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Charles Tracy

"The American Congressman Zouave"

Charles Tracy

Congressman Charles Tracy was born in Albany, New York in 1847. His father was an Irish immigrant from Canada that fled to the United States in 1838 after he was accused of being involved in anti-british protests. Tracy had an adventurous spirit. He distinguished himself as a member of his school’s Cadet Company.


In 1866, after he graduated he traveled to the Holy Land where he developed a resolve to defend the cause of Bl. Pope Pius IX. By 1867, he reached Italy and enlisted in the Papal Zouaves. He served for two years and reached the rank of Corporal. He returned to the United States for a short period of time between 1869-1870.


However, upon hearing that the Piedmontese were going to march on Rome, he quickly made his way back to Italy to serve the Holy Father. He arrived at the port of Civitavecchia which lay only 40 miles north of the Holy City on the eve of the Siege of Rome on September 19th, 1870. Three of his former comrades joined him, the Irishman Patrick Keyes O'clery, who would later author the book The Making of Italy, and the Englishman George Kneyan, a member of a noble English family.


Despite the fact that the Italians were occupying the port and had already established a perimeter around Rome, the trio managed to evade the enemy and sneak past their lines. By night, they had entered Rome and joined their old comrades, ready for the attack that would come the following morning. Tracy and the other Papal Zouaves fought bravely, however, by 0900 on September 20th, Bl. Pius IX gave the order for surrender, Rome fell. Tracy was held prisoner for a short time as the Italian government figured out the logistics for deporting all the foreign Papal soldiers. Upon his release Bl. Pius IX knighted him in the Order of St. Gregory.


Charles returned to the U.S. and worked at his Father's distillery, and took over after his death 1875. That same year the Governor of New York requested Charles to become his aide-de-camp with the rank of Colonel. Two years later, he was promoted to Commissary General.

The post was responsible for the supervision of the military property of New York. He held the job under many N.Y. governors, including President Grover Cleveland. Charles carried the title, “General,” for the rest of his life. Charles ran for congress in 1887 as a Democrat in NY's 19th district near Albany. He was elected 4 times from 1887-1895 and continued to run his distillery. He was primaried in 1894, but continued to be active in politics, he lead the “Gold” Democrats, a conservative faction of the party, organized against “free silver”

Charles died in 1905, age 58, and is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Albany, New York. His tombstone lists his service in the Zouaves, his Knighthood of St. Gregory and his Congressional service.

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