John B. Steel 1861-1920

Hon. John B. Steel

In History of Westmoreland County Pennsylvania — Genealogical Memoirs, Compiled Under the Editorial Supervision of John W. Jordan, Ll.D. of the Historical Society Of Pennsylvania, Illustrated, Vol. II, p23, published by The Lewis Publishing Company of Chicago and New York, 1906, is this section on John Byers Steel:

HON. JOHN B. STEEL, of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, first president judge of the Separate Orphans’ court of Westmoreland county, is the eldest son of William and Sarah Jane (Brown) Steel, born February 17, 1861, on the Hannastown farm, the seat of the famous old town of Hannastown, which was burned by the Indians in 1772, in Hempfield township, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania.

Judge Steel came from that sturdy Scotch-Irish race that has done so much for the cause of liberty and the development of the country, being Scotch-Irish in every line of his ancestry. His great-grandfather, James Steel, was born in Castle Blaney, near Carrick Macross, Ireland, about 1741, and who emigrated to America after the Steel Boy insurrection (1772) stopped on the eastern side of the mountains at that Scotch-Irish hive in Cumberland, now Franklin county, and moved westward about 1773, settling on land in Sewickley manor, now Mount Pleasant township, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, about the time of the formation of Westmoreland county. Here he bought land from the Penns, and became an important land owner in his day of land that is now in the Connellsville coking coal region, four hundred acres of the land bought by him has been passed down through his descendants, and is now owned by his great-grandson, Joseph W. Steel. True to the characteristics of his race he became an agitator for freedom, was a member of Mount Pleasant Association formed to protect this western country, was three years in the Revolutionary army, took the oath of allegiance required by all foreign born citizens, before Hugh Martin, a justice of this county, March 3, 1777, and served with his brothers-in-law, Robert and Andrew Donaldson, in the campaign of the Jerseys. He was married (first) to Elizabeth McMasters, a sister of James McMasters, who lived near his farm. They had two children : Joseph Steel, intermarried with Barbara Blystone, of Franklin township, this county; and Jane Steel, intermarried with William Hunter, near what was then Loudenville, now Perrysville, Richland county, Ohio. About the close of the Revolutionary war, James Steel was married to Elizabeth Donaldson, and they had three children: Elizabeth, born September 24, 1785, intermarried with Alexander Hamilton, of what is now Ruffsdale, Pa. ; James Steel, born on the day of the adoption of the United States constitution, September 17, 1787, intermarried with Martha McCutcheon, of Franklin township, this county, and John Steel, the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, born April 7, 1789, intermarried with his cousin, Martha Walker, the daughter of Andrew and Sallie (Donaldson) Walker, of Virginia, near Steubenville, Ohio. James Steel, the great-grandfather, died September 10, 1823, and was buried at the Middle Presbyterian church, Mount Pleasant township, Westmoreland county. Pa.

John Steel, the grandfather, acquired the old homestead in Mount Pleasant township, and in 1826 purchased the Robert Hanna farm on which was located Hannastown, the former county seat of Westmoreland county, which then embraced all western Pennsylvania. This property became the hometead farm of John Steel, the father of Judge Steel. To John Steel and Martha Walker were born nine children : Sarah, intermarried with Heny Byers, of Grapeville, Pa. ; Eliza, intermarried with Andrew Machesney, of Greensburg, Pa. : James, intermarried with Elizabeth Hanna, Pleasant Unity, Pa. : Joseph Walker, intermarried with Malinda Brechbill, of Greensburg, Pa. ; John, intermarried with Susan Geiger, Beatty, Pa. ; Margaret, intermarried with James M. Steel, her cousin, Salem township, Westmoreland county. Pa. ; Mary J., intermarried with Henry T. Hanna, of Smithton, Pa. ; Martha intermarried with Major David P. Mechling, of Greensburg, Pa. ; and William Steel, intermarried with Sarah Jane Brown, of Hannastown, Pa. All of these are now deceased, except Mary J. Hanna and William Steel. John Steel, the grandfather, died May 22, 1860, being one of the foremost business men and largest land owners of his county. He is buried at the Congruity Presbyterian church.

William Steel, the father of Judge Steel, was born October 1, 1833, and was married to Sarah J. Brown, April 3, 1860. He is a large owner of valuable real estate and coal land, has always been identified with farming and stockraising interests of the county, was Westmoreland’s pioneer in the rearing of shorthorn cattle, and one of western Pennsylvania’s foremost importers and breeders of pure bred draft horses. William and Sarah J. Steel, are both living at the Hannastown farm, in Salem and Hempfield townships, this county, and their children are: Hon. John B. Steel, of Greensburg, Pa.; Mary Herron, intermarried with George Coleman, East End Pittsburg, Pa. ; Eliza Martha, intermarried with Samuel C. Patterson, near New Alexandria, Pa.; Agnes Beatty. intermarried with George S. Barnhart, near Greensburg, Pa.; Helen Milligan intermarried with Samuel C. Hugus, near New Alexandria, Pa. ; Margaret Elder, intermarried with Samuel B. Moore, near Latrobe, Pa. ; Clara Malinda, unmarried, residing at home ; William Oliver Steel, deceased : Joseph Walker Steel ; Sarah Jane Steel, unmarried and residing with their parents ; and Henrietta Marie, intermarried with L. A. Nichols, of Wilkinsburg, Pa.

On the maternal side the ancestry of Judge Steel is also Scotch-Irish ; they came from Scotland with numerous other Covenanters, under King James’ confiscation act, settling in county Donegal, Ireland. Matthew Brown, the seventh grand-ancestor, was a captain in Colonel George Walker’s famous Derry Regiment which rendered such valiant service to the cause of civil and religious liberty at the siege of Londonderry, and at the battle of the Boyne. His sword is still preserved an a precious relic by Howard Brown and William Brown, his descendants in Pittsburgh. His grandson, also Matthew Brown, by name, left county Donegal with his family in 1774, and came to America in company with the Reverends Dobbin and Lynn, who afterwards founded an academy at Gettysburg and taught the first abolition doctrine on the very field where ninety years after freedom received her crowning laurel. He settled at Green Castle. Franklin county, and was there buried, leaving to survive him five children: David, the great-great-grandfather of Judge Steel; John, intermarried with Catharine Foster, sister of Robin Foster, of near New Alexandria, Pa. ; moved to Sugar Creek township, Armstrong county. Pa.; Andrew, of Armstrong county, Pa. ; Samuel Brown said to have moved to Virginia ; Mary, intermarried with James Watt, Franklin county.

David Brown, the great-great-grandfather of Judge Steel, was married to Margaret Oliver, whose mother was an Erskine, of the house of Erskine, Scotland ; he purchased in 1802 the land now owned by John Oliver Brown, his descendant, at the mouth of the White Thorn Run, near New Alexandria, Pennsylvania. To them were born six children : Mary, intermarried with Nathaniel Alexander, Allegheny township, Westmoreland county. Pa. ; Thomas Oliver Brown, grandfather of Judge Steel; Elizabeth, intermarried with Thomas Gailey, Clarksburg, Pa. ; David, intermarried with Maria Beatty, Salem township ; Margaret, intermarried with John Coleman, Elders Ridge, Pa. ; James, intermarried with Margaret Elizabeth Wilson, of Salem township. On the death of David Brown he was buried in the New Alexandria Covenanter churchyard, and his real estate became the property of Thomas Oliver Brown, grandfather of Judge Steel, and James Brown.

Thomas Oliver Brown was married to Nancy Beattie Brown, a daughter of Robert Beattie and Martha (Welsh) Beattie, and a granddaughter of William Beattie, of Knock Bracken, near Belfast, Ireland, and came from a family several of whose members were banished for participation in the Irish rebellion of 1798. Their children were: Martha Welsh, intermarried with Major D. P. Marshall, Arkansas: David Oliver Brown, intermarried with Mary Stewart. Saltsburg, Pa. ; Sarah Jane Brown, intermarried with William Steel ; Margaret Erskine, intermarried with John Elder, Derry township, Westmoreland county, Pa. ; Nancy A., intermarried with Henry Seanor, of Winfield, Kansas ; Mary Elizabeth, intermarried with James Monroe, of Saltsburg, Pa.; Thomas Oliver Brown is buried in the Reformed Presbyterian churchyard at New Alexandria, Pa. All of his children except Sarah Jane Steel are now deceased.

Judge Steel is distinctively a self-made man, worked on the farm, and attended district school and academy during his early life, and later entered Geneva College as a classical student and graduated from that institution in 1885. He read law with Judge James A. Hunter, was admitted to practice in the several courts of Westmoreland county, August, 1888, opened an office for the practice of his profession with Hon. Welty McCullough, and on the return of the latter from congress in the spring of 1889 the law firm of McCullough and Steel was formed, which continued until the death of Mr. McCullough, six months later. He afterwards continued the business oi the firm at their former offices, and at once sprang into full practice at a bar composed of some of the leading legal minds of western Pennsylvania. Later he took into partnership with him H. Clay Beistel, who read law at Dickinson law school and in his office. He has always been a staunch Republican, and for many years has been one of the leaders of his party ; he was the chairman of the organization in 1894, was the candidate of the Republican party for president judge of the court of common pleas in 1899, and was defeated by one hundred and seventy- one votes, by the then present incumbent. Judge Doty, after a most desperate contest in which almost thirty thousand votes were polled. He was put forward by his county and section of the state as a candidate for congressman at large against Hon. Galusha A. Grow, and was elected by the Republican state convention as a delegate at large to the Republican national convention that selected McKinley and Roosevelt. On the creation of the Separate Orphans’ court judgeship in Westmoreland county in 1901, Judge Steel was appointed, on April 26, of that year, as president judge of the Separate Orphans’ court, to fill said position ; he was conceded the nomination by his party, and was elected by a large majority at the November following for the ten years’ term beginning first Monday of January, 1902. He is one of the trustees of the First Presbyterian church of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He has helped to organize and is director in a number of the leading banks of his county, is the owner of and interested in the development of coal in Washington and Westmoreland counties ; is one of the directors of the John W. Pollins Company, the Greensburg Finance Company, the Pittsburgh and Southwestern Coal Company, and is a large owner of coal, farm and town properties.

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