, and commenced trading; was also employed by the United States Government to furnish the National troops with supplies during the Indian wars. He died in 1790 (while crossing the Alleghany mountains on horseback), leaving a widow and two daughters in Ireland. In 1807 the youngest daughter came to America, and lived with her uncle David.
David Acheson, youngest son of George, and brother of John, was born in 1770, coming with his brothers to America in 1788, first locating in Philadelphia, Penn. He brought the following letter from the pastor of his father's church: "The bearer, David Acheson, intending to remove to North America, this, therefore, is to certify that he is a young man of sober and good conduct, and son of Mr. George Acheson, an elder of the Seceding Congregation of Market Hill, in the County of Armagh, Ireland. This is given under my hand this 30th of April, 1788. David Arnott, Minister." After arriving in America, David Acheson assisted his brother John in furnishing supplies for the United States army, continuing in that business until the death of John. Among the papers yet in possession of the family are accounts of mercantile trips made by the brothers, in 1790 and 1791, from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, also a letter written by the Spanish authorities (in that language) permitting David Acheson to transact business in their territory. He began the study of law with James Ross after the death of his brother, but did not continue it; then joined in business pursuits with his brother Thomas. They were largely interested in the tea trade at Pittsburgh and Washington. In 1795, 1797 and 1804, David Acheson represented Washington county in the State Legislature, having been elected by the Democratic party. Early in the year 1799 David Acheson was united in marriage with Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Young, of Philadelphia. She died February 27, 1800, leaving an infant daughter, Eliza Young (afterward Mrs. Woodward), who was reared by her grandmother in Philadelphia and died in Cleveland, Ohio. In November, 1802, he visited the old country, remaining about six months in England and Ireland. On October 31, 1805, he was united in marriage with Mary, daughter of John Wilson, of Washington, Penn., a native of Ireland. They immediately made their home in Philadelphia, returning to Washington in 1815. The children of this family were born as follows: John (who died in 1833 in Arkansas), Alexander W. (who became judge, and died in Washington county), Catherine (deceased wife of William V. Davis of Lancaster, Penn.), David (died in 1826), Mary Jane (married to Joseph McKnight, of Pittsburgh, Penn., and died in 1843), Margaret, William (died in 1873, in Armstrong county, Penn.), George (studied law with his brother Alexander W. Acheson, and he and C. W. Slagle, of Washington, were both admitted to the bar in the spring of 1843, and they at once proceeded to Iowa, settling in Fairfield and entering partnership for the practice of law, which partnership continued for thirty-eight years, or until the death of George Acheson in the spring of 1881. Mr. Slagle died one year later. They were the oldest law firm in Iowa), James C. (of whom special mention is made further on), Ellen (wife of Rev. Dr. Brownson), Marcus W. (an attorney, was judge of district court of western Pennsylvania for ten years, in 1891 succeeding Judge McKennan as circuit judge), and David (living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
After his return to Washington, Penn., David Acheson erected his elegant home where Jonathan Allison is now living. Mr. Acheson entered business at Washington, but, some investments in real estate having failed, he soon retired from active life. In 1840, then over seventy years of age, he made another trip to Ireland, returning to America two years later. In 1848 he was seized with a paralytic stroke, but lingered until December 1, 1851, when death relieved him; his widow passed away August 2, 1872, aged eighty-five years. The following obituary notice appeared in one of the papers: "He was an accurate and close observer of public and political affairs as connected not only with our own Government, but with the prominent nations of Europe, of the diplomacy of which, as well as of their policy, there were but few private men of his day, retiring and unobtrusive as he was, who better understood or could more accurately delineate. His judgment and conclusions, which were always deliberate and well matured by his deep-thinking, strong mind, were valuable and very highly esteemed by those acquainted with him, whether in public or private life. Thus during the period of vigorous manhood he enjoyed a most extensive popularity and influence in the State of Pennsylvania particularly, and with many of her most distinguished individuals, in her political party history and government, he was on the closest terms of intimacy; hence his opinions and counsels were always much sought after and greatly valued. As a private friend and in social life, Mr. Acheson was a man of ardent and sincere attachments, and where personal effort or labor were needed he never faltered or shrunk by reason of apparent difficulty or threatened danger, ever ready and willing to serve his friends at whatever responsibility or personal risk by day or night, at home or abroad."
The surviving children of David and Mary Acheson, for the first time after a lapse of over thirty years, all met at the old homestead in Washington, on the occasion of the death of their mother. Her funeral took place August 4, 1872, and the day following they repaired to the graves of their parents, in Washington cemetery, and there agreed that they, and the survivors of them and the last survivor, would annually revisit the graves of their parents on October 31, the anniversary of their marriage.
James C. Acheson was born February 13, 1824, in Washington, Penn. He attended the common schools of his native borough, and also studied at college, but did not graduate. At the age of sixteen years he left home, and clerked for a time in a store at Pittsburgh, Penn., afterward one year in Wheeling, W. Va., in a similar capacity. In 1842 he returned to Washington, and the following year began clerking for his brother William, who had opened a grocery business in Washington. James C. afterward became his brother's partner, and in 1863 bought the entire store, which he has since conducted. He was thrice married; first time April 20, 1847, to Elizabeth Wilson, who bore him four children, two of whom are now living: Mary (at home), and Anna (Mrs. Henry Dongan, of Washington). This wife dying in 1855, Mr. Acheson married, October l, 1857, Mary E. Mahon, a teacher in Washington Seminary. She died in 1860, leaving two children, one of whom is now deceased, the other, Alexander M., being a civil engineer on the Texas branch of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad. For his third wife James C. Acheson married, September 1, 1863, Mary F. Bureau, granddaughter of an early French settler of Gallipolis, Ohio. Five children have been born to this last marriage, namely: Madeleine (Mrs. Frederick S. Rich, in Oil City, Penn.), Margaret B., Grace C., C. L. Valcaulon and Eleanor W., the latter four yet living at home.
Since the Kansas trouble, in 1856, Mr. Acheson has been a Republican, and during the war of the Rebellion the family were all Union men, some of them serving in the army. He is a F. & A. M., and at one time was district deputy grand master. In religion he is a member of and elder in the Presbyterian Church, and has served twenty-nine consecutive years as superintendent of the Sabbath- school. In municipal matters, he has served as a member of the borough council. Mr. Acheson's success in life is due to earnest effort. His whole time being devoted to the business in which he is engaged.
Text taken from page 129 of:
Beers, J. H. and Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893).
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