Portrait: From tintype engraving, George Bergner; 1854 Legislative Record
Born 1800 in Anstruther Easter, Fife, Scotland, the Honorable George Darsie was the son of 1812 immigrants Christian Church minister James and Nancy (Smith) Darsie. The family settled at Observatory Hill, Pittsburgh in 1817, after spending five years in New York City. George pursued the cabinet making business; emerged as a skilled carpenter; an investor in the lumber business, and eventually a man of considerable wealth.” He studied law under Alexander Campbell (never joined the bar) and served as prothonotary and clerk of the Allegheny County court.
George and wife Nancy (N.) married in 1831 and reared one child, a daughter, Nancy Hazleton Darsie (born 1833), who married future Senate Speaker George Holmes Anderson of Sewickly. Darsie’s wife died in 1834, George and Nancy moving to a row house in Allegheny City, sharing quarters with the family of fellow Scottish immigrant and coal merchant Hugh Smith.
Darsie was an 1834 organizer of the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society; one of its first councilors; director of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad (later the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railroad); served as the company’s treasurer, 1856 to 1860, president of the Western Insurance Company; and member of the Allegheny Fire Company.
A Whig, Darsie entered the state House of Representatives in 1837; spearheaded the incorporation of the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad 1838; elected Canal Commissioner after his final session in the House; state Senate four terms from 1842 through 1850, and 1853-1855; Senate Speaker 1848-1849; leader of Pittsburgh’s conservative Henry Clay Whig caucus, “the Old Hunkers.”
Senator Darsie advocated a prohibitive tariff, the 1854 Philadelphia consolidation bill, backed the B&O, and Cleveland and Mahoning railroad charters, supported the “System of Education by Common Schools” act (the “County Superintendent” bill); Darsie cast a passing vote on 1849’s anti-slavery “Resolutions relative to slavery in New Mexico and California” following President Taylor’s resolve to admit only the latter as a free-state; and protested the Compromise of 1850, questioning the constitutionality of the federal government’s actions toward strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act.
He backed Gov. Johnston’s sinking fund, pushing legislation that retired long-term state debt, placed strict accountability on local government for the assessment and collection of taxes; and devised a new tax schedule, less burdensome to families. He cosponsored a bill incorporating the Farmer’s High School in Centre County, the future Pennsylvania State University.”
After legislative service, the former Speaker returned as a candidate for Canal Commissioner, however lost an 1854 bid for the position – victimized by Know-Nothings who pointed to his foreign birth as a mark of patriotic infidelity. He later served twice on the Allegheny County Revenue Board.
The Honorable George Darsie suffered a stroke in 1860, the former senator rendered partially paralyzed and unable to speak. He moved to son-in-law George Anderson’s Hazlewood Station home, where the former Speaker was committed to the care of his daughter, Nancy. The senator passed away on March 3, 1865. Darsie was a man “of middle size, good appearance, with promptness, decision, and energy of character.” He received accolades for “shrewdness and faithfulness in all matters relating to finance,” a compliment directed to his effective legislative leadership during the tumultuous economic times during his years in office.
M.F. Connolly, Fifiana, or Memorials of the East Fife (Glasgow: John Tweed, 1848), 59. from: Darsie Family File, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh; George Franklin Emerson, Sketches of the Lives of the Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature (Philadelphia: C. Sherman, Printer, 1849), 35; 36; Franklin F. Holbrook, “Our Historical Society,” The William Penn Historical Magazine 21 (March 1938): 1:4-6; Thomas L. Rogers, “Recollections of Early Times on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad,” WPHM, 3 (1920): 7; History of Allegheny County Pennsylvania, vol. 2 (Chicago: A. Warner & Co., Publishers, 1889), 572; Michael Fitzgibbon Holt, Forging A Majority: The Formation of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, 1848-1860 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969), 73; Senate Journal, February 26, 1849, 378.