William H. Greer, Sr., came of stanch old Scotch-Irish stock and was born near the village of
Cookstown, county Tyrone, Ireland, on the 24th of June, 1814, being a son of James and Elizabeth
(Harkness) Greer, the former of whom was a tenant on a small farm in the Emerald Isle, where he died
in early manhood, leaving his young wife with four small children and dependent upon her own
resources. The problem which faced the brave woman was a serious and critical one, but she showed her
devotion by making the best possible provision for her little family, bringing to bear a self-abnegation
which should ever cause her name to be held in reverence by her descendants, in whatever station of life.
When William was fourteen years of age he entered upon an apprenticeship in what was there known
as a cloth shop (the same would in this country be designated as a select dry-goods store), and when his
brother Samuel, who was two years younger, had likewise reached the age of fourteen he too began an
apprenticeship in the same line, the stipulation in the connection being that each was to thus serve for a
period of seven years, receiving only their board in compensation for their services. William H. served
out his term and then went to the city of Dublin, where he secured a position as a journeyman, but a
short time later his brother Samuel, who had quit his place, persuaded him to emigrate to America, and
they decided to join their uncle, William Harkness, who was residing in Magnolia, Stark county, being
one of the pioneers of this section.
In course of time they reached their destination, in the year 1837, and their uncle advised them to take
the best available means of becoming acquainted with American customs and methods, and he thus
secured for Samuel a position in a dry-goods establishment in Springfield, Ohio, William secured a
place in the city of Wheeling, West Virginia. Remaining for a brief interval he returned to Magnolia,
where he was given an interest in his uncle's business, while his brother Samuel proceeded to Wheeling,
where the uncle likewise had property, and there Samuel was assisted to establish himself in business.
William Harkness, who had thus so kindly aided and directed the efforts of his young nephews, died in
the early '50's and William H. Greer, Sr. succeeded him in the control of the large business which they
had built up as pioneer merchants, the firm having been one of the most prominent in this section.
They bought cargoes of coffee from New Orleans, while their dry goods and other lines of merchandise
were transported overland from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by means of wagons. The members of the
firm made annual trips to the city mentioned, making the journeys on horseback and carrying the gold
requisite for their purchases in their saddlebags. William H. Greer continued to be actively engaged in
the mercantile business in Magnolia until the time of his death, covering a period of almost sixty years.
In later years he paid less personal attention to his store and gave his time more particularly to the
extending of financial loans and to real-estate transactions, through which mediums he was not only
helpful to others but also increased his financial resources materially, becoming one of the most
substantial capitalists of this section and wielding a marked influence in local affairs.
His death occurred on the 8th of August, 1899, and the community as an entirety mourned the loss of
one of its valued citizens, able business men and honored pioneers. In his early life Mr. Greer exercised
his franchise in support of the Democratic party, but at the time of the war of the Rebellion his
uncompromising advocacy of the Union cause led him to transfer his allegiance to the party which stood
as its a vowed sponsor, and thereafter he was known as a stanch adherent of the Republican party. He
was without personal ambition in a political way, but was chosen mayor of Magnolia; while he was the
incumbent of the office of postmaster here for about thirty years. Thomas Greer, a cousin of William
H., Sr., was a member of the English parliament, and another cousin, David Greer, was an eminent
clergyman of the Presbyterian church. The Sinclair, Stanton and Kluff families were also related to the
Greer's. William H. Greer was reared in the faith of the Presbyterian church, and his religious views
were ever in harmony with its tenets. His mother passed her entire life in Ireland, where she died prior
to the emigration of her sons to America.
|William Harkness Greer, Sr.