Portrait: Courtesy Erie County Historical Society.
John H. Walker was born in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, February 9, 1800, the son of John and Isabella McCormick Walker, and the great grandson of William Walker of Philadelphia. John moved to Washington County in 1817, where he graduated from Washington College in 1822, studied law with his uncle before moving to Allegheny County, and joined the Pittsburgh bar.
Never exceedingly wealthy as a young man, John allegedly walked from Pittsburgh to Meadville in 1824, borrowing enough money to continue his trip to Erie, the town in which he settled. He established a law practice, married Katherine D. Kelley of New Hampshire in 1831, built a thriving business, and eventually constructed a brick mansion in Erie for his new bride.
A lawyer and statesman whose name became synonymous with Republican power in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Senator Walker first entered state politics as an Antimasonic member of the state House of Representatives from 1832 to 1836, avidly supporting canal construction and the public works program. He served in the Senate from 1850 to 1852, promoting the expansion and regulation of railroads, becoming Senate Speaker in the latter year.
Walker voted as a high-tariff Whig, coauthored a stinging 1851 resolution to Congress protesting the spread of slavery and the 1850 Compromise, supported selection rather than the election of judges, demanded the return of the kidnapped Parker sisters from Maryland and Louisiana in 1852, and promoted closely regulated, autonomous boroughs. The senator served as chair of Executive Nominations in 1850, Judiciary, 1851, and Pensions and Gratuities in 1852.
In 1873-74, John represented the state as a delegate at large to the 1873 Constitutional Convention, advocating regulations against corporate misbehavior. On September 16, 1875, Senator Walker replaced deceased, former Attorney General William Meredith as president of the convention, having formerly served as chair of the Committees on Cities and City Charters, and as a member of the Executive Department Committee.
Nelson’s history notes that “three times in his long career he accepted public trusts, always to his pecuniary detriment [sic]:” his duties in the House, Senate, and Constitutional Convention. He emerged as a major investor and promoter of the Erie Canal system, an aggressive champion of state rail systems, and a significant contributor to the Erie community. Described as a man of biting sarcasm and quick wit, the Honorable John Walker died in Erie on January 25, 1875, interment, Erie Cemetery.
Abram Douglas Harlan, Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention 1872 and 1873: its members and officers and the result of their labors (Philadelphia: Inquirer Book and Job Print, 1873), 86; Nelson’s Biographical Dictionary and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, vol. 1 (Erie: S.B. Nelson Publishers, 1896), 622-623;