Joseph HiesterReturn to Historical Articles
Joseph Hiester (November 18, 1752 - June 10, 1832) was the fifth Governor of Pennsylvania from 1820 to 1823.
Joseph Hiester, a son of John Hiester and Maria Barbara Epler (natives of Witzenstein, Westphalia), was born in Bern Township, Berks County, on November 18, 1752. He received a common-school education. Young Hiester worked on the family farm. At the age of 19 he moved to Reading where he became a clerk in a store run by Adam Whitman. He became a partner in the store in 1771 when he married Elizabeth, Whitman's daughter.
As a Whig sympathizer, he fervently opposed the proprietary government and was a representative to the state convention, which assumed governing control at the outset of the Revolution. As a captain of militia, Hiester was zealous in raising soldiers at the beginning of the Revolution and served with distinction. Captured near Long Island, after many of his compatriots were wounded or killed, he suffered harsh treatment while confined on British prison ship "Jersey." After he was released in a prisoner exchange and recovered at his home in Reading, Hiester returned to duty, but was wounded in the head, although not severely, in the battle of Germantown.
Following the war, Hiester partnered with his father-in-law, Adam Whitman, in the mercantile business in Reading, but soon shifted his attention to politics.
In 1779, Hiester was one of the commissioners of exchange, seizing property from Revolutionary "traitors." For several years Berks County elected him to the State Legislature. He served in the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Congress, from 1779 until 1805, and again in the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Congresses, from 1815 to 1820.
He was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1789; a major general of the state militia; and beginning in 1810, joined the "old school" faction of the Jeffersonian Party as an Independent Republican (formerly "Constitutional Republicans," 1806). Defeated for governor in 1817 by William Findley, he returned triumphant in 1820 to occupy the governor's residence, then at 21 North Front Street in Harrisburg, today the location of the Art Association of Harrisburg. Beginning his term at age sixty-eight, Hiester had initially been a reluctant candidate for governor, but by the end of his term refused to allow his name to be considered for a second term.
Social progress occurred while he was in office, although not credited to the governor, but he is credited with helping to extend additional education for citizens at little cost and he presided over the dedication of the first state capitol building in Harrisburg. After his term was over, he returned to Reading where he managed several farms and mercantile businesses. Hiester died on June 10, 1832, was originally interred in Reading's Reformed Church Burying Ground, and later reinterred in Charles Evans Cemetery, Reading.