JOHN VAN FLEET. Among the early business men of Youngstown who were closely identified with all its interests,
for a period of sixty seven years, was "Honest" John Van Fleet, whose name stood not only for material
prosperity but also for the highest integrity and the best type of citizenship. Mr. Van Fleet was born October
14, 1807, in what is now Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, and, after a long, useful and exemplary life covering 85
years, passed away at Youngstown, June 12, 1893. His parents were Richard and Sarah Van Fleet.
The Van Fleet family originated in Holland, but was an old settled one in Pennsylvania at the time of our subject's
birth, his parents being natives of that state. The family was one of the old patriarchal ones of the time, consisting
of six sons and six daughters.
John Van Fleet was reared on his father's farm until he reached his maturity, when he started out for himself,
coming to Youngs town in 1826. After serving an. apprenticeship with a local tanner, he purchased the latter's
interests and operated the business until 1870, when he located on West Federal street, where be was engaged until
1878 in the handling of leather and findings, an excellent business at that time. It is told of him, as illustrative
of his honorable business methods, that purchasers came to Youngstown from Pittsburg, Cleveland and Cincinnati
to deal with him.
During the progress of the Civil War, the government hand no more ardent supporter than Mr. Van Fleet. He had been
a strong anti slavery man, for many years and had been closely associated with the other philanthropists of his
day in assisting the escape of fugitive slaves. He was one of the first three antislavery men in Youngstown township,
and his home was used as a station on the "Underground Railroad." In 1844 he voted for James C. Birney,
who was the Abolition candidate for the presidency.
On August 20, 1834, Mr. Van Fleet was married to Jane Douglass, who was born December 28, 1811, a daughter of John
and Nancy (McDowell) Douglass, all natives of Pennsylvania. To Mr. and Mrs. Van Fleet were born eight children,
namely: Charles, deceased; Nancy, Sarah; Lucretia, widow of the late Henry Tod, a separate sketch of whom will
be found in this volume; James D., deceased, who served in the Civil War as a member of Company B, 44th Battalion
of State troops, which was later merged into the 155th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry; Charlotte, deceased;
'John, deceased; and Alfred B. Alfred B. Van Fleet, a prominent and progressive business man, is one of the leading
real estate men of Youngstown, with offices' at No. 607 Dollar Bank building, and home at No. 523 Yale avenue.
He was secretary of the Mahoning County Pioneer Society for six years; upon its dissolution, he with the other
remaining members, presented the $110 in the reasury of the society to the Young Women's Christian Association.
As a sincere friend of education, John Van Fleet worked long and earnestly in behalf of the union schools of the
county. He took a deep interest in the schools and was one of the first as well as one of the most prominent advocates
of better educational facilities for the city of Youngstown. He served as president of the board of education and
in this capacity brought to Youngstown the late Reuben McMillan, who left such a decided impress for good on the
city's educational life that time will not destroy. Mr. Van Fleet's wife was the first and only president of the
Free Reading Room, which was finally merged into the Reuben McMillan Library, that splendid institution of which
Youngstown is justly proud.
Throughout almost the entire course of his life, John Van Fleet was a consistent member of the First Presbyterian
Church of Youngstown, of which for fifty years he was a deacon. He was a man of generous impulses which were tempered
with prudence. His value to the early business interests of Youngstown cannot be overvalued. Careful, conservative
and sensible, his excellent judgment often was the balance wheel which preserved the equilibrium between enterprise
and a cautious conservatism. He left behind him a substantial fortune and an unsullied name.
20th Century History of Youngstown
and Mahoning County, Ohio and
Edited and compiled by Gen. Thos. W. Sanderson
Biographical Publishing Company
Chicago, Illinois 1897
Mahoning County, Ohio Biographies
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