The Mayors of Pittsburgh: 1794 to 1840

The Chief Burgesses

George Robinson (1794-1800)
– First of the Chief Burgesses of Pittsburgh

W Gen Robinson Street

The records for leaders in Pittsburgh go back to the year 1794 with George Robinson as the first of eight Chief Burgesses of Pittsburgh.

George, it seems, had a run in with the law when he was arrested by General Irvine’s troops, under the direction of President George Washington, for rebel activity during the Whiskey Rebellion.

The Whiskey Rebellion happened in 1794 after passage of the Distilled Spirits Tax of 1791.  After many years of resentment to the collection of a federal excise tax on the production of whiskey, farmers finally marched to Pittsburgh to protest against the tax.  George Washington, aware of the building resistance, was determined that the law should be obeyed.  When he felt the insurgency reached a boiling point, he called for the nation’s first federal military deployment of forces to put an end to it.  The farmers and the troops had a rendezvous at Braddock’s Field and on the “Dreadful Night” of the Whiskey Insurrection, Burgess George Robinson and many others whose names were on lists were rounded up and herded to prisoners’ quarters.  Those arrested were charged with treason; only two were convicted and they were eventually pardoned.  George Robinson served in his capacity of Chief Burgess of the Borough of Pittsburgh until 1800.  The whiskey tax was quietly repealed in 1802.

Craig StreetSeven additional Chief Burgesses served between 1800 and 1813.  They were:

  • John Park (1800-1801)
  • Dr. George Stevenson (1801-1802)
  • Isaac Craig (1802-1803)
  • James O’Hara (1803-1804)
  • General Pressley Neville (1804-1805)
  • General John Wilkins (1805-1812)
  • William Steele (1812-1813)

1816 to 1840

Ebenezer Denny (1816-1817)

Denny Street

Ebenezer Denny has the distinction of being the first person to be appointed as mayor of the “city” of Pittsburgh.   He was a Revolutionary War hero with red hair and blue eyes who was present during the surrender of Cornwallis and the British at the siege of Yorktown on October 17, 1781.  Denny’s journal is one of the most frequently quoted accounts of the surrender and where he writes of first seeing General George Washington.   Ebenezer was sworn in as the mayor of Pittsburgh on July 19, 1816. He, unfortunately, had to resign from his position of mayor just a year and a half later on January 14, 1817, due to health concerns.   Denny Street, in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, was named in his honor.   He died on July 21, 1822.  (Ebenzer Denny is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.)

 John Darragh (1817-1825)

John Darragh was born in Ireland in 1772. Life’s journey brought him to the United States were he eventually was appointed mayor of Pittsburgh by City Council in 1817.  He focused on establishing a water distribution system for the city and it was a time when many sidewalks and street drains were built in the city.  He died just three short years after leaving office.

John M. Snowden (1825-1828)

John Snowden began his life in Pittsburgh in 1811 after leaving the town of his birth, Philadelphia.  Once in Pittsburgh, he started printing and selling books and even published his own newspaper called “The Mercury.”  South Park Township’s original name was Snowden Township, named after this mayor of Pittsburgh.

Mangus Miller Murray (1828-1830 and 1831-1832)

Murray Avenue

Many places in Pittsburgh are named after former mayors of the city and Mangus Miller Murray was no exception.  The well-known Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill was named after this fourth mayor of Pittsburgh.  In addition to serving as mayor from 1828 to 1830, he also served for the years 1831 to 1832.  Just like the mayor before him, Murray got his start in life in Philadelphia in 1787.

Matthew B. Lowrie (1830-1831)
– Anti-Masonic and Anti-Jackson Party

Allegheny CemetaryEdinburgh, Scotland, was the land of Matthew Lowrie’s birth.  When he was a young man, he had a thriving grocery business.  Lowrie was active in his church and for many years was a Sunday school teacher.  Matthew Lowrie was not the only one to be involved in public service.  His brother, Walter, was a United States Senator and his son, Walter H. Lowrie became a Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  It was during Mayor Lowrie’s term in office that the growing city was divided into four wards:  north, south, east and west.  During the time Lowrie was mayor the city bought it’s very first steam powered fire engine which was named “The Citizen” and is credited with modernizing the Pittsburgh Fire Department.  He died in 1850 of cholera.   (Matthew B. Lowrie is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.)

Samuel Pettigrew (1832-1836)

Samuel Pettigrew has the distinction of being the last “appointed” mayor of Pittsburgh and also is the first “elected” mayor of Pittsburgh.  Pettigrew’s administration was put to the test with the city’s first major disaster, a flood that crested at 38.2 feet in February 1832.  It was during Pettigrew’s tenure that the city was becoming industrialized and the first steam locomotive in the mid-west was named “The Pittsburgh.”

Dr. Jonas Roup McClintock (1836-1839) – Democrat

Dr. McClintock was credited with saving many lives during the cholera epidemics.  He attended both Western University (later known as the University of Pittsburgh) and the medical school at the University of Maryland. Given his medical background it is only natural that he was the person to organize the city’s first Board of Health four years before taking office.  He was still a young man of 28 when he became the mayor of Pittsburgh.  Dr. McClintock led a company of 3,500 Union men in the Civil War and served as a PA State Senator in 1853.   (Dr. Jonas McClintock is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.)

William Little (1839-1840)

William Little only served as Mayor of Pittsburgh for a short time.  He found political life to be most frustrating and after leaving office he left public life to work in business.  (William Little is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.)

Written by Diane Gliozzi



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