Thomas Sweeney (glassmaker)

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Thomas Sweeney
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the Ohio, Hancock, Brooke district
In office
January 12, 1852 December 5, 1853
Preceded by James G. West
Succeeded by Lewis Steenrod
Member of the VirginiaHouseofDelegates
from the OhioCounty district
In office
December 7, 1857 December 2, 1859
Preceded by James Paul (politician)
Succeeded by Nathaniel Richardson (politician)
Personal details
Born(1806-03-06)March 6, 1806
Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), US
DiedMay 9, 1890(1890-05-09) (aged 84)
Wheeling, Ohio County, West Virginia, US
Political party Whig
Spouse(s)Rosana Mathews
Jane Bell McFerran
Anna Elizabeth A. How
ChildrenAndrew J. Sweeney, Rebecca Sweeney, Thomas Campbell Sweeney, Robert H. Sweeney, John McFerran Sweeney, Michael T. Sweeney, Thomas Sweeney Jr., John F. Sweeney, Annie Sweeney,Letitia Hamill Blanchard Sweeney
Professionglassmaker, politician

Thomas Sweeny or Sweeney, (Mar. 6, 1806 – May 9, 1890) was a prominent glass manufacturer in what became Wheeling, West Virginia during the American Civil War, who before that war served in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly and ran the North Wheeling Flint Glass Works.

Wheeling, West Virginia City in West Virginia, United States

Wheeling is a city in Ohio and Marshall counties in the U.S. state of West Virginia. Located almost entirely in Ohio County, of which it is the county seat, it lies along the Ohio River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Wheeling was originally a settlement in the British colony of Virginia and later an important city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Wheeling was the first state capital of West Virginia. Due to its location along major transportation routes, including the Ohio River, National Road, and the B&O Railroad, Wheeling became a manufacturing center in the late nineteenth century. After experiencing the closing of factories and substantial population loss following World War II, Wheeling's major industries now include healthcare, education, law and legal services, entertainment and tourism, and energy.

Virginia General Assembly legislative body of Virginia, United States

The Virginia General Assembly is the legislative body of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World, established on July 30, 1619. The General Assembly is a bicameral body consisting of a lower house, the Virginia House of Delegates, with 100 members, and an upper house, the Senate of Virginia, with 40 members. Combined together, the General Assembly consists of 140 elected representatives from an equal number of constituent districts across the commonwealth. The House of Delegates is presided over by the Speaker of the House, while the Senate is presided over by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. The House and Senate each elect a clerk and sergeant-at-arms. The Senate of Virginia's clerk is known as the "Clerk of the Senate".


Early and family life

Thomas Sweeney was born in Armagh, Ireland to Thomas Sweeney and Sarah Ann Campbell. His family emigrated to the United States when he was a child. He and his brothers Michael (1809-1875), Campbell [1] and Robert Henry Sweeney lived Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and by 1830 settled near the important Ohio River port of Wheeling in what was Ohio County, Virginia. Thomas Sweeney married his first wife, Rosanna Mathews (1809-1844) in Pittsburgh, and she bore four children before her death in 1844. They were Andrew J. Sweeney (1827-1893), Rebecca Sweeney, Thomas Sweeney Jr. (1842-1874) and Robert H. Sweeney. [2] The widower remarried the following year, to Baltimore-born Jane Bell McFerran (1819-1872), who bore sons Michael T. Sweeney (b. 1849), John M.F. Sweeney (b. 1852) and daughter Annie (b. 1858). After her death, Sweeney remarried again, to Anna E. A. How (b.1834-d.1913) who bore him a daughter Letitia in 1876. [3] The Sweeney mansion was at 847 Main street.

Armagh County town of County Armagh in Northern Ireland

Armagh is the county town of County Armagh and a city in Northern Ireland, as well as a civil parish. It is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland – the seat of the Archbishops of Armagh, the Primates of All Ireland for both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. In ancient times, nearby Navan Fort was a pagan ceremonial site and one of the great royal capitals of Gaelic Ireland. Today, Armagh is home to two cathedrals and the Armagh Observatory, and is known for its Georgian architecture.

Ohio River River in the midwestern United States

The Ohio River is a 981-mile (1,579 km) long river in the midwestern United States that flows southwesterly from western Pennsylvania south of Lake Erie to its mouth on the Mississippi River at the southern tip of Illinois. It is the second largest river by discharge volume in the United States and the largest tributary by volume of the north-south flowing Mississippi River that divides the eastern from western United States. The river flows through or along the border of six states, and its drainage basin includes parts of 15 states. Through its largest tributary, the Tennessee River, the basin includes several states of the southeastern U.S. It is the source of drinking water for three million people.

Ohio County, West Virginia U.S. county in West Virginia

Ohio County is a county located in the Northern Panhandle of the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 44,443. Its county seat is Wheeling. The county was formed in 1776 from the District of West Augusta, Virginia. It was named for the Ohio River, which forms its western boundary. West Liberty was designated as the county seat in 1777, serving to 1797.


Like Pittsburgh upriver, Wheeling and nearby Wellsburg in Brooke County and Martins Ferry, Ohio had several glass furnaces by 1830, which took advantage of the cheap river transportation for raw materials and fuel, as well as the finished glass. In 1830, the Sweeney brothers bought a glass furnace, the North Wheeling Manufacturing Company, and by 1835 had built a new flint window glass factory in the north end of town, which soon manufactured bottles as well. A few years later Plunkett & Miller built a similar factory on Wheeling's southern end, which J. L. Hobbs and J. H. Hobbs acquired by 1845. In 1864, during the American Civil War (in which Wheeling became briefly capitol of the new state of West Virginia), William Leighton Jr. of the Hobbs & Hobbs firm designed a new method of producing lime glass that made the previously inferior product suitable for producing tableware and revolutionized the industry. By 1880, six years after Sweeney's retirement and five after his younger brother's death, the city had three major firms which operated seven furnaces which included 72 pots, employed 818 men using a combined capital of %500,522, paid $296,450 in wages and used $192,564 worth of raw material to produce $714,000 worth of wares, or about 7.82% of all glassware sold in the country. [4] About half of all American cut glass tableware was made in either Wheeling or Pittsburgh by the turn of the century. [5]

Wellsburg, West Virginia City in West Virginia, United States

Wellsburg is a city in and the county seat of Brooke County, West Virginia, United States. It is part of the Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH Metropolitan Statistical Area. The 2010 census recorded a population of 2,805. The diverse economy includes one paper mill, a glass gift outlet, several telemarketing facilities, and a factory that does metal fabrication plus plastics molding.

Brooke County, West Virginia U.S. county in West Virginia

Brooke County is a county in the Northern Panhandle of the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 24,069. Its county seat is Wellsburg. The county was created in 1797 from part of Ohio County and named in honor of Robert Brooke, Governor of Virginia from 1794 to 1796.

Martins Ferry, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Martins Ferry is a city in Belmont County, Ohio, United States, on the Ohio River across from Wheeling, West Virginia. It is the largest city in Belmont County. The population was 6,915 as of the 2010 census.

In 1836, Sweeney was one of eleven commissioners as the town of Wheeling became the city of Wheeling. [6] Sweeney won election to the Virginia Senate in 1851. [7] The state senatorial district that had been represented by Rev. James G. West of Wetzel County was split into several districts after the 1850 census and new state constitution adopted after a constitutional convention that year called to address over-representation of slaveholding interests in the eastern and central portions of the Commonwealth. Sweeney represented Brooke, Hancock and Ohio Counties. Wetzel, Marshall and Tyler Counties were agglomerated with Marion County and Jefferson Martin won election, but resigned by 1853 and was succeeded by West by the 1853-1854 session; Doddridge County originally in that district was agglomerated with Ritchie, Harrison, Pleasants and Wood counties and represented by Benjamin Bassel. However, Sweeney served only one short term; Wheeling Suspension Bridge advocate Lewis Steenrod succeeded him in 1853. Four years later, Ohio County voters elected Sweeney to serve alongside Andrew F. Woods as their representatives in the Virginia House; they had replaced former mayor James Paul, John Brady and G.L. Crammer in the area's turbulent political climate, and two years later were themselves replaced by Nathaniel Richardson (politician), John Knote and Daniel M. Edgington. [8]

Wetzel County, West Virginia U.S. county in West Virginia

Wetzel County is a county in the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 16,583. Its county seat is New Martinsville. The county, founded in 1846, is named for Lewis Wetzel, a famous frontiersman and Indian fighter. Its northern border aligns with the Mason-Dixon line but is to the west of the line's western terminus.

Wheeling Suspension Bridge United States historic place

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the main channel of the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia. It was the largest suspension bridge in the world from 1849 until 1851. Charles Ellet Jr. designed it and supervised construction of what became the first bridge to span a major river west of the Appalachian mountains. It linked the eastern and western section of the National Road, and became especially strategically important during the American Civil War. Litigation in the United States Supreme Court concerning its obstruction of the new high steamboat smokestacks eventually cleared the way for other bridges, especially needed by expanding railroads. Because this bridge was designed during the horse-and-buggy era, 2-ton weight limits and vehicle separation requirements now apply.

Lewis Steenrod was a nineteenth-century politician and lawyer from Virginia, who helped secure Congressional authorization of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge but who later opposed secession of what became West Virginia months before his death.

Before the Civil War, the Sweeney firm made three enormous four-foot wide and nearly five foot tall cut leaded glass bowls, in order to showcase their wares. The bowls won prizes at exhibitions in New York and Philadelphia. In 1844 at least one was given to Senator Henry Clay, partly in gratitude for helping establish a tariff on foreign glassware. Over the next decades, two were destroyed in warehouse fires (including the one sent to Clay's estate at Ashland and used to baptize him in 1847). [9] The third adorned Michael Sweeney's tomb in Wheeling's cemetery from 1875 until 1948, when it was moved to the Oglebay glass museum for safekeeping. [10] [11]

Henry Clay American politician

Henry Clay Sr. was an American attorney and statesman who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives, served as seventh speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and served as the ninth U.S. secretary of state. He received electoral votes for president in the 1824, 1832, and 1844 presidential elections and helped found both the National Republican Party and the Whig Party. For his role in defusing sectional crises, he earned the appellation of the "Great Compromiser."

Located in Wheeling, West Virginia, Oglebay Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated on July 29, 1930.

In 1858, Michael Sweeney split with his brother, who refused him a loan to build a mansion. [12] Instead, Thomas Sweeney admitted his eldest son Andrew J. Sweeney (who had married the daughter of a prominent Presbyterian minister) as a partner in the family manufacturing firm. Andrew J. Sweeney was an inventor, and had also been appointed Wheeling's mayor in 1855. He would win election as the city's mayor thrice more in the following decades, [13] and promoted improvements including a street railway, electric lighting company, paid fire department, fire alarm telegraph, and many new bridges and shipping facilities. Andrew Sweeney also helped route the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad through Wheeling, over the objection of the long-powerful Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. [14]

Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad

The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, commonly called the Pan Handle Route, was a railroad that was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system. Its common name came from its main line, which began at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, crossed the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, and continued west to Bradford, Ohio, where it split into a northern line to Chicago and a southern one through Indianapolis, Indiana, to East St. Louis, Illinois.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad former rail system in the United States of America

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the first common carrier railroad and the oldest railroad in the United States, with its first section opening in 1830. Merchants from the city of Baltimore, which had benefitted to some extent from the construction of the National Road early in the century, wanted to continue to compete for trade with trans-Appalachian settlers with the newly constructed Erie Canal, another canal being proposed by Pennsylvania, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the James River Canal (which directed traffic toward Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia At first the B&O was located entirely in the state of Maryland, its original line extending from the port of Baltimore west to Sandy Hook.

The Sweeney family may have owned at least one slave in 1860. [15] Nonetheless, during the American Civil War, Andrew Sweeney served as Wheeling's mayor (1861-1863, 1865-1868) as well as a militia colonel. [16] After his father's retirement, uncle's death and closure of the family glassworks in 1875, Andrew J. Sweeney became a prominent manufacturer in his own right with the Wheeling Electric Company. In 1873, President Ulysses Grant appointed Andrew Sweeney West Virginia's commissioner to the Vienna Exposition, and three years later appointed him to a similar post in the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, and in 1878 to the French Exposition at Paris. [17] .

Death and legacy

Thomas Sweeney died May 10th, 1890. He was the father of ten children and grandfather of many more successful offspring. Thomas's son, Andrew J. Sweeney served as mayor of Wheeling, West Virginia for many years, was a business partner in his fathers foundry eventually taking over the leadership role of the company, and was appointed Colonel of the militia during the Civil War. Another son, Thomas Campbell Sweeney was a prominent River Boat Captain during the Civil War and traveled up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during his career. Yet another son, John F. Sweeney, founded the Equitable Life Assurance Society. One grandson, Thomas Bell Sweeney, Jr., served in the West Virginia House of Delegates 1st District from 1939-42. Grandson, Walter Campbell Sweeney, served an illustrious military career rising to the rank of Brigadier General. Walter Campbell Sweeney's son Walter Campbell Sweeney, Jr. also served in the military eventually commanding the Tactical Air Command for the U.S. Air Force and achieving the rank of four-star general. Grandson, Andrew Thomas Sweeney (d. 1918; Andrew J. Sweeney's youngest son and married to Kate B. Lukens of another prominent industrial family) was the Ohio County sheriff after serving six years as mayor. [18] Mr. Sweeney and many of his family members are buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling, West Virginia.

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