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On the Trail of Don Quixote

by Lawrence Sullivan

Attempts to find where our Francisco ancestors came from was a classic case of looking in all the wrong places.

We searched high in the Appalachians and low in Florida's swampy coastland, from upstate New York to a Colorado mining town. Barking up several wrong family trees, we scared up Franciscos who were Spanish, Portuguese, French, Philippine, Dutch, Italian, Swiss, and none of the above. Some, in fact, appeared to be many of the above -- living examples of America's famed melting pot in action.

We even fancied that our Francisco forebears might have belonged to a strange group of racially mixed mountain people, of decidedly uncertain origin, known as Melungeons. However, no Franciscos were found in their ranks.

On another front, the name and a shorthand version of it, Sisco, does figure prominently among several "remnant Indian communities" in Delaware and elsewhere, but no family ties were found there, either.

One reason we didn't know which way to turn was muddled road directions from my father, whose mother's maiden name was Francisco. Since Dad was not one to lie, or even to embellish the truth, I took what he said to be gospel truth. His terse comment went something like, "The Franciscos would be the interesting branch of the family to look into. I was told they spent two generations in Florida, two generations in Georgia, two generations in Kentucky and two generations in Ohio before coming to Indiana."

Well, they didn't.

Such a trek would imply descendents of a Spanish conquistador, or perhaps a shipwrecked pirate, who settled down in what is now northern Florida. We went back eight generations prior to the approximate date we thought they arrived in Ohio (1800) and looked for traces. Flipping through LDS Personal Ancestral File disks for hours produced nothing more promising than the birth recorded in St. Augustine Parish in 1646 of a Catalina Francisco, daughter of Juan Francisco and Juana Francisco de Salazar. Pretty names, but no match.

What the Mormon records don't prove -- though the numbers clearly imply -- is that Francisco is rarely found as a surname among Spanish-speaking people. Being a Latinized form of Frank, it's a common enough given name among Hispanics, but not a proper family name and seldom used as such.

Most Franciscos unearthed in Mormon genealogical records, in fact, trace their ancestry not to Spain, but to Portugal. Many of the earliest Franciscos in the New World claimed Dutch ancestry, and that, oddly enough, also points to Portuguese roots.

Dates of the latter entries hint at their likely descendancy from two possible sources: Portuguese sailors impressed by Spain to enforce their rule over the Netherlands, or the ranks of countless Portuguese Jews who, driven out of the Iberian Peninsula by the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500s, found Holland to be a tolerant and hospitable place.

At the start of our search, all we knew for sure about the family was that when Dad's mother, Anna Francisco Sullivan, died in 1896, he was only six years old and was farmed out to a family of Francisco "cousins" near Ligonier, Indiana. 100 years later, the only clue we had to the specific kinship of this foster family was an entry in Alvord's History of Noble County, published in 1905, concerning William Francisco and his father, Uriah, along with their wives and children. The entry made no mention of Anna.

Anna's death record gave us her parents' names -- John and Mary Worth Francisco -- but we couldn't find them in the 1850 census anywhere. We finally found them in the 1860 census of Noble County, where we had expected them to be 10 years earlier. As a bonus, a nearby entry gave us a married couple from the previous generation, Abraham and Mary Francisco, and told us he'd been born in Virginia.

Assuming that Abraham and Mary were John's parents, we pored over Virginia records to see if we could discover his exact origin. We thought we'd hit paydirt when we chanced upon a book called Virginia Taxpayers, 1782-87 and found only five Franciscos listed.

One of the five, Peter Francisco, who lived near Charlottesville in the center of the state, was a snap to cull from the pack and dismiss as a likely forebear. He was a larger-than-life Revolutionary War hero whom Virginians regard as a cross between Paul Bunyan and Robin Hood. Family pride surely would have preserved his memory if "Peter the Great" had been one of our ancestors.

The other four Franciscos, however, looked like "definite maybes." They seemed to be related, were clustered in adjoining counties north of Roanoke, and two family heads bearing the same first names moved to Kentucky sometime before 1800. Surely, we thought, these were our clansmen.

Well, they weren't.

This family has a well-documented family tree beginning with a Christophel Franciscus (1680-1757), a Swiss-German land baron who eventually became a prominant burgher in the Pennsylvania Dutch community in present-day Lancaster County. A 1,500-page genealogy, called The House of Franciscus, lists lots of interesting folks, including a buddy of mountain man Kit Carson, the actor James Franciscus, and a man who married into the feuding Hatfield clan.

None of them belonged to us.

A co-author of the book suggested that our Francisco line might trace back to a white-haired patriarch often referred to as "Old Henry," of Whitehall, New York. Checking this possibility was surprisingly easy, for other family historians have mined this lode for years, and many are still picking away at it.

For starters, Old Henry's life was nicely capsuled by a Yale College professor who dropped in to see, in his words, "(probably) the oldest man in America." This was about a year before Francisco's death in 1820 at the age of 134!

In more modern times Francisco made it into Ripley's "Believe It or Not" as the oldest recruit in the Revolutionary War. It was said he enlisted at the age of 91 after Tories torched his tavern, barn and several hundred bushels of grain.

He also was featured in a religious/scientific tract entitled "Modern Methuselahs," published in 1980, about people the world over who lived extremely long lives. All three accounts can be found on the Internet.

It's hard to discount the conclusions of Francisco's distinguished visitor from Yale, Benjamin Silliman Jr. (1779-1864), a poet, essayist and entrepreneur in addition to being a leading scholar of his day. As Yale's first professor of science, he taught chemistry, pharmacy, mineralogy and geology, founded the Yale Medical School, and served as editor of the American Journal of Science.

Silliman arrived at Old Henry's home in upstate New York with a healthy degree of skepticism, but left, as he put it, "inclined to believe that he is as old as he is stated to be."

Francisco told Silliman he was born in Normandy to a French father and a Dutch mother, his recollections placing his birth in 1686. They were Huguenots, driven out of France by religious persecution when Henry was just a lad. They fled to Holland, where the mother is believed to have died. John later sneaked back into France with his son (or several children), but was soon forced to flee again. They went back to Holland, then to England and America.

Over the years, Old Henry married twice, fathered 21 children, and fought in more wars than he could remember. He said he was wounded several times and taken prisoner once, though he was far from clear on the details. More certain are records in the federal archives of the Revolutionary War pension he received during the last two years of his life.

The professor seems to attribute Henry's longevity to his diet. He ate very little, Silliman reports, "particularly abstaining almost entirely from animal food. His favorite article being tea, bread and butter, and baked apples. His wife said that after such a breakfast, he would go out and work till noon, then dine upon the same if he could get it, and then take the same at night, and particularly that he always drank tea, whenever he could get it, three cups at a time, three times a day."

(See footnotes for a condensed version of Silliman's account, which first appeared in a travel book entitled Remarks Made on a Short Tour Between Hartford and Quebec in the Autumn of 1819.)

Also found on the Web was a 1939 newspaper article in The Indianapolis News about descendents of "Old Henry" who settled in southern Indiana. Was it possible another descendent had landed in northern Indiana and established our line?

We dismissed the idea as highly unlikely. Silly, even.

Instead, we turned our attention to early census records for the state of Ohio. Our first "hit" was the 1820 index, where we found an Abraham, Absalom, John and Hiram Francisco all bunched together in Falls Township, Hocking County.

Queries placed on the Web elicited the unexpected news that this Abraham was not the Abraham we were looking for, and "our" Abraham wasn't our grandfather, anyway. An article in a Francisco genealogical newsletter identified Hiram among the "Hocking County Four" as our real grandfather, but said his kinship with the other three was unclear.

After hacking through the jungle-like historical trail, we found that Abraham, Absalom and John were indeed brothers, and Hiram was John's oldest son. (The "Ligonier Abraham" we had thought was a grandfather, by the way, was Hiram's younger brother.) Moreover, repeated name patterns from generation to generation hinted strongly at some kinship with "Old Henry" himself -- or at least to a Hendrik Francisco who may or may not have been the same man.

Our genealogical trail is certain back to an Abraham Francisco (or Sisco), who died in 1799 in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia). We're still missing solid proof of his parentage, but highly speculative published genealogies point to him being a son of one of Hendrik's younger brothers, also named Abraham, and a woman named Elizabeth Stegh. It is known a son named Abraham was born to them in 1729 in Essex County, New Jersey.

Researchers agree generally that the elder Abraham was the second son of John Fransoy (16?-1733), although not all agree that the older son named Hendrik was one and the same "Old Henry." As for the family name, it undoubtedly was originally Francisco, gallicized as Francois when they lived in Normandy, anglicized as Fransoy upon their arrival in England or the Colonies, and then returned to its original form of Francisco.

Over the years many have opted for the shorter forms of Sisco or Cisco, and in at least one case Frisco. A stone carver at one Hocking County cemetery saved time on one headstone by cutting the name down to F'cisco.

The younger Abraham, whose military records bear the name Sisco, fought in the closing battles of the French and Indian War, which places him in western Pennsylvania in the 1750s. He wed a Pennsylvania girl named Mary, nicknamed Polly, and left her with her family when he marched off to war. After the fighting was over, he apparently rowed upstream into western Virginia, took possession of a choice piece of land along the Monongahela River, then returned to Pennsylvania to reclaim his wife. In the meantime, according to an early published history, Polly "had long since given him up for dead."

All of Abraham and Polly's eight children and at least two of their grandchildren appear to have been born over the next quarter-century on this homestead, which is part of the present-day city of Fairmount, West Virginia. Abraham sold half of his 400-acre parcel, but kept the rest. His two older sons, John and Abraham, each of whom was bequeathed a100-acre tract, sold the land within a year of their father's death and, along with their mother, a younger brother and perhaps all five of their sisters, headed west for the promising new frontier of Ohio.

They followed in the footsteps of another Francisco, Israel (relationship unknown), who was among the very first white settlers of the Hocking Valley. Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I, tells us:

"In the same spring [1798] came the Brians, the Pences and the Franciscos, from western Virginia, men renowned for feats of daring prowess in hunting the bear, an animal at that time extremely numerous."

The entry goes on to say that the surrounding hills and valleys were loaded also with turkey, deer, elk, and the occasional buffalo, which, together with plentiful fish in the Hocking River, guaranteed plenty of food until the dense virgin forest could be cleared and the ground turned into farmland.

That we lack solid proof of Abraham's parentage is hardly surprising. Even "Old Henry" -- the proverbial legend in his own time -- lost track of children who had moved, as he put it, "beyond the Ohio." After years of digging, genealogists are so divided on the children that several published lists -- none of them even pretending to include all 21 -- apparently blend Henry's known offspring with some of his nieces and nephews.

But lineages traced through early church records in New Jersey and New York seem to point to our direct descent from "Old Henry's" presumed father, John Fransoy, who died in 1733, through younger brother Abraham (birth and death dates unknown). To borrow the language of Genesis, this Abraham begat another Abraham (1729-99) ... Abraham begat John (c1770-1840) ... John begat Hiram (1794-1879) ... Hiram begat John (1820-93) ... John begat Anna (1860-96) ... and Anna begat James Sullivan (1889-1957), who set us on this devilishly elusive trail.

We had hoped the hunt would produce the genetic leavening of a Spanish corsair, or at least the hot blood of a horny Portuguese sailor on shore leave in Amsterdam. We would have settled for the murky heritage of the Melungeons, whose ancestral claims range from being (1) descendents of stranded Turkish and Portuguese pirates, (2) a colony of Africans who bolted from slavery and cozied up to hospitable native Americans, and (3) surviving remnants of the famed "Lost Colony of Roanoke."

Instead, our most famous Francisco ancestor -- a shirt-tail relative at best -- appears to be a gentle old spinner of wool, of French and Dutch extraction, who in his waning years subsisted, Hobbit-like, on a diet of fried apples, bread and butter, and three cups of tea at a sitting, when he could get it.

Lord knows what Dad would say about all this. Probably that we made it up.


Abbreviated genealogy (linkage to 2 Abraham not proven):

1 John Francisco/Fransoy b. c1665 in France? d. 1733 in Essex Co., NJ

+ Geesje ---------- b. unknown in Holland? d. unknown in Holland?

2 Abraham Francisco b. unknown in ? d. unknown in ?

+ Elizabeth Stegh b. c1705 in ? d. unknown in ?

3 Abraham Francisco b. 1729 in Essex Co., NJ d. 1799 in Monongalia Co., VA/WV

+ Mary/Polly ---------- b. c1730 in ? d. 1804 in Fairfield Co., OH

4 John Francisco b. c1770 in? d. 1840 in Fairfield Co.

+ Charlotte/Lettice/Letty ----------- b. 1775 in PA d. 1850/60 in Fairfield Co.

5 Hiram Francisco b. 1794 in Monongalia Co. d. 1879 in Hocking Co., OH

+ Hannah McDaniel b. 1791 in Monongalia Co. d. 1848 in Hocking Co.

6 John Francisco b. 1820 in Hocking Co. d. 1893 in Noble Co., IN

+ Mary Jane Worth b. 1829 in Hocking Co. d. 1902 in Noble Co.

7 Anna Francisco b. 1860 in Noble/LaGrange, IN d. 1896 in Goshen, IN

+ Andrew (John) Sullivan b. 1856 in Goshen d. 1917 in Elkhart Co., IN

8 James Sullivan b. 1889 in Ligonier, IN d. 1957 in Pontiac, MI

+ Leila Latta b. 1895 in Noble Co. d. 1963 in Oxford, MI


"An Old Man of the Age of Louis XIV":

(Extracted from Remarks Made on a Short Tour Between Hartford and Quebec in the Autumn of 1819 by Benjamin Silliman Jr., S. Converse, New Haven, Connecticut, 1820)

Two miles from Whitehall, on the Salem Road to Albany, lives Henry Francisco, native of France ... (probably) the oldest man in America. He believes himself to be 134 [sic] years old, and the country around believe him to be of this great age. When we arrived at his residence (a plain farmer's house, not painted, rather out of repair and much open to the wind), he was upstairs at his daily work of spooling and winding yarn. This occupation is auxiliary to that of his wife, who is a weaver ...

Supposing he must be very feeble, we offered to go upstairs to him, but he soon came down, walking somewhat stooping and supported by a staff, but with less apparent inconvenience than most persons exhibit at 80 or 90. His stature is of middle size, and although his person is rather delicate and slender, he stoops but little, even when unsupported. His complexion is very fair and delicate, and his expression bright, cheerful and intelligent. His features are handsome, and considering what they have endured through one-third part of a second century, they are regular, comely and wonderfully undisfigured by the hand of time. His eyes are a lively blue; his profile is Grecian and very fine; his head is completely covered with the most beautiful and delicate white locks imaginable ...

He informed us that his father, driven out of France by religious persecution, fled to Amsterdam. By his account, it must have been on account of the persecutions of the French Protestants, or Huguenots, in the latter part of the reign of Louis XIV. At Amsterdam his father married his mother, a Dutch woman, five years before he was born, and, before that event, returned with her into France. When he was five years old, his father again fled on account of "de religion," as he expressed it (for his language, although very intelligible English, is marked by French peculiarities). He says he well remembers their flight and that it was in the winter, for, he recollects, that as they were descending the hill, which was covered with show, he cried out to his father, "O fader, do go back and get my litle carriole" [wagon] ...

From these dates we are enabled to fix the time of his birth, provided he is correct in the main facts, for he says he was present at Queen Anne's coronation, and was then 16 years old, the 31st of May, old style, in 1702. ...

I asked Francisco if he saw Queen Anne crowned; he replied with great animation and with an elevated voice, "Ah, dat I did, and a fine looking woman she was too, as any dat you will see nowadays."

He said he fought in all Queen Anne's wars and was in many battles and under many commanders, but his memory fails and he cannot remember their names except the Duke of Marlborough, who was one of them. ...

During the Revolutionary War, he kept a tavern at Fort Edward [in upstate New York] and he lamented in a very animated manner that the Tories burnt his house and barn and 400 bushels of grain ...

He has had two wives and 21 children. The youngest child is the daughter in whose house he now lives, and she is 52 years old; of course, he was 82 when she was born. They suppose several of the older children are still living, at a very advanced age, beyond the Ohio, but they have not heard of them in several years.

Henry Francisco has been, all his life, a very active and energetic, though not a stout-framed man. He was formerly fond of spirits and did, for a certain period, drink more than was proper, but that habit appears to have long been abandoned.

In other respects he has been remarkable abstemious, eating but little, and particularly abstaining almost entirely from animal food. His favorite article being tea, bread and butter, and baked apples. His wife said that after such a breakfast, he would go out and work till noon, then dine upon the same if he could get it, and then take the same at night, and particularly that he always drank tea, whenever he could get it, three cups at a time, three times a day. ...

On the whole, although the evidence rests, in a degree, on his own credibility ... I am inclined to believe that he is as old as he is stated to be. He is really a most remarkable and interesting old man ... were he dressed in a superior manner and placed in a handsome and well-furnished apartment, he would be a most beautiful old man. ...


Cemetery findings:

Anna Francisco Sullivan (1860-96) is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Goshen, along with her husband, John (Andrew) J. Sullivan (1856-1917), and two of their six children, Julia Ann (1887-1902) and John H. (1895-1902). Their oldest son, Lawrence Burton Sullivan (1883-1951), and daughters Mamie Jeannette Osterdale Smith (1884-1961) and Agnes Jaynes (1893-1917) are buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Detroit, while son James E. Sullivan (1889-1957) is buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery, Oxford, Michigan.

Anna's parents, John W. Francisco (1820-1893) and Mary Worth Francisco (1829-1902), are buried at Oak Park Cemetery, Ligonier, along with his uncle and aunt, Abraham D. Francisco (1795-1861) and Mary A. Roads Francisco (1795-1870).

John's brother Uriah Francisco (1816-1900) and his wife, Ann Eliza Poyser Francisco (1827-1911), are buried at Salem Cemetery, Perry Township, Noble County, with three children who died in infancy, Elizabeth (1845-47), John (1851-55) and Benton (1859-60).

Uriah's eldest son, William (1854-1932), and wife Elizabeth Swinehart Francisco (1854-1937) are buried at Oak Park Cemetery, Ligonier, as are their daughter Hazel D. Francisco (1886-1908) and their son-in-law and daughter, Charles (1875-1936) and Belle Cornelius (1875-1954).

In nearby graves at Oak Park are, among other family members, Uriah's son and daughter-in-law, Charles (1866-1935) and Mary Cass Francisco (1868-1852), and sons-in-law and daughters, Charley (1876-1946) and Ella Shellenbarger (1861-1954) and Hamilton (1851-1913) and Lovina McDaniel (1856-1934).

John and Uriah Francisco's parents, Hiram (1794-1879) and Hannah McDaniel Francisco (1791-1848), are buried at a family graveyard on their farm homestead in Falls Township, Hocking County, Ohio. Also buried there are their son and daughter-in-law, Job (1823-1900) and Martha O'Hare Francisco (1841-67), and daughter Elizabeth Francisco (1826-1906), who reportedly never wed, although she had three children. The farm, owned at this writing (1998) by Edward Hankison, is situated a few miles south of Logan on State Road 664.

Hocking County historical records show 13 Franciscos buried at Centenary Methodist Church Cemetery in Marion Township and a lesser number buried at Union United Methodist Church Cemetery in Falls Township. Many earlier burials in these and other Hocking County cemeteries undoubtedly were unrecorded -- probably including Hiram's parents, John and Lotty/Letty Francisco, and grandmother, Mary/Polly Francisco, who died in 1804.

Mary's husband, Abraham Sisco (1729-99) may be the only one in our direct line buried in West Virginia, as his widow and perhaps all their children moved to Ohio's Hocking Valley region shortly after his death. It is said that an interstate highway took part of the land he and his sons cleared and an industrial park took the rest.

No attempt was made to locate graves of earlier Francisco ancestors, hundreds of whom lived and died in New Jersey and in the old Dutch settlements in New York's Hudson Valley. A dozen or more Franciscos fought in the Revolutionary War, and a number of them are known to have been killed in action.