Photo credit: Portrait: Atlantic, 1890
Attorney, businessman, seaman, journalist, teacher, and state legislator David Fleming was the son of Samuel and Sarah Becket Fleming, born in Washington County on July 17, 1812. David’s Scotch-Irish ancestors first settled in Cecil County, Maryland before moving north to Chester County, Pennsylvania. The family migrated to Bald Eagle, Washington County about 1800, remaining there through David’s infancy. Samuel and Sarah eventually resettled in West Hanover Township, Dauphin County, where David attended common schools and helped his father with farming chores. He later attended the Harrisburg Academy, studied Latin at home, and found work as a mathematics teacher in the Harrisburg area.
A proficient mathematician, Fleming became a contractor’s clerk, working for a Baltimore railroad-tie company whose clientele included the Baltimore and Port Deposit Railroad. His area of specialization concerned shipping “yellow pine timber” from North Carolina to the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. The process involved chartering cargo ships from New York, boarding at Philadelphia, and sailing to North Carolina for pickup and return. David accordingly spent considerable time on the seas, the young accountant credited with saving several cargo loads during periods of rough weather.
Senator Fleming entertained the idea of a newspaper career in 1838, hired as an editor and Harrisburg political correspondent for the United States Gazette. While he remained a Gazette contributor for a number of years, by 1839 the senator pursued a legal career, joining the law office of William McClure. He joined the Harrisburg bar in 1841 and soon distinguished himself as a talented attorney, trying numerous cases before the state supreme court. In 1842, David married Susan Mowry, daughter of Canal Commissioner Charles Mowry.
Fleming retired from his newspaper position in 1847, accepting an appointment to the Chief Clerk’s post in the state House of Representatives. He later represented Dauphin County in the same body and in 1854 became the county’s district attorney. Fleming formed a publishing partnership with Simon Cameron, solidifying a close relationship with his well-known and influential friend. A trusted confidant of Cameron’s, Simon promoted David for a Senate seat during the Civil War. Elected to the upper house in 1863, David served one three-year term, chairing the Judiciary Committee in 1865 before assuming duties as 1866 Speaker.
Fleming voted for adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, backed the Free Banking Bill, encouraged continuation of the greenback system, and supported the incorporation of the Union League. The senator advocated passage of the federal Civil Rights Bill of 1866 and voted for an appropriations bill to support a state widows and orphans fund (Civil War) and rebuild Chambersburg, a town sacked by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Senator Fleming built an impressive business resume, becoming president, chairman, director, and counsel to various railroad, telegraph, and banking companies; including the Foundry and Machine Company, the Harrisburg Car Works (which he co-founded), the Inland Telegraph Company, various gas companies, the Harrisburg City Railroad, and the Lochiel Iron Company. He served as counsel and director of the Harrisburg National Bank, incorporator of the First National Bank of Harrisburg, and embarked in a law partnership with future President pro tempore Samuel John Milton McCarrell. Senator Fleming remained in that practice until his death. The Honorable David Fleming passed away in Harrisburg, January 14, 1890.
William Henry Egle, History of the County of Dauphin in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1883), 164, 573-575; also: The Manufactories and Manufacturers of Pennsylvania, of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1875), 228; Encyclopedia of Contemporary Biography of Pennsylvania, vol II (New York, Atlantic Publishing and Engraving Company, 1890), 219, 221 (Note date of death conflicts with that given in the History of Dauphin County, noting January 6. Newspaper obit also indicates January 14, 1890.