Whistler Family - Pennsylvania

    Scenes from Basingstoke and the Area

Pennsylvania – Hands Across the Sea

Charles Whistler, the son of William and Martha Whistler of Basingstoke, voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean to Quebec. In 1820 he settled in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, where he worked in farming and operated an inn (1).

In 1829, after a visit to England, Charles sailed back to New York with his younger brother George Whistler. The passenger list for the Corinthian, that arrived in New York on 27 October 1829, named Charles Whistler, aged 36, a coach proprietor, and George Whistler, aged 26, a farmer (2). George returned to England – later, his sons Charles and Septimus emigrated to America (see the chapter Farmers of the Hampshire Downs).

Charles Whistler’s bride, Susan Graham, was born in Mercer County (3). They had a son named Charles William Whistler. After Susan passed away in 1847, Charles Whistler remarried Matilda – more than 30 year his junior – with whom he had a daughter Sarah and son Isaac. Charles Whistler died in 1863 at the age of 70.

Gravestones at Mercer Citizens Cemetery,
Mercer, Mercer County, Pennsylvania
(Photographs at Find A Grave , 2016).
Charles Whistler 1793–1863 Susan Whistler 1803–1847

Charles William Whistler married Mary Elizabeth Forker, a daughter of James and Maria Forker, of Harrisville, Butler County, Pennsylvania (4). A son Edmund Quimby Whistler was born in 1860. A daughter Julia was born about 1863. Two younger sons were Charles Elliott Whistler, born at Mercer, Pennsylvania, on 8 September 1866, and Paul Graham Whistler, born in 1869.

In June 1861 Charles William Whistler, aged 27, enrolled at Camp Wilkins, Pittsburgh, for service in the Civil War. His occupation was stated as ‘hotel proprietor’ of Mercer County. On 21 January 1864 he was discharged from service with the rank of Captain (5).

Charles William Whistler pursued interests in both business, including managing the Whistler Hotel, and journalism. He was a contributor to newspapers and became the editor of the Western Press of Mercer.

A pithy wit was evident in Charles William Whistler’s writings for the Western Press. For example, when the Mercer County Court House was destroyed by fire on the night of 15 December 1907, he commented: (6)

A County Seat without a County House –
The play without the character of Hamlet.

Charles Elliott Whistler acquired work experience in California before settling in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, where he became the owner of a successful department store business which he ran with his brother Paul Graham Whistler. Their older brother Edmund Quimby Whistler passed away in 1891. Family tragedy struck again in the first week of January 1904 when Paul Whistler, aged 35, died of typhoid fever at his home in Ellwood City (7).

The American Whistlers kept in contact with their English cousins. Charles Elliott Whistler travelled to England to court an English bride: his second cousin Ethel May Butler, the daughter of Alfred and Emma Butler. Ethel was the granddaughter of John Butler and his wife Sarah, who was the daughter of William and Martha Whistler of Basingstoke. On 11 December 1901 the New Castle News, Pennsylvania printed the notice:

The engagement of Charles Elliot Whistler of Whistler Bros’. department stores, Ellwood City, eldest son of Capt. and Mrs. Chas. W. Whistler of Mercer, to Miss Ethel May Butler, eldest daughter of Alfred Butler of the Steam Mills, Oxford, England, is announced. Mr Whistler has been visiting friends at Oxford and Basingstoke for several weeks past. . . . he will return home with his bride some time in January.

Their marriage ceremony took place at All Saints Church, Oxford on 2 January 1902 (8).

Charles Elliott Whistler was active in serving his community. On 6 February 1907 the local newspaper reported that Charles Whistler, representing the Ellwood City Democrats, was running for the position of school director in the election coming later that month (9). On 12 March 1907 he was elected president of the newly created Ellwood City Merchants and Manufacturers Board of Trade (10).

Ethel May Whistler, with her young daughters, made visits to her family in England, sailing from New York to Southampton (11). Charles Elliott Whistler decided to relocate to England, possibly to become the manager of the Oxford business of his father-in-law. In October 1911 he resigned as president of the Ellwood City Board of Trade and sold the Whistler Brothers’ department store in Lawrence Avenue. A newspaper article gave a tribute to Whistler: ‘He has, for many years, been one of the leading citizens of the town and it is with much regret that his departure was announced’. The Whistlers left Ellwood City in the new year (12).

In 1921 Charles Elliott Whistler was a draper residing at 236 Iffley Road, Oxford (13).

A Family Wedding

On 26 February 1914 Charles William Whistler, now aged 79 and a widower, married for a second time at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. His bride was his first cousin Harriet Portsmouth, aged 83. This was a first marriage for Harriet who had lived all her life in Basingstoke. The unlikely couple were both grandchildren of William and Martha Whistler of Basingstoke. The wedding had family support – the witnesses who signed the marriage register were John Portsmouth and Ethel May Whistler.


In the nineteenth century the Revd Rose Fuller Whistler documented the Whistler family network in the Thames Valley of the seventeenth century. It has not been established how the Thames Valley Whistlers were connected to the families in the Basingstoke area who were the forebears of the Pennsylvania Whistlers.

Charles Watts Whistler, the eldest son of the Revd Rose Fuller Whistler, wrote a series of historical novels set in England before the Norman Conquest. He served as a clergyman in a succession of parishes including Stockland-Bristol, Somerset from 1895 to 1909 (14). As a contribution to geneaology he was a co-editor of Phillimore’s Somerset Parish Registers: Marriages (Volume 6, 1905).

The story Havelok the Dane, by Charles Watts Whistler, was found in a bookshop in Pennsylvania (15). The inside front cover had a lovely inscription to Charles William Whistler of Mercer:

From C. W. Whistler of Somerset
To C. W. Whistler of Pennsylvania
Nov. 20, 1899.
"Hands across the sea".

Possibly Charles Watts Whistler corresponded with Charles William Whistler about their family history. However, their family connection is not known.

A biography of the Pennsylvanian born Charles Elliott Whistler, printed in a 1908 directory for New Castle and Lawrence County Pennsylvania, made the interesting comment:

During a pleasant visit to England, Mr Whistler had the satisfaction of viewing the section from which came his ancestors, and saw the house in the quaint old English village which has sheltered seven generations of his name.

The ‘quaint old English village’ may have been Goring in Oxfordshire where the Manor of Gatehampton was owned by the Whistler family until the mid 1700s.

Appendix: The Whistler Family of Pennsylvania in Census Returns

Selected References

Biography of Charles Elliott Whistler (webpage) in 20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence County Pennsylvania and Representative Citizens, Hon. Aaron L. Hazen editor, 1908.

Mercer County Genealogy (website).

New Castle News, Pennsylvania, online NewspaperARCHIVE.com


(1) The 1908 biography of Charles Elliott Whistler gives family history. The webpage: Early Innkeepers from the History of Mercer County, 1888 has a number of references to Charles Whistler, Innkeeper of Mercer.

(2) New York Passenger Lists, 1820–1957, online database at the Ancestry website.

(3) The website: Mercer County Biographies , transcribed from the History of Mercer County, has a biography for Thomas Graham :

Thomas Graham died in Mercer on the 4th of April, 1833, in his sixty-third year. His remains lie in the old graveyard back of the First Presbyterian Church. He was born in Ireland, and married Margaret Irwin, of Carlisle, Penn. His children, Isabella (now Mrs. Forker, of Mercer, aged eighty-seven); Susan, wife of Charles Whistler, deceased; Margaret (Mowry) and Thompson.

(4) The 1908 biography of Charles Elliott Whistler. It is interesting to note how the family network was central to social and business life. Charles William Whistler became a business partner with his cousin Joseph Forker, the son of his aunt Isabella who was the sister of his mother Susan Whistler. In the History of Mercer County, 1888, a biography of Joseph Forker included the details:

Joseph Forker, . . . born in Mercer, Penn., . . . [was] a son of Gen. John and Isabella (Graham) Forker. . . . In 1853 he began clerking in his brother Henry’s drug store, and in 1857 formed a partnership with R. M. J. Zahniser and C. W. Whistler, under the firm of Forker, Zahniser & Co., and bought out his brother’s store. In 1864 Mr Forker sold out to his partners, and went into the coal business in Hickory Township, and for the past twenty-four years has been actively identified with the development of the Mercer County coal fields.

How Joseph Forker was related to Whistler’s father-in-law James Forker is not known.

(5) Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861–1866 at the Pennsylvania State Archives website.
The 1890 Veterans Schedules in the U.S. Census collection at the Ancestry family history website gave details of the civil war record of Charles W Whistler of Mercer, Mercer County, Pennsylvania:

Rank Company Regiment Date of
Date of
2nd Lieutenant G 10 Pa Reserve   16 Apr 1861   16 May 1862
Captain H 15 Pa Militia   14 Aug 1862   14 Sep 1863
Captain H 2nd Battalion, Pa     21 Jun 1863   21 Jan 1864

(6) Robert B. Fuhrman, webpage: A History of Mercer County’s Court Houses , Mercer County Historical Society.

(7) The seventh general catalogue of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, 1917 (Internet Archive ) listed Edmund Quimby Whistler as a member of the Chapter Eternal for deceased members.
On 6 January 1904 the New Castle News, Pennsylvania printed the obituary:

Paul Whistler, one of the best known business men of Ellwood and a son of Captain Whistler, editor of the Mercer Press, succumbed to typhoid fever at his home in Ellwood, Wednesday morning about half past eight o’clock. Mr Whistler was a member of the Whistler Bros. dry goods firm, and though only 35 years old at his death he had had an unusual degree of success in his business career. With his brother, Charles Whistler, he conducted a big mercantile establishment at Ellwood and had built up a large trade. Their store was of the largest and finest in the city and their business was growing rapidly.
Three weeks previous to his death Mr Whistler was stricken with typhoid fever. Friends waited on him with tender solicitude and the best physicians were secured, but notwithstanding all that love and devotion could do for him the illness terminated fatally. His death was a great shock to his family and the community as well. He was held in the very highest esteem in the city of Ellwood and his death will be widely felt in this county.
Mr Whistler for some years lived in New Castle, his father, Captain Whistler, being at that period the proprietor of the Leslie House. He has a large circle of acquaintances here and the news of his death was received in this place with much sorrow. The family had been living in Mercer of recent years. Three years ago the deceased left that place for Ellwood and resided at the latter town until his death. His mother died recently in California.
Mr Whistler leaves a wife and one child. His father, Capt. Whistler, and one sister, Mrs Johnson Zahniser, lives at Mercer, and one brother, Charles, resides at Ellwood. Mr Whistler was a member of and one of the prominent workers in the Ellwood Presbyterian Church. He was a man of high character and deep sorrow is felt by all who knew him over his early death.

(8) An image of the marriage certificate can be viewed at the Ancestry database: Oxfordshire, Marriages and Banns, 17541930. The Butler family was traced in census returns.

(9) New Castle News, Pennsylvania.

(10) History of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, p. 153 (photocopy kindly provided by the Ellwood City Area Historical Society ).

(11) Notices in the New Castle News, Pennsylvania: 27 March 1907, ‘Mrs Charles Whistler and children of Crescent Avenue, Ellwood, will sail from New York Thursday evening for England. They will visit at Oxford during the coming summer, arranging to return home by fall.’ 23 October 1911, ‘Mrs Charles Whistler is expected to arrive home from her European trip today. Her husband met her in New York and will accompany her to Ellwood.’ The online database New York Passenger Lists at the Ancestry website lists New York arrivals for: Ethel May Whistler, with her infant daughter Julia May, arrived 23 January 1904 on the Cedric; Ethel May Whistler, with her daughters Julia May and Grace, arrived 28 June 1907 from Southampton on the New York, and 21 October 1911 from Southampton on the Philadelphia.

(12) Reports in the New Castle News, Pennsylvania dated 25 & 27 October and 6 December 1911. Whistler’s department store was sold to George L. Reynolds of Rices Landing, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Almost twenty years later, on 25 July 1930, the same newspaper noted:

Englishman is Visitor:
Charles Whistler of Oxford, England arrived in Mercer Wednesday and will visit friends and relatives here for several weeks. He is the only surviving member of the family of the late Capt. C. W. Whistler. He was raised in Mercer and then went into business in Ellwood City with his brother. He is now a merchant in England.

(13) London Gazette (online), 3 January 1922.

(14) Wikipedia webpage: Charles Watts Whistler .

(15) Purchased from the online bookseller AbeBooks in March 2009.

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Revision date: 2017