Monday, September 19, 2016


Continued from Part I , Part II, Part III, and Part IV

The Atlee Genealogy

The genealogy of the Atlees is set out in Genealogical record of the Atlee family, The descendants of Judge William Augustus Atlee and Colonel Samuel John Atlee of Lancaster County, Pa by Edwin Atlee Barber. The Atlees were proud of their ancestry and their closeness to national leaders in both England before the revolution and in American after that date. In Part IV we described the nine children of the first American Atlee. Of the three sons, only one is followed in this Part V, being William Pitt Atlee, born in 1772. Edwin Augustus Atlee, born in 1776, having been chronicled in Part IV. About the third son, little is known.

William Pitt Atlee (1772-1815), the eldest son, had been a young lad while his father and uncle took their places in the war of the revolution and within the new government they had fought to create. With both parents dead by 1793, however, as the eldest son, he became head of the family at only 21 years of age.

The man who was elected from 1799 to 1808 as governor had formerly been Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, Thomas McKean. Until his death in 1793, William Augustus Atlee had been the Senior Justice at the same court where McKean was Chief Justice of the circuit. It is McKean, Atlee's mentor, who is given credit for establishing the "spoils system" of political appointments in Pennsylvania, telling Thomas Jefferson in 1801 that "it is not right to put a dagger in the hands of an assassin." Even then, it seems, politics was a very personal affair. Not only did Governor McKean give his colleague's son-in-law the plum position of prothonotary in Cambria County, but he ensured that his own son, Joseph M. McKean, was appointed district attorney.

McKean had never been idle, having commanded a battalion which served in the Jersey campaigns of 1776-77, been a promoter of and signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the 1778 convention which framed the Articles of Confederation, President of Congress (1781), and in a delegate to the Pennsylvania convention to ratify the federal constitution in 1787. He was a member of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1789-90, and under it became its second executive, filling the gubernatorial office three terms, from December 17, 1799, to December 20, 1808. He also was named a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and died in 1817.

His associate, William A. Atlee, before 1779, had also been named as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, then known as the College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia, which had been founded by Benjamin Franklin and William Shippen. The newly elected General Assembly formed and elected following independence, passed an Act which illegally attempted to place ownership into the hands of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, rather than the original proprietors who had established the College in 1740. That attempt was partially repealed in 1789, but other provisions remained as before. The U.S. Supreme Court held in a landmark decision in 1819, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518, that a privately funded college could not be changed into a state university. The appointing of trustees must proceed as set out in the original charter.

The significance of this case to our study is that the choice of who would handle appointment of trustees for the University of Pennsylvania would remain in the hands of persons close to the man who was a direct ancestor of David Atlee Phillips, i.e. William Augustus Atlee. The purpose of this study is to determine whether that fact had any influence on what choices Atlee's infamous descendant made during his life.

Atlee was not above using his connections. As soon as the revolution was complete and the peace treaty was in the works, he had requested Judge McKean to use his friendship with John Adams, then a peace negotiator for the new federal government, to investigate whether Atlee's father had an inheritance in England. Adams replied to McKean, asking for funds to be sent to him, which he would then deliver to Dr. John Brown Cutting. A pharmacist in the Continental Army during the revolutionary war, Cutting had subsequently studied law under Judge John Lowell in Boston until 1786, at which time he made his way to London to study at the Inner Temple. Although the funds Cutting requested appear to have been received in London by Adams, there is no indication that Cutting ever actually investigated the property records for Atlee, nor that that was any estate remaining in the Atlee family.

The year before his death, Justice Atlee and his colleague, Thomas McKean, were named with others as Electors chosen to cast their votes in the Presidential election for George Washington's second term. This honor occurred only a few months before Atlee's death. Many of those electors named were also trustees of what was then called the College of Philadelphia.

William Pitt Atlee Branch
William Pitt Atlee was 26 years of age in 1798 when he married sixteen-year-old Sarah Light, whose New York born father, John Light, a Major during the revolutionary war, had settled at Lancaster in 1783, operating a pub. Major Light joined the St. James Episcopal church attended by the Atlee family. He was elected chief burgess in 1803, becoming a stalwart in Democratic politics, named as an elector on the ballot in 1824 in support the candidacy of William Crawford of Georgia for president and Albert Gallatin as vice-president. Sarah's father died in 1834.

Sarah Light Atlee had lost her husband in 1815 when he was only 43, leaving his wife to rear six minor children without his assistance. Like his father-in-law, William Pitt Atlee had served as a soldier, though not in the revolutionary war but in the War of 1812, attaining the rank of Colonel. During his life apart from the military he worked as a coppersmith, deputy sheriff and a marshal for the Lancaster district before the war, which possibly influenced his being placed in charge of British prisoners during the war. His wife, Sarah Light Atlee, who survived him by 35 years, watched as the eldest of their four sons followed in the footsteps of William Pitt's younger brother, Edwin A. Atlee. who was already on his way toward an eminent medical career before 1812, as shown in our previous post

The names below are the children of William Pitt and Sarah Light Atlee.
John Light Atlee
John Light Atlee (1799-1885), studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, married a daughter of Judge Walter Franklin and practiced gynecological surgery in Lancaster until his death there in 1885. Unlike his uncle, Edwin Atlee, John remained a member of the Episcopal Church.

Elizabeth Amelia
Elizabeth Amelia Atlee (1801-1848) married in 1824 Rev. Alexander Varian, an Episcopal minister and missionary to Vincennes, Indiana, who was transferred from the diocese in Ohio. Rev. Varian and his daughters, Sarah and Harriet, operated a boarding school for young ladies there in the 1850's.

William Lewis Atlee
William Lewis Atlee (1803-1880), the second son, may sometimes become confused with the youngest of the four Atlee sons of this generation because he used the initials W. L. for his name, which were the same as those of Washington Lemuel Atlee, five years younger, who, to avoid confusion, apparently tried to use his full name rather than only the initials. 

W. L. was married in 1828 in Gettysburg to Sarah Gilbert, a sister of his younger brother's wife, Delilah. William and Edwin Atlee went into business together in Gettysburg, making equipment for horse-drawn carriages as well as saddles and bridles. In 1840 much of the extended family of Atlees and Gilberts had also relocated to Athens, continuing in the same business begun in Gettysburg--manufacturing saddles, harnesses and other equipment used in horse-borne transportation. But they were no longer Episcopal or Quaker; all of this branch had become Methodists.

Their eldest daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Atlee, in 1847 married Rev. William Reynolds Long, and they reared twelve children in rural McMinn County, earning their living by farming. One of their children, Rev. Carroll Summerfield Long, however, served as a Methodist missionary to Japan after studying at East Tennessee Wesleyan. Arriving in Japan in 1880, Rev. Carroll Long served a total of eight years, mostly in Nagasaki, where he founded Cobleigh Seminary (1881), was presiding elder of the Nagasaki and Nagoya districts. He even founded a school for girls in Nagoya (October 1888) before his death in 1890.
    Edwin Augustus Atlee
    It is easy to confuse Edwin Augustus Atlee (1804-1868) with his uncle with the same name--the  youngest son of William Augustus Atlee. This second Edwin, however, was not a physician but a saddle and harness manufacturer. In 1826 he married Delilah Gilbert, a young lady who lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (born 1809), whose father, Barnhart (Bernhart/Bernhardt) Gilbert, had owned a pub across the street from the courthouse in Gettysburg since 1812. The pub and its contiguous land was sold in 1827 to the Bank of Gettysburg (later called Gettysburg National Bank), of which Gilbert had been a founder and shareholder in 1814, also a director for four years. Delilah's younger sister, Sarah Gilbert, would marry Edwin's older brother, William Lewis Atlee two years later.

    Catherine Esther Atlee
    Catherine Esther Atlee (1806-1879) married Henry Pinkerton in 1825.

    Washington Lemuel Atlee
    The youngest son was Washington Lemuel Atlee (1808-1878), would also become a medical doctor, an 1828 graduate of Jefferson College. He practiced medicine in Lancaster, Pa. until 1845 when he moved to Philadelphia as chemistry professor at Jefferson's successor, the Philadelphia Medical College, later known as Pennsylvania Medical College. He resigned in 1852 to specialize in surgery to remove ovarian tumors. Dr. Washington L. Atlee was the last surviving member of the Pennsylvania Medical College where the surgical chair was in 1845 occupied by Dr. David Gilbert. Others in that department were Dr. William R. Grant, William Darrach, H. L. Patterson, and J. Wiltbank, besides Dr. Atlee.

    His wife since 1830 was Ann Hoff, granddaughter of a German clockmaker who had settled in Lancaster in 1765. Her father, John Hoff, was born in Lancaster the year the revolution began. Their first child, named George McClellan Atlee for the doctor who founded Jefferson College, died as an infant, but subsequent children did survive.
        • Eliza Varian Atlee (1836-1899) married John Foreman Sheaff in 1858.
        • Ann Catherine Atlee (1832-1882) married David Burpee, M.D.
        • Mary Louise Atlee (1833-1901) married Thomas Murray Drysdale, M.D. of Philadelphia, who served as Dr. Atlee's literary executor upon his father-in-law's death in 1878.
        • Margaret Atlee (1839-1917) married George A. Hoff in 1879.
        • Dr. Washington Lemuel Atlee, Jr. (1841-1900) married Anna M. West in 1864. 
    In Part VI, we will move the family to Texas, where the most notorious descendant lived out his life, his notoriety being the fact that he spent a career in the Central Intelligence Agency and has been documented to have been involved in not only setting up fellow Fort Worth resident Lee Harvey Oswald as the patsy blamed for killing President John F. Kennedy, but very likely was himself involved in planning that murder.