Friday, January 23, 2009

The Texas Triangle

How did central Texas become the place where our ancestors, who emigrated from Prussia, chose to settle, raise families, and make their livelihoods? i found ten of our ancestors and families who lived in the small country town of Brenham, Texas, in the 1870s. Brenham, for those of you who (like me) are not familiar with Texas, is halfway between Austin and Houston. By the 1880's some of the ancestors had spread out west to Giddings Town (about 20 miles away) and southwest to La Grange (about 40 miles away).

Brenham is the hometown of Blinn College, the Blue Bell Creamery- a 100 year old ice cream company-

and Blind Willie Johnson, a famous gospel blues singer, who is known for his rendition of songs like "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning".

The Handbook of Texas Online describes Brenham in the frontier days of the wild west:
With the construction of the Washington County Railroad in 1860, Brenham, the rail terminus, served as a distribution point for the state's interior ... Brenham's economy expanded to include banking (1866), silk and cigar manufacturing (1880s), and other light industry. Jewish merchants helped stimulate the town's extensive retail and wholesale trade. Arrival of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway in 1880 augmented Brenham's significance as a regional marketing center.
Who, you may ask, was living in Brenham in the latter half of the 19th century? (and i'm glad you asked) Several relatives of Zander Zander and his wife Liebe (Hellman) Zander settled there, including Liebe's brothers
  • George Hellman (b. 1834) and his bride Blume lived much too short lives. At the tender age of 25, Blume died, after giving birth to Rebecca in 1868. The baby only lived 6 months. George passed away 2 years later, and i'm guessing it was from a broken heart.
  • Herman Hellman (b. 1841) and his beloved Johanna. They had 9 children, all born in Texas, beginning with Hyman (b.1869) and ending with Leo (b.1884). One son was named George (b. 1877) after his late uncle. BTW, Herman and George were the first Hellmans to emigrate from Prussia to America, arriving in New York in 1855-1856.
  • Louis Hellman (b. 1832) and his wife Bertha. They travelled to America with 2 young chlidren, Emma and Benno. The journey must have been hard on Bertha, because she died in 1867, the year they immigrated. Louis lived and prospered another 30 years.
There was also a couple of Zanders, probably Zander's brother and nephew:
  • Bernhard Zander (b. 1830) and his beloved Minna, along with two babies, ages 2 and 1, immigrated about 1859. This couple had at least five more children
  • Benno Zander (b. 1850) immigrated to Texas in 1866, at the age of 16. In 1870 he was living in Brenham with his uncle George. i found records that show Benno in Memphis, Tennessee in 1890 and New York City in 1900. He worked with his cousin Gustav in New York. (On Gustav's 1899 passport application, Benno signed the "Identification" section).
Then, in the late 1860's, the Harris brothers rode into Brenham town, leaving their parents, Moses and Yetta, behind in San Francisco. In the 1870 census, Lewis Harris (b. 1840, my great grandfather) and two of his brothers, David and Henry, are shown living together in Brenham. Two younger siblings, Marcus and Susie, joined the Harris gang a few years later, settling down in Giddings Town.
But this Texas tale is by no means finished. In 1872, sailing by ship into the Port of Galveston is none other than the young and adventurous Johanna Zander (b. 1855, my great grandmother), just 17 years old, eldest child of Zander and Liebe. Most likely she took the first train to Brenham to live with Uncle Herman or Uncle Louis. And, that is where she must have met the dashing Lewis Harris, an ambitious man of 32 years. They married in 1875 and settled in Giddings Town.

How did these Jewish families thrive in Brenham? i found this answer on the website:
By 1880 there were an estimated 14 Jewish families, all in the retail business. The only Jewish organizations were a B’nai Brith Lodge and a Hebrew Benevolent Association. Charles Wessolowsky, a B’nai Brith leader, journalist, and editor of the newspaper The Jewish South, visited in April, 1879 to report on the Jewish community. He “found no unity nor sociability among them”. Wessolowsky found Jewish children regularly attending Christian Sunday school.

By 1885 there were
enough Jews to organize a congregation and B’nai Abraham was formally founded. They first met in the Hall of the Second Texas Infantry Band. In 1892 they built their first building on a lot just a few blocks from the downtown square. According to one lifelong resident, most of the Orthodox Jews had very little at this time so one affluent Brenham Jewish businessman, Alex Simon, purchased the lot and donated it for the construction of the synagogue. Simon, a Reform Jew, is said to have never stepped foot in it. It burned that first year and was rebuilt in 1893 replete with mikvah, not typical of most rural synagogues.

My conclusion:
We may never know the reason why these pioneering families settled in central Texas
, but by 1870 they all lived in the "Texas Triangle" of Brenham, Giddings and La Grange. i know that some of them immigrated through the Port of Galveston, Texas (rather than New York). Perhaps, with railroad being constructed to Brenham, they saw the opportunity to start up retail businesses in a new, growing town. For our ancestors, America truly was a land of opportunity.


DavidbenYishai said...

For you sports fans out there, Brenham is also the hometown of baseball players/managers Don Baylor and Cecil Cooper, and football players Roosevelt Leaks, Limas Sweed,and Roderick Green.

DavidbenYishai said...

In case you are a fan of the Delta blues, you can listen to Blind Willie Johnson sing and play his steel string gee-tar. Check this out:

AKA Alice said...

I'll bet if you keep digging you'll find some answers as to why they all settled in those small (or then small) Texas towns.

Perhaps a road trip?