Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer.

Philadelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) online

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A History of the City
and its People

A Record of 225 Years


Author of

" The Literary History of Philadelphia " " Robert Morris, Patriot and Financier "
"Jay Cooke, Financier of the Civil War "




Chicago — St. Louis

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Bishop Matthew Simpson, one of the most eminent and influential divines of
the Methodist Episcopal ministry, whose name is spoken with honor and rever-
ence wherever he is known, was born in Cadiz, Harrison county, Ohio, June 21,
181 1. His paternal grandfather, Thomas Simpson, was a native of England and
entered the government service as a horse dragoon. Removing to Ireland, he
settled in County Tyrone, where he died in middle life, leaving a family of five
sons and one daughter, namely: Andrew, John, William, Matthew, James and
Mrs. Mary Eagleson. In 1793 the family, including the father and mother of
Bishop Simpson, crossed the Atlantic to the United States, sailing from London-
derry to Baltimore. From the latter city they went to Huntingdon county, Penn-
sylvania, whence a removal was made to western Pennsylvania and subsequently
to Ohio. Andrew Simpson settled near Chillicothe aiid left a large family. John
established his home on Stillwater creek in Harrison county, Ohio, where he
reared a large family of sons and daughters, most of whom are now in Illinois.
William made his home near Waterford, Erie county, Pennsylvania, and died in
the prime of life, leaving several sons. Mary became a resident of Harrison
county, Ohio, and there reared a large family.

James Simpson, the father of Bishop Simpson, was the youngest of the family.
He was a man of great personal energy and unusual business ability and U "
Because of ill health he turned his attention to commercial pursuits, securing a
clerkship in a store in Pittsburg, and later he began the business of manufactur-
ing weavers' reeds. In this he was associated with his brother Matthew, who had
no family and lived with him. They established the enterprise in Cadiz and in
connection with their manufacturing plant opened a store which they success-
fully conducted for a number of years. About 1806 James Simpson married
Miss Sarah Tingley at Short Creek, Jefferson county, Ohio, and they began their
domestic life in Cadiz, Mr. Simpson purchasing property in the center of the
town. He was quite successful in business until his health failed in 181 1. He
then removed to Pittsburg for better medical treatment and died at his home in
that city, June 15. 1812. His mother was connected with an old Scotch Presby-
terian family and educated her children very strictly in that faith, but shortly
after being left a widow she heard Wesley preach on one of his visits to Ireland.
She attended his classes, was converted to the faith and joined the Methodist


church. From that time all of her children attended the Methodist meetings and
never did they forget the influence and teaching of the mother who was a woman
of more than ordinary intellect and possessed a remarkably retentive memory.
At the age of ninety years she presented a picture of serene happiness, sitting
at her old spinning wheel, singing the hymns that she long had loved.

In the faith of the Methodist church the father of Bishop Simpson was reared
and became a believer in its doctrines. His home was always a place of enter-
tainment for traveling ministers, class meetings were there held and preaching
was often heard in his home as neighbors and friends would gather to listen to
the ministers who visited the neighborhood. In the prayers that were then of-
fered the hope was often expressed that the boy Matthew Simpson would be-
come a minister of the gospel. When the father died the family returned to
Cadiz, Ohio. The mother, who was born in New Jersey, was a daughter of
Jeremiah Tingley, who during the Revolutionary war was drafted and served
for a term in the army, after which he enlisted and served for another term.
His daughter, Mrs. Simpson, was born May 23, 1781. By her marriage she
became the mother of three children : Hattie, born April 3, 1807, who was mar-
ried in 1829 to George McCullough, for many years a merchant of Cincinnati ;
Elizabeth, born February 2, 1809, who became the wife of Dr. Scoles, who, after
abandoning the practice of medicine, entered the ministry of the Methodist
church ; and Matthew, of this review.

Bishop Simpson was but a year old at the time of his father's death. When
four years of age he learned to read of his own accord. In the early days he
was restrained rather than urged to his books, for his health was delicate. When
in his tenth year he became a pupil in the select school, studying grammar and
geography. He spent several months in study but with this exception never at-
tended school until he entered an academy to study the classic languages. There
was, however, a public library in Cadiz and between the ages of five and ten
years he had read a large number of its volumes on travel, history and biography.
He was also very fond of arithmetic. He wished to study German and by com-
paring a German Bible owned by his uncle with the English version he was able
to master the language. He also learned Latin and Greek from borrowed books
wh^n still quite young. He made such progress along those lines that he was
allowed to spend the summer and winter in the academy and finish the course.
In order to improve his health he spent most of the summer in the field, engaging
in plowing, planting and harvesting, and the outdoor life proved beneficial. He
also worked in the factory established by his father and uncle, that his wages
might contribute to the support of the family.

When Bishop Simpson was fifteen years of age his uncle opened a select
school, teaching elementary and higher branches, and Bishop Simpson became
his assistant, teaching grammar, arithmetic, geography and some of the higher
studies, and in his uncle's absence had entire management of the school. About
1828 the Rev. Dr. Charles Elliott, who was a professor in Madison College, at
Uniontown, Pennsylvania, visited Cadiz and was entertained at the Simpson
home. He became deeply interested in Bishop Simpson, then a youth of seven-
teen years, and oflfered him the position of assistant teacher in his college. In
November he was ready to go, and as there was no stage coach passing from


Cadiz and his means were limited, he tied his clothing and few books in a bundle
and started on foot, a distance of ninety miles, with eleven and a quarter dollars
in his pocket. He arrived the tliird day and was cordially received by Dr. Elliott
and invited to board in his family. He further pursued his own education as
well as assisting Dr. Elliott in his classes, and when the latter was absent for
two or three weeks, Mr. Simpson had entire charge of his department. His stay
in college, however, was brief. Shortly after his return home his eldest sister,
who had been assisting their uncle in teaching, was married and Bishop Simpson's
services were needed in that school. It was also thought best to change this
from a private school to an academy, which was done.

In 183 1 Bishop Simpson found his health greatly affected from close appli-
cation to study and by frequent attendance at night meetings. He felt that in-
stead of devoting himself to general study it was his duty to select some special
profession for life. He then determined to practice medicine and became a stu-
dent in the office of Dr. McBean, his former teacher in the classics. He spent
three years in familiarizing himself with the principles of medicine and in that
time provided for his own support through occupying a position in the clerk's
office. In April, 1833, after completing the study of medicine he passed the re-
quired examination before the medical board of Ohio. About that time he was
asked if he did not believe he should give his life to the ministry. He had been
licensed a few weeks before as an exhorter and in a short time received notice
that he had been recommended for a license as local preacher, also to attend
the next quarterly conference. He was licensed and recommended by the quar-
terly conference for admission to the Pittsburg conference. The week following
the quarterly meeting he preached his first sermon in the Methodist church in
New Athens, Ohio, but he was needed at home by his mother and sister, who
were ill, so he concluded to remain with them for a time at least, and entered
upon the practice of medicine in May, 1833. He was also appointed the third
preacher on the circuit where he lived in July of that year, and was requested to
spend Sundays preaching in Cadiz and St. Clairsville, sixteen miles away. This
he did and thus became actively connected with church work. In March, 1834,
he closed his office, and, taking his horse and saddle bags, began traveling as an
itinerant minister. At the next quarterly meeting he was assigned to a church in
Pittsburg and later was made minister of the Liberty Street church in Pittsburg.

In 1837 he was elected to the chair of natural science in Allegheny C'^'Iege
and was also elected the same year to the position of vice president of that col-
lege. In 1838 he received notice of his election as a professor in the Asbury
University at Greencastle, Indiana, but declined the offer. In the following win-
ter, however, he was notified that he had been elected to the presidency of that
school and accepted. The University building was not even completed, but by
hard work it was made ready for use in September, 1840. Bishop Simpson called
the people together from all over the state and delivered the inauguration ad-
dress, while Governor David Wallace handed over the keys of the new university
building to him. Not only did he do successful work in tke building up of the
school, but also showed marked development as a preacher and gained a reputa-
tion which made him known throughout the country. There were then in In-
diana three preachers of note, Matthew Simpson, E. R. Ames and Henry Ward


Beecher. He represented his ministerial brethren of Indiana in three general
conferences, in 1844, 1848 and 1852. By 1848 his fame as a successful head of
a growing and important university had spread all over the country. During the
succeeding four years he was invited at different times to take charge of Wood-
ward College at Northwestern University, Dickinson College and the Wesleyan
University, but refused them all, as he was preparing to resign college work alto-
gether. In 1848 he was elected by the conference to the position of editor of the
Western Christian Advocate and entered the field of journalism with the same
determination and zeal which had carried him forward in other lines of Christian
work, making his labors an influence and potent element for good. In May, 1852,
he was elected a bishop of the ilethodist Episcopal church by the general confer-
ence convening at that time in Boston, in which capacity he was to take charge
of Western Virginia, Pittsburg, Erie and Northern Ohio conferences. In 1853
it was arranged for him to go to California to take up the work for the Methodist
church in that state, and on the 20th of December he set sail with several com-
panions for the Pacific coast. While in that part of the country he traveled thou-
sands of miles to preach in log houses and other primitive buildings in California
and Oregon. During the next few years he traveled extensively all over the west
and also through Texas, between the years 1853 and 1856, and did an important
part in marking out the path for the establishment of the Methodist Episcopal
church in India. In May, 1853. he was appointed a delegate to the British Wes-
leyan conference. He went to Berlin and thence to the Holy Land, spending a
most interesting period in visiting that portion of the country which was hallowed
by the presence of the Master. His journey, too, brought him into contact with
many men of note and his ability to receive as well as to make impressions con-
stituted a constantly developing power that increased his efficiency through the
general breadth of his knowledge.

In 1858 Bishop Simpson was ill much of the time at his home in Pittsburg,
but the spring of 1859 he was able to hold his conferences, but the people were
greatly disappointed because he could not preach. On July of that year, however,
he was once again in the pulpit, availing himself of every opportunity to proclaim
the gospel and extend the work of the church. In 1859 he changed his residence
from Pittsburg to Evanston, near Chicago, Illinois, and there his advice was much
sought, and in fact throughout the country his counsel was in great demand con-
cerning the plans for the enlargement of church work and the extension of its
Iiuiuence. From point to point he went as fast as trains could carry him, speak-
ing a word of encouragement and inspiration here and there and instituting plans
whereby the church work was carried steadily forward in a constantly increasing
angle of usefulness. He did not regard religion merely as a preparation for the
life to come but an active force in the life of the person and something that has
to do with everyday existence, and in consequence he was deeply interested in all
subjects of vital concern to the country. During the winter of i860 and 1861
he had many conversations with Abraham Lincoln, then president elect, over the
situation, and during the period of the war he was frequently asked to visit the
capital, that President Lincoln might consult with him on matters of grave mo-
ment or governmental policy. President Lincoln often expressed his great re-
spect for Bishop Simpson and his confidence in him, and the latter furnished very


valuable information to the president all through the war. Moreover, he preached
patriotism into the hearts of the people from one end of the country to the other,
and they flocked to every point to hear him as he addressed large audiences
throughout the entire country. In 1863 his health again became greatly impaired
and at the earnest solicitation of friends he returned to the east, finally deciding
to locate in Philadelphia. The sanitary fair was to have been opened in this city
by an address by President Lincoln, but as the chief executive was unable to
attend he requested Bishop Simpson to take his place, saying there was no other
man whom he would rather have represent him on that occasion and sending a
special committee to ask him to do so.

In September, 1881, Bishop Simpson attended a conference in London, and
while there made several speeches and also addressed a memorial meeting held in
honor of President Garfield. In the fall of 1880, while in San Francisco, he had
a severe attack of illness, but after his return from London he still continued in
his usual routine of work, although his friends watched him closely, for all feared
the end was near. Shortly before the meeting of the general conference in Phila-
delphia in 1884 his health gave way entirely, but his iron will prompted him to
rally again and he presided at the conference, and on Friday evening, May 25th,
he made his closing speech. It was very brief, however, and everyone believed
that it was his last, all seeming to hear throughout the message, "My work is
done." He died Wednesday morning, June 18, 1884.

It was on the 3d of November, 1835, that Bishop Simpson was wedded to
Miss Ellen Holmes, a daughter of James Verner of Pittsburg, who was ever his
faithful companion and helpmate, interested in all the great work that he did.
Precocious in his studies in youth, he wisely and conscientiously used the talents
with which nature had endowed him, and his activity was stimulated by the
academy, the court and the church, all of which brought him in contact with
scholarly men. He was throughout his life recognized as the peer of the most
eminent in intellect and he used his splendid abilities for the furtherance of those
influences which have been a potent force in the world's civilization. As long as
there remain any who knew him, his name will be honored and his memory will
remain as a blessed benediction to those with whom he came in contact. More-
over, who can measure the influence of such a life? The seeds of truth which he
planted will bear fruit for ages to come as his good words and influence are
passed on from generation to generation.


J. Clifford Wilson is president of the firm of J. S. Wilson & Son, Inc., in
which connection he is conducting an extensive business as a painting and in-
terior decorating contractor. He was born in Philadelphia, October 9. i860, a
son of James S. and Martha Wilson. The ancestry of the family is traced back
to Steevan Wilson, who came from Cumberland county, England, in 1688. The
following is an exact copy of the certificate produced by him and recorded on


the books of the Chesterfield monthly meeting of Burlington county, New
Jersey :

"Whereas, Steevan Wilson of Eglishfields in ye Parish of Bugham & County
of Cumberland, haveing a purpose in his mind to goe to Pensilvania to settle
himselfe there in some employmt of honest Labour in yt Country, Therefore this
is to certifye and also to satisfye ffriends or any other people there in that
Island that may employe ye said Steevan Wilson that he hath not come away
or left his own country for any misdemeanor or miscarriage or matter of dis-
honestye of any kind that wee knowe of never since he owned ye Truth but
have walked pretty orderly for severall yeares amongst us, only that it is his
owne free purpose & resolution to settle himselfe in that Plantation being a
single man.

John Banches,
Philip Burnyeatt,
Christ Wilson,
James Dickinson,
John Robinson,
Richard Head,
Richard Richison,
Jerem Bowman,
John Serugham,
Jere Spencer,
Peter Hudson,
Jon Spencer."
The above certificate is without date, but we find from other sources that
Steevan Wilson was in the neighborhood prior to 1690, for in that year he was
one of the carpenters who had charge of the building of the meeting house at
Falls, Bucks county. He was married in June, 1692, to Sarah Baker, a daughter
of Henry Baker, who was born at West Darby, Lancashire, England, August 18,
1672, and came to Bucks county, Pennsylvania, in 1684. As the years passed,
he made a place among the prominent men of the community, serving as justice
of the peace and also as a member of the colonial assembly for many years.
From the date of his marriage, Steevan Wilson was a member of Falls meeting
in Bucks county though he continued to reside in New Jersey.' He was one of
the committee who had charge of the collection of money for the building of
Buckingham meeting house in 1705. During the winter when the river was im-
passable, permission was given the Friends on the other side to hold their meet-
ing at the house of Steevan Wilson. He died in March, 1707, and on the 19th
of August, 1708, his widow became the wife of Isaac Miller. Her death occurred
in February, 1715. The children of Steevan and Sarah (Baker) Wilson were
Stephen, Sarah, Mary, Rebecca, John and Samuel.

Samuel Wilson, the youngest of the family, was born March 6, 1706, and
in 1729 married Rebecca, daughter of Thomas and Mary (Oliver) Canby. On
the 4th of June, 1730, he purchased three hundred and ten acres of land in
Buckingham, covering the present site of Mechanicsville, a portion of which is
yet in possession of his descendants. Thomas Canby was a son of Benjamin
Canby of Thome, Yorkshire, England, and his mother was a sister of Henry


Baker, mentioned above, with whom Thomas Canby came to this country in
1684. Like his uncle, he became a very prominent man in the community, serv-
ing several times in the colonial assembly and filling several other important
public positions. He was also a minister among the Friends.

Samuel Wilson lived a long and useful life in Buckingham and reared a
family of thirteen children. He died in 1787.

John Wilson, son of Samuel and Rebecca (Canby) Wilson, was born May 5,
1745. He married Elizabeth Fell May 15, 1771, and they resided in White
Marsh township, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania. Mr. Wilson died October
15, 1821, and Mrs. Wilson died January 21, 1819.

David Wilson, son of John and Elizabeth (Fell) Wilson, was born January
23, 1783, and died July 21, 1835. He married Edith Iredell and they resided on
a part of the homestead in White Marsh township, Montgomery county, Penn-
sylvania. Elizabeth Fell was born July 18, 1790, and died September 3, 1877.

James S. Wilson, son of David and Edith (Iredell) Wilson, was born May
17. 1830, and on September 15, 1855, he married Martha Bogia, who was born
November 23, 1837. Mrs. Wilson survives her husband, who died August 24,


J. Clifford Wilson attended the Quaker school at Fifteenth and Race streets
until the age of seventeen years and then joined his father in business. In
1890 he bought out his father and was sole proprietor of the business until 1902,
when he organized and incorporated a company of which he was elected presi-
dent. They conduct a general painting and interior decorating contracting busi-
ness which calls them into various sections of the country as far west as Chi-
cago. Their contracts have been of an important character, and the company is
meeting with substantial and gratifying success, the volume of their business
making theirs a paying enterprise. Constantly forging ahead in this connection,
Mr. Wilson is now president of the largest contract painting and interior deco-
rating company in the United States.

Mr. Wilson is also actively and extensively interested in coal mining in con-
nection with Daniel B. Zimmerman, in Somerset county, Pennsylvania, having in
1900 organized the Wilson Creek Coal Mining Company, which afterward dis-
posed of its interests to the Somerset County Coal Company. In 1904 he pur-
chased twenty-five hundred acres of coal lands adjoining the property of the
Somerset County Coal Company and became a member of the Oquemahoning
Coal Company, Inc., a two million dollar corporation and one of the largest in-
dependent companies operating in the bituminous coal fields of the country. In
the field of real estate Mr. Wilson has also extended his eflforts, having extensive
property holdings in Philadelphia and Cape May. In fact, he is one of the
largest realty owners of Cape May, New Jersey. His keen business discern-
ment enables him to readily understand and grasp a favorable business oppor-
tunity and by the simple weight of his character and ability he inspires confi-
dence and wins cooperation. His marked business ability is shown in his suc-
cessful management of extensive interests which have gained him distinction in
business circles not only in Philadelphia but in other sections of the country.

On the 1st of July, 1890, Mr. Wilson was married in Philadelphia to Miss
Sallie Stella White, born December 3, 1872, and they have two children : Dorothy,


born October 4, 1891, is a graduate of Miss Hill's private school; and Edith Ire-
dell, born March i, 1894, who is now a pupil in that school.

Mr. Wilson takes great interest in boating, which constitutes his chief source
of recreation. He was commodore of the Cape May Yacht Club in 1908-09,
and is the owner of a cruiser, and spends his summer cruising with his family
and friends. He is a republican in his political views, is a member of the Epis-
copal church, belongs to the University Lodge of Masons and also holds mem-
bership in the Union League. His life has been characterized by intelligent and
well directed energy, bringing him to an important position as a representative
of industrial circles in this section of the country. There has been no unusual
or esoteric phase in his life work which represents the wise employment of time
and talents in the development of business interests, to which his tastes and en-
vironment have naturally attracted his attention.


Boyd Lee Spahr, an attorney of Philadelphia, specializing in the field of

Online LibraryEllis Paxson OberholtzerPhiladelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 62)