Born in Ireland, 1783, Thomas was the son of 1795 Ulster immigrants William and Prudence (Bailie) Ringland.[iii] The family’s progenitor arrived in Ireland with King William III in the late seventeenth century, his descendants eventually settling at Ten Mile Creek, Morris Township, in Washington County.[iv] Ringland pursued farming at the family home for most of his life, marrying Anna McCollum of Washington County in 1811.[v] He volunteered as a militia private at the outset of the War of 1812; was recognized for “gallant conduct” at Fort Feree, Ohio; received a major’s commission; and after the war’s end, was promoted to Colonel of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Washington County elected Ringland to the state House of Representatives for three years, 1825 through 1827; afterwards moving to Zanesville, Ohio after the death of his father, returning within several months to Washington County.[vi] He represented his district in the Senate of Pennsylvania from 1828 through 1834, serving as chair of the Militia Committee, 1829 to 1831.
“Jackson man” Ringland supported the President’s dismantling of the Second U.S. Bank’s charter; backed Jackson’s force bill against South Carolina; promoted a Buchanan “adequate” (as opposed to prohibitive) tariff, and led caucus support for Governor Wolf’s U.S. Senate choice, Samuel McKean, during a contentious 1834 election against the Family Faction’s Thomas Sergeant. Ringland, president of the 1834 joint-Democratic nominating caucus, also guided Alexander Mahon to the state treasurer’s office and devised a slate of the year’s Democratic National Convention delegates to cast for presidential hopeful Martin Van Buren.
The Speaker promoted a bill permitting women to practice law and successfully guided a bill to passage that abolished the death penalty. Ringland prioritized the enactment of Senator Samuel Breck’s “Free School Act of 1834,” Breck’s groundbreaking legislation that led to the passage of the 1836 public school system bill (the original was repealed by the Senate in 1835). Thomas supported unrestrained spending on state improvements; however, he managed the upper house with a bent toward fiscal conservativism, relevant to other budgetary considerations. He noted:
“from the first ground broken on our great system of internal improvement, I have uniformly supported that system, though not without some efforts to confine it within what I considered proper limits. I have to bear the responsibility of voting for every dollar appropriated to the construction of our canals and rail roads, and of course of involving the state in a heavy debt, … yet so confident am I of the final success of this grand system of improvement, that if I had it in my power to revise the Journals of the two houses, so far as my votes are concerned, I would not change a single vote, though in matters of minor importance, I might find some errors to correct.”[vii]
After his first wife died in February 1834, he married Charlotte Shaffer of Centre County, settling at the family home in Morris Township. Ringland moved with his extended family to his son’s home in Grandview, Edgar County, Illinois in 1857, where he passed away on January 7, 1869 at 86.[viii]
[i] SJ, April, 1834, 704.
[ii] Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J.H. Beers
& Co., 1893), 767.
[iii] Ibid., 766-777.
[iv] The Last Will and Testament of William Ringland, Washington County, Pennsylvania Willbook 4, p. 301.
[v] Some sources indicate he married Miss McCollum in 1813.
[vi] Washington County Early Marriage Index, comp. Citizens Library Genealogical Records Group (Pittsburgh: The Genealogical Society of Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1998).
[viii] History of Washington County, ed. Boyd Crumrine (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts and Co., 1882), 844-845.