James Steele was born October 28, 1778, in Virginia, the son of Robert Steele and Agnes Coulter. Other children of Robert and Agnes Steele who came to Dayton included: Dr. John Steele (1791-1854), a doctor who came to Dayton in 1812; Samuel Steele (d. 1839); and Martha Steele (d. 1813), who married William McClure (d. 1812). In 1788, Robert Steele moved his family from Virginia to Fayette County, Kentucky, near Lexington.
About 1805 or 1806, James came to Dayton, Ohio, and went into the merchant business with his brother-in-law William McClure, in the firm of McClure & Steele.
On December 2, 1807, James entered into a business partnership with Joseph Peirce (whose sister Phebe he would later marry), as the firm Steele & Peirce. James constructed a brick building on the southeast corner of First and Main Streets, which housed a general store. The pair remained in business together until Joseph’s death in 1821.
During the War of 1812, James Steele served as a captain and was ordered to provide protection to citizens in the Ohio towns of Piqua and later St. Mary’s.
In November 1812, James Steele married Phebe Peirce (about 1784-1861), daughter of Isaac Peirce and Mary Sheffield. Phebe was born about 1784 in Rhode Island.
From 1815 to 1822, James was a director of the Dayton Bank. He became president of the Dayton Bank in 1822, following the death of the previous president (and James’s brother-in-law) Joseph Peirce. James also held the position as bank president until his own death in 1841.
James was interested in many aspects of community life. He served for many years as a trustee of the Dayton Academy, as well as a trustee of Miami University. He was also an active supporter of the second building of the First Presbyterian Church, which was completed just before his death in 1841. He was also one of the original stockholders of the Woodland Cemetery Association and served as the Association’s first president.
James Steele was also active in civic life, serving as an associate judge of Montgomery County for 14 years; an elector for the state of Ohio during the 1824 presidential election, in which he voted for his friend Henry Clay; and a senator in the Ohio legislature for 4 years, from 1834-1838.
James Steele died August 22, 1841, and Phebe (Peirce) Steele died March 11, 1861. They are both buried in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.
James and Phebe Steele had two children:
- Robert Wilbur Steele (1819-1891); and
- Joseph Peirce Steele (about 1821-1887).
Robert Wilbur Steele was born July 3, 1819, in Dayton, Ohio. He attended the Dayton Academy and Miami University. Robert was very active in many aspects of education in Dayton, including serving as a member of the Board of Education for over 30 years and being one of the incorporators of the Cooper Female Seminary in 1844. He was one of the founders of the Dayton Library Association and served as its director and president for many years. He also served as president of the Woodland Cemetery Association from 1858 until his death. Robert W. Steele was married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Smith, and they had several children, including daughter Mary Davies Steele (about 1843-1897); his second wife was Clara P. Steele, with whom he had one child. Robert W. Steele died September 24, 1891, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.
Joseph Peirce Steele was born about 1821 in Dayton, Ohio. He was never married. He was identified as an “idiot” in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census. He died June 6, 1887, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.
This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in April 2012 for the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.
Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original PDF finding aid available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library, the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry, or the WorldCat record.
Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.
 Robert W. Steele & Mary Davies Steele, Early Dayton (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1896), 89, 115; Frank Conover, Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio (Chicago: A. W. Bowen, 1897), 175; Montgomery County Genealogical Index, Dayton Metro Library; Lindsay M. Brien, Miami Valley Will Abstracts from the Counties of Miami, Montgomery, Warren, & Preble, in the State of Ohio, 1803-1850 (Dayton, OH: Lindsay M. Brien, 1940), 76; Lindsay M. Brien, A Genealogical Index of Pioneers in the Miami Valley, Ohio, 2nd ed. (Dayton, OH: Montgomery County Chapter, Ohio Genealogical Society, 2007), 186, 124.
Sources disagree whether James Steele was born in Rockbridge County (Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 89) or Rockingham County (Conover, Centennial Portrait, 175).
 Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 89; James Steele: McClure & Steele in Account with Samuel and George Trotter, 1806-1807, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 38:12, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio).
 John F. Edgar, Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity, 1796-1840 (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1896), 116, 134; Steele and Steele, Early Dayton, 89; James Steele: Steele & Peirce, Merchants – Documents and Letters relating to the Business, 1807-1821 [several documents], FPW, 38:14.
The business documents pertaining to Steele & Peirce includes the articles of co-partnership, dated December 2, 1807. The store remained until the 1860s, when it was removed to make way for the Turner Opera House.
 Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 90-91; Edgar, Pioneer Life in Dayton, 135; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 175.
 Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 90; Edgar, Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity, 116.
 Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 90; Edgar, Pioneer Life in Dayton, 134-135.
 Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 90; Edgar, Pioneer Life in Dayton, 135; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 175.
 Steele & Steele, Early Dayton, 91-92, 200-201;Edgar, Pioneer Life in Dayton, 135-137; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 175-176; Charlotte Reeve Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1907), 49-77; Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011,