WASHINGTON BOROUGH – pp. 476 - 564
Boyd Crumrine, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men (Philadelphia: L. H. Leverts & Co., 1882).
The ancestors of the Acheson family of Washington were natives of Scotland, and about 1604 removed to County Armagh, Ireland, when, in 1776, Sir Archibald Acheson (one of the descendants) became Baron Gosford, and later a viscount. The descendants of the family who came to this country were of a collateral branch, and settled upon the family estate at Glass Drummond. George, the father of the sons and daughters who came to this country, was born in 1724, and died in July, 1812, aged eighty-eight years. Elizabeth, his wife, was a daughter of David Wier, a Belfast merchant. She was born in 1728, and died July 29, 1808, aged eighty years. They left five sons, – George, John, Thomas, William, and David, and two daughters, – Hannah and Ellen. All the children came to this country except William, who remained on the homestead at Glass Drummond. The first to emigrate to America was John, who about the year 1784 came to Washington, Pa., where he commenced to trade, and soon after established other trading points at Cincinnati and Wheeling. He was also employed by the United States government in the furnishing supplied to the army for the Indian wars. His death by apoplexy occurred in 1790, while crossing the Allegheny Mountains on horseback on his way to Philadelphia. He left a widow and two daughters in Ireland. The eldest daughter died young, and Hannah, the youngest daughter, came to this country in 1807 in charge of the Rev. Thomas Campbell. She lived with her uncle David, and died in 1837, aged fifty years.
Thomas Acheson came to this country in 1786, and settled in Washington with his brother John, with whom he became associated in business. After the death of John, in 1791, he entered into partnership with David, his younger brother, and continued the mercantile business as long as he lived. In 1809 he erected the brick building on which the First National Bank building is now (1882) being erected, the old house having been demolished the latter part of May, 1882. In this house Gen. Acheson lived till his death in 1815. He was commissioned commissary-general of the army of the United States in 1812. He was a man of pleasing address, and wielded great influence in the town and county. He left six children, Elizabeth, George, James C., Hannah, Jane, and Thomas. Elizabeth became the wife of Benjamin Stewart, Esq.; they both died in 1838. George studied law and died in early life. James C. married and settled in Wheeling, where he died a few years ago, leaving a widow and children. Thomas is the only survivor. Hannah Acheson, a sister of John and Thomas, was married in Ireland to James Shields, and became the mother of four children before she came to the United States in 1800. Of these children William settled in Nashville, Tenn., and died in December, 1837, leaving two children, who were sent to the family of David Acheson, and both died before reaching maturity. Thomas Shields, a son of Hannah, came to Washington about 1820, and became a clerk in the store of his uncle and remained a few years, when his health failed and he went to South America, and later settled in Nashville, where he died a few years after his brother William. George Shields, a brother of William and Thomas, settled in Washington County, and had two children, Hannah and Thomas, both of whom are living. Ellen Acheson, the youngest daughter of George Acheson, and sister of John and Thomas, married Joseph McCullough in Ireland and settled there. They emigrated to this country about 1791, arriving about the time of the death of her brother John. They removed to Kentucky, where they died a few years later, leaving two children, George and Nancy, who were brought to Pennsylvania, George to Cumberland County, where he grew to manhood and died. His daughter, Ellen, became the wife of the Rev. Dr. A. McGill, of Princeton Theological Seminary. Nancy was placed with her uncles, Thomas and David, with whom she lived until her marriage with the Hon. Thomas H. Baird, with whom she lived many years and left many descendants.
David Acheson, the youngest of the family of brothers and sisters who came to this country, emigrated in the spring of 1788 to join his brothers. As a certificate of character, he brought with him from the pastor of his father’s church the following letter: “The bearer, David Acheson, intending to remove to North America, this therefore is to certify that he is a young man of sober, 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.” He embarked for Philadelphia on the “Friendship,” Capt. Rue, from Belfast, May 14, 1788. A safe voyage was made, and he joined his brothers in Washington, and immediately became associated with his brother John in the contracts for furnishing supplied to the armies of the United States. These contracts continued until the death of John in 1791. Among the business papers of David Acheson were accounts of mercantile expeditions from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 1790-91 by John and David Acheson, with a document written in the Spanish language given to David Acheson by the Spanish authorities permitting him to convey his merchandise within their territory. After the death of his brother John he turned his attention to the study of law for a time with James Ross, but soon abandoned it and became engaged in mercantile pursuits with his brother Thomas. In 1795 (when twenty-five years old) he was elected to represent Washington County in the State Legislature, and again in 1797 and 1804. He was married in the spring of 1799 to Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Young, of Philadelphia, who died on the 27th of February, 1800. An infant daughter was left to him, who was placed with her grandmother in Philadelphia, by whom she was brought up. In November, 1802, he visited his parents and while abroad traveled through Ireland and England, spending about six months. He married as a second wife, Oct. 30, 1805, Mary, daughter of John Wilson, of Washington, and removed to Philadelphia, where he remained nine years, and in 1814 returned to Washington. While residing in Philadelphia four children were born to them, – John, Alexander W., Catharine, and David, who died young. Upon his return to Washington, Mr. Acheson erected the mansion-house now owned by the Rev. Dr. James I. Brownson. He entered into business in Washington, but later in life, by the depression in real estate, he became financially embarrassed and was not again engaged in active pursuits. In 1840, when seventy years of age, he revisited Ireland and remained until the spring of 1842, when he returned home and lived an uneventful life the remainder of his days. In 1848 he was stricken with paralysis, and with mind shattered and bodily powers impaired he lived until Dec. 1, 1851, when he died at home surrounded by his family, at the age of eighty-one years. The following is from an obituary notice of him: “He was an accurate and close observer of public and political affairs as connected not only with our own government, but also 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 judgement 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.”
Judge Alexander W. Acheson and Mrs. Dr. James I. Brownson, a son and daughter of David Acheson, are both well-known and life-long residents of Washington.