Character Sketch - William Smurthwaite - Kay's Family History and Genealogy

Kay's Family History and Genealogy

Character Sketch - William Smurthwaite

This Article was published in a local Steubenville, Jefferson County Ohio Newspaper, November 30, 1895.

When "The Weigher" affirms that the subject of this sketch this week is one of the best known men in Steubenville, and says that he is well and favorably known and respected simply by his acts he has shown that he is a man to be trusted, is far above the average in intelligence and ability, he but states a fact that all our readers are aware of.

William Smurthwaite for years has occupied a position that placed him between capital and labor, and to-day no man lives in this city who has the confidence and esteem of both to such a marked degree. This is evidence that he has been fair and just and done to others as he would be done by. It is due to him more than anyone else, that there have been no labor disturbances at the Market Street coal shaft. When ever a question arose between the operators and miners it was settled by him and his decision was accepted by both sides without question. Sometimes he told the miners that their grounds were untenable and could not be granted, and again he told the operators that the miners should have what they asked for. No matter which way he decided the party that got the worst of the matter acquiesced without question and the trouble was settled right there. This was because he had both sides confidence that he would do nothing but what he believed to be right. The Steubenville Coal Mining Company are satisfied that their Superintendent is a man to be trusted at all times, and the miners have so much confidence in him that his word to them is law.

As Mining Engineer he takes high rank. He knows his business and no accident of any moment has happened at the Market street shaft since he has had charge of it. He is known all over Ohio as one of the Best Mining Engineers in the country. At a meeting of the Ohio Institute of Mining Engineers, held in this city in July 1886, Hon. R. Sherrard, President of the Steubenville Coal Mining Company, in his address said:

"The company built some years ago, one hundred coke ovens, from which , for several years were drawn from twenty-five hundred to three thousand bushels of coke daily, which was made principally from the slack made in mining the coal. The management of these two shafts has been under the control of William Smurthwaite, as Superintendent since 1861, of whom, I affirm, he has no superior in this State for intelligence, prudence with men, care and good judgement with respect to his work, and in his economy in his general management."

Andrew Roy, State Mine Inspector, who held high rank among the mine experts of the country, at the same meeting in the course of an address on the "Labor Question" said:

"As far as Mr. Smurthwaite is concerned, it is safe to assert that he has had no equal in the United States in his special field."

Mr. Smurthwaite has not only proven by his acts that he thoroughly understands the business of mining, but has shown that when trouble occurred in a mine he had energy, pluck and perseverance. When the big explosion occurred in the Jefferson mine, a number of years ago, which resulted in the killing of two men and the injury of several others, he was one of the most active men on the scene in the rescue of victims and preventing further disastrous effects as the result of the explosion. He worked with a will and his work bore good fruit.

Mr. Smurthwaite was born in Philadelphia, Dunham County, England, December 19, 1829, and came to this country in May 1858. When he first prepared to leave his native land, he did not intend to come to America. His brother John, also in life well known in this city as a mine expert, had just returned from Australia, where he had done well, and it was the intention of the two to return to that country. But circumstances willed otherwise, and Steubenville was the gainer of two good citizens. John Smurthwaite was Superintendent of Averick's coal shaft. He died some eighteen or twenty years ago, and his immense funeral is still remembered by our people. Every coal miner in the city turned out to pay him a last respect. His widow still resides in her residence on the corner of Slack street and Linden avenue.

There is a little story in connection with William Smurthwaite's journey to this country, and his early residence here, that might just as well be told now. He never knew what it was to be sick, but on the way over he was attacked with a most violent case of sea sickness. The first few months of his residence in this county, his lines were cast in slippery places, and he had hard luck. Word came to him from England that if he would return home, he could get his old job back, which was a good one, but he said no, as he would rather tackle hard luck in this country than another case of seasickness on the water.

He came to Steubenville in 1861, at the solicitation of the Borlands, who then owned the Market street shaft , afterward selling it to The Steubenville Coal Mining Company. He has been here ever since. In years gone by he handled a pen very masterfully, and has written very able articles on mine engineering for some of the leading papers of the country.

He was tendered the position of Mine Inspector of this State by William H. West, of Bellfountaine, the Republican candidate for Governor in 1885, but Mr. West, who was known as the blind orator, made some indiscreet utterances on the liquor question in a speech at Cleveland, which turned Cincinnati against him, and Bishop, the Democratic candidate, was elected.

Being a man of research and taking a great interest in education, it was meet that Mr. Smurthwaite should be a member of the Board, is a member of the Important committees of Finance, Teachers and Discipline, and Buildings and Repairs. He is recognized as one of the best members of the Board.

He takes great interest in church work. In fact, he is one of the pillars of the Fifth Street M.P. Church, and nothing is done for the welfare of the church that he does not take a hand in.

He is a believer in secret societies and is a member of Steubenville Lodge, No. 45, F. A. M., and Eureka Lodge, No. 35, K. of P.

He resides with his family, which consists of a wife and nine children, in a handsome residence at 414 North Sixth street. There he can usually be found in the evening, after a busy day at the shaft enjoying the comforts of home life.


Reprinted in: Coal Mining in Steubenville and Vicinity, and other subjects of a Local Character "Smurthwaite, William"

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by Kay Starr Schaney