Harper Family Papers

What's online?

The Harper Family online collection includes images of the Harper Family and Pittsburgh Sanitary Fair buildings as well as correspondence, primarily between John Harper and Dorotha Dix, concerning the Western Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane at Dixmont (later known as Dixmont State Hospital).

What's in the entire collection?

The Harper Family Papers include correspondence, financial material, Civil War documents of Albert Harper, materials related to John Harper's professional and philanthropic work, family histories, and images of family members.

About the Harper Family

John Harper (1811-1891) was born in County Donegal, Ireland, and emigrated to America with his parents in 1820. When the family first came to America, they settled in Washington, D.C. By 1826, several years after the death of John Harper's father, the family moved to Jefferson County, Ohio. In 1832, John Harper, who was already working as a bookkeeper in Pittsburgh, accepted a position of clerk with the Bank of Pittsburgh. He rose from clerk to cashier and finally to the president of the bank. As the president of the Bank of Pittsburgh, he became a community leader and held offices in various benevolent and commercial associations. He was actively involved in two important Pittsburgh receptions in 1865-- accommodating the funeral procession of President Lincoln and General Grant's celebration. He was the first secretary and treasury of the Western Pennsylvania Hospital, and later served as president of the board of managers. He also served as a trustee of Western University of Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh), corporator and director of the Allegheny Cemetery and commissioner of the sinking fund of Allegheny County. With commercial organizations, John Harper served as president of the Pittsburgh Clearing House, president of the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Suspension Bridge Company, and director of the Monongahela Navigation Company.

John Harper was married for over 50 years to Lydia Electa, daughter of Nathan W. Metcalf of Otsego County, New York. The couple had five sons and one daughter who all survived childhood and received a college education. These children are: John A. Harper (born 1839), Albert Metcalf Harper (b. 1843), Orlando M. Harper (b. 1846), Charles S. Harper (b. 1853), and Lydia Mallory (died 1884). Of John and Lydia Harper's children, Albert Metcalf Harper (1843-1871), their second child, appears to have led the most prominent life. Albert attended the Kenwood School, a boarding preparatory school in New Brighton, Pennsylvania (Beaver County). At age eighteen, Albert entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York. Albert left Rensselaer during the summer of 1862 when he enlisted with the 139th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Albert was mustered into service on September 1, 1862 and was immediately made an officer as regimental adjutant. The first order given to the 139th Regiment was to bury the dead of the Second Battle of Bull Run, a battle fought three days before the regiment was even mustered. Shortly after tending to the battlefield dead at the Second Bull Run, the 139th Regiment fought in the battles of Antietam (September 17, 1862), Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), Chancellorsville (May 2, 1863), Battle of Mary's Heights at Sedgewick (May, 1863) and Gettysburg (July 2, 1863). At the close of 1863, he was ordered to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and stayed there throughout the winter. Albert's active military service ended on May 5, 1864 when Albert was wounded (so severely that he was initially presumed dead) at the Battle of the Wilderness. After recovering from his injuries, he remained in the Army and held staff positions in Pennsylvania. By August 1864, Albert was promoted to the rank of Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General of U.S. Volunteers of the Department of the Monongahela. He was detailed by General Couch to head a force of infantry, calvary and artillery in the mountains near Uniontown, during a threatened invasion of Pennsylvania. In January 1865, Albert was assigned to the staff of General Cadwalader, Department of Pennsylvania, headquartered in Philadelphia. He was appointed to the honor guard for President Lincoln's remains as the procession stopped in Philadelphia during the travel from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill. In May 1865 he was breveted Major and Assistant Adjutant-General of U.S. Volunteers, but turned down an offer for full commission in the United States Army. He was honorably discharged on June 27, 1865 upon his parents' petition to Secretary of War Stanton (a family friend). He immediately resumed his education at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and completed his degree in 1867. Upon graduation, Albert took a position in the mercantile business, establishing Dilworth, Harper and Company. Albert contracted typhoid fever in 1871 and did not recover. The 181st Post of the Grand Army of the Republic was named in his honor and they erected a monument to his war service in 1886.

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