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Blair, David
Incoming Correspondence to attorney and coal merchant, David Blair, Esq., of Huntingdon, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, 1869-1871

Group of 28 incoming letters, 40 manuscript pages, (21 retained mailing envelopes), dated 8 April 1869 to 25 April 1871; of the 28 letters, 24 were written to David Blair, of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, by various business correspondents; with 1 letter written by David Blair, to John Whitehead, Esq., and 2 letters written by Wm. A. Orbison, miner and shipper of semi-bituminous coals, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, to D.R.B. Flenner, Esq., Broad Top City, Pennsylvania; and 2 postcards, addressed to John S. Blair, Washington, D.C., written by K.A. Lovell, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, dated 14 November 1891 and 27 January 1892. Mr. D.R.B. Flenner, of Corkstown and Broad Top City, Pennsylvania, wrote 6 letters to Blair, mostly about Flenner’s wanting to leave his employer and go into business for himself, or with another; 4 letters to Blair were written by James Hoover & Sons, of Norristown Iron Works, a coal customer of Blair; other letters are also business letters, concerning Blair’s coal business, and his customers, inquires of Blair about leasing other coal lands; as well as people seeking his advice on the credit worthiness of various individuals, or about possible business ventures outside of coal.

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David Blair, Esq. (1813-1885)

     David Blair was born 23 January 1813 in Shade Gap, Dublin Township, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania and died in Huntingdon on 25 June 1885 at the age of 72. He was buried in Huntingdon’s Riverview Cemetery. He was educated at Washington College, Washington, Pennsylvania; studied law there in the office of William Baird, and then in the office of Messrs. Leet & Atchison, and was admitted to the bar of Washington County in June 1836. He was admitted to the bar in Huntingdon on 8 August 1836. Blair was appointed county treasurer three times in 1838, 1839, and 1840. In 1846 he was elected a member of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives and re-elected in 1847. He also was elected to borough offices, such as school director and burgess, and became chief burgess.

    In 1860, David Blair is found with real estate of $100,000 and a personal estate of $4,000. He was listed as an attorney. In 1850, he was also listed as an attorney at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Blair is found in the 1870 U.S. Census for Pennsylvania as an attorney at Huntingdon, with real estate now listed at $120,000 and a personal estate of $10,000.

    David Blair married to woman by the name of Mary Howe (1819-1890). She was born about 1859 in New York, and together they had at least three children: John Sylvanus Blair (1849-); Nannie Blair (1849-1920); and Mary H. Blair (1852-).

    While the census records David Blair as an attorney, and the letters offered here appear to point that out as well, the correspondence also shows that Blair was a coal merchant. He seems to have been successful as his real estate holdings of $100,000 in 1860 and grew later to $120,000 in 1870 (the time these letters were written), would seem to show his substantial coal mining lands. A report on the geology of Huntingdon County by I.C. White in 1885, stated that the “Barnet coal” of the “David Blair mine…was once mined extensively by a slope just below Dudley Station [near Dudley, PA] …Nothing has been done here for several years and the works are fallen into decay.”

    Blair’s son, John Sylvanus Blair, was a graduate of Princeton, was prominently identified with the Pennsylvania Republican Party and was the state’s chairman of his party's organization. He was a lawyer of acknowledged ability and for three terms was an assistant attorney general preceding the Cleveland administration, when he retired and took up the practice of his profession in Washington, D.C., where he appeared only in the United States Supreme Court and the Court of Claims where he represented large individual and state interests.

       Sample Letters:

“Norristown Iron Works, May 1st /69

Mr. David Blair

Huntingdon, Pa


Dear Sir,


We have been stopped for repairs and are therefore so full of coal that we have no room to dump more. I will therefore please suspend shipments till further orders. What will be your terms for May? Please answer & oblige.


Yours truly,

James Hoover & Sons

[P.S.] We hear rumors about a general strike among coal operators. Do you know anything about it?”



“Bellefonte, May 26, 1869

D. Blair, Esq.


Dear Sir,


Our company appears to be move so slowly that I almost despair of anything definite being done in time for your purpose, & yet it is quite possible that we may be of one mind when we get together. In the meantime, it has occurred tome that I have it in my power to offer you the lease of another coal property antiguous to that owned by the Bird Coal & I. Comp’y & which I imagine will suit you altogether as well, if not better than he latter.


I am joint owner with I. H. Holt & Wm. Holt of two tracts of coal land in Snowshoe which lie within a mile of the “Lucan Mine,” now being worked by the I. [Shoe] Comp’y and about half a mile in a direct line from the railroad beyond, with down grade, which a wooden track could be laid without difficulty – whatever – connecting the land with the extension of Snow Show R. Road. We have all the Graham & Snow Shoe R.R. Comp’y veins besides two others & I believe the facilities in every respect, are quite equal to those named.


I had a conversation with J.H. Holt yesterday afternoon in the subject & I said to him that I would write you today & I am disposed to think you will be pleased with the appearances.


I arranged with him that he would meet you at the Snow Shoe Depot, any day you will write him at Moshannon, say within a week or 10 days, in which event you had better write two days ahead. I would be pleased to go out with you, but do not like to make a positive engagement so long beforehand, without knowing that the precise time it would suit you. However, the Holts can give you all the information necessary & will be glad to entertain you (as they are in a condition to do well) while you are inspecting the property.


If you decide favorably, one of them would come in with you when I am satisfied, we can enter into an agreement. I hope it will be convenient for you to go out immediately. Yours truly, [E.S.C. Haines?]



“Philad’a Feb’y 4th, 1871

D. Blair, Esq.


Dear Sir,

We take the liberty to trouble you in reference to what you know or can learn of the financial standing and present circumstances of Mr. Peter Shaver, Jr., Mt. Union. We understand he has taken the stock and business of Mr. F. D. Stevens his partner.


Do you think he is worthy of say $1000 credit? He will not want this all at once, but from time to time the credit will be about said amount. We regret much to trouble you and would make the inquiry of your son J. Sylvanus, but it would be no profit to him, and besides you being an old friend and merchant know well the many vicissitudes in life, and we have thought you would be well posted as to how the matter stands.

We understood Shaver was drinking a little more than he should. How is it? Please answer at your earliest convenience, and you will confer a favor, and we will endeavor to reciprocate.

Respectfully yours, Shields & Brother Wilson”

“George Mears, Celebrated Cook Vein Broad Top Coal, Philadelphia

Feb 16th, 1871

Mr. D. Blair


Dear Sir,


Yours of 14th rec’d with letter enclosed from A.M. Blair. I am satisfied that the place he speaks of would be much the best place for me to engage in any sort of business. My wife still says she would not go. I wrote to her father wanting him to close out at McConnellstown and say he would go in spring of 72. He would be perfectly satisfied but his wife is as obstinate as mine in the matter. I think if I was to go and stay, they would be satisfied to go at the end of one year, but to get them to go or consent to leave this spring is out of the question. I suppose if you wish to go into this matter and want me to go, I will agree to stay one year alone & leave my family on trial. I see you did not think much of the Cook & Sheets arrangement neither do I. If I wanted to start in Dudley that would be a good place to start in that room. Their stock of drugs & hardware & store furniture might be got reasonable at auction. Sheets says they will commence Monday or Tuesday to sell. Do you not think I could do well at Dudley selling for nothing but cash? Mr. Port sent word for me to come down. Sheets said Port would back me in our half the concern, but I would not have anything to do with any of the dry goods at any price.


Yours, D.R. P. Flenner”


“Dudley, Mar 24th /71

Mr. D. R. P. Flenner


Your very impolite note is at hand. I & family did without the necessaries of life last summer to pay Mr. Green & for the last two months we have done without one pound of meat in our house in order to pay debts. I have not got five dollars to pay you now & if you cannot wait until I get it go ahead and be d -----.

Yours etc., S.R. Miller

P.S. I would do without bread if it were possible rather than be in debt.”

      “Corkstown, April 18th, 1871

D. Blair, Esq.

Dear Sir,


You are aware that I live neighbor to a man who keeps one of those Hell Holes called a tavern. You got out a remonstrance against him and after the found it out he has been cutting up highly. Sunday 16th, the Hell Hole keeper’s son age eighteen years threw a hot poker at and struck my dog and caused his death. This dog I had to guard the store at night and for no other reason than that the dog was after a cow belonging to another man.


I went to Esq. Miller Broad Top City and inquired what could be done and all that I could do would be to issue a warrant for cruelty to animals this I don and had a hearing yesterday. There I proved that the dog was a good watch dog and that he was worth twenty dollars. The Esq. or course fined him according to act passed 1869 cruelty to animals. I want you to send me a letter before Thursday (20th) telling what I can do and when I can tell Miller to fid anything concerning it as I will put it through. Tell me as much about it as you can and charge accordingly.


Yours &c., D.R. P. Flenner”