Some Perspective on my Nusbaum and Dreyfuss Ancestors

Right now I am pretty absorbed in following up on the Seligmann trail in Germany and the US and in preparing for my trip, both in terms of travel details and in terms of trying to find as much information as I can about the Brotmans.  I’ve been spending time going back over the Brotmanville Brotmans, hoping to find some clues I missed before the DNA results corroborated the family story that Joseph and Moses Brotman were brothers.

But before too much time goes by, I want to reflect a bit on my Dreyfuss and Nusbaum ancestors.  In many ways they typify the German Jewish immigrants who arrived in America in the 1840s and 1850s.  They started as peddlers, they eventually became the owners of small dry goods stores in small towns, and for many of them, they remained dry goods or clothing merchants.  Unlike my Cohen relatives, who were pawnbrokers for the most part, or my Seligman relatives, who started as merchants, but became active in politics and civic and military matters in Santa Fe and elsewhere, my Dreyfuss and Nusbaum ancestors began and stayed Pennsylvania merchants, even into the 20th century.

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

In addition, the Dreyfuss and Nusbaum families almost all stayed in Pennsylvania where they started.  There were some who went to Peoria, though most returned to Pennsylvania, and a few who went to Baltimore, but overall the Dreyfuss and Nusbaum families started in small towns in Pennsylvania and in Harrisburg and eventually moved to Philadelphia.  As far as I’ve been able to find them, many if not most of their descendants also stayed in the Philadelphia area.

But beneath what might appear to be a very consistent and predictable pattern of living was a lot of turmoil.  These were families who endured terrible tragedies—many children who died young from disease or from accidents, and many children who lost a parent at a very young age.  Tuberculosis ravaged the family, as did heart disease and kidney disease.  One member of the family died in the Great Fire of San Francisco.  There were also a tragic number of family members who took their own lives.

In addition, this was a family that went from poverty to comfort and then suffered financially when the 1870 Depression struck, causing many of the stores to close and forcing family members into bankruptcy.  Yet the family in general rebounded, started over, and once again became merchants with successful businesses in most cases.

The other pattern I’ve noticed in the Nusbaum and Dreyfuss lines is assimilation.  Although there were certainly examples of intermarriage and conversion among the Cohen and certainly the New Mexican Seligman lines, that tendency to assimilate and move away from Judaism seemed even more widespread among the Dreyfuss and Nusbaum descendants.  There were fewer people buried at places like Mt Sinai in Philadelphia, fewer indications of synagogue membership or other participation in the Jewish community.  Perhaps those early years in the small towns where they were likely the only Jews in town took a toll on the role that Judaism would play in their lives and their identities.

Overall, these two lines were very hard to research and write about.  Not because they were hard to locate, although the Fanny Wiler mystery kept me going for quite a long time.  But because there was just so much unhappiness, so much suffering.  When I think back to their roots, coming from two small towns in Germany, Schopfloch and Hechingen, I wonder whether those early immigrants ever questioned their decision to leave Germany.  I assume they left for economic opportunities and freedom from the discrimination they faced as Jews in Germany.  Presumably they believed they had found both when they arrived and as they settled into life in Pennsylvania.  And in many ways they had.  They were free to worship, or not worship, as they saw fit.  They were able to make a living, own property, even own businesses.  They survived.

Schopfloch

Schopfloch

But all the tragedy and loss they endured had to wear on them in many ways.  Many of the family lines ended without any descendants.  I have had more trouble finding current descendants than I’ve had with the other lines I’ve researched.  I don’t have one relative with the name Nusbaum, aside from my father, whose middle name is Nusbaum.   The family seems to have disappeared, blended into other names, other families, other traditions.

For that reason, as hard as it was, I am happy that I was able to document and tell their story: where it began in Germany, how it continued in Pennsylvania, and what happened between their arrival in the 1840s and in the century that followed.

Caps for Sale: Peddlers and Merchants

As I wrote in my last post, by 1852 or before, five of the eight children of Amson and Voegele Nusbaum had settled in Pennsylvania.  Two of the siblings had settled in Harrisburg, one in Lewistown, one in Blythe, and one in Philadelphia.  According to the 1850 census, John Nusbaum was a merchant in Harrisburg, and his brother-in-law Isaac Dinkelspiel was a peddler there, married to John’s sister Mathilde.  Leopold Nusbaum was a butcher in Blythe, Maxwell was a merchant in Lewistown, and Ernst was a merchant in Philadelphia.

It is not surprising to me that Ernst would have settled in Philadelphia, which, as I have written about in the context of my Cohen ancestors, had a fairly large German Jewish community by the mid 1800s.  But why were John Nusbaum and Isaac Dinkelspiel and their families in Harrisburg?  Even more surprising, what were Leopold and Maxwell doing in relatively small towns like Lewistown and Blythe?  What would have taken these new German Jewish immigrants away from the big cities and to smaller towns and cities in Pennsylvania?

The choice of Harrisburg is not really that surprising.  By the time John Nusbaum arrived in the US, perhaps as early as 1840 or even before but certainly by 1850, Harrisburg had been the Pennsylvania state capital for many years already, i.e., since 1812.  It had been settled in the early 18th century and because of its location on the Susquehanna River where there was an opening between the mountains, it had developed into an important trading post for trade and expansion to the west.  By the 1830s the railroad and the Pennsylvania Canal passed through Harrisburg, further increasing its economic importance for westward expansion.  By 1840 the population of Harrisburg was almost six thousand people.  By comparison, the population of Philadelphia in 1840 was over 93,000 people.


Capitol. (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.), by A. G....

Capitol. (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.), by A. G. Keet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jewish immigrants began to arrive in Harrisburg in the 1840s, primarily from Germany and England.  The first synagogue, Ohev Sholom, was begun in 1853, first as an Orthodox congregation, and then in 1867 it became a Reform congregation.   The Jewish population, however, was not very large.  There were sixteen members of the congregation in 1853, and even as late as 1900 there were only 35 members.

So how would my three-times great-grandfather John Nusbaum have ended up here?  I do not know for sure, but I can speculate that like many German Jewish immigrants, he arrived in Harrisburg as a peddler and, once finding a strong and stable economic base there, eventually opened his own store.  Harrisburg was obviously an important location for trade not only for its residents but also for those who stopped there as they moved westward in the United States.  It was likely an ideal location for a merchant.  Unlike his three-times great-granddaughter (and her immediate relatives), he must have been a very able entrepreneur.

This pathway to economic success—from peddler to merchant—was quite common among German Jewish immigrants.  According to Hasia Diner in “German Jews and Peddling in America,” (hereinafter “Peddling”) located here:

In Nashville, 23 percent of the adult male Jews in 1860 peddled, as did 25 percent of those in Boston between 1845 and 1861. In Easton, Pennsylvania, a town which occupied the strategic meeting point of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, 46 percent peddled in 1840, but just five years later, the number jumped to 70 percent. By 1850 the number had dropped to 55 percent, still a significant figure for any one occupation among a relatively small number of people. Of the 125 Jewish residents in Iowa in the 1850s, 100 peddled around the state, as did two-thirds of all the Jews in Syracuse, New York in that same decade before the Civil War.

See also  Rudolf Glanz, “Notes on Early Jewish Peddling in America,” Jewish Social Studies ( Indiana University Press, Vol. 7, No. 2, April,  1945)  located here.

In a different article, “German Immigrant Period in the United States,” (hereinafter “German Immigrant”) located here in the Jewish Women’s Archive, Hasia Diner explained why peddling was so widespread among German Jewish immigrants.

Americans in the hinterlands had little access to finished goods of all sorts, since few retail establishments existed outside the large cities. Jewish men overwhelmingly came to these remote areas as peddlers, an occupation that required little capital for start-up and that fit the life of the single man. In the large regional cities, Jewish immigrant men would load themselves up with a pack of goods, weighing sometimes as much as one hundred pounds, and then embark on a journey by foot, or eventually, if a peddler succeeded, by horse and wagon.

In “German Immigrant,” Diner opined that because many of these German Jewish immigrants came as single men, they were not tied down to families in a particular location when they first arrived and could thus take on the itinerant life of the peddler.  In her “Peddling” article, Diner further explained the popularity of peddling, pointing out that many of these German Jewish men came from families in Germany where their fathers had been peddlers.  That was certainly true for John Nusbaum and his brothers; their father Amson had been a peddler.  This was an occupation with which they were familiar.  Diner also stated that the Jewish German immigrants had networks of families and friends who could extend credit and help them get started on a peddling business.

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-peddler-19th-century-granger.html

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-peddler-19th-century-granger.html

In “Peddling,” Diner provided this vivid description of the life of the peddler:

The peddlers operated on a weekly cycle. They left their base on Sunday or Monday, depending on how far they had to go. They would, if necessary, take the railroad or canal barges to get to their territories.  They peddled all week and on Friday headed back to the town from which they had gotten their goods. Here on the Jewish Sabbath and, depending on geography, on Sundays as well, they rested, experiencing fellowship with the other immigrant Jewish peddlers who also operated out of this town. The peddlers engaged with the settled Jewish families, some of whom either operated boarding houses for peddlers or merely extended home hospitality to the men during their brief respites off the road. On the weekends the peddlers could partake of Sabbath religious services and consume some of the good food associated with Jewish holy time, food prepared in the distinctive manners of the various central European regions. Saturday night, after sundown, when the restrictions of the Sabbath lifted, the peddlers came to the shopkeepers and or other creditors to whom they owed money, paid up from the goods they had sold that week, and then filled up their bags, ready for another week on the road.

Rudolf Glanz wrote in “Notes on Early Jewish Peddling in America,” Jewish Social Studies ( Indiana University Press, Vol. 7, No. 2, April,  1945) located here, that these that peddlers played a crucial role in the economic growth and population growth in the unsettled parts of the United States in the 19th century because they provided the pioneers with access to goods that they otherwise would not have had.  This freed the pioneers from having to carry or manufacture these products themselves as they migrated west, thus enabling them to survive and adapt to the frontier conditions.  Glanz, pp. 121-122.  Diner described in “Peddling” the types of goods these peddlers generally sold:

The peddlers did not sell food or fuel. Rather they sold a jumble of goods that might be considered quasi-luxuries. In their bags they carried needles, threads, lace, ribbons, mirrors, pictures and picture frames, watches, jewelry, eye glasses, linens, bedding, and other sundry goods, sometimes called “Yankee notions.” They carried some clothing and cloth, as well as patterns for women to sew their own clothes, and other items to be worn. At times they carried samples of clothes and shoes, measured their customers, and then on return visits brought the finished products with them. When the peddlers graduated from selling from packs on their backs to selling from horse and wagon, they offered more in the way of heavy items, such as stoves and sewing machines.

As Diner points out, often these peddlers were the first Jews in a particular town or village.  Once a peddler had saved enough money to start a permanent store and become a merchant, they would often pick one of these towns where they had had success as peddlers, gotten to know the residents, and established a rapport and a reputation.  Both Diner and Glanz discuss this evolution from peddler to merchant.   According to Diner in “Peddling,” most peddlers did not peddle for long periods, but were able to become storeowners, marry, and start families within a reasonably short period of time. Most became at least moderately successful, and some became the owners of some of the biggest department stores in the US, such as Gimbel’s and Macy’s.

My hypothesis is that John Nusbaum also started out as a peddler.  He must have started from Philadelphia or perhaps New York as a single man and peddled goods through Pennsylvania until he accumulated enough capital and was able to settle in Harrisburg, a prime location for a merchant for the reasons stated above.  Perhaps it was only once he had done so that he married Jeanette and started a family in the 1840s.

When his brother-in-law Isaac Dinkelspiel arrived with his wife Mathilde Nusbaum Dinkelspiel sometime later, it would have made sense for them to settle in Harrisburg.  Since Isaac also started out as a peddler, as seen on the 1850 census, as a married peddler with children, it is not surprising that they would have moved to a place where Mathilde would have had family nearby while her husband Isaac was on the road.  In addition, it is very likely that John was supplying Isaac with the products he was peddling.  According to Diner, it was Jewish merchants who supplied the peddlers with the goods that they then carried out to the less settled regions to sell to those who lived there.  Jewish peddlers needed Jewish merchants for their inventory, and Jewish merchants benefited from the increased market they could reach through the peddlers.

Maxwell, John’s youngest brother, was also a merchant by 1850, but he was in Lewistown, sixty miles from Harrisburg and about 160 miles from Philadelphia.  What was he doing there? Unlike Harrisburg, it was not the state capital, and unlike Philadelphia, it was not a major seaport city.  But it was by 1850 itself an important trading center based on its location near the Pennsylvania Canal and the railroads.  Mifflin County, where Lewistown is located, had a population of close to 15,000 people in 1850 so it was not an insignificant location.  I assume that Maxwell, arriving after his brother John, had also started as a peddler, selling the wares he obtained from his brother, and traveling around the state, until he was able to save enough money and establish a store in his own territory, close enough to his brothers, but not so close as to compete for business.

According to the JewishGen KehillaLinks page for Lewistown, Pennsylvania, found here , the Mifflin County Historical Society had no records of Jews before 1862, but obviously Maxwell was already there. In fact, there was a street named for him:

A map of Lewistown in 1870 shows that Nathan Frank had a store at Brown and Market Streets, listed in a business directory of the time as Franks — Dry Goods, Carpets, Clothing, Furnishings, Goods, Etc.”  Spruce Street was at that time listed as Nusbaum Street and in April, 1880 M. Nusbaum — Clothing & Gents Furnishings was advertised. By 1907 however Nusbaum & Co. was no longer listed in the directory.

The biggest mystery to me is why Leopold Nusbaum ended up in Blythe as a butcher. Blythe is sixty miles from Harrisburg and a hundred miles from Philadelphia.  Like Lewistown, it was also located near railroads and the canals.  I cannot find anything about its population in 1850, but even today its population is under a thousand.  Schuykill County, where Blythe is located, however, had an overall population of over sixty thousand in 1850, which was a doubling of its 1840 population.  Something must have been happening there, but I’ve not yet been able to figure out why its population exploded in that ten year period.  Perhaps that explains why Leopold was living there with his wife Rosa and two young sons in 1850.  But why was he a butcher? Certainly he could not have been a kosher butcher; even today the Jewish population of Blythe is 0%.  At any rate, by 1860, as we will see, Leopold and his family had left Blythe and moved to Harrisburg, where Leopold also followed in his brother’s footsteps and became a merchant.

Thus, the Nusbaum story is not unlike the story of many of those German Jewish immigrants who came to the US, started off as peddlers, and then became merchants, owning stores all over the United States. It must have taken a lot of hard work and a courageous spirit to move to this new country, carrying a heavy pack hundreds of miles through undeveloped territory, dealing with strangers who spoke a strange language, on your own and alone for most of the week.  It must have taken much determination and persistence to do this week after week, maybe for a few years or more, until you had made enough money to find one town to settle in and establish a store.  And then it must have been a hard life, living as perhaps the only Jewish family in that town far away from other family members and other Jews.  In my posts to follow, I will trace the lives of my Nusbaum peddler and merchant relatives and how they progressed in America.

 

 

Seligman Brothers Company 1849-1928: The Rise and Fall of an American Business

Pete's copy of Santa Fe

 

Although not a human member of my family tree, Seligman Brothers Company was a tremendous factor influencing the history of my Seligman family.  Because this business was such a huge part of the family history, I decided to devote a separate post to the history and development of the business over time.

 

As described here, Sigmund Seligman had started the business in 1849 with Charles Clever.  Then Clever had left to pursue a career in law, and Bernard had joined with his brother in the business. Later, their younger brother Adolph joined the business.  Bernard withdrew, at least in name, for a while, and after Sigmund died in 1876, Adolph took over running the company.  The business thrived, using the Santa Fe Trail to bring goods from the East to Santa Fe and the surrounding territory.

 

Sign for Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Sign for Santa Fe National Historic Trail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican ran an article on January 21, 1903, discussing the history of the business.  The article described the way business had operated before the Santa Fe Railway system connected Santa Fe to other markets by train beginning in the 1880s:

 

“[A]ll goods brought into New Mexico were freighted by wagons drawn by oxen, mules and horses over the famous Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City.  Santa Fe was then the business center of the territory.  This was the distributing point for the entire region.  Money was plentiful, there were no banks…. Gambling and speculation consequently ran riot. Goods were freighted in once a year and mails were received from the east once a month….”  (“The Oldest Firm in the Southwest,” Santa Fe New Mexican, January 21, 1903, p. 1)

 

English: "Arrival of the caravan at Santa...

English: “Arrival of the caravan at Santa Fe” — Copy of original lithograph ca. 1844 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Marc Simmons, an expert on the history of the Santa Fe Trail, wrote, “Before the first bank was chartered in Santa Fe in 1870, Seligman Bros., in addition to its mercantile activities, engaged in private banking.  … The firm also helped finance construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.”  http://www.santafetrail.org/publications/wagon-tracks/pdf/V.%203%2088-89.pdf

 

 

 

Logo

Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Another article written in the Santa Fe New Mexican in 1915 gave more detail about the early nature of the business:

 

“In the early years of its existence the old firm was engaged in a general merchandise business and bought and sold everything needed by the Indians and the Spanish and American settles of that period.  There was much bartering with the Indians and early settlers, as there was comparatively little actual money in the country and goods of all kinds were traded for skins, blankets, goods of all kinds, whatever the people had to offer and which could be turned into money in the markets of the East by the venturesome traders.” (“New Store at the End of the Santa Fe Trail Recalls the Ancient and Honorable History of Seligman Bros. Institution,” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 29, 1915)

 

The store moved in 1856 and then returned to its original location in 1890.  The 1903 article pointed out that although the store had originally carried a wide range of items including not just dry goods, but also groceries, hardware and crockery, after the move in 1890 it had limited its inventory to dry goods (clothing, hats, shoes, boots, carpets and “kindred lines”).

 

The 1915 article described the growth of Seligman Brothers wholesale business after the arrival of the railroad and the growth that followed:

 

“While Seligman Brothers carried on a retail business, the rapid development of the surrounding country and the establishment of stores in the new settlements formed in the outlying districts made it necessary that an immense stock be carried from which to supply the needs of the country merchants. This led to the building up of a wholesale business which in its day and generation was a marvel to the jobbers and manufacturers of the more populous trading centers of the East and North who could not understand how it was that a single concern in the sparsely populated country around Santa Fe could possibly need stocks of goods aggregating a quarter million of dollars in value, yet Seligman Brothers had, in fact, nearly always had, that much money invested in merchandise in order to be able to take of the country merchants who depended up them for supplies.” (“New Store at the End of the Santa Fe Trail Recalls the Ancient and Honorable History of Seligman Bros. Institution,” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 29, 1915)

 

 

 

English: Comparison map showing the Santa Fe T...

English: Comparison map showing the Santa Fe Trail and the Atchison. Scanned from: Santa Fe Railroad (1922), By the Way – A condensed guide of points of interest along the Santa Fe lines to California, Rand McNally and Company, Chicago, Illinois. Category:Atchison Category:Historical maps of the United States Category:Railroad maps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thus, Seligman’s was successful on both a retail and a wholesale level. As I wrote in my last post, in 1903 Adolph Seligman withdrew from Seligman and Brothers, and the business was then incorporated as Seligman Brothers Company.  Bernard’s older son James became a stockholder and the president and general manager of the business with Bernard’s younger son Arthur, also a stockholder, serving as the treasurer and secretary.   The 1903 Santa Fe New Mexican article reported on the change in ownership and the withdrawal of Adolph from the business, observing that “the business of the corporation will be continued is all respects as heretofore” and that “The firm of Seligman Bros. is the oldest in the southwest.  It is well and favorably known through the section and has a high reputation for fair dealing and honesty.  The members are progressive and up-to-date, and there is no doubt that it will command a high percentage of the favor of the public and secure a large share of business.  It has done so for fifty years and indications are that it will do so for many years to come.”  (“The Oldest Firm in the Southwest,” Santa Fe New Mexican, January 21, 1903, p. 1)

 

The 1915 article reported on another relocation of the business and, like the article written twelve years earlier, predicted continuing growth and success for the business.  (“New Store at the End of the Santa Fe Trail Recalls the Ancient and Honorable History of Seligman Bros. Institution,” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 29, 1915)

 

Despite that optimism, it appears that the 1920s were not very good for the business.  A few ads indicate that things perhaps were not going as well as they once had.

 

1920 Seligman Bros. ad

1920 Seligman Bros. ad

 

Seligman Bros ad May 5, 1922 Santa Fe New Mexican

Seligman Bros ad May 5, 1922 Santa Fe New Mexican

 

Although I do not have any source explaining specifically why or when the business closed, in 1928 it was still listed in the Santa Fe city directory, but with a woman named Evelyn Conway as its general manager.  James and Arthur had moved on to different lines of business, as I will discuss.  By 1930 Seligman Brothers Company was no longer listed in the directory and presumably was out of business.  Perhaps competition from those other stores had had an impact on Seligman’s business.  Whatever the cause, it is sad that after more than seventy-five years as one of the first and most important businesses in Santa Fe, the store disappeared forever.[1]

 

Thanks once again to my cousin Arthur “Pete” Scott, who provided me with most of the news clippings discussed in this post. For more on the history of the buildings where Seligman Brothers was located from 1849-1926, see his article here.  There are also additional photographs located at that site.  In addition, Pete wrote an article about the history of the company, located here.

 

——

 

[1] William Seligman,son of Adolph Seligman, did continue for at least some time the family tradition in the dry goods business in Santa Fe.  He operated a store in Santa Fe under the name Seligman’s from at least 1948-1959.  In 1960, the store was listed in the Santa Fe Directory as simply Willie’s Shop for Men.  (“New Haberdashery to Open at La Fonda,” Santa Fe New Mexican, November 30, 1958.)  I do not know how much longer the store stayed in business.  There is no business called Seligman’s currently listed in the Santa Fe business directory.