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The First Prime Minister

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It is largely accepted that Great Britain’s first Prime Minister was Sir Robert Walpole, a Whig who was initially elected to Parliament in 1701.  Seen as a political moderate and efficient administrator, his skill in retaining his political office was noteworthy.

When the Tory government took control of Parliament in 1710, they targeted him and stripped him of his powers; even drummed up corruption charges of which he was (falsely) convicted. He was then briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London.  However, when George I ascended the throne, the Whigs regained control of the government and Walpole assumed his mantle as the defacto party leader, being appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715. His dominance strengthened in 1720 following his handling of the scandal of the South Sea Bubble. The Whigs, under the steady hand of Walpole, were to remain in power for the next few decades.

In 1732, George II offered 10 Downing Street to Walpole as a personal gift. He accepted it only as the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. While his successors did not always live at Number 10, preferring instead to remain in their private homes, it has become known as the official residence of the prime minister.

His father, Colonel Robert Walpole, has the dubious distinction of being in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person having the oldest overdue library book. He borrowed the book from Trinity College in 1667 when he was an undergraduate. It was eventually found at his family estate, Houghton Hall, and returned… some 288 years later.

Sir Robert Walpole is the 6th great-granduncle of my daughter-in-law’s great-grandaunt.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories by the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Woll Invasion

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Tensions between Mexico and Texas did not end with Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto in 1836. in fact, there were a number of skirmishes between the newly formed Republic of Texas and its neighbor to the south. On September 11, 1842, during a time when the District Court was in session in San Antonio, there were rumors of a large invading force moving towards the town. Scouts were unable to confirm the reports and most chose to dismiss them. They were to be proven wrong.

A Mexican invading force led by General Adrian Woll, a French soldier of fortune, descended upon the town of San Antonio. After a two hour skirmish, the invaders captured sixty-two citizens… most of them high officials or highly respected men who had business before the district court. These non-combatants were taken as prisoners of war to Perote Prison (originally the Castle of San Carlos built in the 1770s) outside of Mexico City. It took them three months to make that overland trek.

Santa Anna apparently had several goals to justify his actions: “to disrupt civil proceedings and the progress of government in Texas; to demonstrate the strength of Mexico’s forces; to assert Mexican sovereignty; to chastise the Texans; and ultimately to redeem himself and regain the Texas that was lost in the battle of San Jacinto.”

The US government was able to secure the release of some of the prisoners the following year but most remained in captivity until 1844. Unfortunately, my first cousin (six times removed), John Casey Trapnell, succumbed to pneumonia while incarcerated there and died in the confines of Perote Prison.

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.

Mural Maker

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Sometimes, historic documents used for genealogical research don’t tell the whole story. For example, when researching my wife’s grand-uncle, Angelo Magnanti, one would get the impression that he was either an architect or interior designer for that is how he described himself on the federal census reports from 1920 through 1940. It turns out that he was far more. Hearing of some family stories, I looked a little deeper and found that he was a renowned artist specializing in large scale projects. 

Born and trained in Italy, he immigrated to New York, where he decorated numerous banks and churches and two walls within Penn Station (that building was torn down in 1966). Magnanti designed the mosaic ceiling of the banking room of the Williamsburg Savings Bank and four painted murals (illustrated above) that depicted scenes from the Bronx’s early European settlement for the Dollar Savings Bank in the Bronx. 

In 1935, Magnanti executed the decorative finishes for architect John Russell Pope’s renovation and addition to the building housing The Frick Collection. Drawings for the renovation were among those exhibited at the Frick in 2010 to celebrate the museum’s 75th anniversary. Indeed, The Frick Art Reference Library is decorated with an earlier Magnanti mural and houses an archive on the artist. 

Outside New York, Magnanti’s projects included decorations for the conference room of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Let Freedom Ring

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In the early 1700s, the colonies of North America were still developing their identities and civic infrastructures. In Pennsylvania, construction was underway for the erection of their State House in Philadelphia, under the supervision of Alexander Hamilton. The crowning touch was to be a beautiful bell of “such size that its voice could be heard not only in the city but all the countryside thereabouts.”

Great pride was taken that the State House was being built using native materials: wood from Delaware, bricks home-kilned in New Jersey… it was truly going to be a seat of American power fashioned by American hands.  Which is why some felt uneasy that its bell would be commissioned to a British bell-maker. But Edward Warner and Thomas Leech, who served on the bell committee, argued that the British were renowned bell makers and that where it was made was not as important as how it was made… for the bell “should give out a clap like thunder.”

Finally the bell arrived and was installed in the completed state house. As an excited crowd gathered for the initial test, at the first strike of the clapper, the bell split and went dead. Instead of shipping the bell back to England for repair, it was decided to trust American workmen and the bell was given to Charles Stow and John Pass for recasting. They melted down the bell, added copper to the mixture and poured it into a newly constructed mold.

A second test was scheduled. This time, the bell sounded… but the noise was nothing like the clarion peal people were expecting. So dreadful was the sound that the bell was again lowered and given back to Pass and Stow to recast for a third time. Upon completion, it was once more hoisted into the tower and as a now somber audience waited, the bell was struck. This time, people heard a deep and resonating sound that matched the quote etched onto the side of the crown.  “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

It, of course, became known as the Liberty Bell and Thomas Leech, who served on the committee charged with its installation, married one of my 6th great-grandaunts.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Have You Heard The One About…

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Family stories are the best. You know… the ones that are passed down from generation to generation; perhaps with a few added embellishments that come with each telling. What they may lack in historical accuracy, they more than make up with their homespun charm. I’ve collected quite a few from the archives I’ve read.  This one involves the 5th great grandfather of my niece’s husband’s aunt.

Alexander McAllister, born in Scotland, was descended from Lord of the Isles and Thane of Argyll through Alester, eldest son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles and Kintyre. He emigrated to North Carolina and became a prominent citizen, serving in the Cumberland County militia as a colonel, the provincial congress and the state senate.

He arrived in America first in 1736 but returned to Scotland in 1739 presumably to marry for he returned to North Carolina in 1740 with his wife, Mary, who unfortunately died during the crossing.

As the family tale goes, during the crossing, a child was born to two of his fellow passengers. The baby, as they are wont to do, was crying incessantly. The irritable Alexander, mourning his departed wife, lashed out at the mother, “Would you just spank that little “b-****”!” The mother quickly shot back, “Never mind sir, she’ll be the wife of you yet.”

Twenty-three years later, that prophecy was fulfilled. That baby, who was named Jane Colvin, became Alexander McAllister’s third wife in 1763. Together, they had eleven children.

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.