Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ner Middleswarth (1783-1865)

   For today's biography, I have the honor of profiling strangely named U.S. Representative Ner Middleswarth of Pennsylvania. Middleswarth has been one of my perennial favorites on the Strangest Names in American Political History (SNIAPH) list, and I was even able to visit and photograph his gravesite in Snyder County, Pennsylvania in August 2003. The rare portrait of Middleswarth shown above was discovered in Volume II of the 1886 work History of that Part of the Susquehanna and Juanita Valleys, Embraced in the Counties of Mifflin, Juanita, Perry, Union, and Snyder. With this information in hand, I'll now commence in writing a small biography for the man!
   Ner Middleswarth was born in New Jersey on December 12, 1783, the son of John and Martha Middleswarth. Young Ner removed with his family to Northumberland County, Pennsylvania when he was ten and would reside in a log house during his childhood. Remarked as a "brave and hardy boy", he received what was referred to as "scanty schooling" during his youth. Middleswarth saw service during the War of 1812 as a captain, raising a company of volunteers to take part in the war effort. Attached to the Eighth Pennsylvania Rifles, Middleswarth and his company are also mentioned as seeing action during the Niagara Falls campaign, marching towards Buffalo in the latter portion of 1812. 
   Ner Middleswarth is recorded as marrying in 1805 to Christine Schwartzkop (one article lists her last name as "Swartzline".) The couple's fifty-six year union produced twelve children (six sons and six daughters) and are listed as follows: John (1805-1831), May (1808-1876), Moses (1811-1888), Abner (1813-1887), Aaron (1815-1882), Abram (1815-1904), Merib (1818-1890), Elizabeth (1820-1902), Jacob (1822-1864), Martha (1824-1915), Sarah (1827-1900) and Matilda (1829-1915). 

This sketch of Middleswarth was done around the time of his military service.

    In 1815, Middleswarth was elected as a Whig to the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, serving a total of thirteen terms (1815-1842.) During the years 1828 and 1836, he served as House Speaker. Also during his tenure in state government, Middleswarth became quite successful in a variety of business ventures throughout Snyder County. Among these were the development of two sawmills, two distilleries, a clover mill, and a number of other pieces of real estate. In 1853 Middleswarth was elected to his first term in the Pennsylvania State Senate, serving here until 1855.
   In November 1852, Middleswarth won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, where he served one term (1853-1855). At the conclusion of his congressional service, he returned to Pennsylvania, where in 1858 he began serving as associate judge of Snyder county. The latter office is mentioned as being the last public office in which Middleswarth served, as he died a little over a year after leaving this post. It is mentioned that he was worth in excess of over $130,000 in 1860, quite a considerable sum for the time. What is also known is that Middleswarth lost most of this fortune due to a failed business venture involving the Beaver Furnace Company, located in what is now Paxtonville, Pennsylvania.
   Ner Middleswarth died on June 2, 1865, at age 81, and was buried in the Union Cemetery in Beavertown, Pennsylvania. He was predeceased by his wife Christina, who died at age 71 in 1861. During the course of research on this wonderfully named politician, its quite interesting to note that numerous genealogical resources exist that mention Mr. Middleswarth as being one of the most distinguished past residents of Snyder County, and judging by the number of online sources mentioning his life and exploits, many in the Snyder County area still remember his name today! 
  The obituary below for Middleswarth appeared in the June 13, 1865 edition of the Adams Sentinel, a newspaper published in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. If one reads closely, you'll notice that Middleswarth is mentioned as dying "in the 72nd year of his age", when he was in fact 81 years old. He is memorialized in this obit as a "common sense imbued man, whose natural energy and integrity of character rendered him respected and beloved by his fellow citizens."

  On August 17, 2003, I was lucky enough to be on vacation with my family near Beavertown and managed to seek out Middleswarth's final resting place. After some searching, his gravesite was found and one of the pictures I took that day is posted below (note the interesting weeping willow motif carved into the upper part of his stone.) The flag and star next to his gravestone honor his service in the War of 1812.