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Roberts, Alexander, Sr., son of Col. John and Mary H. (Chambers) Roberts, was born in Harrisburg, Pa.

The Roberts family were among the very earliest settlers of this State. They were Welsh Quakers, and came to America with William Penn. The grandfather of Alexander Roberts settled in Dauphin county, where now stands the village of Rockville, before the Revolution, and when he was about thirty years of age. He was a worker in steel and iron, and a manufacturer of sickles; a most reputable man and a skillful mechanic. Here was born and here grew up his son John, father of Alexander. This son, after the death of his father, removed to Lancaster, Pa.; after a residence of a few years in that place he again removed to Harrisburg, and practiced law there for many years.

Col. John Roberts was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-four years, on February 5, 1812, and on November 14, 1812, was commissioned by the secretary of the Commonwealth to notify the electors for the President, in the different counties of the State, at the re-election of President Madison. On October 19, 1813, he became a private in Capt. Thomas Walker's company, Harrisburg volunteers, which was composed of forty men. On August 1, 1814, he was elected and commissioned by Gov. Simon Snyder to be second lieutenant in the First brigade, Sixth division, Pennsylvania militia, from Dauphin, Lebanon, Berks and Schuylkill counties, for seven years. Also, on the same date, he was commissioned as first lieutenant of company Ten, First battalion, Ninety-eighth regiment, First brigade, Sixth division, Pennsylvania militia; and on August 1, 1814, was commissioned as first lieutenant of the Ninety-eighth regiment, Harrisburg volunteers, referred to above. The foregoing commissions were under the State organization. After the burning of Washington by the British, August 23, 1814, the President issued a requisition on Governor Snyder for 10, 000 militia. A number of uniformed volunteer companies, among which were the Harrisburg volunteers, tendered their services to the governor, and were accepted by him. The necessity of increasing the number of men in each company, the dropping out of old members and the addition of new, caused a reorganization of the old volunteer companies, and in the new company, now increased to ninety-four men, John Roberts volunteered and was enrolled as private, and was, with the company, mustered into the service of the United States at York, Pa., August 29, 1814. A few days after, John M. Forster, orderly sergeant of the company, was appointed brigade major by his uncle, Gen. John Forster, and John Roberts was appointed and took his place as orderly, and served in that capacity until the volunteers returned home, after their honorable discharge at Baltimore, December 3, 1814.

John Roberts was first sergeant of First company, Captain Walker, of First battalion, Maj. G. B. Porter, of First regiment, Col. M. Kennedy, of First brigade, Gen. John Forster, and of First division, Major General Watson, of Pennsylvania volunteers and militia. His regiment was composed of uniformed volunteers, except two companies of militia, one commanded by Captain Rose and the other by Capt. John Elder, brother-in-law to General Forster. At one time, the adjutant being absent, John Roberts was appointed and acted temporarily as adjutant.

"After the war was over," and he returned to the State, his services in a military capacity were as follows: On August 3, 1821, he was commissioned by Gov. Joseph Hiester as major of First battalion, Ninety-eighth regiment, Pennsylvania militia, until August 3, 1828. But, on November 26, 1825, there was probably a vacancy, and being duly elected and returned, Major Roberts was commissioned, by Gov. John A. Shulze, to be colonel of the Ninety-eighth regiment, Pennsylvania militia, to continue until August 3, 1828. That was probably the end of his military career.

Among the men who went from Harrisburg as volunteers in the company were two brothers, by the names of Ferdinand and Charles Durang, who belonged to a theatrical company then there. They were gentlemen, and were very popular. One of them had a fine voice, and was a good musician. While the regiment lay at Baltimore, the Star Spangled Banner was written by Key, but it was without music. Durang's friends urged him to set it to music and sing it. After looking over all the music he had or knew, to find something suitable, he adopted the tune now always used as most appropriate. Having tried it, to the delight of his friends in the regiment, he introduced it one evening unexpectedly on the boards of the theatre, and the audience fairly raised the roof with their applause. Its popularity has never since been lost. In a selection of the old tunes published in "Blake's Evening Companion," by Blake, of Philadelphia, many years ago, it is called "Anacreon in Heaven, or the Battle of the Wabash."

Col. John Roberts at the time of his death was the oldest member of the Dauphin county bar. He was a quiet, unassuming man, and very popular with all classes. He was a generous and earnest supporter of all schemes for the elevation of his fellow-men. His wife was Mary H. Chambers, a native of Trenton, N. J. They had eight children, of whom four are living: Alexander, Eliza, widow of Dr. James Given, Annie, wife of James Parvin, of Holton, Kan., and Catherine, wife of James H. Lowell, also of Holton, Kan.

Alexander Roberts received his education in the schools of Harrisburg, and began the study of law in his father's office. During the prosecution of his studies, he acted for a part of the time as chief clerk in the register's and recorder's office. He learned civil engineering and occupied himself in this business. He assisted in the survey of the Pennsylvania railroad, and was connected with the construction of the Middle division and the Pittsburgh end of Pittsburgh division. A large portion of his life was spent in the active work of this business, but of late years he has comparatively retired from it. He was married in Harrisburg to Charlotte Geiger, a daughter of Bernard Geiger, who was also among the pioneers of Dauphin county. To them were born four sons: John, Alexander Jr., James and George. Mrs. Roberts died in 1862. Mr. Roberts was an active promoter of the Harrisburg street railway and still holds the position of secretary of the company. He is also a director of the Harrisburg Burial Case Company and Harrisburg Furniture Company. He is identified closely with other industries and enterprises. He is a man of broad intelligence, sound judgement, marked ability and genial temperament. He is a connecting link between the active present and the historic past. With pleasant memories of primitive struggles he mingles the still more pleasing realizations of resulting success, as displayed in the growth of the community and the building of a great city.

Roberts, Alexander, Sr., p. 307 & 308

Transcribed by Gwen Bixler Drivon at for the Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Transcription Project -

1 &2 Nov. 2000

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