Currently on display in our lobby and reception area, is a sword that belonged to Adjutant General Thomas A. Stewart. The sword was a gift to Stewart from the Pennsylvania Department of Internal Affairs.
The name Thomas J. Stewart may be familiar to you if you’ve heard of Stewart Middle School in Norristown. But who was Thomas J. Stewart?
Born in Belfast in 1848, Stewart emigrated with his family when he was a year old, and settled in Norristown. He attended local public schools and Quaker City Business College. The Norristown Area School District’s webpage notes at that he was particularly recognized for his penmanship and that he opened his own writing school.
When he turned 16 in September, 1864, he joined the 138th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The war ended only a few months later, and Stewart never rose above the rank of private.
When he returned to Norristown after the war, he worked manufacturing and selling window glass. He also joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1868, and in 1877 was appointed adjutant of the 6th Regiment (he might have gotten the position due to his handwriting; an adjutant is an adminstrative position). In the 1870’s he became a member of the Grand Army of the Repulic, Zook Post #11. According to an article on his life that appeared in the Times-Herald in 1925, he helped to revive the Zook Post which had not had meetings for several years.
Stewart also went into politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Republican in 1885. Ten years later he was appointed Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, a position he would hold until his sudden death in 1917.
Stewart also rose high in the ranks of the G. A. R. In 1889 when the Johnstown Flood killed 2,200 people, Stewart and the G. A. R. stepped in to centralize the distribution of supplies and organize door-to-door canvasing.
Thomas J. Stewart died on his birthday, September 11, 1917. A bronze statue was erected for him in the state capitol, and today the Pennsylvania National Guard has a medal named for him. Here’s the criteria for the medal from Senate Bill no. 232, 1971 session:
The General Thomas J. Stewart Medal shall be awarded to members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and Pennsylvania Air National Guard upon recommendation of their unit or organizational commanders, for one hunder per cent attendance and excellence in drill, including annual field training, during any one year. Only one of these medals shall be awarded to any one individual.
Stewart Middle School opened in 1925 as a junior high school. It became a middle school in 1973, and continues to educate the children of Norristown.