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The Big Snow

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In Bulloch County, Georgia, the average temperature in February, its coldest month, has a high of 57º F and a low of 37º F. As a result, snow is not a concern of most people who live there. That is not to say that there haven’t been a few surprises over the years.

On Valentine’s Day in 1914, Georgians awoke to an unusual sight… a blanket of white covering their streets and sidewalks. I know this because of a photograph that still hangs today in the Bulloch County courthouse. Court officials documented the rare weather incident by posing outside their building in 4 inches of snow. Among them was my 2nd great-grandfather, Harrison Oliff (2nd from left, top picture), who in 1914 was the court bailiff.

The forecast for the day was for mild or fair conditions so no one was prepared for the fact that they would wake up to see four or six inches of snow on the ground. It effectively shut down the entire area. Businesses closed, government offices took the day off, and most importantly, schools could not open, giving southern children the rarest of opportunities… a snow day.

The snowfall of 1914 broke records and it stood for almost 6 decades. As a side note, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the “Big Snow,” the current court officials decided to replicate the 1914 photo by posing themselves in the same location, outside the courthouse (minus the snow). Interestingly enough, the deputy bailiff pictured in the photo of 2014 is Bruce Olliff (3rd from left, bottom picture). I’m not sure if there is a connection to my great great grandfather Harrison.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Keeping The Wolves At Bay

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In my last post, I wrote about Robert Cathcart, one of my son’s 5th great grand-uncles. Here’s a little family detail that has survived the generations: As a young boy, he was taken in by his aunt. As he grew, he fell in love and married one of his uncle’s nieces, Jane Thom. It was his uncle who gifted the land in Armstrong County for them to homestead.

At this time, there were more wolves than people in the area and the newly married couple had a flock of sheep whose care required constant vigilance. On one occasion, when Mr. Cathcart was away, the wolves got after the sheep. Mrs. Cathcart opened the door to try to scare them away and as she did, all the sheep ran into the house. She barely got the door closed in time to keep out the pursuing wolves. 

The wolves continued to circle around the house, howling, and some even attempted to enter in through the window. Those that did were met with shovels of hot coals. Mrs. Cathcart had to stay up all night but in the morning the wolves were gone and the sheep were still there.

It is said of Jane Thom Cathcart that she was a woman of beautiful spirit. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

TO FUEL A NATION

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Robert Cathcart was a native of Dublin, Ireland but emigrated to the United States in 1790. He was most likely the first settler in the Mahoning Township area in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. He appears to have arrived in or before 1805 under an improvement right as he appears on a tax assessment in 1806 with 330 acres, one horse and three cattle.

His two story red house was not only the first frame building erected in that area… for many years it was the only one for miles around. He spent his life clearing the timber from part of his tract and erecting other necessary buildings. The commissioners of the county in 1810 granted him sixteen dollars for his killing of two panthers. By the time of his death (which occurred in 1847 at the age of 75) he had established a fine homestead for himself, his wife and their children.

While the “estate” was passed onto his children, in the 1850s a discovery was made that prompted the family to sell. The Fairmount Coal & Coke Company became the new owners of the land and opened the Bostonia Mine which was found to contain the largest vein of cannel coal within the United States.

The Industrial Revolution of the latter part of the 19th century brought an increasing demand for this energy source. As the labor force grew, iron and steel works were created as the railroad brought expansion and growth to the area. By 1910, 4,290 men in Armstrong County were producing more than 3,500,000 tons of coal.

The coal industry began phasing out by the 1950s and because the company constructed buildings were not designed for longevity, little evidence remains of the bustling communities that produced the energy that helped fuel the nation in its early years.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Rev. Henry Loveall

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It is no surprise to find, among the branches of our family tree, several relatives who served as pastors or ministers. But none did so as infamously as Rev. Henry Loveall, an 8th great-grandfather of my niece’s husband. 

Born in England in 1694, he came to America in 1729 and soon thereafter began offering his services behind the pulpit as a Baptist minister. From all accounts, he was known as being an accomplished orator and preacher. What wasn’t known is that he had fled his home in Cambridge, England in order to escape prosecution over an “inexcusable immorality.” Fortunately for him, a congregation in Piscataway NJ was in need of a replacement for their aging pastor and quickly chose to ordain Loveall as their minister despite suggestions to have him first enter into a trial period. They learned to rue that decision for not only did they discover that Loveall’s real name was actually Desolate Baker but that he had changed his name to obscure a number of indiscretions, including a bigamous second marriage, sexual liaisons with slaves and Indians, and the fact that he was perhaps an escaped convict. 

Even though the Piscataway church forbade him from administering the holy ordinances and soon excommunicated him from their church, he traveled to other parts preaching to Baptists up and down the eastern seaboard and, as far as the records show, apparently never changed his nefarious ways. He became the first pastor of the Chestnut Ridge church in Baltimore MD (pictured above) in 1742. Four years later he was “forced to resign.” 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Vengeance Is Mine

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While researching my wife’s side of the family to gather the data needed for her Daughters of the American Revolution application, I came across her 6th great-grandfather, Benjamin Conner, who served aboard the armed Privateer called the Vengeance.

Owned by private individuals, it was commissioned by the colonies to set sail against the British. Under the command of Captain Wingate Newman, Conner served as a lieutenant in 1778 and 1779. Records show that on September 17, 1778, after being at sea for several weeks, they engaged and captured the British packet ship Harriot with its 16 guns and 45 men. Three days later, they faced the British packet ship Eagle and after intense fighting of 20 minutes, were again victorious, capturing its 12 guns and 43 men including 7 field officers and several others of inferior rank.

From there, seeing as they were so far eastward and the ship now had more prisoners aboard than crew, the decision was made to head for the first port they could reach in either France or Spain. On Sept 29, they anchored in La Coruna where they were able to exchange their 87 prisoners for an equal number of Americans of similar rank.

The Vengeance continued its patrol for another couple of months, sailing off the coast of Spain and Portugal and while they did have some skirmishes and captured other “prizes,” none were as valuable.

The Vengeance returned to the states in late April 1779 and Lieutenant Connor, now Captain Conner, settled in Washington City. The ship, now with a new crew, took part in a failed mission to drive the British from a newly established military outpost in Penobscot, Maine. On August 17, 1779, the ship was destroyed in the Penobscot River by order of the Commodore to avoid it being captured by the enemy.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Underground Railroad

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Alexander Nelson, my daughter-in-law’s 6th great grandfather, was born in County Down, Ireland. He emigrated to America with his parents in 1759, when he was just ten years old. They first arrived in Philadelphia where he had the fortune to be patronized by Robert Morris, the celebrated financier of the Revolution. As he grew, he eventually moved to Virginia, purchased a plantation called “Poplar Grove” and became an influential member of the community. 

He, as so many did in those times, built his success on the backs of the slaves he “owned.” This had a profound effect on at least one of his children. John Mathews Nelson left Virginia and his family home out of disgust for the practice of slavery to which he was witness. He and his wife Mary Lewis Trimble Nelson moved to Ohio where they established a way station for the Underground Railroad. They were involved in aiding rescues for fleeing black slaves up until they retired. Their son, Marshall Telfair Nelson, took over where they left off, using the family home at Clear Creek, northeast of Hillsboro, Ohio, as a safe haven for those who could make the journey.

In 1842, James Nelson, John’s brother, purchased a family retainer, 33 year old Lewis Morton, who bought the freedom of his ailing wife and three children. They reached the Nelson safe house in a one-horse cart and set up a forge on Clear Creek where they continued to aid fellow refugees from slavery.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Juliette Fowler Communities

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We often run across businesses, organizations, or companies named after specific individuals without really knowing the history of the person whose name is being so used. It so happens that The Juliette Fowler Communities in Dallas was named after Juliette Peak Fowler, Dallas’ first female philanthropist and my aunt’s first cousin (five times removed).

Juliette long envisioned a place where elders, children and youth could dwell together and receive the help and services they needed. She traveled the state visiting and learning from various social service agencies but unfortunately died before she could execute her vision. She did, in her will, set aside some acreage and a trust fund to be used to realize her plan. Her older sister, Sarah Peak Harwood, picked up the gauntlet and chartered The Juliette Fowler Home for Children and the Aged in 1892.

The first home for children opened in 1904 in Grand Prairie. Harwood Hall, the first permanent structure on the East Dallas property, opened in 1911. Then in 1913, the children were moved to the East Dallas location, thus fulfilling Juliette’s vision for an intergenerational community.

Today, Juliette Fowler Communities includes independent and assisted living, health and rehabilitation services, memory support, foster care and adoption services, as well as The Ebby House for young women who have aged out of foster care. The community serves more than 700 individuals and their families, employs 160 team members and engages more than 2000 volunteers each year. All of which was born from one woman’s dream and generosity.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends

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Oliver H. Hovda, my daughter-in-law’s 1st cousin (4 times removed), was just twenty-two years old when he left his family home in Minnesota for the relatively wide open spaces of Montana. His uncle had promised him a good job in the silver and lead mines there.

He and his cousin Lee Simonsen began working in the mines in 1889. Not only was it dangerous work, life in general had its perils. All miners back then carried “sixshooters” and any differences that occurred between them was usually settled by an exchange of gunfire. Six months later, Oliver and Lee decided to leave the mines and instead bought some sheep. 

By this time, Lee’s father had purchased some land along the Stillwater River and started a town called Absarokee, a Crow Indian name that meant People of the Raven. Oliver and Lee brought their sheep to the prime grazing area above the river, ignoring the threats of the cattlemen who wanted the land for their herds.  The tensions between the cattlemen and the sheepherders continued to intensify. Oliver’s camp was burnt down twice by the other faction which finally drove Oliver to move his herd (which by now amounted to some 10,000 head) to an area already grazed by the cattle.

The hostility reached its climax when the cattlemen killed a German sheepherder named Heide along with many of his sheep. Hovda, incensed, stormed into the saloon where he knew he would find the guilty parties. With his six-shooter strapped to his side, he challenged all the cattlemen present to a shootout. Fortunately for Hovda, who was not very good with a gun, his uncle was also present and managed to hustle him out before blood was spilled, in all likelihood, saving his life.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Little Forkers

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In 1859, following the John Brown raid, a group of Southern men formed the Little Fork Raiders, a calvary militia that would train in Oakshade, at the Little Forks Church in Culpepper County Virginia. When Virginia seceded from the Union, they attached themselves to the 4th Virginia Calvary Regiment as Company D. They became involved in some of the most important battles of the Civil War. My brother-in-law’s great-grandfather, George Sudduth, joined the Little Forkers as a private at the beginning of the war but received a field promotion and was eventually discharged as a first sergeant. He was one of 57 names appearing on the muster roll at the beginning of the war. By the end, only twelve members remained in the company. The others had either mustered out, died, or were wounded and captured.

The 4th Calvary received the nickname “Black Horse Calvary” due to the dark horses the rangers rode to distinguish themselves on the battlefield. They were assigned to General J.E.B. Stuart, who upon seeing them drill made the following observation: “Discipline very good. Instruction very good. Military appearance excellent. Arms deficient in quality, Revolvers needed. Accoutrements serviceable. Clothing remarkably good. Horses excellent.” Among the noteworthy battles that the 4th Calvary faced were: Fredricksburg, the Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsyvania, and the Seven Days’ Battles.

At the end of the war, the survivors of Company D did not surrender. They simply rode home to try to rebuild their lives in the wake of reconstruction. Most, like George Sudduth, would eventually present themselves to a Federal officer to receive a pardon.

In 1904, on the 43rd anniversary of the Little Forkers enrollment to active service, a monument to their courage, bravery and loyalty was unveiled at Oakshade, the site of their original training grounds. It’s inscription reads:

Firm as the firmest where duty led,
They hurried without a falter;
Bold as the boldest, they fought and bled:
The battles were won, but the fields were red,
And the blood of their fresh young hearts was shed
On their country’s hallowed altar.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.