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A Knight To Remember

By all accounts, it would appear that Sir George Beeston led an incredible life. Born in 1501 to gentrified parentage, he inherited the family estate at the young age of 22. He became a considerable landowner, not only in his home borough of Chelsea, but he also held leases in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Lincolnshire. 

He became a member of the Parliament, an advisor to the Queen and, most importantly, served in the English Navy under four monarchs. He was one of the captains ordered to “keep the Narrow Seas.” He is buried in Bunbury Church which states his age at the time of his death to be 102. His eulogy, carved in his tomb, is as follows:  

“Here lies buried George Beeston, knight, a promoter of valor and truth. He, having been brought up from his youth in the arts of war, was chosen one of his company of pensioners by the invincible King Henry VIII when he besieged Boulogne. He merited the same under Edward VI in the battle against the Scots at Musselburgh. Afterwards under the same King, under Mary, and under Elizabeth, in the naval engagements as captain or vice-captain of the fleet, by whom, after that most mighty Spanish fleet of 1588, had been vanquished, he was honoured with the order of knighthood. Now, his years pressing heavily on him, when he had admirably approved his integrity to princes, and his bravery to his adversaries, acceptable to God, and dear to good men, and long expecting Christ; in the year 1601 he fell asleep in Him, so that he may rise again in Him with joy.”

Sir George Beeston was one of my 15th generational great-grandfathers.

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 don’t forget to check out our TEDx talk! https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8

Fiddle Dee Dee

Rev. Gospero Sweet was a Methodist minister and planter, and the 5th great grandfather of my niece’s husband. He and his wife, Ann Munnerlyn, had moved from South Carolina to Georgia before settling in Florida. It was in Georgia where his granddaughter, Deborah, met Russell Crawford Mitchell, a young Confederate soldier, while he was recovering from severe wounds received at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) in Thomasville, Georgia. After his convalescence in Thomasville, R. C. Mitchell went back to the War, fighting to the end. Then he returned to Florida, where he and Deborah Margaret Sweet were married on 10 August 1865.

In the days immediately after the War, Russell Crawford Mitchell made a considerable fortune investing in cotton and selling it to the North, but he got into a fight with a carpetbagger, ran afoul of the Yankee occupation government in Florida, and had to flee to his family in Atlanta. His wife soon joined him there. They debated whether to go to Texas or to stay in Atlanta, and Mrs. Mitchell suggested they remain. She commented that her husband “seemed to have the knack of making money.” He began with a lumber mill, and branched out into real estate investments. Eventually, he became one of the wealthiest men in the city, and also served as mayor for a time.

Deborah Margaret Sweet and Russell Crawford Mitchell had eleven children and many grandchildren, all born in Atlanta. One of them, Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell, a third cousin (three times removed), was greatly influenced by the stories of the family’s history she heard while growing up. She wrote one of the most influential books of her time, Gone With The Wind. 

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.

Once Born, Twice Buried

Samuel Thaxter, a first cousin (eight times removed) of my wife, was a major in the British Army when he fought in the French Indian War during the mid 1700s. He was captured by Indians during the siege of Fort William Henry in 1757.

Tied to a tree, he was about to be killed when a French soldier approached him. Not much is known about any conversation that took place. Some speculate that the Frenchman recognized Thaxter as a fellow Mason. In any event, the Frenchman decided to cut Thaxter loose and allowed him to go his way.

He managed to travel by foot to Fort Edward and from there to his home in Hingham, Massachusetts. He arrived on the same afternoon as his funeral for the townspeople had already received word of his capture and supposed death. He met Mr. Caleb Bates on the road into town who exclaimed, “We just buried you!”

Thaxter, like his father and seven of his children, attended Harvard. He resided at the Thaxter Mansion on North Street in Hingham. The mansion had a secret passageway which is said to have been used to hide British soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

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 Black Hawk War

History is filled with events little thought about or even remembered today. Yet every pebble thrown into the pool of time causes ripples. The Black Hawk War of 1832 may have lasted only a little over 4 months but it did cause ramifications felt for many years after.

It began when Black Hawk, a Sauk leader, led a group of Indians (known as the British Band) from Iowa Indian Territory, across the Mississippi River, into the state of Illinois. Perhaps he was hoping to reclaim land sold to the U.S. in the disputed 1804 Treaty of St Louis.

The U.S., expecting hostile action, mobilized a frontier militia (which included James Adams, the 4th great-granduncle of my niece’s husband.) They opened fire on a delegation from the Native Americans on May 14, 1832. While Black Hawk was initially successful in engaging the U.S. forces before leading his followers into a secure area in what is now Wisconsin, the British Band were tracked down in August of that year and defeated. Black Hawk surrendered and was imprisoned for a year.

This small “war” served as impetus to the U.S. policy of Indian removal, pressuring Native American tribes to sell their lands and move west of the Mississippi. It also gave a 23 year old Abraham Lincoln his only military service – as captain within the volunteer militia. He saw no actual combat and mustered out shortly after the skirmish ended.

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

Be It Resolved

America’s war for independence was not born overnight. Discontent over British rule fomented and grew over time. And, much like most rebellions, it had its origins at local, grass root levels.

As early as 1774, while local counties were selecting delegates for new Provincial Congress, many of their Committees of Safety would publish documents known as “resolves” or “associations.” These were intended to state the positions of their delegates on loyalty to the Crown and the emerging American Republic.

While, at first, professing allegiance to King George, they also outlined what they believed to be unfair practices of Parliament. As time went on, the “resolves” changed their tone, inserting conditions to their loyalty and asserting certain rights as free citizens. After the battles at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, the Mecklenburg Resolves were published which outright denied the authority of Parliament and the king… the first time any colonial committee had done so. More counties quickly followed suit.

In July of 1775, the Pitt County Committee of Safety produced a set of resolves at Martinborough NC. In it they pledged to follow the directives of the Continental Congress to resist “the several arbitrary illegal acts of Parliament.”  One of the signers of this document was Henry Ellis, my 6th great-granduncle. His name is included on the plaque commemorating the document which currently hangs in the Pitt County Courthouse.

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 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.

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.

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.

The Immortal 600

Dr. James Hughes, the first cousin of my daughter-in-law’s 5th great-grandaunt, was a captain in the 44th Virginia Regiment during the Civil War. He was captured in May of 1864 at the Spotsylvania Courthouse and subsequently became a pawn in what has arguably been deemed the most shameful event of the war.

In June of 1864, the city of Charleston SC was under siege from Union artillery. In an attempt to silence those guns, the Confederate Army imprisoned five Union generals and forty-five Union officers in the area being targeted by the North, in effect using them as human shields.

This so infuriated the North that in retaliation, they brought 50 Southern officers from the prison at Fort Delaware and positioned them in front of the Union position on Morris Island, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, to be used similarly as shields from bombing. When the South sent 600 more prisoners to Charleston to relieve overcrowding at Andersonville, the North again responded by bringing 600 more of their prisoners. This group became known as the “Immortal 600” and James Hughes was counted among that number.

Because the prisoner exchange program between the sides had been effectively cancelled due to perceived inequities, there was little hope for these prisoners other than to wait out the course of the war, defenseless against the bombs, diseases, and lack of food or medical care.  

This stalemate continued until an outbreak of yellow fever in Charleston forced the North to move their prisoners outside of the city limits. The 600 were transferred to Fort Pulaski and found to be in dismal condition. Most had dysentery and scurvy; many were so weak they could not rise from their cots. Thirteen died while at Fort Pulaski, most from dehydration. Another 25 died upon their transfer back to Fort Delaware.

The Immortal 600 were lauded as heroes of the South for their refusal to take the Northern Oath of Allegiance under duress.

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.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

There are 56 signatures on America’s Declaration of Independence. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I managed to link one of them back to my family.

Col. George V Ross of Pennsylvania was the brother-in-law of my 6th great-granduncle. Born in Delaware to a large family, he started reading law in his brother’s office. He was admitted to the bar at the age of 20. Politically, he began, as many gentlemen did in that day, with Tory sympathies, even serving as Crown Prosecutor for twelve years. But his allegiances began to change and he started siding with the colonists in their disputes with British rule.

He was elected to represent Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress (along with Benjamin Franklin). At the same time, he served as a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia. In 1776, he signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. In 1777, he was again appointed to represent his state at the second Continental Congress but had to resign his position due to ill health. He died from complications of gout a few years later at the young age of 49.

Before he died, he did make one more contribution to the cause. When George Washington and Robert Morris were looking for someone to fashion a symbol to represent the new nation, he took them to see his niece, a talented seamstress from Philadelphia. Her name was Betsy Ross.

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.