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Below is a family biography included in the History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania published in 1889 by A. Warner & Co.   These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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GEN. JAMES O’HARA was a native of Ireland, who immigrated to this country when quite young. He came to Fort Pitt in 1773, and was an Indian trader here before the revolutionary war. He entered the army as a private, and became a captain in the 9th Virginia regiment. His superior business qualities and activity made him necessary to the quartermaster’s department, and he served as assistant quartermaster.

After the revolutionary war he was actively engaged in business, among other things filling large contracts with the government for supplying the western armies, and acted as purchasing agent for Indian supplies. When the town of Pittsburgh was laid out, and afterward the reserve tract opposite Pittsburgh, on the north side of the Allegheny river, he made large purchases of property at the low prices offered by the Penns and the state of Pennsylvania. He also acquired large landed property in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. He was foremost and led the way in every enterprise calculated to promote the business interests and growth of Pittsburgh. In his various active movements his life was constantly exposed and in danger. The Indians in the interest of the British had planned to murder him at Schoenbrum, one of the Moravian towns. The Moravians discovered the plot, and sent one of their most trusty Indians, called Anthony, to guide him by night through the woods, avoiding the trail, to Fort Pitt, which place he safely reached, although hotly pursued by eleven Hurons.

In 1788 Mr. O’Hara was a presidential elector, and cast his vote for George Washington at the first presidential election.

In 1792 he was appointed quartermaster-general in the United States army, and served as such during the whisky insurrection of 1794, the first armed rebellion against the United States, to suppress which Washington himself drew the sword and marched at the head of fifteen thousand men as far as Bedford.

In 1795 Gen. O’Hara, as quartermaster-general, marched with Gen. Anthony Wayne in the memorable campaign which put an end to Indian hostilities at the battle of the Fallen Timbers and the treaty of Greenville.

In 1797 Gen. O’Hara, in partnership with Maj. Isaac Craig, erected the first Pittsburgh glassworks. It was a stone building on the south side of the Monongahela river, nearly opposite the Point. Peter William Eichbaum was brought from Germany to superintend the works. Green glass bottles were made. In a note of Gen. O’Hara found among his papers after his death he says: “Today we made the first bottle, at a cost of thirty thousand dollars.” About this time he built his own ships and loaded them, some with furs and peltries from the great northwest for Liverpool, others with flour for South America and the West Indies. A bushel of salt had been worth a cow and a calf at Pittsburgh, and men were not allowed to walk across the floor when salt was being measured.

After Wayne’s treaty Gen. O’Hara entered into a contract with the government to supply Oswego with provisions, which were then cheaper at Pittsburgh than in the settlements on the Mohawk. Gen. O’Hara was a far-sighted calculator; he had obtained correct information in relation to the manufacture of salt at Salina, and in his contract for provisioning the garrison he had in view the supplying of the western country with salt from Onondaga. This was a project that few men would have thought of, and at that time hardly anyone else would have undertaken. The means of transportation had to be created on the whole line. Boats and teams must be provided to get the salt from the works to Oswego. A vessel was built to transport it to the landing below the falls of Niagara, wagons procured to carry it to Schlosser, then boats constructed to carry it to Black Rock. There another vessel was required to transport it to Erie. The road from Erie to the head of French creek had to be improved, the country through which it passed being mostly swampy, and the salt carried in wagons across the portage; and finally boats provided to float it down French creek and the Allegheny river to Pittsburgh. It required no ordinary capacity and perseverance to give success to this enterprise. An individual undertaking at the present time to exchange Pittsburgh goods for furs and Russian leather with the traders at Nijni Novgorod by way of the great lakes and Behring straits would hardly be equal to it in boldness and in complexity of detail. Gen. O’Hara, however, could execute as well as plan. He packed his flour and provisions in barrels suitable for salt. These barrels were reserved in his contract. Arrangements were made with the manufacturers, and the necessary advances paid to secure a supply of salt. Two vessels were built, one on Lake Ontario and one on Lake Erie, and the means of transportation on the various sections of the line were secured. The plan fully succeeded, and salt of fair quality was delivered at Pittsburgh and sold at four dollars a bushel. The vocation of those who brought salt across the mountains on packhorses was gone. The trade opened by this man, whose success was equal to his merits, was extensively prosecuted by others. A large amount of capital was invested in the salt trade, and the means of transportation so greatly increased that in a few years the Pittsburgh market was supplied with Onondaga salt at two dollars and forty cents per bushel.

In 1804 Gen. O’Hara was appointed a director of the branch of the Bank of Pennsylvania established that year at Pittsburgh. This was the first bank west of the Alleghany mountains. The “Miami Exporting Company” was not then a bank and did not become so until afterward. Gen. John Wilkins, Jr., was the first president, and he was succeeded by Gen. O’Hara, who was the president when the Branch Bank of Pennsylvania was transferred to and merged in the office of the Bank of the United States. In the first board of the Branch Bank of Pennsylvania were the following other officers of the revolutionary army: Gen. Presley Neville, Maj. Abraham Kirkpatrick, Maj. Ebenezer Denny, Gen. Adamson Tannehill, Surgeon George Stevenson.

A large proportion of the prominent citizens of Pittsburgh at this early period having been officers of the army, they necessarily constituted a majority in the boards of trustees of the church, the bank and the academy. Nor does it appear that the Bank of Pennsylvania, or its successor, the Bank of the United States, had any reason to regret their confidence in these gentlemen. Only one other branch of the United States Bank (the office at Mobile) was more successfully managed or lost less money. To these brave men the country was a debtor when they died, and continues so to the descendants of most of them. But no one lost by them.

James O’Hara, while as enterprising as Astor or Girard, was as large hearted and magnanimous as Abraham. John Henry Hopkins, a young Irishman, afterward bishop of Vermont, came to the United States in the early part of this century, and about 1811 to Pittsburgh, poor, but full of intelligence and activity. Gen. O’Hara, pleased with Hopkins’ business qualifications, took him into partnership in an iron-works he established at Ligonier, and gave him the management. This business, through no fault of Hopkins, failed, as, indeed, did all business after the war of 1812. Hopkins was overwhelmed, and his hopes apparently blasted for life by his share of the debt which hung over him. O’Hara said to him, “Give yourself no concern. You have done your best. I will pay all the debts.” He gave Hopkins a clear acquittance and settled up all the debts. This incident was told by Bishop Hopkins himself in the accents of a grateful heart.

Gen. O’Hara died at his home on the bank of the Monongahela in 1819, wealthy and full of years, a patriotic soldier, an enterprising business man and a charitable Christian. The tears of the poor and rich alike were shed at his grave and mingled with the clods that fell upon his coffin. Pittsburgh owes him a debt of gratitude, and his memory should be cherished and held sacred.

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This family biography is one of 2,156 biographies included in the History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania published in 1889 by A. Warner & Co.

View additional Allegheny County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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