Biography of William H. Turner

William H. Turner, born January 1, 1850, in Cambridge, Ohio, was a prominent figure in the mining industry and local politics. The son of George and Eliza Jane (Porter) Turner, he began working in coal mines at age ten and became an expert in mining techniques and safety. Turner played a key role in establishing the Ohio Department of Mines and served as an assistant inspector for thirteen years. He was instrumental in forming the Ohio Miners Association and held various leadership positions. Turner married twice, first to Malissa O. Davis and later to Eva A. Earl, raising a family with strong ties to the community. He was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church and local civic affairs, leaving a significant legacy in Cambridge.

A distinguished citizen who needs no introduction to the readers of this work is William H. Turner of Cambridge, who was born January 1, 1850, in Cambridge in the part of the city which at that time was woodland. He is a son of George and Eliza Jane (Porter) Turner, the father of English descent but born near Cadiz, Harrison County, Ohio. The mother was of Irish descent and was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Grandfather James Porter came to Guernsey County with the early pioneers and was a schoolteacher and a shoemaker. He was postmaster at Creighton, Guernsey County, a justice of the peace, and a man of affairs of high standing. Three of his sons, brothers of the mother of the subject of this sketch, went through the Civil War. They were Joseph, James, who rose to the rank of major of an Iowa regiment, and William. Joseph and William were members of Company A, Seventy-eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and served with splendid records. James and Joseph are now deceased, but William is living in Winterset, Iowa, engaged in the mercantile business, having gone west soon after the close of the war. The parents also moved west, locating at Monmouth, Illinois, where they spent the remainder of their lives. The maternal great-grandfather, Robert Porter, was killed by the Indians in the early pioneer days at a locality near Fort Pitt (at what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), as were two of his children. James Porter, the grandfather, served through the War of 1812 as a drummer boy.

The Turners came from England in about 1800 and settled in Harrison County, Ohio, where George Turner, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born in 1812. In the family of Grandfather George Turner were: George; Mary, who became the wife of James Wagstaff, who emigrated to California, where they died; Margaret, who married James McGonigal, a prominent pioneer family, both now deceased.

The father of the subject of this sketch, George Turner, came to Guernsey County with his mother, his father having been accidentally killed by a falling tree. Before coming to Guernsey County, the father had learned the trade of a blacksmith and followed the trade here and was known far and near as “The Village Blacksmith.” He was active in securing the right-of-way for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to Cambridge, the opponents protesting that the railroad would see the grass growing in the streets of Cambridge. He was a man of affairs and became interested in real estate, and Turner’s addition to the city of Cambridge is an important addition. He also invented and patented the Turner corn-sheller, the first practical corn-sheller to be successfully operated in the country, and has been the foundation of all shellers that have followed. He was a man active in everything to advance the commercial development of Cambridge. He also operated, with James McGonigal, one of the first flour mills in Cambridge. He was in the mercantile business for a time, and he also built houses and sold them to newcomers and manufacturers. He burned the brick for the first brick church (the Methodist Episcopal) in Cambridge. When he thus became active in affairs, he gave up his trade of blacksmithing. He was one of the foremost citizens of his time and did much to advance Cambridge and give the city an important place on the Ohio map. In politics, he was originally a Whig, a strong anti-slavery man, and a worker in the “underground railroad,” helping many a slave to freedom. He later became a Republican and a strong supporter of the Union cause during the dark days of the Civil War, having three sons who served in the army. His family consisted of eight sons and three daughters, namely: Milton, deceased; James, killed at Atlanta during the war; George, now in Texas; Cassalin, deceased; William, the subject of this sketch; Hanna C., now the wife of H. H. Hunt, a railroad man in Nebraska; Isabelle, now Mrs. James Hardesty, of Cambridge; Mary is the widow of Austin Siens; John P., a lawyer of Cambridge, and Samuel F., of Columbus, Ohio. The father died in April 1864, of a sudden illness, in the prime of life at the age of fifty-two years. His widow survived until 1900, in July of which year she passed to her reward. Both are buried in the Lebanon cemetery, in Adams Township. The mother was a schoolteacher before her marriage, and as her family grew up, she gave great attention to their education.

The son, William H., obtained much of his early education at his mother’s knee, getting very little in the public schools, probably not more than a year all told. When he was ten years of age, he began his life in the coal mines in the year 1860. He began as a pick miner when coal mining in Guernsey County was in its infancy, before even powder was used for mining, all done with a jack and wedge. He has been a miner or connected with mine work ever since. There is nothing about a coal mine that he has not done, except boss or superintendent, and these two positions were not passed for lack of opportunity but because he did not accept the preferred place.

As soon as he became a miner in 1860, he made up his mind to know all there was to know about mining, and he began to study geology and coal formation. He made a close study of mine chemistry and ventilation, the formation of gases, and how to prevent explosions. He began with a study of the best authorities, has probably as fine a library as there is in the state upon these subjects, and he is recognized as an authority upon them. Because of his great ability along these lines, he has been active in securing legislative protection for the miner and directing the operation of mines, which resulted in the establishment of the Department of Mines and Mining in 1873 during the administration of Governor William Allen. This department was first organized with one inspector for the entire state. This was followed with one assistant inspector, and the department has grown in importance until now there is a Chief Inspector with twelve assistant inspectors and a corps of office clerks in the Chief Inspector’s office in Columbus.

Without application for the position, in 1891, Mr. Turner was appointed an assistant inspector by Hon. R. M. Haseltine, Chief Inspector of Mines, for three years, for district No. 4. This appointment came unsolicited and because of his recognized ability in mining matters. At the expiration of three years, because of death in his family, he was compelled to give up the work, and in 1900 was again appointed to the position by E. G. Biddison, then Chief Inspector, and served three years and was reappointed by the same Chief for another term of three years. At the expiration of his term, in 1906, he was reappointed for three years by George Harrison, Chief Inspector, serving until August 1, 1910, serving fourteen months additional time before his successor was appointed. He has served in the department a total of thirteen years and two months and served under seven different governors of the state. During all these years, he has never been reversed in his decisions, never has involved the mining department or operators in any legal action. His official duties have been very satisfactory to the department, the miners, and the mine operators.

With all of his activity and study, he was one of the founders of the miners’ organization in this section of the state. This was known as the Ohio Miners Association, formed in the fall of 1879, and in 1880 the first local union was organized in Guernsey County, and Mr. Turner was made secretary of the organization, which grew through the activity of himself and others until it included several counties. When a district organization was secured, known as District No. 9, Mr. Turner became secretary and treasurer, and at the same time was made a member of the state executive board. He filled these positions for five years, and in 1887 he was made president of the district organization, and in 1890 he was elected national vice-president of what was known as the National Progressive Union of Miners, all over the country. He relinquished this to give his attention to that of inspector in Ohio.

William H. Turner has been twice married, first on January 1, 1872, to Malissa O. Davis, daughter of Nathan G. and Amanda M. (McVay) Davis. Her father was a miner, served through the war and again took up mining when he became a resident of Guernsey County, and died here some years ago, as did his wife.

To this union were born five sons and four daughters: Frank, of Cambridge; Flora, now Mrs. John Shaw, whose husband is a farmer of Guernsey County and a miner; Anna Maude, now Mrs. Fred Gibbs, of Cleveland, Ohio; Hattie, now Mrs. John Evans, of Indiana Harbor, Indiana; George E., of Cambridge; John W., who died as an infant; Earl C., of Cambridge; Ada G., now Mrs. Ward Willcoxen, of Cambridge. The wife and mother died on January 28, 1893.

Mr. Turner was married a second time on October 12, 1897, to Mrs. Eva A. Earl, widow of John Earl, of West Virginia, and a daughter of John and Mary Thayer Earl, of Lewis County, New York State, and the mother of two children: Roie E., wife of A. T. Jones, of Cambridge, and Percy D. Earl, of Cambridge. The Ward family never came west, but were of Revolutionary stock, and John Ward was a soldier in the Civil War. John Earl was also a soldier in the Civil War.

Mr. Turner is a Republican in politics, always interested and active, and has served as a member of the city board of education and president of the board for a time, also a member of the city waterworks trustees. He has served as a member of the Republican county committee, as secretary of the executive committee, has been a delegate to county, district, and state conventions, and has been a very effective campaign speaker during various campaigns. At the time of the Monongah mine disaster at Fairmont, West Virginia, on December 6, 1907, Mr. Turner joined a volunteer rescue squad of experienced and expert miners and assisted in rescuing three hundred and sixty-six bodies from the mine, after twelve days of unremitting work. He is essentially a self-made and self-educated man, with very little schooling and such instructions as his mother could give him, she having been a school teacher before her marriage. The care of a large family came to the parents of small means. The boy began life as a miner at the age of ten years, but all of his spare time was devoted to books upon mining and mine equipment. After mastering these, he broadened out and became a man of broad information and rare intelligence. He never played a game of cards in his life: while the other boys were thus engaged, he was with his books, and he never read a book or story of light fiction, his mind being constantly on “what can I get the most good for the future from.”

Mr. Turner and his family are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church and liberal supporters of the same. The family home is commodious, comfortably furnished, and modern in all of its appointments, and good family cheer and genuine hospitality are its characteristics. Mr. Turner, since his retirement from the service of the state mining department, has devoted his time to advisory mining engineering, and as an expert, his services are in great demand. Upon his retirement from his duties as inspector, Mr. Turner was presented, on September 30, 1910, by Chief Inspector George Harrison and the twelve district inspectors, with an elegant gold watch and fob as a testimonial of the high esteem in which his long and valuable services to the department were held.


Sarchet, Cyrus P. B. (Cyrus Parkinson Beatty). History of Guernsey County, Ohio. Vol. 2, B.F. Bowen & Company, 1911.

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