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House Speaker Biographies

Photo credit:

The Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania of the Ninteenth Century.  Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1874.

Photo credit:

The Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania of the Ninteenth Century.  Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1874.


James Ross Snowden

Born: December 9, 1809, Chester, Delaware County, PA.  Died: March 21, 1878, Hulmeville, Bucks County, PA. Member of the House: Venango and Clarion Counties, 1838-1839, 1840, 1842, 1844.  Affiliation: Democrat.

James Ross Snowden was born on December 9, 1809, in Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  He was the son of Dr. Nathaniel R. Snowden, one of the individuals credited with establishing the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Snowden studied at Dickinson College, where his father had been a professor.  Snowden continued his education throughout his life, earning a master of arts from Jefferson College in 1845, and an honorary doctor of law degree from Washington and Jefferson College in 1875.  After college he studied law and was admitted to the Venango County bar in 1828.  He established a law practice, and later received the appointment of deputy attorney general of Venango County.  On September 13, 1848, Snowden married the former Susan Engle Patterson, and the couple had a number of children, including: Sara Patterson (Mitchell), Louise Hortense, Frank Patterson, Gertrude, Charles Gustine, Llewellyn Randolph, Mary Thompson (Stansfield), James Ross, and Robert Patterson.

Snowden was first elected to the Pennsylvania House in 1838, and was re-elected for the 1840, 1842, and 1844 sessions.  On January 4, 1842, Snowden was elected as the 67th Speaker of the Pennsylvania House.  He was re-elected to the position on January 2, 1844.  During Snowden’s first term as Speaker, Act 79 established Wyoming County. Additionally, while Snowden was Speaker, he signed legislation regarding state debts, regulating and incorporating insurance companies, adjusting election districts, and making appropriations for the education of the poor in the Commonwealth.

While serving in the House, Snowden also was elected colonel of a volunteer regiment, and in 1845 presided at the State Military Convention.  Following his service in the House, Snowden was elected State Treasurer, an office which he held from 1845-1846.  President James K. Polk appointed Snowden Treasurer of the United States Mint, and he served from 1847-1850. Snowden was appointed solicitor of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1850, but he later resigned to accept President Franklin Pierce’s appointment as director of the United States Mint, a position he held from 1853-1861.  In 1861, he was appointed prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  

During the Civil War, Snowden served as lieutenant colonel of the Philadelphia First Regiment of Home Guards. The regiment offered their services, but was not called to active duty during the war.

Snowden was a prolific writer and authored several books on numismatics, the study of coins, paper currency, and medals. Some of his well-known publications include: Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet Collection at the Mint of the United States; A Description of the Medals of Washington: Of National and Miscellaneous Medals and of Other Objects of Interest in the Museum of the Mint; and, The Coins of the Bible, and Its Money Terms.

In 1873 Snowden returned to Philadelphia to resume his law practice. James Ross Snowden died on March 21, 1878.  He is interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.