Thomas Shields Clarke


Thomas Shields Clarke

I have been informed by one of Ms. Clarke's relatives that Thomas Shields Clarke is not at all related to Ms. Clarke. That Clarke family of which she is part originally came from Devonshire, England, whose Dartmoor is where the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles is set. Thus Ms. Clarke's ancestry was English, whereas that of T.S. Clarke was Scots-Irish.

Nonetheless I have chosen to keep this page here as part of the history of The Caitlin Clarke Page, as a reminder that even the most careful of fan sites sometimes screws up.

Also, T.S. Clarke is just as important and as obscure a part of the history of Pittsburgh as Ms. Clarke is to the American theater. So I shall quote his biography in its entirety from the Standard History of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, edited by Erasmus Wilson (Chicago: H. R. Cornell & Co., 1898), pp. 1008-9.

The paragraph breaks are mine, as is the correct spelling of Pittsburgh; this tomb is a monument to bad editing. :-P

—Andy West, 10 October 2004.

I have retained this page and the image of Mr. Clarke from the Standard History, as the source book is in the public domain. The McCullough documentary on the Johnstown Flood is now on DVD, competing with some other documentary on the Flood narrated by Richard Dreyfuss.

—Andy West, 18 April 2013.


The value to any community of a business man is not marked merely by the amount of money that he makes or the magnitude of his business operations, but also by his character, his honorable adherence to business ethics and his personal integrity and desire to "do as he would be done by." So great was the influence wielded by Thomas Shields Clarke during his lifetime, in everything pertaining to the welfare of Pittsburgh, that his name will ever remain indissolubly linked with her history, and fresh in the memories of those who knew and love him in life.

He was born at Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, January 18, 1801, a grandson of Thomas Clarke, a native of County Antrim, Ireland, who came to America in 1771 and settled on a farm on the Brandywine, some six miles from Wilmington, Delaware. During the famous battle of the Brandywine in 1777, Generals Proctor and Lafayette encamped on Mr. Clarke's farm, and the Marquis made his headquarters in the latter's house for some weeks. Mr. Clarke was a member of General Proctor's army, and was at one time made a prisoner by the British. After the war he sold his farm, and the continental money which he received therefor, which soon became worthless, is now in possession of his descendants. He finally removed to Washington County, Pennsylvania, and there passed from life.

His wife, the former Martha Stuart, was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Their son William, father of Thomas Shields Clarke, settled in Cannonsberg, Pennsylvania, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits. He married Agnes Shields, daughter of Matthew Shields, and in 1804 they removed to Beaver, Pennsylvania.

Thomas Shields Clarke was given the advantages of Jefferson College (Cannonsberg), after which he clerked for a time in a store belonging to an uncle at Brownsberg, Pennsylvania. In 1819 he went to Wheeling, [West] Virginia, where he was employed in the forwarding-house of Knox & McKee, and by this firm was send with a barge load of produce to New Orleans in 1824, from which place he embarked on a vessel to New York. In 1825 he came to Pittsburgh and opened a branch house for the old firm of Knox, McKee & Co., which took the style of McKee, Clarke & Co., and in 1832 became connected with the firm of D. Leech & Co. Two years later, with Captain John Vandergrift, he put in operation the first stern-wheel steamer on the Ohio River, called the "Beaver", and daily trips were made between the village of that name, and Pittsburgh. Later Mr. Clarke became interested in other vessels, and in 1842, in company with his brother-in-law, William Thaw, and under the firm name of Clarke & Thaw, they established the Pennsylvania & Ohio line of boats and cars, continuing up to 1855. He then became associated with George Black, W. F. Leech and George W. Harris, as a member of the firm of Leech & Co., and they were given charge of the western freight business of the Pennsylvania Railroad. William Thaw became Mr. Black's successor at the end of nine months. The books of this firm contained the names of one hundred steamers in which they owned a partial or total interest, many of which were palatial side-wheel vessels, plying between Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

Notwithstanding his active business life Mr. Clarke found time for many deeds of charity, and was always a generous contributor to churches and charitable societies, being especially liberal with his means during the trying times of the Civil War. He was of a kindly, generous nature, social in disposition, and his numerous laborious business occupations, instead of chilling and hardening his heart, brought him more in sympathy with his fellows, many of whom he aided in a substantial manner. He possessed a keen and practical mind, was energetic and ambitious, and his good name was ever beyond reproach.

[On] July 5, 1831, he was united in marriage with Miss Eliza, daughter of John Thaw, and was called upon to mourn her death August 11, 1864. He did not long survive her, for his death occurred at his home in Oakland, Pittsburgh, October 19, 1867. Two children survive them: Charles J[ohn]., who was for many years his father's business associate, and Agnes Shields, wife of Elias D. Kennedy, of Philadelphia.


The Family

It is instructive to observe that Mr. T.S. Clarke was a far better man than most of those today who call themselves businessmen or executives. Would any person today care (or dare) to follow his example?

Continuing the T.S. Clarke saga, his son Charles John Clarke fathered a son in 1866 named Louis Semple Clarke. Louis Clarke became an automotive engineer who developed the spark plug and the drive shaft still used in cars today. L.S. Clarke in turn had a son named Louis Philips Clarke and lived to be ninety, industrious almost to the end of his life. (From the National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. XXXXIX, p. 453-4.)

I should mention another son of Charles John Clarke, because his works are such that you are more likely to find him on the Web. L.S. Clarke had an older brother, named Thomas Shields Clarke after his grandfather. The younger T.S. Clarke, born in 1860, studied in Europe for eleven years after graduating from Princeton in 1882. As a sculptor and painter, he created many works of art, including the Cider Press in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and The Seasons at the Appellate Court House in New York. He died in 1920.

The Flood

Now that I know that no link exists between Ms. Clarke and the family of Thomas Shields Clarke, I see no harm (to her) in revealing that while the life of T.S. Clarke was without blame, his son and grandson were involved in one of the darker happenings of American history: The Johnstown Flood of 1889.

An entire industrial town east of Pittsburgh was swept away by a wall of water nearly ten meters tall out of a reservoir, bloated by heavy rains, that broke open a long-neglected earth dam. The Clarkes were members of a resort club that owned the dam, its lake and the surrounding countryside. The Clarkes had nothing to do with the poor maintenance of the dam, and yet they got tarred in the aftermath of the Flood.

David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood (Simon & Schuster, 1968, 1987; ISBN 0671207148) is the best telling of this tragic story. This book was later made into a documentary, which was narrated by the author himself and broadcast on the PBS series American Experience. It emphasized the Clarke family's time at the resort club. The documentary is available on DVD.

Copyright © 2007 by Andy West. Last updated 18 April 2013.