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Toby, Or Not Toby

Sometimes, just by looking around the house, you can find little snippets of history just sitting there… doubling as decorative items. My parents, for whatever reason, liked collecting Toby jugs or character jugs which were vessels shaped to look like recognizable figures, either fictional or real. The one my mother passed onto me, pictured above, was made by Royal Doulton and depicts John Barleycorn, the personification of malt liquor. He also kind of looks like my dad.

Toby jugs have been around since the 18th century and there is some disputation regarding how they got their name. Some say they were named after Sir Toby Belch, the Shakespearean character from Twelfth Night. Others believe it to be a derivative of the French word “tope” which means to drink hard. But most seem to think that it was named after a notorious 18th century Yorkshire drinker, Henry Elwes, who was known as “Toby Fillpot” (or Philpot) and was inspired by an old English drinking song, “The Brown Jug.”

While many refer to any figural vessel as a “Toby jug,” purists define them as depicting full-figured personages usually seated, while a jug fashioned as the head or head and shoulders of a person is simply referred to as a character jug.  There’s also a difference between a Toby jug and a Toby mug. Jugs are used for pouring and will have spouts while mugs are used for drinking and are spoutless. 

In the early 20th century, at the height of its popularity, around two hundred companies were producing figural mugs and jugs but as interest has waned over the years, so have the number of producers. Only three companies still manufacture them. A vast collection of Toby and character jugs and mugs are on display in Evanston Illinois at the American Toby Jug Museum (https://www.tobyjugmuseum.com/)

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.

The Swamp Fox

I remember being fascinated by the story of “The Swamp Fox” after watching a Disney mini-series based upon his life. I even did a report on him for a grade school history project. Little did I know back then that I had a relative that served under him during the Revolutionary War.

Francis Marion (aka the Swamp Fox) was a military officer who was perhaps best known for his ability to marshal volunteer militia men into fighting units. Unlike the regular Continental Army, Marion’s Men (as his “troops” were known) were not paid, provided their own horses, arms, and often food.

Marion rarely engaged his men in prolonged battles, preferring instead to launch surprise attacks followed by sudden withdrawals, escaping into the swamp paths of which he was so well familiar.

He is considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare and maneuver warfare. He is credited in the lineage of U.S. Army Rangers and the 75th Ranger Regiment. It is said that Mel Gibson’s film “The Patriot” was inspired by Marion’s life.

James Trousdale, the grandfather of my 3rd great grand-aunt, served as a Captain under Marion’s command. He was wounded at the siege of Charleston and again at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He and his men were also with George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown for the surrender of Cornwallis.

For his service, Trousdale was granted 640 acres of land in Sumner County Tennessee which later became the site for the town of Gallatin. His son, William, became governor of Tennessee.

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.

Toy Tester

There are many different occupations to be found on our family tree. Joseph Feo, the brother-in-law of my wife’s grand-uncle listed on the 1940s Census (as well as on his 1942 draft card) that he was a tester for the Unique Art Manufacturing Company.

I did a little research to find that Unique Art was an American company founded in 1918 in Newark that made inexpensive toys. They were especially known for their wind-up mechanical toys made from lithographed tin. In the 40s, at the height of their popularity, they acquired the rights to the L’il Abner comic strip characters and produced the L’il Abner Dogpatch Band featuring a wind-up Abner dancing, Pappy on drums, Daisy Mae playing piano with Mammy perched atop it. This was followed up with a Howdy Doody band set a few years later.

In its early years, Unique often partnered with the Marx toy company to help manufacture and distribute some of its products but, in 1949, made the decision to enter into a head to head competition with them by producing a line of tin O gauge toy trains which they were able to price lower than Marx’s existing line. Marx countered and had the resources to build better, more realistic trains forcing Unique to discontinue their production.

Unique tried again in 1951 with a toy typewriter which for a time outsold Marx’s similar toy but Marx then moved production of its line to Japan in order to lower costs and drop their prices. Unique couldn’t compete and disappeared from the market in the early 50s.

While originally known as an inexpensive toy maker, original Unique Art wind up toys have now reached collectible status. I’ve seen them offered online for hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars.

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.

Girl, Interrupted

It becomes clear, as we read the stories of our family ancestors, that they lived lives that were very different from ours. But none that I’ve come across quite matches the life of Catherine Lorisch, my wife’s 5th great-grandmother who was born in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian wars.

When Catharine was about ten, she and her family were working out in their fields when an Indian crept up and snatched her baby sister who had been placed on the ground as the family worked. Seeing this, her mother rushed the Indian, struck him with her rake but was immediately killed with one blow from his tomahawk. Catharine, her father and her baby sister were taken captive and marched to Ohio. At one point, the Indians threatened to throw the baby into a stream to drown it due to her incessant crying. Catharine pleaded so passionately an old squaw took pity and allowed her to soothe and quiet the infant.

After a year, her father and sister were released. But the tribe had taken a liking to Catharine and so kept her with them, treating her as an adopted member of their extended family. She was eventually assigned to be a caregiver for an old warrior chief who could no longer hunt or travel with the other men. She prepared his foods and kept him comfortable.

For seven years she lived among her captors and with each year was given more and more freedom to travel beyond the camp as they came to view her as one of their own. One day, as she was in the woods gathering roots, herbs and firewood, she came upon some white men who were building a boat. They offered to take her with them. She agreed, apparently with the blessing of the old Indian chief that was still in her care. He tearfully presented her with gifts of thanks and remembrance to take with her, trinkets that she treasured until the end of her days. 

She lived for a time in the home of one of her rescuers who came to love her as a daughter; even providing her with a formal education. He desired for her to stay with him and his family but she instead chose to be reunited with her biological father whom she had managed to locate at their old family homestead. She eventually married, had children, and moved to Germantown Ohio where she lived until the age of seventy-three. It is said that, at the time of her death, her descendants numbered in the thousands and that there were at least 500 residents of Germantown who were directly related to her.

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.

Ghostly Encounter

I love uncovering the stories that are embedded in the lives of our ancestors. This one comes from a history of the Webb family of White County, Tennessee written by Charles C. Webb. It involves Washington Webb (born 1813). He was the first cousin of my niece’s husband (6 times removed).

“Washington was not afraid of anything except ghosts. It seems that on most Saturday evenings, Washington would walk a few miles to visit with Wayman Webb. He would come after dark and would leave after midnight.

His grandchildren learned of his fear of ghosts. On one Saturday evening they took a white sheet and went down the road and scared him as he was passing by. The boys ran through the woods and were back in the house when Washington arrived out of breath. He began telling of how he could not get away from the ghost when the boys laughed. He knew what had happened and stated that the next time anyone tried to scare him that they would get bullets. The boys did not have the nerve to try the prank again.

Sometime later, Washington arrived on a Saturday evening and calmly stated that someone had tried to scare him and that they would find the body down the road in a fence row.

At first the boys were not impressed, then they decided to take a lantern and investigate. In a zig-zag rail fence on a neighbor’s farm, they found a white jersey cow with several bullet holes in her. She was only guilty of grazing in the moonlight and raising her head above the fence to look at Washington as he passed.

Washington paid for the cow, but no one ever tried to scare him after that.”

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.

Half-Breed

The only thing I really knew about “half-breeds” was the 1973 song by Cher which, to be honest, did not paint the prettiest of pictures. But I was able to add to my understanding of what the French-Canadians call Métis when I found a relative that could be counted among them.

Claude “Old War” Caron, the 3rd great grandfather of my daughter-in-law’s great grand aunt, was born in 1710 to a French Canadian fur trader and a Abnaki Indian woman. This was hardly unusual at the time. Relations between the French settlers and native Indians was quite common, in fact encouraged, as a natural dependency formed between the two cultures.

Claude elected to live among his mother’s people, married a Menominee woman named Wau Pe Se Sui (“The Wild Potato”) and eventually became a Menominee chief. They bore sons who became chiefs of their own clans within the Menominee tribe. Iometah became chief of the bear clan; Chawanon became chief of the buffalo clan; and Tomah, the most “famous” of the Carons, was the chief of the prairie chicken clan.

The Menominee Indian Tribe dates back some 10,000 years and, at the beginning of the treaty era, occupied a land mass of around 10 million acres. This was continually reduced as they entered into a series of seven treaties with the United States government until they were left with only 235,000 acres today.

In the 1950s, the US Congress attempted to deprive the Menominee people of their cultural identity by removing federal recognition of their tribe. A long and difficult grassroots movement ensued which was eventually successful by the passing the Menominee Restoration Act in 1973 which restored their status.

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.

Battle of Kings Mountain

The year was 1780. American patriots were still reeling from the siege of Charleston in May, followed by a defeat at the Battle of Camden a few months later. British general Cornwallis was on the march through the Carolinas. To protect his flank, he commanded Major Patrick Ferguson to move into North Carolina while, at the same time, recruit men that would fight with his loyalist militia. Ferguson did not count on the response he received from the Overmountain Men.

These were the hale and hearty residents of the Carolina backcountry and Appalachian mountain range who, upon hearing the threats of Ferguson who was “ordering” them to cross the mountain and take the oath of allegiance to the King or else be destroyed with fire and sword, faced the challenge head on. 

The plan was simple, attack Ferguson’s fortified position which was located on a rocky hilltop called King’s Mountain a few miles from the South Carolina border. With the instructions not to wait for word of command but rather let each man be his own officer; to shout like hell and fight like devils, the Americans assaulted the hill from all sides. The battle lasted 65 minutes and ended when Ferguson was killed and his men surrendered.

Colonel William Campbell commanded the Washington County militia from Virginia and one of his company leaders was Capt. William Bowen. Bowen was taken ill before the battle and the command of his company fell upon his brother, Lt. Rees Bowen.  Rees, a champion prize fighter described as a “giant in size and strength,” was the 6th great grandfather of my niece’s husband. He was said to have had an aversion to the patriot practice of firing from behind trees and rocks. “Never shall it be said that I sought safety by hiding my person or dodging from a Briton or a Tory who opposed me in the field.” It may have led to his death as he became a casualty of that battle, taking a rifle ball to the chest.

Thomas Jefferson, commenting on the victory, called it “the turn of the tide of success.” Theodore Roosevelt said this “brilliant victory was the turning point for the American Revolution.” President Herbert Hoover ranked the importance of the battle aside Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown.

The Battle of King’s Mountain was one of the few major battles of the Revolution fought entirely by fellow countrymen. Loyalists vs patriots. No formal British troops were involved except for Ferguson himself.

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.

Golden-Tongued Orator

Today’s blog is about the son of a man who was on our family tree for all of eleven days.

Temple Lea Houston was the son of Sam Houston (who we wrote about previously). But his father died when he was only three so he had no memory of the man. Still, the shadow of the great Texas leader loomed large. Temple vowed to be remembered not as the son of Sam Houston but on his own merits. He succeeded.

He was extremely skilled in two specific areas: He was a gifted orator which led him to a career as a lawyer, and he was deadly quick with a six-shooter which kept him alive when his first skill made him enemies.

He is best remembered for his unusual defenses during what should have been open and shut cases for the prosecution.  In one, where a young cowboy had stolen a horse and killed its owner, Temple argued that, since the deceased was a well-known gunslinger, his client had no choice but to draw and fire first. It was a matter of self-preservation. He then demonstrated how quickly a gunfighter can act by whipping his gun from beneath his cloak and firing it into the ceiling. Pandemonium ensued. The judge ducked beneath his bench, spectators dived out the window, and the jurors rushed from the room. He then quickly called for a mistrial as the jury was not sequestered. It was granted.

In his most famous case, that of Minnie Stacey, a known prostitute who was accused of plying her trade, Temple was at the courthouse when the unrepresented Stacey’s case was called. He offered his services on the spot and after conferring with her for ten minutes announced that he was ready to proceed. Instead of presenting evidence of her innocence (there wasn’t any), he instead launched into a 30 minute extemporaneous speech about the sad life of his newly acquired client. One newspaper described it as “the most remarkable, the most spellbinding, heart-rending tearjerker ever to come from the mouth of man.” Everyone was moved to tears including the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendant. 

Temple ended his argument with “The Master, while on Earth, though he spoke in wrath and rebuke to kings and rulers, never reproached any of such women as Minnie Stacey; one he forgave, the other he acquitted. Do as your Master did. Tell her to go in peace.” Minnie was acquitted in minutes and Temple’s  speech, copied word for word by the court stenographer, was framed and is now hanging in the Library of Congress where it is still studied by law students today as one of the finest examples of extemporaneous speaking in the English language.

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.

Steamboat John

In school I was taught certain historical facts:  Thomas Edison invented the light bulb; Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin; and Robert Fulton invented the steamboat. What I wasn’t taught was that there might be another story… one that involved an ancestor.

John Fitch was born in 1743 and raised in what some have called an unhappy home life. He followed that some twenty years later with an unhappy marriage before becoming what might be best described as “a wanderer.”  He abandoned his wife and child and with limited formal education, became a self-taught watchmaker, turned gunsmith when the American revolution required that skill. His alignment with the revolutionary forces led to his property being destroyed by the British. He wandered a bit more and after being captured by Indians and enduring a year-long imprisonment, he found himself penniless in Warminster Pennsylvania. It was here he first began developing the idea of a steam powered engine. The year was 1782.

He built prototypes, found and lost investors, and even though his designs and resulting vessels proved mechanically successful, he never managed to generate enough financial “steam” to propel his ideas forward. Having hit a brick wall in the US, he traveled to France and Britain to try to to raise capital there but returned dejected and distraught.

He died in 1798, thinking himself a failure. As he wrote in his journal, “ The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention; but nobody will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.” That “some more powerful man” he prophesied about was Robert Fulton who, in 1807, would revolutionize river traffic by introducing a steamboat (the Clermont) that took passengers some 300 miles along the Hudson.

A legislative committee ruled in 1817 that Fulton’s ship was identical to the designs that were patented by Fitch back in 1791.  It was learned that, in 1793 while in France, Fulton was given access to Fitch’s designs as well as the time to study them. John Fitch, the true “inventor” of the steamboat, is the third cousin to my sons (seven times removed). 

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.

Unlucky in Love

I remember learning about Sam Houston in school. President of Texas, instrumental in securing Texas independence through his defeat of Mexican leader Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto; namesake of the fourth largest city in America. But all that might never have occurred… due to a failed marriage which involved my 3rd great grand-aunt.

In 1829, Houston was the 36 year old governor of Tennessee. He decided to court 19 year old Eliza Allen (my ancestor). Her family, aristocratic as they were, believed Houston would make a great catch for the young girl so they encouraged the union. The resulting marriage lasted only eleven weeks. Neither Eliza nor Sam ever publicly talked about the reason for the separation although rumors ran rampant because Houston did not just leave the marriage…he resigned his office of governor and went into seclusion, living among the Cherokees for three years. He even took a Cherokee woman as wife, despite not having received a divorce from Eliza.

As for her, she returned to her family. Besides never talking about her failed marriage, she instructed that upon her death, all letters and images of her should be burned in an attempt to keep the past hidden from public view.

However, the family stories still exist. One in particular tells a tale that, had it played out differently, might have had a devastating effect on the future of our nation.

When Houston fled the marriage and Tennessee, Eliza’s brother and another family member reportedly went after him to defend her honor by killing him if need be. Supposedly, they caught up to him in Clarksville but when they confronted him, he gave such an impassioned plea that he did no ill to Eliza nor did she to him, they decided to let him continue his way into Indian territory.

Whatever Houston said was enough to spare a life that would go onto to help galvanize a nation. Houston eventually decided to leave the Cherokee (and his Indian wife) to resume public life in Texas. A divorce between Sam Houston and Eliza Allen was finally arranged in 1840 and both parties were able to legally marry others and have children. But the details of their eleven week marriage and why it failed remains buried with them.

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.