John A. Harper, president of the Bank of Pittsburgh, is remotely of English descent. From the reign of James I till the death of Robert Harper, the great-grandfather of John, in 1780, his ancestors were the owners of one of the townlands in County Tyrone, Ireland and were men of high character. John Harper was born in County Donegal Ireland December 5, 1811. At the age of nine (or in 1820) he came with his parents to Washington, DC, where he received a thorough practical education under the superintendence of a relative, Alexander McCormick, Esq. In his boyhood he was distinguished for the strength of his memory, as well as for his domestic tastes and habits. His father, Hugh Harper, died in 1821, and in 1826 his mother, with her children, moved to Jefferson County Ohio (his brother Lecky Harper, still living, has been a newspaper editor for more than fifty years, and is ex-senator in that state). When fifteen years of age he took a subordinate position in a mercantile house at Steubenville, and four years later he had become bookkeeper and confidential clerk. During his clerkship he was noted for his studious habits and the scholarly attainments he acquired. At this time, Edwin M. Stanton was employed in a neighboring store and between the two young men an intimacy sprang up that terminated only with the life of Mr. Stanton. In 1831, Mr. Harper became a bookkeeper in the house of M. & A. Leech, of Pittsburgh, and on Sept. 19, 1832, he was chosen, without his solicitation, to a position in the Bank of Pittsburgh, where he soon became principal clerk. In 1827, he was sent to Beaver as a cashier in the branch bank at that place, but was soon recalled to become assistant cashier in the Bank of Pittsburgh. He was chosen cashier on the resignation of that office by Mr. John Snyder, and subsequently succeeded Mr. John Graham as President of the bank, which position he still occupies (1889). It is proper to remark here that during his service of more than half a century the bank has passed safely through all the financial crises that have occurred: that there was never a defalcation in its accounts, or a misdemeanor by any of its officers involving the loss of a dollar. It has never repudiated its obligations and never failed to pay a semi-annual dividend. Mr. Harper has occupied many other responsible positions. He has been president of the Pittsburgh Clearing House ever since its organization, is president of the Western Pennsylvania Hospital of which he is one of the founders, president of the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Suspension Bridge Co., a director of the Monongahela Navigation Co., a trustee in the Western University of Pennsylvania, a corporator and director of the Allegheny Cemetery, a commissioner of the sinking fund of Allegheny County and a member of other useful associations.
In June 1836, Mr. Harper married Miss Lydia Electa, a daughter of Nathan W. Metcalf of Otsego County, NY. Mrs. Harper’s genealogy runs through an honored line to Michael Metcalf, who came from Norwich, England, to the colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1637, because of the religious tyranny of Bishop Wren of Norwich. They have five sons and one daughter and to all these who survived their childhood were given a collegiate education. The family record might end here but a few words more may not be amiss. The issue of the subject of this sketch might suggest inquiry as to the quality of their fruit. Major Harper, whose life history follows this sketch, died unmarried. The only daughter, Lydia, married George B. Mallory, civil engineer, of New York, and died at the residence of her parents October 4, 1884, leaving a son John Harper Mallory. John A. Harper, born June 29, 1839, in Pittsburgh married, May 30, 1882, Flora, daughter of Col. Edward Warner Sherburne, of St. Louis, MO., and they have three daughters. Orlando M. Harper, born September 17, 1846, in Pittsburgh, married November 22, 1887, Kathleen Theodora, daughter of John Livingston Ludlow, M.D., of Philadelphia, PA. They have two daughters, and reside in New York. Charles S. Harper, born March 5, 1853 in Pittsburgh, married, October 26, 1882, Julia, daughter of Gardner Bower Murfey, of Cleveland Ohio, they have one daughter and reside in New York. The subjects of this sketch, John Harper and Lydia Electa, his wife, celebrated their golden wedding June 4, 1886, with mental powers unimpaired. Both are able to look back without regrets on long and well spent lives.
John A. Harper was a member of the Duquesne Club. John Harper and Reuben Miller served as directors of the Bank of Pittsburgh, located on Fourth Avenue, founded in 1814.
The Harper’s son John Arunah Harper, shared in his father’s banking profession. John Arunah Harper’s children: Granddaughter Florence married Herbert Fulton Byram; granddaughter Lydia Electa married Ralph E. Brush and lived in Greenwich, CT.