Bohemian (Czech) Genealogy: The Perun National Association Statistical Analysis (Mini-Census) of the Bohemian Community of Cleveland, Ohio in 1869
Did you know that in early 1869 a private statistical analysis, or as I see it a ‘mini-census’, of the Bohemian community of Cleveland, Ohio was undertaken? No? Until recently neither did I.
From the records I have so far discovered relating to the Bohemians of early Cleveland this is the first such statistical analysis, or mini-census, that I have been able to locate. It offers a wonderful look at the Bohemian immigrant community at that time as well as holding some extraordinary information on these early settlers from Bohemia!
What Was Perun National Association?
This first known census of Bohemians in Cleveland was commissioned at the behest of the Perun National Association (Národní Spolek Perun) and was conducted ‘for a small fee’ by Karl F. Erhard.
The Perun National Association (Perun) has an interesting history all its own as well, though much of it currently remains still hidden by time (something we at Onward To Our Past® are trying to remedy). It was founded in Cleveland on February 25, 1866 as unit of the Slovanska Lipa Association. However Perun became independent of Slovanska Lipa on July 21, 1867. This schism was most likely due to a difference of opinion regarding religion according to the Ph.D. dissertation written by Dr. David Zdenek Chroust titled “Bohemian Voice: Contention, Brotherhood and Journalism Among Czech People in America, 1860-1910” (May 2009, Texas A&M University). Certainly this friction is not all that surprising when you consider the fact that Slovanska Lipa was an organization welcoming to both Freethinking and Catholic Bohemians. On the other hand, the membership of Perun was comprised of some of the most ardent Bohemian nationalists and Freethinkers and open only to like thinking Bohemians. These Freethinkers decided upon the Perun name as a ‘poke in the eye’ to some of their fellow Bohemians who might be equally ardent supporters of the Roman Catholic Church.
Who is Perun?
You see, Perun is a major deity of the most ancient Slavic people. The history of Perun goes back thousands of years and he is the highest god in the Slavic pantheon. Perun was the son of the god Svarog and goddess Lada and his birth was announced with a mighty earthquake. Both powerful and temperamental, Perun is the god of lighting and thunder, described as a strong man with a copper beard and armed with the ‘Axe of Perun’. It is said many shrines to Perun still exist across the Czech Republic in the hills, mountaintops, and ancient oak groves as his likeness was often carved in oak. He is also associated with the day of Thursday as well as the metal tin.
Back to National Association of Perun.
As I said, the choice of the god, Perun, as the namesake for the National Association of Perun was not made simply by chance and this ‘poke’ certainly worked well when it came to a several local Catholic leaders, but particularly a parish priest in Cleveland by the name of Father Řepiš. Václav Šnajdr, Martin Krejčí, Eduard Vopalecký, Vaaclav Rychlík, F. B. Zdrůbek, and other Freethinkers formed a school under the auspices of Perun that, among other subjects taught children the Czech language as well as English to adults in the evenings. It was Father Řepiš who, in 1870, very publicly demanded that the City Council of Cleveland hold public hearings, revoke the charter of Perun, and deny the request for building a school. If you read the newspapers of the day, you can tell that the issue got ugly and heated very, very fast. In the end, Father Řepiš failed in this attempts, offered a lukewarm apology to Perun members as well as to the Freethinking Bohemian community in general. Perun continued to operate with the City’s approval.
Perun built a sizable hall in Cleveland located at 118 Croton Street. If you look at an old map, you can identify this location as opposite Arch Street. At the time of its construction in 1869 it was the largest Bohemian hall in Cleveland and was home to meetings of many of the local Bohemian organizations as well as community gatherings, gymnastic events, and artistic performances. Perun became known for its school, establishing the first Sokol Club in Cleveland in 1871, the Thalie drama group, and the Zvonař choir. It was reported by Václav Šnajdr that Perun hosted a most lavish event to honor Jan Hus in 1869 and an equally impressive event to mark the passing of František Palacký in 1876, which was attended by every Bohemian group in Cleveland.
However, it was not to be a long lasting existence for the Hall nor for Perun as an organization. Sometime before 1874 ‘Perun National Association’ changed their name to ‘Perun Bohemian School and Literary Society’ and then in 1874 to ‘Society Perun’ as they wanted to become a mutual benefit society. The leadership of Perun also made the decision that each member should buy a share of stock at $100, in spite of the economic difficulties being experienced as a result of the Crash of 1873. This decision led to serious dissention among the membership and led to many disassociating from Perun. While the paperwork had been filed with the Secretary of State for Ohio, there was evidently some snafu with that paperwork. In that timeframe, the City of Cleveland sold land to Perun. The case gets complicated as Cleveland sued Perun, others sued Cleveland, Perun got sued, and more. Let me just abbreviate it to say it took many years, but in 1895 the case found its way to being argued before the bar of the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. The lower court decision was reversed and Perun prevailed in this case, which to this day is a consistently cited precedent-setting legal decision. At the time of this writing we are awaiting word back from the historian of the Supreme Court of Ohio as to what, if any, of the case files remain in their holdings, so there may well be more to come on Perun.
In 1886, part way through the years and years of legal wrangling, Perun gave its property back to the City of Cleveland. The city converted Perun Hall into Station 18 of the Cleveland Fire Department and then once they built a new facility for Station 18, old Perun Hall became a storage facility for the CFD. On a side note, according to historian, Paul Nelson, of the Western Reserve Fire Museum of Cleveland, Station 18 was placed in service on May 10, 1892 and closed on March 16, 1899. Old Station 18 (Perun Hall) housed a steam engine, a hose wagon, and the buggy for the Second Battalion Chief. Times were a bit different then as it also was home to six horses in the house!
Hugo Chotek had this to say about the ultimate demise of Perun:
“The fall of Perun turned out to be a real setback indeed, because it hindered the flourishing of cultural life for several years, wearing down the hearts of most freethinking Bohemians as their hope waned in matters concerning progress and free thought.”
Who Was Karl F. Erhard?
Now that we know who the patron of the 1869 Census was we can ask our next question. Who exactly was Karl F. Erhard, the good fellow who undertook the mission of Perun’s Bohemian mini-census?
According to the 1900 U. S. Census, Karl was a fellow Bohemian, born about 1844. He reportedly immigrated to Cleveland circa 1866 and once here married Anna Benes, also a Bohemian, on September 13, 1869 by a Justice of the Peace. He lived on Alanson Street with his wife and family of five children; Vlasta A. (Mrs. Edward David), Claude C., Lada J., Sylvia M., and Milada E., all of whom lived into adulthood. His parents, Benedikt and Josefa, also emigrated from Bohemia with him to Cleveland. While the 1900 Census return lists Karl’s occupation as the owner of a coal mine, in earlier Cleveland City Directories of the day, he is listed as a bookkeeper, so he must have known his way around numbers fairly well.
In his obituary, published on October 13, 1905, in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) it was reported that Karl also was a brewer with the Schmidt & Hoffman brewery, later established a brewery of his own in Massillon, Ohio, before returning to Cleveland to get into the coal mining business. In his book Brewing Beer In The Buckeye State Volume I: A History of the Brewing Industry in Eastern Ohio from 1808 to 2004, author Dr. Robert A. Musson explains the brewery referred to was the Massillon Brewing Company, which Erhard co-owned with fellow Bohemian Robert Schimke. This brewery was actually located in what is now known as Crystal Springs, Ohio, but I understand that all traces of this once thriving brewery are long gone.
In our preliminary genealogy work on the Erhard family we have been unable to locate any living descendants – yet!
Thankfully the Legacy and Benefits of Perun Have Proven Long Lasting!
While National Association Perun may not have had a long existence, its legacy continues and offers us two benefits to the very day, some 130+ years later.
Perun left society a precedent-setting legal case and for us genealogists a phenomenal early census of the Cleveland Bohemian community!
When Karl Erhard compiled his analysis of the Bohemian community newspaperman and author Hugo Chotek stated in his book in 1895 “A brief overview of his survey follows:” This statement is enough to keep all of us here at Onward To Our Past® working to find the files of the entire work of Karl!
In the meantime, here is what Chotek reported for us:
On January 23, 1869 Cleveland had 696 Czech families, comprised of 3,252 members of which 1,749 were male and 1,503 were female. Of those males who were employed here are their professions:
366 manual labor
112 learning the farm trade
25 locksmiths and machine operators
11 metal workers
9 upholsters, carpenters and weavers
1 health supervisor
1 city policeman
90 males were unemployed, and
50 females worked on farms.
There were 35 widows and 33 widowers.
Erhard reported the following immigration numbers for Bohemian families:
1852 – 16
1853 – 31
1854 – 25
1855 – 13
1857 – 7
1858 – 7
1860 – 15
1862 – 3
1863 – 31
1864 – 74
1865 – 93
1866 – 129
1867 – 91
1868 – 97
Interestingly he also reported a category of ‘youngsters who came without parents’ as follows:
1862 – 8
1864 – 9
1865 – 13
1866 – 43
1867 – 38
1868 – 42
Perhaps most interesting is his report on where these Bohemian immigrants came from:
Prague and Beroun – 224
Pisek – 194
Tabor – 137
Jicin – 7
Boleslav – 5
Cheb – 2
Moravia – 8
Also reported was a category defined as ‘community activities’:
The Lípa Slavic Association was founded in 1862.
The Svatojánský Union was founded a year later.
The Slavic Credit Union, the first such union for Czech immigrants to America, was established on September 14, 1865.
The Perun National Association was founded by the Slovak Lípy National Association on March 1866, became a separate entity on July 21, 1867.
The Zvonař Choir was formed on July 1, 1867.
The Lumír Choir was formed in the same year.
Due to an outbreak of illness, the Czech Support Guild was incorporated on Jan. 28, 1868.
The Association of Czech Immigrants was formed in the same year.
The Saint Anna Fellowship was formed in 1868.
The Mravenec Czech Laborer Guild was incorporated on January 4, 1869.
This makes up a total of 11 Czech associations in the city of Cleveland.
Publications with their number of subscribers are as follows: Slavie with 80, Pokrok with 75, and the National News with 58 (set up by Slovanska Lípy).
The Perun National Association subscribed to Pokrok and the following publications from Bohemia: Thalie, Světzor, The Humor Papers and The Amateur Theater.
How many of the farming publications are being subscribed to is, unfortunately, unknown.
This snapshot of Bohemian Cleveland in 1869 is priceless! Such information as ‘youngsters who came without parents’ and where the Cleveland Bohemians came from is amazing and can be quite useful for genealogists.
Onward To Our Past® is continuing to find more information on Perun and their mini-census. We hope one day to perhaps find Karl Erhard’s work!