ANCONA, SYDENHAM E., p. 376
Surnames: ANACONDA, KNAPP, MONTIFFIORE, WAGNER, ALBRIGHT, FEGER, KEIM, PAGE, SCHWARTZ MAN, JAEGER, PIERCE, DAVIS, JONES, CLYMER, CURTIN, KOSSUTH, MCKNIGHT, DURRELL, KIEFER, HOFFEDITZ, LINCOLN, SCHENK, BLAINE, GRANT, KELLY, STEVENS, HANCOCK, GLOVER, LOUIS, DEPUY, BOYER, JONES, STANTON, FLINN, BUCHANAN, BLACK, CAMERON, KELLY, STITZEL, BRENEISER, PATTI SON, CLUFF, CHASE
Sydenham E. Ancona, son of Morris M. Ancona, M. D., an Mary Ann (Knapp) Ancona, was born in Warwick township, adjoining Lititz, Lancaster county, Pa., Nov. 20, 1824. M. M. Ancona was a native of London, England, born Feb. 9, 1791, and died at Pottsville, Pa., March 20, 1854. His father was M. Ancona, a marble and statuary mason, who died in London, of which city his ancestors, for some generations, had been living. His wife was a Montifiore, and as were the Anconas, of Italian descent. They were merchants at Leghorn and are presumed to have come from the city of Ancona, Italy.
The family moved in the spring of the year 1826 from Lititz to Bern township, Berks county, about two miles from Bernville, near Scullis Hill; from this place to Lebanon about the 1st of April, 1829, and in 1830-31 to Kelly's Corner, near the Conewago creek, Lebanon county; from Kelly's Corner in 1833 to Porter's Store, on the road from Cplebrook Furnace to Elizabeth town; in April, 1836, to Carnarvon township, near Church town; there to Alsace township, Berks county, near Stony Creek. He worked on a farm in Saucon township, Lehigh county, for four months. The subject of this sketch then, upon the suggestion of his father and in response to an advertisement in the papers, applied for a select school in Upper Bern township, and was employed by the executors of the estate of Valentine Wagner. This school at the time was the only English school west of the river, except the public schools at Womelsdorf. The compensation was ten dollars per month besides board. He spent the summers of 1843 and 1844 at home. In the fall, seeing an announcement in the papers that twenty-one teachers were wanted in Earl township, Lancaster county, he, among some fifty others applicants, was examined at New Holland, passed and obtained a school.
In June, 1845, hemade a trip to New York and Boston by way of Providence, returning to Reading, and leaving in July for Niagra Falls an Canada. At that time the method of reaching New York was by stage via Allentown, Easton to Morris town, N. J., and from there to New York by rail. After leaving Niagra he proceeded to Buffalo, then a town of from ten thousand to twelve thousand inhabitants, going from there by steamer to Cleveland about the 20th of August, and from the latter place to Akron by canal boat. From this point, with a companion whom he happened to meet, and who proposed to him that they walk to Lancaster, he proceeded as far as Chambersburg, Pa., where they separated.
After some months at home, given up to farming, Mr. Ancona accepted in 1845 an English select school at Seyfert's Mills, in Upper Tulpehocken township, Berks county, having about twenty pupils at this school and being very successful in instructing them. He had some very bright boys there, notably Charles Albright, who afterward became a general in the army during the Civil war, a prominent lawyer, and was elected to Congress on the ticket from Pennsylvania some years after the close of the war.
Having decided in the year 1846 to discontinue teaching school, on the invitation of Daniel H. Feger, who had obtained a position with the Reading Railroad Company, Mr. Ancona accepted a position in the service in the same department with him as an assistant timekeeper, devoting himself with all his energy and giving his entire time to the requirements which they demanded. He continued with the railroad company until 1862, in the position of chief clerk an bookkeeper from December, 1851, having been acting as assistant timekeeper previous thereto. At the close of December, 1851, he took charge of the general books of the company, which were then out of balance and in a neglected condition. He succeeded at once in the work, although he had had no previous experience in double entry bookkeeping.
When nominated for Congress in 1860, without having given the company any notice of his purpose, he was warmly congratulated by the general manager of the company on his achievement. A few days thereafter he received the gratifying communication from the president of the road that his election to Congress would not interfere with his position with the company, and that they expected him to return with the company at the end of the session.
During his connection with the railroad company, in 1849, together with his brother-in-law, Daniel H. Feger, he organized a military company known as the Reading Rifles, which was composed largely of young men employed by the Reading Railroad Company, engineers and machinists. It was a notable organization numbering some two hundred, thoroughly armed and equipped with rifles furnished by the State. It had a band of music made up of its own members, and was decidedly one of the crack volunteer organizations of the country. It was attached to the 1st Brigade, 5th Division, P. V., under William H. Keim, of Reading. The company made several notable excursions to Philadelphia as the guests of the celebrated State Fencibles, then under the command of Col. James Page. They were received by the State Fencibles in the grounds surrounding Independence Hall, and were presented by Colonel Page , in behalf of the State Fencibles, a handsome silver mounted rifle, and a gold medallion containing Colonel Page's portrait with a suitable inscription. In 1854 the company went on an excursion to Washington and Mount Vernon. They passed through Philadelphia under the escort of the State Fencibles. At Washington, they were received by the "German Jaeger" commanded by Major Schwartz man, together with other volunteer companies in the District of Columbia at that time. They were received by the President of the United States, General Pierce, and his Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, in the East Room of the White House, having 137 men in line, all told. In presenting the company, each man was introduced by name to the President and Secretary of War. The company was complimented by both the president and Mr. Davis. The company was entertained by Hon. J. Glance Jones, the representative from Berks county, at his home. The arsenal and navy yard were visited, and Mount Vernon reached under the escort of Major Schwartz man and his company. Returning home, they stopped over in Baltimore, the next day at York, had dinner at Columbia and were received in Lancaster by the Buchanan Rifles and entertained at a banquet at Fulton Hall in the evening. They attended the reception tendered to Louis Kossuth, the celebrated Hungarian patriot; also the reception to the first Japanese legation that visited the United States.
Mr. Ancoa retired from the Rifles soon after this excursion in consequence of a political controversy with men who had left the Rifles and joined a rival organization. He was the invited to take command of the Reading Troop, a cavalry company that dated its organization from the Revolutionary war. He accepted, and, was subsequently elected major of the Reading Battalion by a very large majority. Mr. Hiester Clymer, later his successor in Congress, was supported by the opposition, but Mr. Ancona carried the companies by a majority larger than the total vote of Mr. Clymer in the Ringgold Light Artillery, which was the finest military organization in the United States.
In February, 1861, Governor Curtin sent Maj. Gen. William H. Keim (5th Division, Pennsylvania Volunteers, to which the brigade was attached) to him and Capt. James McKnight to ascertain whether their companies sould be held in readiness to respond to a call in defense of the government. They conferred with their men and had them pledged by oath to go out in defense of the government, then threatened with secession by a number of its States. The call came finally, but for the Ringgold Artillery only. In April, after the President's Proclamation, and on the same day that the call came from Governor Curtin, Mr. Ancona went to Harrisburg to ascertain whether his company was also to be sent, but was advised that for the time being no cavalry companies would be called.
On July 4, 1861, the XXXVIIth Congress was called in special session, and having been elected as a representative from Berks county, he took his seat and soon after called upon Secretary of war Cameron, with Captain McKnight, George Durrell and John B. Kiefer, who was a nephew of Cameron and had been a member of the Reading Rifles. He then asked the General what the probabilities were of his company being called. The General replied that they "had more men than they wanted," and hence Mr. Ancona made no further effort to obtain recognition. A very short time thereafter a mustering officer was sent to Reading without his knowledge. The company was mustered in, divided into two companies, the one under George Clymer as captain and the other under J. C. A. Hoffeditz. Thus he failed to get into the service owing to circumstances over which he had no control.
Mr. Ancona was elected to the XXXVII th Congress in 1860 and took his seat on July 4, 1861, at a special session called by President Lincoln. He was also elected to the XXXVIII th and XXXVIX th Congresses. He served on the committee on Commercial Affairs, which as he says had but little opportunity for recognition, as most business which should have been referred to it was referred to the committee on Ways and Means, which also controlled the appropriations during these years. Later, however, he was placed on the committee on Military Affairs, which was a very active an important body, of which Gen. Robert C. Schenk was chairman. Among the members of this committee was James G. Blain of Maine, as well as a number of other equally prominent men. While on this committee he frequently met Blain, who was a very industrious and active member.
About this time General Grant was considered a favorite candidate for the Presidency, and the so-called radical representatives of the House, including such men as Thaddeus Stevens, William D. Kelly and Henry Winter Davis, of Maryland, did not favor his nomination. Mr. Blaine predicted, however, that he would be nominated on the Republican ticket. This proved to be correct.
Through the influence of General Schenk a resolution was introduced in the House, tendering the thanks of Congress to General Hancock for his distinguished services during the war, and especially at Gettysburg. The matter was referred to the committee on Military Affairs, who ordered Ancona to report favorably to the House. This brought him into direct communication with General Hancock, who wrote a very handsome letter of acknowledgment. In consequence a close personal friendship sprang up between him and General Hancock; frequent conferences took place between them by reason of the prominent position of General Hancock as the favorite candidate of many Democrats for the Presidency. At the request of Mr. Glover, a prominent attorney of St. Louis, Hancock and Ancona met at Milwaukee, the General being at the time at the head of the Department at St. Paul. Subsequently, there were meetings of Norris town and Governor's Island, Col. De Puy Davis and B. Markley Boyer, among others being present.
He enjoyed very pleasant relations with Edward M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, having met Mr. Stanton at a party given in honor of J. Glancey Jones at the residence of Maj. William Flinn, who was an intimate acquaintance of President Buchanan's Attorney General and afterward his secretary of state. He recalls that during the conversation with Mr. Stanton, whom he met that evening, he expressed his views very freely and criticized the policy of the administration in the conduct of the war. Mr. Stanton did not dissent; Mr. Acuna's surprise can be imagined when he saw in the morning papers the next day that Mr. Stanton had been appointed Secretary of War to succeed Mr. Cameron.
After his failure to obtain the renomination for a fourth term to congress, in 1866, his colleagues from Pennsylvania had President Johnson name him for naval officer, port of Philadelphia. Strong and representative Republicans in his district had requested Senator Cameron and others to favor his confirmation by the Senate, this being done without his request and knowledge until one day communicated to him by Judge Kelly, of Philadelphia, in the committee-room on Military Affairs. He was frequently importuned to again run for Congress, but peremptorily declined.
Mr. Ancona had been connected with the fire department of the city of Reading for some years when on the suggestion of Gen. George M. Keim he took the presidency of the Reading Hose Company. General Keim headed a subscription with one hundred dollars toward the purchase of a steam fire-engine in 1858. With his accustomed energy and determination he succeeded in getting the first steam fire-engine into Reading at a cost of thirty-six hundred dollars. It was called the "Novelty," and was built at the Novelty Works in New York, by Lee & Larned. In 1867 he, with a few others, organized the Hampden Fire Company, of which he was the first president. He has been re-elected and occupied this office for forty-two years continuously. He is also a delegate to the Firemen's Union. He has held the office of treasurer of the Reading firemen's Relief Association since its organization and has always been prominently and actively connected with the volunteer fire department of the city of Reading. He was a member of the Reading school board and the president of that body for several terms. He served for many years with Judge Stitzel and Charles Breneiser, Sr., as a member of the local board of charities, appointed by the Governor. Governor Pattison appointed him a trustee of the State Asylum at Harrisburg. He was one of the originators of the Reading Steam Forge, Cotton Mill, a director of the reading Savings Bank, and was identified as president, secretary and director with building and savings associations for over sixty years.
Having some relations with officers of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, he proposed to the fire department in the city of Reading the organization of an insurance company for insurance against loss by fire on a plan somewhat similar to the plan of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, which had grown out of the old volunteer fire department of that city, and had an accumulation at that time of some millions of assets. The necessary legislation was obtained, but he could not convince the representatives of the various fire companies in the Firemen's Union of the feasibility of his plan. He then organized a stock fire insurance company with a capital of $100,000, of which $35,000 was subscribed by his friends. Twenty per cent was paid in so that he had $7,500 in cash when the company organized. He started business July 8, 1867, and was elected secretary and treasurer. The company had a board of directors, composed of some of the leading business men of the city. Judge J. Pringle Jones was elected president, and Maj. James McKnight, vice-president. He served as secretary and treasurer for over thirty years and from the small business beginning f $7,500 he increased the paid-up capital to $250.00, and net surplus over and above the capital to $300,000.
He also, during this period, succeeded in organizing the Reading Trust Company, with many of the stockholders of the Reading Fire Insurance Company, and with the same board of directors and officers, he serving as secretary and treasurer of this company. With the tendency to consolidation of insurance businesses by the insurance companies, by re-insurance and otherwise, with strong competition by companies with large aggregations of capital, and owing to excessive losses for two years previous to 1898, he was impressed with the belief that the Reading Fire Insurance Company had reached the greatest success it could attain under the adverse prospect, and he therefore determined to effect a re-insurance of the Reading Company with some large company to continue the Reading Company as before, and to have all its policies and liabilities under-written by such a company, taking all its revenues, and paying all its expenses and the rental, which would be equivalent to a dividend of from ten to twelve percent to the stockholders of the Reading Fire Insurance Company. After several negotiations with companies in the United States and Europe, where he went in 1896-97 with this purpose in view, after he had abandoned all hope of effecting such a transaction, he received a communication to enter into negotiations with the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. He met Mr. Chase, the president of the company, and seemed in a fair way of coming to an agreement, but the methods proposed to accomplish the purpose did not meet with his approval and were promptly declined. Mr. Edward Cluff, of New York, who had heard of these negotiations, had at the same time proposed an arrangement withe Scottish Alliance, which was declined. The president of the Scottish Alliance had been cabled for, however, and a meeting was arranged in New York for this purpose, which finally resulted in the sale of the stock of the Reading Fire Insurance Company, with the consent of a large number of the stockholders, the Scottish Alliance paying the stockholders twenty dollars a share, and from which they had received an average dividend of eight per cent per annum, for over thirty years.
During a period of fifty years Mr. Ancona was an active member of the Masonic fraternity. In 1848, with some associates and friends, he organized a lodge known as Chandler Lodge, No. 227, of which he became Worshipful Master. He was also a member of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and received the degree of Knight Templar in Philadelphia. He was also appointed Eminent Commander, but he did not attend the meeting for the installation of officers by reason of the death of his father. In 1870, with a few friends, he applied for authority for another Commandery, K. T., which was accomplished and became known as Reading Commandery, No. 42. He was appointed to and accepted the position of Eminent Commander, with the understanding that he would do no more than preside for a year at their meetings. He wa appointed District Deputy Grand Master for the District of Berks, Lebanon and part of Montgomery counties in 1861-62-63-64, and 1874-75-76.
He was elected president of the Penn Street Passenger Railway, the first road in the city of Reading. He was also one of the projectors and directors of the Mt. Penn Gravity Railway Company in 1889, and has continued as director in it ever since.
Notwithstanding a long and busy life he has found time to travel extensively, not alone the many trips through every State and Territory of the United States, but frequent trips abroad and to the Indies. He has devoted his attention to public matters and the common good, giving him the advantage of his wide experience and close observation.
Philanthropic and charitable, and intense in all his undertakings, he has well filled to the fullest measure, and enjoyed the blessings of, a life of over fourscore years, retaining full possession of his vitality, energy and mental faculties.