His mother died the year after he was born, and he went to live with grandparents Pierre Laurent and Jeanne Baptiste Taiclet Mathey. When Joseph was seventeen, his grandfather died, followed soon by his grandmother. Many other family members, fearful of war, fled their quaint stone houses and the land they'd worked for generations for new lives in Paris, Belgium, and the United States. Only the Vosges Mountains, Alsace, and the Rhine River separated the Mathey homestead from Prussia, a distance about as far as New York from Philadelphia. Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck was at war, determined to unify Germany and settle scores with France, which had conquered parts of Prussia during the Napoleonic wars. He had defeated Austria. Eastern France appeared to be his next target.
Soon after Joseph's grandparents died, an American uncle heard about the tragedy and arranged for the teenage boy to join him. Joseph set sail in 1869 from LeHavre, France, bound for New York. After landing in the U.S., he made his way to Vienna, Ohio, to join his extended family.
The home they chose was alive with opportunity and blessed with what seemed to be an endless supply of natural resources. Glaciers ripped through this part of Ohio thousands of years before, carving out gentle hills, green valleys, a labyrinth of rivers, deep lakes, and rich soil that was superior for planting. Limestone deposits lay under the surface, disintegrating in the rain and frost to repair crop waste and enrich the soil so it was perfect for growing wheat, corn, oats, and potatoes. Sheep grazed on the bluegrass grown in the limestone soil and produced a finer quality of wool.
The area offered more than rich farmland. Colonel Edwin Drake struck oil northeast of Vienna in Titusville, Pennsylvania, a decade earlier. Oil derricks rose, boomtowns erupted, and speculators, financiers, and fortune seekers headed to the region from all corners of the country and abroad.
Farther south, along the Ohio-Pennsylvania line, more natural resources were discovered—coal deposits and iron ore in Poland and Youngstown, Ohio; iron ore, tin, and limestone on the Pennsylvania side. Mines and factories lined both sides of the state border. The post-Civil War Industrial Revolution in America had begun, and all the ingredients for manufacturing were centered along the eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania border.
Joseph first found work as a coal miner in nearby Shenango, Pennsylvania. Also nearby, he met the young Elizabeth Butler, who lived in Hickory. Elizabeth's father, Messach Butler, was also an immigrant, a coal miner who'd come to the United States from Glamorgan, South Wales—a place where rich veins of coal had been mined since the time of the Romans. He arrived in New York on October 24, 1854, on the ship Kataholm with his wife Anna and their young children, Caradoc, Talieson, and Gomer—ages three, two, and a few months. After settling here, they would have eight more children, including Elizabeth, who was born in 1857.
Coal miners in the United States could get $1 to $1.50 a day, double what they could make in Wales, luring over eighty-four thousand Welsh to Pennsylvania between 1850 and 1930. For Messach, the wages in the new country were too attractive to refuse, especially with his family growing so quickly. He soon became a mine foreman.
Josephine's father Joseph and her maternal grandfather Messach had both left Europe for a better life in the U.S., but they came from different cultures and backgrounds. Messach was Welsh; Joseph was French. Messach was Protestant. Joseph was Catholic. Joseph wanted to marry Elizabeth, but the Butlers were adamantly opposed. The cultural differences were a big factor, but there was more. She was only sixteen. Her parents believed she was too young to be married—and they thought he was too old for her at twenty-two. Yet, despite her family's objections, Elizabeth and Joseph were married. Messach Butler promptly disowned his daughter.
With his new bride by his side, Joseph wanted to replicate the idyllic farm life he'd known in France, and left coal mining to work on the Vienna, Ohio, farm of the uncle who brought him to America, Constant Taiclet. It wasn't long before the ever-ambitious young man began looking for new opportunities. Soon he found a nearby farm in Vienna he could lease and run on his own.
Joseph worked from early morning until late at night, organizing, managing, plowing, seeding, harvesting, shearing, making certain nothing was overlooked. He was scrupulously honest and expected everyone else to be as well.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.