Title: Captain, French and Indian War; Colonel, Revolutionary War; politician, merchant, landowner
Birthdate: March 11, 1739
Death Date: December 29, 1805
Plot Location: Section 112, Lot 17
This man was not considered one of the country’s founding fathers but he could at least be considered a founding “cousin.” While not involved directly as a signer of famous documents, Samuel Miles played important roles in the fight for independence, in both state and local government, and in business and education.
Samuel was born in Whitemarsh Township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on March 11, 1739, plus or minus a year, depending on the source. His grandparents were from Wales and arrived in Philadelphia when William Penn did in 1682. His father was one of their nine children and Samuel was one of his six.
As the British and French clashed over the Ohio River Valley in 1754, militias in the colonies were being formed. Samuel joined one of them as a teenager, demonstrating leadership skills that made him a captain of his own company by the time he was 20. He was slightly wounded during a skirmish in 1759 at Fort Ligonier in southwestern Pennsylvania.
After that he returned to life in Philadelphia and fell in love with Catherine Wister. Her father disapproved because he wasn’t financially well off, nor was he a Quaker. She was determined, however, so they married without his blessing in 1761. He would later forgive her and backed Samuel in the wine and rum trade. She gave birth to 11 children.
As he prospered he felt he had a vested interest in the well-being of the Province of Pennsylvania, as it was then known. Samuel was selected for the Provincial Assembly in 1772 and became an early proponent of independence. Those stirrings became more passionate when he was again chosen for an Assembly seat in 1775 and was a member of the council of safety.
He served until the spring of 1776 when he was chosen Colonel of the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment, commanding two battalions. The patriotic zeal sweeping through Philadelphia led the pastor of John’s church, First Baptist, to resign the pulpit in order to serve as chaplain in the Continental Army. His name was Rev. William Rogers, and he is another Mount Moriah Notable whose story can be found here.
Less than two months after the Declaration of Independence was signed the Colonel’s troops were dispatched to Long Island to meet the British. He and 159 others were taken prisoner near Flatbush on August 27 and held until a prisoner exchange was made in April, 1788. Upon his release Samuel excused himself from military service but became deputy Quartermaster General for Pennsylvania, putting his own financial resources toward the good of his country until the Redcoats surrendered.
A string of public service roles occupied his time over the next dozen years. He was appointed Judge of the High Court of Errors and Appeals in 1783, to the Council of Census at Philadelphia (1787), the City Council (1788), and Alderman and a member of the Council of Property (1789), succeeding Benjamin Franklin. He served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania from 1786-1793 during which time his namesake son was a student.
In 1790 he became the 81st Mayor of Philadelphia for a one-year term but turned down a second term to attend to his business pursuits. His passion for his country led him to become a Federalist Presidential elector in 1796, although he favored Thomas Jefferson instead of John Adams to succeed George Washington.
Turning down a second term as mayor wasn’t just to “retire” to a farm in Cheltenham Township in Montgomery County for what he called “the mild majesty of private life.” He was a multi-talented entrepreneur, acquiring land for a number of years and building various businesses.
In 1792 he purchased 176 acres in Cheltenham because it was becoming an important industrial community where as many as 20 mills used water power from the Tookany Creek (known as Tacony Creek in Philadelphia). Samuel built one of them, called a slitting mill. Bars of iron would be slit into rods which were then formed into nails.
The term “vertical integration” wasn’t in use then, but the concept isn’t new. The rods used in the mill came from an iron forge he and two partners built in 1791 where iron ore was plentiful. He owned well over 20 square miles of land in the Nittany Valley just north of what is now State College, Pennsylvania. The furnace was managed by two of his sons. From that grew the borough of Milesburg and Miles Township.
Coincidentally, one of Samuel’s daughters married Thomas Potts, a member of the family for whom Pottstown, Montgomery County, is named. He is indirectly related to John Templin Potts who is also buried at Mount Moriah and whose Notable story is found here.
Speaking of his children, two of the 11 had died as infants and most of the rest were adults when Samuel left public office in 1791. A total of four sons had moved to Milesburg where they raised families, worked, died and were buried. In the summer of 1797 an epidemic of yellow fever spread in Philadelphia and took the life of Samuel’s wife Catherine.
In 1805 Samuel was elected once again to the General Assembly, but his stay was brief; he died December 29. Four years later the forge in Milesburg closed due to competition.
Among the accolades that were published at Samuel’s death, several mentioned that his driving force was his faith. One said he loved his country, as if he expected to live in it forever, and yet he served his God as if he was just passing through to his real home in Heaven. Before he died he told a friend that the honor he prized most was being an elder in his church. It was in the First Baptist Church graveyard that he and other family members were laid to rest.
In 1859 the church bought Section 112 at Mount Moriah Cemetery so it could relocate the graves en masse. The gravestones that were salvaged were laid as a walkway leading to the “Pastors’ Obelisk” in the center of the section. It was recently discovered that the former graveyard at 218 Arch Street wasn’t completely emptied. Researchers examined what amounts to about 700 individual remains, and some have said as many as 3000 were not re-interred. For more information see https://www.archstbones.org/ or https://www.livescience.com/65139-colonial-cemetery-philadelphia.html
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