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A Debt Repaid

It is always uncomfortable to come across family members who participated in the reprehensible practice of slavery but this story, passed down through the generations, is worth telling. Just prior to the Civil War, a young Georgian farmer named Thomas Reese, purchased a slave named Nathan to help him work his fields. A short time later, Nathan asked Thomas if it were possible for him to purchase another slave, a woman named Adeline, who worked on a neighbor’s farm.

Thomas did and shortly thereafter Nathan and Adeline were married. Thomas then presented Nathan with two sets of documents and told him to keep them safe. They were emancipation papers. Nathan couldn’t read but believed what Thomas said so he locked them in a box he kept on his fireplace mantle. When told that they were free to go, neither Nathan or Adeline had that desire. “Where would we go? We don’t know any other place.” They chose to stay and work the farm alongside Thomas’s family. The family referred to them as Uncle Nathan and Aunt Adeline. All this happened before Fort Sumter was fired upon, marking the beginning of the Civil War.

Nathan and Adeline remained on the farm throughout the entirety of the war. During its waning days, a group of Union soldiers under the command of General James Wilson was sweeping through the area, tasked with destroying any property that could be used by the Confederates. They came upon Thomas’ farm while Thomas was away. As they prepared to set fire to the buildings, Nathan came out and asked why the soldiers were going to burn the place down. The officer replied that all slave-holders’ property was to be destroyed.

“But we ain’t slaves!” Nathan exclaimed and ran off to get the papers he had safely stored years ago. The officer read through the documents and then told his men to stand down and move on. Thomas’ farm was one of the few places in the area that was spared destruction.

Thomas Clopton Reese was the great-grandfather of my grandaunt.

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.

Good For What Ails You

Dating back to colonial America and reaching its peak of popularity in the 19th century, “magic elixirs” were sold with the promise that they could cure just about every ailment known to mankind. In the 1800s, snake-oil salesmen would travel from town to town, selling their questionable and highly unregulated patent medicines to unsuspecting citizens. Some examples include “Morley’s Liver & Kidney Cordial,” “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic,” and Dr. Potter’s “Chock-A-Saw-Sagwa Tonic.” Oftentimes, these “medicines” contained alcohol, cocaine, or heroine which may have relieved pain but were also highly addictive, all but assuring a strong repeat customer base for the salesman.

It is amazing to find any that have survived and continue to exist. And yet, there is at least one.

In 1826, as a reward for a kindness done to one of their chieftains, the Creek Indians bequeathed to Captain Irwin Dennard of Perry Georgia the formula for a treasured remedy made from swamp sumac from Alabama, Queen’s Delight (a root from South Georgia), and sumac from North Georgia. Dennard sat on the formula for a few decades but eventually passed it onto Charles Swift who partnered with Henry J Lamar, the great grandfather of my grand aunt. Henry suggested moving to Atlanta to take advantage of the transportation benefits of the railroads to be found there as they grew their new company.

Marketing the formula as SSS Tonic (the three S’s stood for Swift’s Southern Specific) the owners claimed that it was an effective treatment for dyspepsia, cancer and syphilis. In the 1950s, singer Eddy Arnold made a commercial touting its ability to enrich the blood with iron. The original formula of roots and herbs has not significantly changed since its early days although it is now fortified with iron and vitamins. 

SSS Tonic continues to be sold today. In 1997 it earned nine million dollars in annual sales and is still paying dividends to some of our family members, or so I’m told.

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.

Laurens Lodge No. 75

There is no definitive answer as to when Freemasonry “began” although most seem to point to the stonemason’s guilds of the Middle Ages. While it has been linked to any number of conspiracy theories due to its use of symbolism and secret rituals, it professes to emphasize personal study, self-improvement, and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy.

The Lodge is the basic organizational structure of the Masons. The first lodges that operated in America were based in Pennsylvania as early as 1715. The 75th lodge to be established in the US was the Laurens Lodge of Dublin, Georgia in 1848. It’s earliest members were considered to be the elite in Dublin’s business and government communities. Included among them was John M. Dasher, the first cousin (three times removed) of my grand-uncle.

John was appointed the masonic position of “Tyler.” As I understand it, the post is often held by an officer or sometimes a Past Master. Armed with a sword (kept drawn), he would be tasked with guarding the outer door of the lodge against ineligible masons or malicious people. He would be required to examine the Masonic credentials of anyone wishing to enter the Lodge, admitting only those qualified to attend the current business. 

Some lodges permit the Tyler to “tyle from within” which would allow him to participate in the business portions of the meeting while still manning his post. 

Freemasonry grew dramatically during the 1800s and many communities came to depend upon them. As our federal government was still in its infancy, there were few social programs to be had. The Masonic tradition of building orphanages, homes for widows, and homes for the aged provided the only kind of security that many people knew.

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.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Georg August Benjamin Schweickert was born in Zerbst, Germany in 1774, the son of a pastor. It was initially intended for him to follow in his father’s footsteps and he began his studies in theology, but upon his father’s death, switched his interests to medicine. 

Upon completing his studies and receiving his degree, he married and began his private practice in his home town of Zerbst. But when his wife died two years later, he became unhappy in Zerbst and took an opportunity to move to Wittenberg to become an Lecturer in Obstetrics. In 1812, he was appointed Director of the French Military Hospital in Wittenberg but was so outspoken about his German nationalism that the French courtmartialed him and sentenced him to death. Two days before his execution, the Prussians captured Wittenberg and liberated him.

He moved to Grimma and became the city physician. Keeping up with new trends in medicine, he began reading Samuel Hahnemann’s writings on homeopathy and began conducting clinical trials on this new method. In 1824, he put himself on homeopathic treatment for a persistent abdominal complaint and the successful results made him a most fervent advocate for this developing field. When a homeopathic hospital was created in Leipzig, Georg offered to take charge at no fee. He was appointed director in 1833.

His conversion was remarkable for its time. Albrecht wrote this about him, “He ranked among the most eminent advocates of Homeopathy and, to a certain extent, with justice. He was a singular character, and his experience in the practice of medicine was most remarkable. At first, devoted heart and soul to Allopathy, experimenting and curing by purgatives, emetics, bleeding, leeches, bucketfuls of infusion of Peruvian bark (in scarlatina), the towns of Wittenberg and Grimma not only experienced, but suffered, from his practice. Suddenly he abandoned his allopathic principles, resigned his office of physician of a public school, and like a genuine Paul, he became a convert to Homeopathy.”

His interests seem to have passed on through the family. Not only did his son Julius became a well-known homeopathic physician in his day but they are related to us through my daughter-in-law, a Chiropractic doctor and Reiki Master practicing in Colorado.

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.

Manhunt

John Wilkes Booth’s escape from Ford’s Theater after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln prompted one of the largest manhunts in American history. 

After leaping from the balcony to the stage, breaking his leg in the process, he managed to hobble into the back alley where he was joined by accomplice David Herrold who was standing by with the getaway horse. Together, they rode off into southern Maryland eventually arriving at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd who agreed to splint Booth’s leg and allow them to rest the night.

They continued moving south on horseback, hiding from view in swamps and a dense pine thicket. Eventually they reached the shores of the Potomac River and managed to cross it to enter Virginia, a state they believed to be more sympathetic to the Confederacy. 

For twelve days, they evaded capture even though there were a thousand Union soldiers tasked with tracking and apprehending them.  One of these soldiers was Eustace Tower, a distant uncle of my brother-in-law. In a letter he wrote to his cousin, Eustace, a private in the 13th Independent Battery of the Michigan Artillery, stated that he was “out two weeks with the detectives going night & day on the track of Booth. We captured one of his boots (which was cut off his injured leg) and the razor that he shaved his mustache off with. And we arrested the Doctor who set his leg and two or three other men that will swing at the gibbit.”

Booth and Herrold were cornered by Union soldiers as they took refuge in a tobacco barn on the Virginia farm of Richard Garrett. Herrold surrendered immediately but Booth indicated that he would fight his way out. In the confusion that followed as Union troops set the barn on fire, Booth was shot in the neck by sergeant Boston Corbett. He died around five hours later.

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.

John Dean Rock

There is a large boulder near Mount Pleasant NY that is known as John Dean Rock. John Dean happens to be the 2nd cousin four times removed of the wife of my daughter-in-law’s second great grand uncle… and he was a Revolutionary War hero.

The rock which bears his name served as a hiding place and refuge which Dean used to surprise British soldiers who would march along Saw Mill River Road. His exploits are recounted at length within the pages of “Souvenir of the Revolutionary Soldiers’ Monument Dedication, at Tarrytown, N.Y. October 19th, 1894” It describes him as follows: “It will be unnecessary for us to promise that John Dean was a man of stout, vigorous frame, and iron will, indomitable courage, and great impulse, for these traits were exhibited in every act of his life.”

In one of his many war stories, he tells of the time he bested a Tory in a battle fought on horseback. Though his opponent tried to shoot him many times during the fight, Dean managed to wound him with his sword and knock him from his steed. While the Tory lay on the ground bleeding and expecting to die, Dean helped him onto his horse and took him to a nearby home where he dressed the wounds he caused, thus saving his enemy’s life. They met years later, after the war, and expressed that neither held any blame towards the other. They shook hands and parted ways. The Tory’s name was Basly.

Perhaps Dean’s most historic accomplishment was his involvement with the capture of Major John Andre, the notorious British spy who had been sent by Benedict Arnold with detailed plans of West Point hidden in his boot. Dean had been given the responsibility to post men to guard the roads leading to Tarrytown. Andre was apprehended by a trio of soldiers that Dean had positioned. They immediately brought their prisoner to him and he took lead during the march to deliver Andre to his superior officers.

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 Christian Critic

It recently struck me as I continue to delve into the past, uncovering the almost forgotten stories involving my ancestors, that I have my own stories that one day will be in danger of being lost to time. As I approach the 66th anniversary of my birth, I find myself reflecting on some of the experiences I’ve had over the years. I would have to say that the stories of mine that may be most at risk of fading from public memory would be the ones that occurred in the ten year period where I was known by a different name.

From 1998 to 2008, I ran a website called Movie Parables, and was known in the online community as Michael Elliott, The Christian Critic. (Elliott, for the record, is my middle name.) It all started with watching The Man In The Iron Mask starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and becoming aware of a number of biblical truths that were reflected in this secular movie. I found this to be interesting and decided to write my observations down. For fun, I did so within the framework of a movie review. I then challenged myself to see if I could do something similar for the next movie I watched… and the one after that. 

After I collected a few, I decided to share them online. That snowballed into a number of opportunities that came my way: acceptance into the Online Film Critics Society, syndication in a handful of papers around the US, being added to the PR press junket list where I’d be flown to LA to interview the actors and directors of upcoming films, a contract with Tyndale Publishing, and the release of two books. It was a fun and exciting time.

I still believe in the premise that led to the creation of those reviews:  While art does indeed imitate life… God was the one who created it, so any art form must borrow from God’s creation. Therefore, there must be evidence of His handiwork in every movie we watch – whether it is placed there intentionally or not. All it takes are the spiritual eyes to see it. As well as the will to look for it. And once we become practiced at spotting the invisible spiritual realities, we’ll start to see those truths all around us because they were always there. And still are.

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.

A Family Beadle

Questions often arise when digging through ancestral records. I recently spent a little time researching the occupation my aunt’s third great-grandfather listed on his 1891 Canadian census report. Anaclet Petit described himself as being a bedeau.

Not knowing the term, I turned to the Internet and discovered this from the website “The French Canadian Genealogist.”

“The bedeau, or beadle, was the priest’s jack-of-all-trades; he was essential to the proper administration of the church. He was mainly tasked with the maintenance of the church and preparation for religious services. During mass, he would distribute the blessed bread to the attendees and collect donations. The beadle also tried to maintain peace and quiet during services, chasing away beggars and dogs from the church doors, earning him the nickname of “chasse-chiens,” or dog hunter. He was responsible for drawing “Passover water” for baptisms and “Pentecost water” for Sunday mass. He would lead the way during any religious processions, removing any obstacles. The beadle rang the church bells, either for religious announcements or civic ones, such as weather warnings. 

The beadle was also tasked with keeping the church clean, and in winter, ensuring that the roads leading to the church were clear. Some beadles also doubled as gravediggers, a lucrative side job. 

Similar to their French counterparts, beadles wore long robes that were either blue or red, or sometimes with both colours. The left sleeve sometimes featured a silver plate or an embroidered figure representing the patron of his church. In France, beadles traditionally held a wand in their right hand. It was used as a stick, to drive out the aforementioned beggars and dogs from the church. Over time, the object evolved into an adorned symbol of authority.”

Perhaps the most well-known beadle to the uninitiated would be Charles Dickens’ character Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist.

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 War of 1812 and the Creek Civil War

How is the war of 1812 viewed? It all depends on where you stand. 

For Americans, it started because Britain began infringing on their maritime rights, seizing US ships, cargo, and sailors who they then impressed into serving the crown. While the US won no decisive battles against Britain, they were able to fight to a draw thus establishing their status as a world power.

For the British, it is more of a footnote in their history as they were far more focused upon their conflict with Napoleon in Europe. However they did see the American desire to expand its territory as a threat to their remaining colonies and so extended aid to the native Indians and Canadians to help stem the US expansion.

For the Canadians, it was source of national pride, as they repelled numerous attacks upon their land, fighting against a larger, superior invader. US forces were never able to gain a foothold or win a battle in their attempts to acquire sections of Canada for their use. While much of the fighting was done by British regulars, the repulsion of the US sowed the seeds of nationalism within the hearts of the Canadian people which fueled a desire to chart their own course.

For the Creek Indian nation, who were engaged in their own civil war at the time, it marked the beginning of the end. As part of the Treaty of Ghent, which laid out the conditions for the cessation of hostilities, Britain agreed to withdraw their support of America’s indigenous population, allowing the US westward expansion to continue without international interference.

Amid all this conflict stood John Bell, the 4th great grand uncle of my aunt. Along with Davy Crockett, he served in William Russell’s Company of Spies under the overall command of Andrew Jackson. Their involvement was primarily against the Red Sticks (the rebellious faction of Creek Indians allied with the British) who were attacking settlements and encampments they believed encroached upon their land. A victory at Horseshoe Bend, where Bell was wounded, marked the end of that conflict and resulted in the Creeks ceding 23 million acres to the United States.

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.