Grading: Treaty of Tordesillas

"Drew a line between Castille and England. Made it easier to travel."


Pandora's Safe Part #6: Summoning John

It begins in the Kansas City court of common pleas in October 1861.

 Kevill and his business partner Turner file a claim for $7, and summons are dispatched for John Soldani to appear at the Jackson County courthouse on November 18, 1861.

I can't imagine John Soldani took this well.

Already embarrassed by the swindle, he is now having to drag the story into public and repeat it.  On top of that, I'm pretty sure John drinks. At least, when the saloon was going well he probably drank.  Did you think they were drinking from the Mississippi? Many people drank cider, beer and wine as part of their regular diet. Some drank more.

I just get the feeling that John Soldani was kinda buzzed and also feeling on a lucky streak and then POP it all ended when he was swindled by a guy who emptied a safe in front of him.

John probably thought about it day and night.  He was disrespected, dishonored, publicly disgraced. He wasn't going to just let it happen. Not him. He let it burn a hole in his stomach and that fire would scorch the lives of everyone who tried to make a life with him from that point on.

On November 18, 1861 both plaintiffs and John Soldani, the defendant, appear at court. The documents say that the defendant asked for a continuance and is given one.

 I bet he gave them some dirty looks too. 

They come back to court on November 19 and the defendant has all sorts of motions to dismiss. Don't ask me who his attorney was but I'm impressed.

OK, now it gets good.

John Soldani sues them back for $90.

Then he withdraws his suit and challenges all the facts the plaintiffs laid out. He asks for a jury to hear the case.

The names of each juror is written out neatly.  I won't bore you with them.

They are unable to agree.

The judge tells them to go home and come back on Saturday.

They keep deliberating.

They still can't decide. Finally on November 23 they are discharged.

The court is going into recess and schedules the next day to be January 25, 1862.  Quite a break there.

They all come back on January 25th and decide to come back on January 27th. I don't know why. Maybe it's too cold. Maybe some one's sick. Maybe the war was distracting that day.

Another jury is assembled, hears the case and can't decide.

On January 30th, they start the case all over again.  Jurors are summoned and a new court date is set for February 5, 1862.

This jury finds in favor of the plaintiff -- $7 -- and rules that the defendant must pay $54 in court costs.

Without reading any further, I am 100% sure that John Soldani is muttering "over my dead body" when he is presented with the judgment. (continued)

Pandora's Safe Part 5: Show Me

If this were one of those super cool ancestry shows on TV, the host would ask me to turn the page in a book and give me a second to read something.

It would be this....

I would read it once, then again, then maybe a third time because so much of it is a little fuzzy, then I could laugh so hard that I would need to cover my mouth.

For generations the Soldani family has been looking for Jean Soldani and all this information about his life  was hiding in plain sight, right up the Mississippi River in the state that coyly calls itself the SHOW ME state.

Yes. Applause. Missouri wins.

The host would tell me to turn the page again and I would sit there reading and they would definitely edit this part down because it took me about two hours to read the entire case and all the appeals.

It all makes sense. All of it.

Here's how it went down.

Kevill brought the safe (which had belonged to a Mrs. See, possibly the widow of a Mr. See, a retiring grocery) and key to a public place be exchanged for the $7.

John Soldani didn't need that safe any more than he needed an iPhone charger and anyway it wasn't the safe he was really buying; he was gambling $7 that something "worth being locked up in a safe" was inside, something worth $700 or $7,000 or even more.

According to court documents and multiple witnesses called to testify throughout 1861, 1862 and early 1863,  Kevill opened the safe in front of Soldani and emptied it out completely, taking for himself  a stack of city warrants (a financial instrument like bonds) and bank registers.

John thinks this is a joke. It has to be a joke.

Kevill says no, he was only advertising the safe and a key.

That's all he promised.

That's all John's getting.

John Soldani laughs and snatches all the stuff back from Kevill.

After a skirmish it becomes clear that Kevill was intent on keeping the contents.

Soldani refuses to accept and keep the safe, and refuses to pay the $7.

He will not be cheated or embarrassed or swindled.

Kevill sues Soldani for $7 in common court on the US frontier in the middle of the Civil War.

The case will make it into textbooks for decades, and it is most likely the reason John-Jean-Giovann Soldani ran away from Missouri used so many names.

 But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Pandora's Safe Part 4: $7

(Jean-John Soldani story, continued) 

I'm quite sure that the day that it all happened, John Soldani woke up happy. Why wouldn't he be happy?

It was 1861 and he was a well-known businessman in a booming town. 

His wife and two sons were healthy and happy and they apparently owned at least two brick buildings and several properties.

Yes, he bought some of the properties with short mortgages (ex: $1000 for 9 months), but from what I can tell in the deeds and mortgages I've been piecing together,  John was pretty good at splitting properties and selling parcels to pay off the mortgage on the entire lot.

I'm quite sure John Soldani  (and I'm sure he was NOT using Jean or Giovanni because the 1850s saw the rise of nativism and the xenophobic Know-Nothing party) was the kind of guy who had a few bucks on him at all times,  and an eye to turn $5 into $50.  

 You can't blame him for jumping  in on an auction being lead by Thomas Kevill in Kansas City in 1861.  

Kevill was offering an iron safe (and key) to the highest bidder. 

A crowd gathered. 

Several men bid.  

John Soldani won with the bid of $7.

At the exact moment he opened the safe,  John unleashed his personal downfall. 

I want to go back in time and stop him, but if I did then he wouldn't leave Missouri in 1863 and -- how can I put this delicately? -- sire my father's great-grandfather,  Achilles Jean Soldani who was born in New Orleans in late 1863.

(to be continued)

Pandora's Safe, Part 3: No Telegram, No Call?

(Jean Soldan Story continues)

I am not exactly sure how Jean-John Soldan-Soldani-Soldaniels found himself in Missouri in the 1850s but I have some pretty good ideas about the forces that pushed and pulled him there.

Gold was found in California; the Compromises of 1850a nd 1854 opened massive lands in the US west whose “slave state or non-slave state” status was to be decided (later) by popular sovereignty (New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska). Steamboats reversed the direction of trade along the Mississippi River and connected it to massive railroads, and the two modes of transportation converged in in Missouri, making it the launching place to the “west.”

So yes, it is understandable that a man like John-Jean who most likely spoke French and German and probably English as well was pulled to go there and get rich selling things to people from all over the world who were stocking up (think of Missouri in the 1850s as one big  Costco, one last place to shop for months or even years) before heading across whatever the travelers would face  between Missouri and the Pacific Ocean.

People don’t tend to go to strange cities all alone, and from what I can tell, Jean-John’s brother Peter (who may or may not have been his twin because they identified as the same age in the 1860 Census) was already in Kansas City when he came there. 

Missouri documents have John Soldani buying land in Kansas City (calling himself John Soldanels, along with Joseph Soldanels) in 1855.

From 1856 to 1863 John buys at least 4 properties and sells two.  He works and lives with his brother Peter, and apparently they run a saloon-store that catered to travelers who spoke German and French.

He marries French-Canadian Matilda in a ceremony officiated by the famous Bernard Donnelly “frontier priest” and they have two kids – Sylvester Jean Soldani (1860) and Anthony Godance Soldani (1861).

 Meanwhile, the Civil War starts; Missouri stays in the Union, and New Orleans tries to go Confederate but is surrounded by the Union and occupied throughout the war to shut down trade on the Mississippi.     

I think Jean went down to New Orleans once or twice and that’s how he ended up in the Cazadores Espanoles Regiment for at least one day on September 21, 1861. 

Maybe Jean was in New Orleans for banking, for trade or for a vacation from his toddlers. Records show his brother (son?) Joseph was there with him. 

 I don't know when they ran to New Orleans but I'm glad they did because their brother Peter  (officially Peter Soldam in several records and I really think Soldam is my new last name but we can revisit that, the story is still warming up)  is taken  PRISONER  BY THE CONFEDERATES IN 1862 in the BATTLE OF INDEPENDENCE omg OMG omg Omg!

 It’s going to be OK; he will live and then he will spend the rest of his life living near Leavenworth, but I’m not sure that Peter and Jean-John ever find each other again or even know that the other one is OK.

Apparently Matilda, John-Jean-Johan’s first wife had NO idea what happened to  Jean-John-Johan. She waits and waits and waits and then the war ends and he STILL doesn’t come home so she assumes he is dead.

 I can’t blame her. No telegram.  No call.  Nothing.

 My educated gut guess is that Matilda Soldan believed her husband perished on the Sultana when it blew up in April 1865.

 Or maybe she imagined he was lost some other way. 

Matilda she was a married woman with the responsibility to settle his accounts during a time that the economy was topsy turvy.  I can’t imagine what kind of income she was living on while he was gone and Peter was captured by the Confederates, but I CAN imagine more than one man advising her to come to terms with being a widow and let HIM help her settle the accounts.

In November 1865, Matilda puts John-Jean Soldan’s estate in probate and is forced to liquidate all of his estate to pay their creditors.

But he’s alive.


Pandora's Safe Part 2: Bless His Heart

read this first!!! -->

This semester I am spending countless hour doing research with students and I had no idea it would be so fun. It started out innocently with an offer to all the students in a particularly small class. 

Students come to my office to do research, clicking away on their laptop and pausing for questions.  This is much more fun than talking about grades and points. This is actual professoring.  I love it.

One particular student started her own tree, and apparently is an amazing researcher because she came to me with generation after generation filled in.  

She apologized for her tree being boring because everyone pretty much stayed around the same county where they all still live. 

I jump in and start looking at her data and we look for questions to ask.  Do women have less children over generations? If yes, does that start in the 1920s? or 1960s?  Notice how all the families on the census page are white in 1870? How does it change by 1890? Her eyes light up and she digs back into her data and I dig back into mine while a giddy silence falls over us. 

Another student sent me names and dates that I plugged into Ancestry and by the next day I was barely able to contain my excitement over finding out that his family was from Poland, not Greece. 

The student looked at the tree and said nope, that’s not my grandfather and I was crushed. 

Hours later I realized it was his great uncle and all the work I’d done was correct. Yay me. 

I research another student until I find her great-grandparent born in Pottawatomie in 1857, right after the famous massacre. Treasure.  

I click a few more times and find one of her ancestors whose first and middle name is “Thomas Jefferson” and then I go back to another student’s tree and count the president names in HIS family (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Pinckney).  This will now be our game and it started here.
 One particular student just didn’t get how easy and fun I make all this “history research” out to be.    How do you know what to look up?  I shrug, you just start plugging things in and see what you find.  

And how do you know what do to next? Other students who rarely speak leaned in a little for the answer.

 It feels like water rolling downhill, you go with the flow and just keep gathering information.
  What if you get stuck?

You research something else and either let it go or come back to it a different way.  You can’t do research wrong, there is no one waiting for you to come back with one single story.
 He liked that.

I thought I would spend this weekend doing other things but I accidently fell back into a research hole of my own (again.)

A sticking point in our larger family history has to do with Jean-John-Johan, the father of Achilles Soldani, a New Orleans born child who was put on an orphan train and ended up living in Avoyelles Parrish up the Mississippi River.  

He would stay there for the rest of his life, except for one trip.   I know this because I found it documented in an unsigned Xeroxed copy of a seven-page handwritten speech apparently delivered at a gathering of Achille’s descendants.  Clearly a valid source. 

Achilles Soldani was born on November 12, 1863 in Genoa, Italy….”

Stop. I can’t find a single source putting Jean in Genoa, but I do have multiple sources indicating Jean Soldan said he was from Switzerland.

 OK, back to the letter.

“…It is not clear exactly how he ended up in the United States but his mother and father died in what we believe to be a boating accident.  At the age of 5 he was placed in an orphanage in New Orleans.”

Boating accident? Possibly, but not coming from Europe, probably on the Mississippi River. 

The corridor from St. Louis to New Orleans was a lot different during the Civil War, so possibly. 

Or maybe not at all.  Hang on.

Back to the letter.

Achilles courted Ella Mae English and received her hand in marriage.  Prior to his wedding Grandpa returned to the orphanage in New Orleans to attempt to find out something about his people.  He located one brother and three sisters – he visited them and satisfied with having found his relatives he returned home to take his bride in marriage. How times have changed. Grandma Ella always said that Grandpa Achilles first kissed her on the second day after the wedding.  I suspect many of you your brides and brides to be and young girls have not and will not wait until the second day.”

Seriously. Seriously?  People, just because your grandparents tell you something doesn’t make it true, and I think the whole kissing story holds as much water as the part about Achilles being born in Italy.

First of all, how would Achilles know anything about his parents other than what nuns would tell him? Considering the number of orphans and foundlings being delivered to New Orleans orphanages in in the aftermath of the Civil War, what would nuns know about his story?

Second of all, I am suddenly aware that I do NOT know who Achilles’ three sisters and brother are, and now I have to know, so I start hunting. I already know about Isocline, and think I find a brother, Joseph, and then I find something like a Giuseppina who was born in 1869 and could be the child that survived the birth that killed their mother.

These poor kids!

Dad died in 1868, mom died the year after, and they had no aunts or uncles or cousins to help them.

Or did they?

And that’s when I used my history professor brain and shifted my research perspective. Jean-John-Johann Soldani had to have some relatives in the US.  People migrate in small groups and join larger groups often in ethnic enclaves where they can speak their languages while acculturating.

I looked up the Mississippi River to the lovely state of Missouri and I found him right away.

1860 Census shows John-Jean Soldani living with his brother Peter in living in Kansas City; it indicates that he and his brother were born in Switzerland and are saloon keepers. 

 I find multiple contracts and mortgages in Missouri archives under John’s name between 1858-1863, borrowing money to buy goods for the saloon, selling land as the prices went up.

John has two children in Kansas City – Sylvester and Anthony -- and then he disappears.

I already knew that when Civil War started, Missouri stayed on the Union side, and trade traffic on the Mississippi became increasingly perilous and unreliable.

What I didn’t know is that Jean-John-Johan was married in Missouri, and it wasn’t to Achilles’ mom.  

Bless his heart.  
I figured him out.