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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.

A Confederate Soldier

William Patrick Goode, the 4th great-granduncle of my daughter-in-law, enlisted in the Confederate Army when he was 18 years old. He served in B Company, 57th Infantry, Virginia Volunteers under the command of General L.A. Armistead, Major General Anderson, and last under General G.E. Pickett. 

He was captured while holding onto the position the Confederates gained during the famous “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. He was held at Fort Delaware until his release in June of 1865. Conditions were dismal. Fort Delaware was designed to be a harbor defense, not for housing of prisoners, and after Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, its population swelled to well over 12,000.

From the memoirs of John Sterling Swann, who was also imprisoned at Fort Delaware: “I witnessed the suffering of many, consequent on want of food, clothing and warmth, and many died from these causes. I have seen many go to the hospital never to return. When the winter came on we suffered greatly. The division — our quarters were made of white pine planks, nailed up vertically. It had shrunk and left large cracks between the planks and there being but one stove to the division, and only one blanket allowed to each person, we of course suffered greatly from cold. We were at night continually getting up and coming to the stove and when a little warm we would return to our bunks. So the stove was always crowded. Hence we got but little sleep. There were many rats in the prison grounds. They burrowed under the plank walks and into the sides of the ditches. The more needy prisoners, when they could kill them, eat them with avidity.”

After the war, and upon his release, William Goode returned to Virginia where he married Malinda Jane Oxley-Wigginton, the widow of a fellow Confederate soldier who died in the Battle at Frazier’s Farm in Richmond. Together, they had ten children. He died in 1937, at the age of 92.

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.

Fife and Drum

The use of fife and drum corps in the military dates back many centuries. Because of its loud and piercing sound when played in its upper register, the fife, which is also easy to carry, used to be the preferred instrument to signal messages to infantry troops. According to some, a band of fife and drums can be heard up to 3 miles away.

Back in the day, each company in an infantry regiment was assigned two fifers and two drummers. When the battalion or regiment were formed up on parade or for movement en masse, these musicians would be detached from the companies to form a “band.” This is how the word band became associated with a group of musicians.

We have at least two members of our family who served in the fife and drum corps. Michael Cain, born in 1750, served as a drum major during the war of 1812. As lore has it, during the Battle of New Orleans, he exclaimed, “Men are not killed with drums!” With that, he picked up a gun and joined the battle. He was wounded in the head. According to family stories, he was carried off the field on the horse of General Andrew Jackson.

His son, John C. Cain, was denied recruit during the War of 1812 due to a disability so he instead played for the troops in the training camps. But he did serve as a fife major during the Mexican War.

Michael Cain and John C. Cain were, respectively, the 4th and 3rd great grandfathers of my sister-in-law.

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.

Crossing the Delaware

In 1776, the war for American Independence was not going well for George Washington and his troops. Malnourished, poorly clothed, lacking many of the basics that would keep an army strong, they had been handed a number of defeats and morale was at a low point. On top of all that, winter and its harsh weather conditions had arrived. Washington knew he needed a victory.

He concocted a bold and daring plan. Learning of a garrison of Hessian troops located in and around Trenton NJ, he decided that a surprise attack on Christmas by an overwhelming force would give his troops a quick victory and bolster support for the cause. The problem? The Delaware River which stood between him and his enemy was treacherous and needed skilled, experienced hands to navigate the winter waters.

Col. John Glover’s regiment contained a number of New Englanders with extensive experience as seaman. To aid them, Washington mobilized about 100 locals who had first hand knowledge of the river. Among them was James Henry Slack, the 6th great grand uncle of my niece’s husband. According to family lore, 20 year old James and his friends were standing by the shore, curious about why the soldiers were gathering. He walked up to one of the generals and asked, “What can we do?” The general replied, “What do you know about the river?” “Oh, we know all about it.”

James and his two brothers became oarsmen who ferried Washington’s troops across the partially frozen Delaware providing the future president the victory he so badly needed. There is evidence that James continued with Washington after this event. He was at Valley Forge in June 1778, White Plains in August 1778, Fort Schuyler from August to December of 1780, and at the High Hills of Santee in 1781. He eventually returned to his family farm in Bucks County PA where he married Alice Torbert and had seven children, the first in his family to be born under a newly independent American flag.

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.