Harry White: General, Senator, Judge, and Master of Croylands

For a Judge in Indiana County to bear on his arms the teeth marks of bloodhounds employed to track down escaped prisoners is quite unusual, but Harry White was a most interesting person in Indiana County history.  In fact, his long and eventful career is likely unsurpassed in local annals with respect to versatility, public service, and sheer drama.

Harry White was the fourth and youngest child of Thomas and Catherine White and was born in Indiana in 1834.  His father was the distinguished Judge of the 10th Pennsylvania whose only fault, according to a lawyer friends, was that “I sometimes thought he leaned a little against me in a trial lest it would be thought that his friendship affected his fairness and impartiality on the bench.”

harry white
Harry White

Young Harry received his early education at Indiana Academy (located on the site of the Clark House) and from private tutors.  In 1850, he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) which awarded him his degree in 1854.  Although he desired to go south which one of his classmates and teach school, he yielded to his father’s request to return to Indiana and begin the study of law.  After serving a two-year apprenticeship in his father’s law office, Harry passed the bar examination administered by a special committee of three lawyers. Characteristically, he assisted in the trial of a case the day following his admission to the bar.

That same year, 1856, the Republican party emerged as a power in national politics.  Despite the fact that this was the first national election in which the 22-year-old barrister voted, he became so actively engrossed in the new party’s anti-slavery stand that he was named the first Chairman of the Republican party in Indiana County.  He made his maiden political speech in Blairsville which he followed up with such a vigorous campaign that Fremont, the Republican Presidential candidate, swept the County by a whopping majority.

Assured of a bright future, Harry White in 1860 married the lovely Anna Lena Sutton whose family occupies a prominent position in Indiana County.  They had two daughters and two sons.

Attorney White’s political zeal and prowess were noted by party leaders who marked him as a comer in the party.  In 1859-60 he entered local politics by getting himself elected to the Indiana Borough Council.  However, the outbreak of the Civil War interrupted White’s rising political stardom for four years.  Organizing a company which elected him Captain, he tendered the unit to Governor Curtin who politely rejected it.  When Captain White inquired why the Governor had not accepted his offer, Curtin replied: “I did not accept you because of the request of your father.  You know, Harry, how highly I esteem your father, and with tears in his eyes he besought me not to accept you for service as you were all he had at home.” (Harry’s sister, Juliet, had died in 1853 and his two older brothers, Richard and Alexander, had left Indiana.)

After cogitating a moment on the Governor’s explanation, Harry replied: “I am sorry to distrust my father, but I feel it my duty to go into the serve and I am going, if I have to carry a musket.”  Sensing White’s firm resolve, the Governor rejoined, “If that is the way of it I will commission you as Major of the 67th Regiment, which is struggling in recruiting at Cammacks Woods at Philadelphia.”

Upon receiving his commission, Major White proceeded to recruit and organize his regiment which went into active service during the early part of 1862.  For a while the regiment was detailed to protect the railroads around Washington, after which it was sent to Harper’s Ferry and Berryville which commanded the approaches to Virginia’s lush Shenandoah Valley, “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.”

While White was thus serving with the Union Army in Virginia, the votes of his senatorial district, which then comprised of Indiana and Armstrong Counties, elected him to the Senate of Pennsylvania.  President Lincoln granted the Major a leave of absence to attend the legislative session which convened in January 1863.  During the ensuing months, he occasionally slipped away to visit his troops, and he turned over his entire Senate salary to the Soldiers’ Relief Fund of Armstrong and Indiana Counties.

In the spring of 1863, he rejoined his regiment just before General Lee began his northern invasion which culminated in the battle of Gettysburg. White’s force marched his regiment to Winchester to reinforce General Milroy whose division was crushed and swept aside by the advance of General Richard Ewell’s corps as it surged toward Pennsylvania.  In this decisive engagement the redoubtable 9th Louisiana Tigers captured Major White.

At this stage of the war, the combatants had discontinued the practice of exchanging prisoners.  Hence, Major White was incarcerated at Libby Prison in Richmond.  Here he languished until the fall of 1863 when an agreement was reached for the exchange of surgeons.  Seeing in this ruling an opportunity to escape, White disguised himself as a surgeon and was taken aboard a flag-of-truce steamer which sailed down the James River toward City Point where the exchange was to be effected.  As the boat neared its destination, the Confederate commissioner in charge of the exchange received word that Major White was aboard disguised as a surgeon.  Thereupon he ordered the prisoners to line up and demand that Major White “come forth.” The Major manfully complied without hesitation, but contended that he had a right to employ any stratagem to escape.  The Confederate commission did not dispute this point, but nevertheless returned his charge to Libby where he was confined in a dungeon until Christmas.  Then he was transferred to the prison at Salisbury, North Carolina where he was placed in solitary confinement for the remainder of the winter.

The severe treatment meted Major White was occasioned partly by his effort to escape and partly by a political situation.  The latter centered around the equal division of the Pennsylvania Senate into “hawks” and “doves” with respect to the prosecution of the war.  As White was an avowed “hawk,” the Confederate government resorted to extreme measures to bar his escape or exchange even though the Federal government offered a captured Confederate Major General and several officers of lesser rank in return for the Indianian.

During the spring and summer of 1864, several attempts were made to move White to notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia, but each time he managed to escape only to be recaptured.  On his last escapade the Major was recaptured after 29 days by vicious bloodhounds which left deep teeth scars on his arm.  In September, after 16 months of debilitating imprisonment, Major White finally rejoined the Union Army near Atlanta by using a ruse to get out of prison and joining a group of prisoners who were being exchanged after the Atlanta campaign.

After serving briefly with General George Thomas in the Nashville campaign, Major White returned home, reaching Indiana on the night of October 5, 1864.  He quickly regained his normal vigor and early in November he attended a reception in his honor at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  Governor Curtin, the master of ceremonies on this felicitous occasion, called on the hero from Indiana to recount his harrowing experiences.

In the waning months of the war, Governor Curtin commissioned Harry White Colonel of the 67th Regiment, and upon his discharge, President Lincoln brevetted him a Brigadier General.

Returning to Indiana after Appomattox, General White zestfully re-entered the political arena.  Beginning in 1865 he served in the State Senate until 1874 at an annual salary of $1,000. As party leader in the Senate, he sponsored a number of important measures including the Evidence Act of 1869 which permitted interested parties to testify on their own behalf in court cases.  He also spearheaded the drive for a Constitutional convention which met in 1872-73 to reform and update the State Constitution.

Among Senator White’s major legislative achievements was the framing and passage in 1871 of an act which chartered and appropriated $20,000 to establish the State Normal School at Indiana (now IUP).  This grant provided the stimulus and encouragement needed to proceed with plans to purchase land and construct buildings.  For this new educational enterprise, the Senator personally lent his support to the project by attending the meeting in County Superintendent J.T. Gibson’s office at which the Normal School Association was formed. Subsequently, he generously subscribed to stock in the school and served on the Board of Trustees for over 40 years.

About this time, Senator White built Croylands, a commodious 13-room gabled, frame house.  It was erected for $6,000 on land which had belonged to White’s father; Croylands became a prominent landmark.

croylands2
Croylands

In 1872, Senator White became a candidate for Governor but lacking machine support he lost the nomination to General Hartranft.  Four years later, White was elected Congressman-at-Large from the district encompassing Armstrong, Clarion, Forest, Indiana, and Jefferson Counties.  Shortly after assuming his seat in the 45th Congress, White was appointed a “visiting statesman” to assist in the arbitration of the Hayes-Tilden election.

In Washington, Congressman White secured an appropriation for the improvement of the upper Allegheny River designed to make it navigable during all seasons.  He also served on the Burnside Military Commission which revamped the organization of the U.S. Army.  During his first time, he vigorously espoused a Constitutional amendment which would provide for the popular election of U.S. Senators at the polls, but in this he was 30 years ahead of his time.

At the age of 50, Harry White departed the national and state legislatures to run for president judge of his judicial district which covered Indiana County.  He served in this post with distinction from 1884 to 1905.  His tenure was marked by a series of controversial decisions involving the granting of liquor licenses.  As state Senator he had authored a law whereby the court received, heard, and passed on license applications.  Upon ascending to the bench, Judge White adopted the policy of deciding each case on the basis of the petitions which were filed for and against the granting of a liquor license.  The result was that he granted no such licenses during his first ten-year term, and consequently, Indiana County was without a hotel licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

The liquor interests retaliated by organizing the opposition to Judge White’s re-election, and they almost succeeded.  After winning the contested election by less than 100 votes, Judge White responded to the sentiment expressed by the voters and henceforth approved a number of liquor license applications.

Judge White left the bench in 1905 to resume, after a long interval, his successful law practice and to engage in numerous business and civic activities.  As the largest individual landowner in the county, he frequently inspected his 1,000-acre domain astride his dark mount, Croylands.  His spare figure also was a familiar sight in town where he served as president of the Indiana County Deposit Bank which his father had helped organize.  He was first Master of the Indiana Masonic Lodge No. 313 and served as the commander of the G.A.R. in Indiana.

On the morning of June 23, 1920, Harry White died at Croylands and was buried in Oakland Cemetery.  His 86-year career, which bridged two centuries, constitutes a proud and notable chapter in the history of Indiana County.

Indiana County Judicial System Part II

As time progress, so did the court system in Indiana County.  To recap from last week’s blog post, Indiana County was part of the newly created Tenth Judicial District, which included Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset, and Westmoreland County.  Jefferson County, which then included parts of present Elk and Forest Counties, was also attached to Indiana County for judicial purposes.  In 1818, Somerset County was transferred to the 14th District.

Because of the size of the Judicial District, it was essential to have justice of the peace districts, which were in general, arranged according to townships.  Indiana County consisted of: Conemaugh (264 taxable inhabitants, had 2 justices of the peace), Blacklick (213 taxable inhabitants and 2 justices), Wheatfield (277 taxable inhabitants and 2 justices), Armstrong and Centre (including the South part of Indiana, 303 taxable inhabitants and 3 justices), Washington (including the north part of Indiana, 167 taxable inhabitants and 3 justices), and Mahoning (135 taxable inhabitants and 2 justices) Townships.  This gave Indiana County 6 districts and 14 justices in 1814; by 1827 there were 11 districts and 20 justices, this trend continued in later years as new townships were organized.

Since the Court’s jurisdiction included four, and later three counties, court was only held in Indiana four time a year; it began on the second Monday and later it was the fourth Monday of March, June, September, and December.  “Court weeks” were an important occasion in town, as many visitors came to Indiana.  Civil actions were heard in the Court of Common Pleas, and criminal chargers were heard in the Court of Quarter Sessions.

John Young was appointed as Indiana County’s first judge, along with him there were two associate judges, Charles Campbell and James Smith.  It is interesting to note that associate judges were not required to be learned in the Law.  Judge Young resigned at the end of the November Term 1836, after serving on the Bench for thirty years.  His successor was Thomas White, who was appointed in December 1836.

The following is a list of Associate Judges and the time period of their service: Charles Campbell (1806-1828), James Smith (1806-1818), Joshua Lewis (1818-April 25, 1828), John Taylor (1828-1836), Andrew Brown (1828 – September 29, 1830), Samuel Moorhead Jr. (1830-?), Dr. Robert Mitchell (1836-1842), Meek Kelly (1842-May 14, 1843), James McKennan (1842-?), John Cunningham was appointed in 1843 succeeding Kelly.  In the early days of the judicial system, all those in the judiciary – judges, associate judges and even justices of the peace – were appointed by the Governor, unlike being elected in later years.  Since they were appointed by the Governor, he could also remove appointees from office for cause.  This happened on February 28, 1828 when Governor Shulze revoked the commission of James Dunn as justice of Wheatfield Township because of a “misdemeanor in office” of which he was convicted in December 1826.

Occasionally judges were brought in from other districts, as occurred in 1842 when notice of a special court session was advertised to begin on August 1, 1842, presided over by Judge Robert C. Grier of Allegheny County, for the trial of cases in which Judge Thomas White had been concerned as counsel.  Later, Judge Grier was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President James K. Polk, and he served on the nation’s highest court from August 10, 1846 until January 31, 1870.

Prosecuting attorneys for criminal cases were appointed from outside the county, and usually represented the Commonwealth as deputy attorney general for several counties.  Prosecuting attorneys included William H. Brackenridge, Henry Shippen, Thomas White, a Mr. Canon, and W.R. Smith.  Ephraim Carpenter was appointed deputy attorney general on March 23, 1824; he lived in Indiana and served for 12 years until William Banks was appointed on March 1836.  August Drum was appointed on March 25, 1839 and was replaced in June 1842 by Thomas C. McDonald who only served a year when Thomas Sutton was appointed on June 26, 1843.  Sutton also only served a little over a year when he was replaced by Thomas C. McDowell on September 25, 1844.

At the time, the sheriff and his deputies, or the local constables, had a lot of power; they were entrusted with arresting criminals, executing judicial orders, subpoenas, etc.  Thomas McCartney was the first Indiana County Sheriff.  He was followed by Robert Robinson in 1809, James Elliott in 1812, Thomas Sutton in 1815, Clemence McGara in 1818, Thomas Sutton in 1821, Henry Kinter in 1824, James Gordon in 1827, James Taylor in 1830, Joseph Loughry in 1833, James Kier in 1836, William Evans in 1839, and David Ralston in 1842.  For a time the chief law enforcement officer was called the “High Sheriff,” later being shortened to just sheriff.

The first two jails in Indiana County were the hickory log jail and the stone jail of 1807.  The third county jail was built at the corner of North Sixth Street and Nixon Avenue, it was also made of stone.  This structure also had its faults as an editorial in the Indiana Republican in 1846 reported: “a pretty specimen confined in it, Sampson like, carried off the gates and made his escape!”  George W. Robinson was another jail-breaker, he was confined on a charge of bigamy, and escaped on May 17, 1841.

To get a sense of how busy the court system was, take the following data for Indiana County from the decade of 1823-1833:

Number of prosecutions for homicide: 4

Cases in which Grand Juries returned bills: 3

Cases in which Grand Juries found no bill: 1

Acquittals of First-degree murder: 3

Acquittals of Second-degree murder: 2

Convictions of First-degree murder: 1

Convictions of Second-degree murder: 0

Convictions of manslaughter: 0

Acquittals of manslaughter: 0

In 1835, Robert Herrin was killed in a fight with Thomas Jones, both were African-American and from Blairsville.  At the trial before Judge John Young, a verdict of second-degree murder was brought against Jones, and he was sentenced to twelve years in Western Penitentiary.

Other early murders in the County were committed along the Pennsylvania Canal.  In 1830, the confession of Joseph Evans was published.  Evans came from to Blairsville from Maine in 1829 and started working on the construction of the canal.  He was under contract by Hugh McCrea as a cook most of the time.  During a drunken brawl he accidentally killed John Cissler.  There were others involved in the brawl including David Linsebigler, John Ball and a fellow called “Dublin.”  Evans confessed that he struck Linsebigler in the ear, kicked him in the pit of the stomach and jumped on him across his shoulders with both feet. He then struck Ball on the side of the head and caught “Dublin” by the hair and also kicked him in his stomach, let him fall and then kicked him twice more in the side.

Another canal murder was Commonwealth v. King Hewit, Mr. Hewit was tried February 20, 1844 at Greensburg.  He killed James Halferty, Captain of the boat Clipper at John Moonshower’s lock between 4-5 miles east of Blairsville in a 4am fight over who should enter the lock first.  The verdict was second degree murder.

Another type of crime that has since been replaced by car theft was horse stealing.  The Indiana County sheriff advertised in the Westmoreland Republican for two horse thieves, Amassa and Alpha Latimore, who were imprisoned December 5, 1819 and had broken out of jail.  There was a $100 reward for their capture, or $50 for either one.  There were also petty and unsolved larcenies.

The progression of time was causing the judicial system to grow, as the town grew so did the need for judicial system.  Not only with general business, but also with the increase in criminal activity.

Anti-Slavery Movement and the Trial of Anthony Hollingsworth

The Antislavery Movement in some respects put Indiana County on the map, and made it a safe haven for runaway slaves. The first formally organized antislavery society came into existence sometime around 1837. Antislavery supporters included Reverend David Blair, Joseph Campbell, Samuel Henry Thompson, and Dr. Robert Mitchell. Aside from the County society, there were also local antislavery societies including one in Center Township to which membership was open to “any person not being a slaveholder and consenting to the principles of this constitution.”

To be fair, there were some proslavery advocates in Indiana County as well. The most prominent being David Ralston, who even as late as 1862 maintained his view by publishing “A Bible View of Slavery,” in which he defended slavery on a basis of Bible arguments.

Because of the majority in favor of Anti-Slavery, Indiana County became a safe-haven for slaves attempting to flee their owners. Take for example the three young men who made their way to Indiana County from Virginia in April of 1845. They were aided by a small band of anti-slavery leaders who were businessmen from Indiana and Blairsville. They hid and fed the boys for two months.

Hollingsworth was sheltered and employed by James Simpson, to help on his farm. In June, one of the boys, 12-year-old Anthony Hollingsworth, was captured, bound to a horse and taken to the old Indiana House Hotel, which was operated by David Ralston, who had strong proslavery views and was also sheriff of the county. It was at the Hotel that he awaited his return to slavery in Virginia under his master, Garrett Van Metre.

Being a small town, word traveled quickly through Indiana, especially among the anti-slavery activists, and an angry mob surrounded the hotel, threatening to burn the men out to free the young boy.

Dr. Mitchell calmed the crowd, in part by promising them that Hollingsworth would be protected by the law. William Banks, a lawyer, was to present a writ of habeas corpus the following morning.

dr. robert mitchell
Dr. Robert Mitchell

In the morning, Judge Thomas White, another anti-slavery activist, took to the bench to hear the case. A steady stream of people came through the doors. In front of Judge White sat Anthony Hollingsworth, in the custody of the sheriff, and Van Metre with his friends, on one side. On the other sat William Banks and Dr. Mitchell flanked by their co-antislavery members. Judge White carefully reviewing the case, he granted the petition, ordering Anthony Hollingsworth freed. After this ruling a great roar came over the crowded courtroom.

This was not the first interaction between Van Metre and Mitchell. Mitchell was sued for harboring a fugitive slave named Jared Harris. This case was tried in the United States circuit court at Pittsburgh before Judge Grier. Judge Grier was a strong proslavery man, as could be seen in his charge to the jury. Dr. Mitchell was convicted, and a part of the pine forest, near present day Diamondville, in which the slaves found shelter, was sold at sheriff’s sale to defray the cost of the $10,000 suit.

*Van Metre v. Mitchell, 28 F. Cas. 1036 (Cir. Ct. W.D.PA 1853).