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The First Prime Minister

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

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

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

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…

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.




Trail of Tears

America’s treatment of its indigenous people was undeniably cruel and severe, culminating in the decades long practice of Indian removal, relocation, and ethnic cleansing.  Between 1830 and 1850, approximately 60,000 Native Americans of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw) were forcibly removed from their homelands in the Southeastern United States and relocated to a designated Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Thousands died from exposure, disease and starvation either before, during or shortly after their grueling journey. 

What some forget is that the experience caused a major rift within the ranks of the Indian population itself. There were a few who relocated voluntarily. They were known as the “Treaty Party,” as they obeyed the terms of the Echota Treaty which exchanged Cherokee tribal lands in the east for lands in the west. While the federal government viewed this treaty as valid, it was never formally accepted by recognized Cherokee leadership and the majority opposed its provisions. Those who did not relocate of their own volition began being forcibly removed in 1838 via an overland march that has become known as the “Trail of Tears.” The ones who survived that march, when they arrived in the western territory, clashed with the smaller “Treaty Party” who were already there, killing many of them.

Benjamin Cooper ( my daughter-in-law’s 5th great grandfather) and his wife Oowoduageyutsa (Pretty Girl of the Cherokee nation) voluntarily left for the Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1834. They both died there in 1852. His son, Cornelius Benjamin Cooper, and his family decided to avoid the possible violence awaiting them in Oklahoma and instead set their course for Rusk, Texas where they settled among other native families who made the same choice.

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.




Raid on Deerfield

We can sometimes forget that long before the American colonists fought for their independence, other nations were battling to gain dominance in this new land. Throughout Queen Anne’s War, English and French forces fought each other to gain control of North America. On February 29, 1704, fifty French troops, allied with two hundred native Americans savagely attacked the British settlement of Deerfield Massachusetts. Forty-eight villagers were killed and one hundred twelve were captured. 

The prisoners were then forced to march a three hundred mile journey to Canada. Winter had set in and they faced deep snow and bitterly cold conditions. Those who could not keep up were killed. Of the one hundred twelve prisoners, only eighty-nine survived the journey. Some were ransomed and returned to America, while others stayed in Canada, assimilating into the Indian or French communities. My wife had relatives who had settled in Deerfield and were a part of this nightmare scenario.

61 year old John Caitlin (9th great-grandfather) was killed in the village attack. 

47 year old Thomas French (8th great-grandfather) was captured and ransomed in 1706.

40 year old Mary Caitlin French (8th great-grandmother) was captured and killed en route to Canada.

20 year old Ruth Catlin (8th great-grandaunt) was captured and ransomed in 1707.

18 year old Mary French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and ransomed in 1706.

17 year old Joseph Caitlin (8th great-granduncle) was captured but killed in the meadow outside the compound during a militia rescue attempt.

17 year old Thomas French (7th great-grandfather) was captured and ransomed in 1706.

12 year old Freedom French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and remained in Canada as Marie Francoise French.

9 year old Martha French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and remained in Canada where she married a Frenchman.

7 year old Abigail French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and remained in Canada with the Indians.

1 year old John French (7th great-granduncle) was killed in the village attack.

“The Redeemed Captive: Returning to Zion, ” a first-hand account of the raid on Deerfield and the march to Canada was published in 1707 by John Williams, Deerfield’s religious leader, who survived the experience.

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.




Waylands Waylaid

In 1717, a small group of Germans left their homeland in an attempt to sail to the new colony in Pennsylvania. The ship which was to make the crossing first stopped in London where the captain was taken into custody and imprisoned for several weeks due to unresolved debt issues. This delay caused the passengers to consume much of their provisions while in port, resulting in many dying from hunger during the crossing.

Those who survived never made it to Pennsylvania. A storm blew them off course and they landed in Virginia. The captain then sold them as payment for their transportation charges. They were bought by Governor Spotswood and became his indentured servants. He put them to work in the iron mines near Germanna.

One of these immigrants was Thomas Wayland who with his wife and young son Adam, when released from servitude and seeking land of their own, decided to push further into the wilderness. In 1724, they settled in the area now known as Culpepper (Madison County). Adam, when grown, married Elizabeth Blankenbaker, the daughter of another German immigrant, and had eight children. His will left his estate to Elizabeth and “all his children.” After she died, he remarried and had two more children but never updated his will. Upon his passing, his will went into probate and was contested by the children of his two wives. Several lawsuits ensued which eventually came to the attention of Thomas Jefferson who wrote his opinion on the case.  His two page letter can be found in the archives of the Library of Congress.  In summation, the two children from his second wife were granted an equal portion of his estate.

Adam Wayland is the great-grandfather of my sons’ 2nd great-grandaunt.

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.




The Allan Line

Captain Alexander “Sandy” Allan was born in 1780 Scotland.

In 1800, while employed as a journeyman shoemaker near Galston, Sandy moved to Saltcoats, intent on learning to be a ship’s carpenter, but eventually gave it up to go to sea. He was soon sailing as mate to Captain Wilson of Saltcoats. Within a few years, Captain Sandy Allan had served as Master and part-owner of several small ships trading out of Saltcoats.

During the Peninsular war, the 175 ton brigantine Hero, with Captain Allan as master, was chartered by the government to transport troops and goods to the continent to supply Wellington’s army. By 1814, Sandy Allan had established a reputation as an excellent mariner and shrewd businessman.

A new ship was needed and on June 5th 1819, the Jean sailed from Greenock for Quebec with Captain Sandy Allan as master. 

The name of the Allan family became synonymous with North Atlantic shipping and remained so for over 100 years. Under the direction of Sandy, the Allan line progressed from wooden sailing ships to iron-built steamships; from a one-man operation to a leading transatlantic company. The Allan Line continued to expand throughout the second half of the 19th century until by 1884 it was the seventh-largest shipping line in the world and the largest privately owned. 

Sailing from Glasgow and Liverpool, the ships of the Allan Line probably carried more immigrants to Canada than any other line.

Captain Sandy Allan was a 5th great-granduncle of my niece’s husband.

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.




Confederate Roll of Honor

The Civil War, horrific as it was, was also home to incredible feats of bravery and heroism. So much so that, in 1861, the United States created the Medal of Honor, which remains the highest award the nation can bestow for members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves through acts of valor.

Lesser known, in 1862, the Confederate States of America also planned their own Medal of Honor but due to difficulties in procuring them, instead instituted a Roll of Honor to commemorate their soldiers. After a battle, men in each company would nominate who they thought would be worthy of inclusion and voted to select who would receive the honor. The names would then be included in battle reports, read aloud to the regiments and published in Confederate newspapers. Bestowing an honor by a vote of common soldiers was virtually unprecedented.

After the battle of Gettysburg, the name of Chelsey Alderman, the brother-in-law of my 2nd great grand-aunt, was added to the Roll of Honor. A member of Toombs’ Guards of the 9th Georgia Infantry, he was wounded in the finger on the first day of the Gettysburg Battle. Unable to load and fire his weapon, he then volunteered to drive the ambulance wagon. He would have been very busy for on the 2nd day of fighting, his regiment lost 56% of its men. It is unknown how many men were saved due to his actions.

On the third day, Chelsey was shot in the leg and captured by Union soldiers. He was taken to a field hospital where a northern doctor amputated his leg. He died two weeks later from his injury. His burial site remains unknown. Three months later, his fellow soldiers selected him to be included to the Roll of Honor… not for his fighting prowess but for his life-saving efforts. He was 23 years old.

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.