JOHN WHITE GEARY was born near Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. An 1841 graduate of Jefferson College, he studied civil engineering and law, was admitted to the Bar, and taught school. He served as assistant superintendent and engineer of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, achieved the rank of Colonel in the Mexican War, and was appointed Postmaster of San Francisco and General Mail Agent for the Pacific coast by President James Polk in 1849. The following year he was elected first Alcalde (the chief administrative and judicial officer of a Spanish town) of San Francisco, later becoming the city’s first Mayor. He was also Governor of the Kansas Territory in 1856 and 1857. When the Civil War broke out, he raised a regiment that reported to Harper’s Ferry. He also saw battle in a number of other locations, including Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. In late 1864 he was appointed Military Governor of Savannah, Georgia, winning promotion to Major-General in 1865. Geary was the first in a line of Civil War generals to become governor. During his two gubernatorial terms, Pennsylvania developed rapidly economically, and the state debt was significantly reduced. Geary supported a constitutional convention to address the influence of lobbyists who sought favors from the state Assembly. He also appointed a commission to adjudicate the claims of citizens who had lost property during the Confederate invasions of Pennsylvania. He died just a few weeks after leaving office.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2. New York: James T. White & Company.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
The Political Graveyard
State Archives Holdings: MG-56 John White Geary Papers