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The Colonel From Erwinna

My 6th great-grandfather, Col. Arthur Erwin, was a Scotch-Irish immigrant of considerable means who came to America in 1768. After purchasing an estate in Bucks County Pennsylvania, he returned to Ireland to retrieve his family: a wife, seven children and a large contingent of relatives, tenants and servants. He chartered the ship, The Newry Assistance, to make the journey. Unfortunately, his wife and an infant son, who was born on the ship, did not survive and were buried at sea.

He remarried the following year and would have an additional six children with his second wife. When the Revolutionary war broke out, he was commissioned as Colonel of the Fourth and Second Battalions of Bucks County Militia. He was 51 years old. There are letters which have been preserved written by George Washington to Col. Erwin. One in particular, written on December 9, 1776, contained an urgent request by the General for Erwin to muster his men and proceed post haste to join the main body of the Army to help stop the advancement of the Enemy.

Erwin immediately took action and brought his battalions to Washington’s Army which, as it so happens, was camping near his property along the banks of the Delaware River. Erwin proved instrumental during the famous crossing, furnishing and manning (with his tenants and servants) many of the boats which carried the Continental Army across the river. He was personally aboard the final boat to cross and actively participated in the Battle of Trenton. 

After the war, he settled down to live the life of a country gentleman, continuing to add to his vast land holdings. He began buying large tracts of land in Luzerne County, PA and Steuben County, NY., which proved to be a fatal purchase. Territorial borders at that time were still much in dispute and some were angry at what they considered to be an illegal land grab. One day in 1792 while visiting at Tioga Point, Erwin was shot and killed, presumably assassinated by person(s) unknown.  Despite a proclamation from Governor Mifflin and a reward offer of $200, his killer was never identified. His body was returned to his home in Erwinna, PA and buried along the banks of the Delaware River.

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 please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

One Man; Two Presidents

During our lifetimes, we cross paths with many different people. Most are regular folks, simply living their own lives as best they can. But sometimes, if we are fortunate, we get an opportunity to rub shoulders with people who might be considered more noteworthy… people destined for great things; men, if not for whom, the world would be far different.

My sister-in-law’s 4th great grand uncle, Joshua Short, had not one such encounter. Remarkably, he had two… with men many consider to be the two greatest Presidents ever to hold the office.

Joshua was 24 years old, living in Pittsylvania County, Virginia when he enlisted as  a private in Captain Peter Dunn’s Company, Colonel Hendrick’s Sixth Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line in the Revolutionary War. He fought in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown and spent that infamous winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge under the command of General George Washington who, of course, would go on to become the first President of the United States.

He was discharged in 1778, most likely due to injuries received during that brutal winter. After the war, he settled in Kentucky where he founded the Good Hope Baptist Church in 1796. The church is still operational and some of his descendants continue to attend its services.

In the early 1800s, he moved to Illinois to be closer to some of his children. And, in 1836 at the age of 84, when he decided to form his last will and testament, he sought out the services of a young lawyer who penned the document by hand and signed it as a witness. The lawyer’s name was Abraham Lincoln, who would eventually become the 16th President. Joshua’s will can now be viewed at the Menard County Courthouse in Petersburg, IL.

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 please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Freebooting

The Shelby County “war”, which took place in Texas during the mid 1800s, was more like a feud than a traditional war. A main factor in creating the problem that led to the conflict was that the United States and Spain, not able to agree on the boundary lines separating Spanish East Texas and the Louisiana Territory and yet unwilling to go to war over it, simply ignored a large strip of land which came to be known as the Sabine Free State or Neutral Ground. Having no national ownership, the area became a lawless expanse –  a haven for criminals, fugitives from justice, and other nefarious souls.

That lawlessness soon spilled over into East Texas where raids, livestock theft, land frauds, and murders became a common occurrence.  A militia was formed that was allegedly intended to prevent cattle rustling by ne-er-do-wells. They called themselves Regulators but the brand of “justice” they administered was anything but fair and even-handed. Their vigilantism and intimidation against even law-abiding folks led to another group being formed. They named themselves the Moderators as they were designed to moderate the Regulators. Their actions proved to be just as lawless and violent as the group they opposed.

Open hostilities broke out resulting in killings and house burnings on both sides. For five years, from 1839 to 1844, there was little that was done to get the situation under some semblance of control. Sam Houston reportedly once said, “I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent governments, and let them fight it out.” And so they did.

James (Tiger Jim) Strickland, my daughter-in-law’s 3rd great granduncle, was a primary figure in the Moderator camp during this time. History describes him as a “freebooter,” which is a person who goes about in search of plunder; a pirate. A known thief, who was particularly adept at escaping capture, he once had his home burned to the ground by Regulators looking to execute him.

The conflict between the two factions finally came to an end when members of both groups ceased their hostilities towards each other to instead join Capt. L.H. Mabbitt’s company to serve in the Mexican 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. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Vengeance Is Mine

While researching my wife’s side of the family to gather the data needed for her Daughters of the American Revolution application, I came across her 6th great-grandfather, Benjamin Conner, who served aboard the armed Privateer called the Vengeance.

Owned by private individuals, it was commissioned by the colonies to set sail against the British. Under the command of Captain Wingate Newman, Conner served as a lieutenant in 1778 and 1779. Records show that on September 17, 1778, after being at sea for several weeks, they engaged and captured the British packet ship Harriot with its 16 guns and 45 men. Three days later, they faced the British packet ship Eagle and after intense fighting of 20 minutes, were again victorious, capturing its 12 guns and 43 men including 7 field officers and several others of inferior rank.

From there, seeing as they were so far eastward and the ship now had more prisoners aboard than crew, the decision was made to head for the first port they could reach in either France or Spain. On Sept 29, they anchored in La Coruna where they were able to exchange their 87 prisoners for an equal number of Americans of similar rank.

The Vengeance continued its patrol for another couple of months, sailing off the coast of Spain and Portugal and while they did have some skirmishes and captured other “prizes,” none were as valuable.

The Vengeance returned to the states in late April 1779 and Lieutenant Connor, now Captain Conner, settled in Washington City. The ship, now with a new crew, took part in a failed mission to drive the British from a newly established military outpost in Penobscot, Maine. On August 17, 1779, the ship was destroyed in the Penobscot River by order of the Commodore to avoid it being captured by the enemy.

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 please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Little Forkers

In 1859, following the John Brown raid, a group of Southern men formed the Little Fork Raiders, a calvary militia that would train in Oakshade, at the Little Forks Church in Culpepper County Virginia. When Virginia seceded from the Union, they attached themselves to the 4th Virginia Calvary Regiment as Company D. They became involved in some of the most important battles of the Civil War. My brother-in-law’s great-grandfather, George Sudduth, joined the Little Forkers as a private at the beginning of the war but received a field promotion and was eventually discharged as a first sergeant. He was one of 57 names appearing on the muster roll at the beginning of the war. By the end, only twelve members remained in the company. The others had either mustered out, died, or were wounded and captured.

The 4th Calvary received the nickname “Black Horse Calvary” due to the dark horses the rangers rode to distinguish themselves on the battlefield. They were assigned to General J.E.B. Stuart, who upon seeing them drill made the following observation: “Discipline very good. Instruction very good. Military appearance excellent. Arms deficient in quality, Revolvers needed. Accoutrements serviceable. Clothing remarkably good. Horses excellent.” Among the noteworthy battles that the 4th Calvary faced were: Fredricksburg, the Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsyvania, and the Seven Days’ Battles.

At the end of the war, the survivors of Company D did not surrender. They simply rode home to try to rebuild their lives in the wake of reconstruction. Most, like George Sudduth, would eventually present themselves to a Federal officer to receive a pardon.

In 1904, on the 43rd anniversary of the Little Forkers enrollment to active service, a monument to their courage, bravery and loyalty was unveiled at Oakshade, the site of their original training grounds. It’s inscription reads:

Firm as the firmest where duty led,
They hurried without a falter;
Bold as the boldest, they fought and bled:
The battles were won, but the fields were red,
And the blood of their fresh young hearts was shed
On their country’s hallowed altar.

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 please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Revolution’s Doogie Houser

By all accounts, Dr. Robert Johnston, who is related to my daughter-in-law, led an interesting life at an interesting time. At the age of 10, he began attending the College of Philadelphia. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it focused on preparing students for lives of business and public service. To graduate, students had to face a public examination by members of the board of trustees. Robert was quizzed by Ben Franklin himself.

After graduation, Robert continued his education, focusing on medical training. Following the completion of those studies, he was recommended for service in the Pennsylvania Militia as a surgeon. He served during the failed attempt to take the British-held Quebec City during the Revolutionary War. As the repelled American troops retreated, Johnston was near the front, treating the wounded from his regiment.

He was then chosen to be the Assistant Deputy Director of Hospitals in the Northern Department where he served til nearly the end of the war. Afterwards, he was appointed deputy purveyor for the military hospital of the Southern Department and put in charge of purchasing and acquisition of all goods. He apparently did so using his own funds as there are records of reimbursement requests he filed.

Following the war, he became involved in an unusual venture. Recruited by investors to try an open up China to American trade, he became the investors’ ginseng broker. Ginseng was a plant that was highly desirable to the Chinese and it happened to grow wild and in abundance in the Appalachians. Robert spent three months collecting as much ginseng as possible. In the end, he loaded The Empress of China, the boat to be used for the journey, with 57,687 pounds of it.  He traveled with it to China where he sold the entire lot for $5 a pound which equated to a 500 – 600 percent profit.

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 be sure to check out our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Siege on Quebec

Jonus Hubbard, an 8th great-granduncle to my wife, was born in Worcester MA and was an active businessman of ample means as the Revolution began. He was a first lieutenant in Captain Timothy Bigelow’s Company of Minute-Men and later became a Captain in Colonel Jonathan Ward’s Regiment. His commission was signed by none other than John Hancock.

While at Fort Western on the Kennebec, he wrote to his wife the following: “I know not if I shall ever see you again. The weather grows severe cold and the woods, they say, are terrible to pass. But I do not value life or property if I can secure liberty for my children.”

He was on the Kennebec taking part in the first major initiative by the new Continental Army. The goal was to capture the British-held province of  Quebec and persuade French speaking Canadians to join their cause. It was a dismal failure, as smallpox became a major problem. It is presumed a British officer intentionally sent out infected civilians to the American lines. Whether an intentional act or not, smallpox decimated the attackers. Over half of the 10,000 troops contracted the disease and died. Only a small fraction of men remained healthy enough to storm the fortified city guarded by a now superior force. Jonus Hubbard was captured and taken prisoner on Dec 31, 1775. He died of his wounds between Jan 5 and 6, 1776. 

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. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk! https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8

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.