Say hello to my great-great-great grandfather, Valentine Bockius. Born in Maryland in 1770, he’s one of the more colorful leaves on my ancestral tree. His grandfather, Johannes (John) came to America from Germany aboard the St. Mark and was 17 when he arrived in Philadelphia in 1741. His father died onboard during the journey.
While too young to fight in the Revolutionary War at age six, I discovered Valentine grew up to be a hatter, a bank watchman and a town crier. He married twice and had a total of eleven children; most of whom lived to adulthood. Fun fact: His grandfather, who came to America at 17, became a weaver and tailor; tailoring uniforms in the Revolutionary War.
Below are excerpts from historical sources and stories I pieced together:
Valentine spent 36 years “amid the perils of the camp and field” (whatever that means). In 1792, at age 22 he stowed away on a ship out of Baltimore which was captured by pirates. He was set free in Portsmouth, England and was pressed into duty with the Royal Navy. While taking on supplies in Copenhagen in 1795, the city had a massive fire which started in the docks where his ship was ported. In the confusion of the fire, Valentine escaped from the Royal Navy and fled to Germany. In 1797 he entered the Prussian army, fighting in the battle of Jena in 1806. He married a German woman but she died after only seven years and two children in 1807. He was quick to remarry another German woman….in 1807. In 1811 he joined the 128th cavalry regiment under Emperor Napoleon. His oldest son, John Charles(b. 1800) also joined as a drummer. In 1812 he was engaged in battles in Italy and Normandy. In 1814 he left the service. In 1819, he returned to the U.S. with his second wife and two oldest children.
So, I suppose I can add stowaway and military defector to his claims to fame too. But, since his enlistment in the Royal Navy was not voluntary, desertion probably should not be held against him.
An article in the Canton Daily News, Sunday morning, October 22, 1922 adds a bit more color to this branch of the genealogy tree:
It is related of old Valentine Bockius that at one time while in Berlin during a parade in which the ‘nobility’ were celebrating, old Valentine did not doff his hat as the others did and was ordered by someone to take off his hat. Valentine said that he was an American citizen and they did not do such things in America. Immediately some officious person knocked his hat off. He immediately replaced it and said if anyone knocked it off again, he would knock him down. It was again knocked off and immediately he proceeded to do as he said and knocked the fellow sprawling. Others interfered and he proceeded to show them the philosophy of American fisticuffs and did not stop until he had half a dozen of them sprawling on the ground. He was hauled before a court and after explaining to the court the actions of the parties and that he was an American citizen and that in America a man would brock no such insult, the court admired his pluck and set him at liberty. On coming out of the court, a truck peddler’s cart, loaded with vegetables was passing when a wheel came off and in falling the cart axel pinned a man to the ground. Valentine at once jumped to the cart and by main strength lifted it up while they took the man out and replaced the wheel. The crowd that saw the feat shouted its applause and wondered at the strength of the man. Valentine told them “that’s the kind of men we raise in America.”
My “plucky” ancestor lived to the ripe, old age of 92…or 97…depending on the source and died in Canton, Ohio. Wouldn’t you have loved to have sat with him while he told stories about his life?!