Chapter Two: Identifying the Original Sixteen
Now we know a bit more about what the city of Cleveland was like when our first Bohemians arrived as immigrant settlers. However, we still have the unanswered question: Who were these original sixteen (or so) Bohemians?
As I begin to attempt to find answer to the above question, let me say that there is an interesting aspect of Bohemian immigration that we all must keep in mind. The Bohemian immigrants, by and large, came to America to stay. They did not come with the mindset of building up a nest egg and then returning with it to the ‘old country’. Instead, the vast majority of Bohemian immigrants came to America in order to make a new life and stay for good. As such they often arrived accompanied by members of their families. If you are like me, then the additional question comes to mind: why this was the case?
My own thinking, in addition to improved economic opportunity, is that this could well have been a result of the crushing oppression that the Bohemians had lived under in their own country. Immediately after Bohemia was taken over by the Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire (Catholic Church), these powers undertook a program of genocide against the Bohemian people as well as their culture, language, etc. Let me digress just a moment and explain some history that illustrates why I think this way.
The Thirty Years’ War, from approximately 1618 to 1648, was one of the longest and more destructive in European history. Prior to this war, Bohemia was a nation of highly educated people with CharlesUniversity in Prague being one of the premier institutions of higher learning in all Europe, if not the world. The Bohemian people were free and most were adherents of Protestantism. Bohemia was also one of the major breadbaskets of Europe. There are many highly detailed and interesting books that have been written about the Thirty Years’ War with my favorite being “The Thirty Years War” by J. V. Polišenský (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angles, 1971). This war rained almost complete destruction on Bohemia and its people and ended with Bohemia being controlled and used by the Habsburgs and the Church. From the end of the Thirty Years’ War to the time of World War I, Bohemia was relegated to being a subject nation to other European powers. As Kenneth D. Miller says in his excellent book The Czecho-Slovaks in America (George H. Doran Company, New York, New York, 1922) “Their (Bohemians) national life, language, literature and culture were well-nigh extinguished.” (Page 13)
Then in 1848 a series of revolutions across Europe began to shake the Habsburg and Holy Roman Empire. One of these was in Bohemia and was essentially a nationalistic effort by Bohemians to once again regain their freedoms and quite literally resurrect their own country. This revolution failed as the result of intensely bloody repression by the Habsburg military and many of the Bohemian instigators were killed or, if they were lucky, escaped with their lives. (Remember this when we later discuss Prof. Adam.)
I realize that you might be thinking to yourself that all this was an awfully long time ago! I would respond that yes it was, however, I will also say, from personal experience, that the hatred towards the Catholic Church lasted for generations after, even being present in my lifetime as I was raised with an ironclad and rigid family rule that demanded, in no uncertain terms, that I was not to interact in any way, shape, or form with anyone of the Catholic faith. Likewise, it explains why over half of the Bohemian immigrants to America were adherents to Free-Thought and as such eschewed all religion. Again from personal experience, I can attest to this, as again for generations every one of my Bohemian ancestors who immigrated to America were married by Justices of the Peace and never by any religious officials.
Now back to our question of just who were the ‘Original Sixteen’ (or so) Bohemian immigrants to Cleveland? As I said in Chapter One, there are some differing opinions as to exactly who they were, how many there were, etc. So to start off let me report what I have found from the resources we could locate and who the individuals were that they regarded, remembered, listed, etc. as being the earliest Cleveland Bohemians.
It is important that I make an additional note here. In looking for these, and of course any other genealogical records, it is crucially important to be aware of the prejudices that any given author might hold. They often can skew their work product. For example Hugo Chotek was an ardent Free-Thinker while Jan Habenicht was an equally fervent Catholic. There was also, with many folks, an anti-immigrant prejudice as can be seen in many of the history books that basically would have you believing that there was no one of any value in Cleveland unless they had roots directly to those original New England WASPs. Plus, of course, there was also the pervasive anti-Semitism that often resulted in the Jewish population being ignored in mainstream publications.
With these concerns in mind, come along with me on my ‘reasonably exhaustive search’ for our ‘Original Sixteen (or so)’.
To start, let us review what names Jan Habenicht reports in his substantial book History of Czechs in America, which was wonderfully translated to English by Miroslav Koudelka. In Chapter 14, which is titled “The State of Ohio: Czechs in the City of Cleveland and in the State of Ohio”, Habenicht gives us the following 18 names with the locations of their hometowns: Gustav Adam (Prague), Jindřich Hladík (Prague), Leopold Lévy (Smetanova Lhota near Písek), Bernard Weidenthal (Vestec near Tábor), Zikmund Stein (Prague), Jan Havlíček (Varvažov), Václav Žák (Varvažov not far from Písek), Josef Kříž (Smetanova Lhota in the Písek neighborhood), Jan Vitoň (Černá near Orlík), Josef Zelinka (Šerkov near Mirovice), František Knechtl (Nenačovice), Josef Jan Štědronský (Štědronín near Zvíkov), Martin Krejčí (Mahouš near Netolice), František Jindrák (Smetanova Lhota), Jan Kopfštein (Smetanova Lhota), Josef Mácha (Smetanova Lhota), František Xaver Sýkora (Nevězice near Orlík), and Josef Novák (Blažejovice).
Next let’s take a look at what Thomas Čapek wrote in his book The Čechs (Bohemians) in America. Čapek writes the following:
“The story is told that sixteen families who arrived that year (1852) found temporary shelter in the home of a kind-hearted Bohemian Jew by the name of Levy. The fact should be noted that the Israelites in many instances preceded others from Bohemia.” (Pages 42-43).
Čapek then further notes the following 12 individuals, in addition to Levy: Mrs. Novák, F. Zíka, V. Benda, J. Kaiser, old man Kocian, Bláha, Zeman, Hladík, Stein, Bauer, Ptáček, and Marek. An equally important tidbit happens to be found in one of Čapek’s footnotes. In this footnote he says:
“More trustworthy data on the Cleveland community than Chotek’s (Ed. Note: Referencing Chotek’s book “Česká Osada”) story are contained in the narratives of Francis Sýkora (arrived in 1853), Joseph Kříž (1853), Martin Krejčí (1854), Francis Sprostý (1866), Francis Payer (1868), Joseph V. Sýkora (1863), in the almanac Amerikán, 1895.”
In total, Čapek offers us 19 names, although three (Sprostý, Payer, and Sýkora) are from a later immigration date stated fairly well into the 1860s.
In 1878, Podává Václav Šnajdr wrote an article in the above referenced annual almanac Amerikán, titled “Clevelandajeh Čechové” (Aug. Geringer, Chicago, Illinois, Volume I, 1878) in which he reports as follows:
“The first Bohemians settled in the area some 25 years ago. We think that Josef Havlíček from Varvažov u Písek was the first, who since that time has accumulated substantial wealth. Vác. Žák, Jos. Mucha, and B. Weidenthal (a Bohemian Jew) have resided here for almost the same duration. J. Kieger, J. Rehák, K. Furest, M. Krejčí, Jan Kopstajn, and A. Vodička have resided here for about 24 years.”
He later goes on to give us this additional information:
“Most of the Bohemian emigrants are from Písek, Tábor, and Prague, followed by the cities and surrounding areas of Vodňan, Milevsko, and Beroun.”
You can see that Šnajdr gives us a total of 10 individuals. Some of these names are familiar from our earlier listings, but some are new.
My firm, Onward To Our Past®, was responsible for translating the above referenced Šnajdr article along with an entire 1895 book as well as an article by newspaperman and author Hugo Chotek. Having both of these works by Chotek to review added greatly to our knowledge of the early Bohemians and their community. In our translation of “Česká Osada” here is what Chotek had to say about the earliest Bohemian immigrants to Cleveland:
“I took it upon myself to determine who were the first Bohemians to settle in Cleveland and, in 1894, I personally visited all of the oldest settlers of Bohemian origin, such as Mrs. Žáková, Mrs. Havlíčková, Mr. Josef Novák, Martin Krejčí, J. Kříže, J. Štědronský, Leo. Levý, B. Weidenthal, M. Stein, and others. Unfortunately, few of those I had visited, with the exception of Krejčí, Levý, Stein, Weidenthal, Mrs. Machová, and Mrs. Žáková, remembered their past with clarity.”
Chotek continues and adds the following:
“Another wave of immigration came in 1853 in the form of M. Krejčí, J. Zelinka, František Němec, J. Bůzek, Karel First, Jan Mácha, František Jindrák, Fleischman, Jan Kopfstein, Požárek, František Sýkora, Josef Novák, Václav Benda, Josef Kaiser, J. Pták, J. Doubrava, Bláha, J. Mráz, and others.”
There is an interesting aspect to the city of Cleveland, which I should note for those not from Cleveland. This aspect is the ‘East Side’ versus the ‘West Side’. The city, split by the Cuyahoga River, has a natural East and West side. Early on the Cuyahoga was actually the border between Cleveland on the East and Ohio City on the West. These two sides rarely met, saw eye-to-eye, even fought a battle in the middle of the one bridge connecting the two cities, and even, in many families intermarriage between families of the two sides was frowned up. It was quite a differentiator and actually continues to this day with many Clevelanders still defining themselves and their ancestry as being either form the ‘East Side’ or the ‘West Side’. I bring this up here since Chotek mentions, again in “Česká Osada” the following:
“To get a clearer idea of the first settlers on the ‘West Side’, I followed my friend Pinter’s advice and paid a visit to the families of Marie Nováková, Diesnerová, and Zíková, the oldest settlers on that side.”
Mrs. Nováková related her memories of the first Bohemians to Chotek:
“I don’t remember all their (the early Bohemians) names but only those I had met frequently, such as František Zíka, Václav Benda, J. Kaiser, old man Kocián, Bláha, Zeman, Mráz, J. Hladík, Stein, Bauer, Ptáček, Mařík, and others. Only one Bohemian, who they referred to as Krejčí Zeman, but whose real name escapes me, was living in Ohio City then.”
At additional points throughout “Česká Osada” Chotek adds these names, which I have noted with any dates he might have given us: František Kieger (1853-1854), Karel Kos (1853-1854), Lederer (Jewish), J. Čapek and J. Doubrava who were both reportedly the first Bohemians to buy farms in Cleveland in 1853, along with František Vrbský, Antonín Marek, Vinc Třebický, Jan Šebánek, and Josef Sojka also all buying farms, but in 1854.
Soon after the completion of our translation of “Česká Osada” I located a copy of Chotek’s article in Amerikán titled “Paměti prvních Čechů v Cleveland, O.”, which contains a wonderful group of interviews with the earliest Bohemian immigrants who Chotek could locate just as he had said in “Česká Osada”. Here are Chotek’s own words regarding his Amerikán article:
“After extensive and thorough research I discovered that the first Bohemian to arrive in Cleveland was not, as many like to believe, Hladík (I could not determine his first name, even from those who knew him or heard of him, as none remembered more than his surname) but either a man named Adam (a musician and music teacher) or a certain Gottfried, followed by Fuchs and Umlauf. Because Leopold Levy and Bernard Weidenthal, Bohemian Jews, gave the best and most detailed report on who moved to Cleveland in the spring of 1849…”
Chotek then provides us with his interview of Leopold Levy whom he describes as a man of “forthright honesty and jovial good thinking and character”. In the interview Levy explains that his best friend, Bernard Weidenthal, (from Vestec, Prácheňský region) joined him on his journey to America in 1849, even sailing with Levy on the same ship. He then continues and identifies the following earliest Bohemians:
“We became acquainted quickly and later grew to be friends once we got to know each other more. With Hladík’s help we were soon introduced to others, such as Sigmund Stein, Umlauf, a young musician and music teacher Adam Gottfried, and a certain Fuchs.”
Levy then adds these names as 1852 arrivals in Cleveland: Frank Tupa, Jan Prošek, Václav Drábek, and J. Bouška. Chotek then adds the following names: Josef Mácha, Václav Žák, Jan Havlíčk, Hala, Andres, Polák, Němec, Kotápiš, Zajeda, Vrána, Řehák, and Pecák.
He continues by adding the names of J. Sýkora, Jos. Zelenka, Jos. Štědronský, Kříž, Jan Vitoň, and Krejčí. Chotek then also adds this list of ‘the first wave of immigrants between 1853 and 1868’: “M. Krejč, Fr. Knechtl, Václav Drábek, Jos. Bouška, Jos. Skala, F. Buzek, Furst, Vrána, Jos. Novák, and Fr. Novák, followed thereafter by the Sýkora brothers, the Vobořilov family, the Payer brothers, the families of František Sprostý, Václav Rychlík, M. Albl …”
I have also discovered an article in the Plain Dealer published April 17, 1932 and titled “Cleveland’s Marching Nationalities” in which the reporter, Dale Cox, provides his list of the first Bohemian settlers to Cleveland:
“Prof. Adam, Joseph Havlicek, Joseph Kriz, J. Rehak, Joseph Kos, John Prosek, Frank Kieger, Joseph Mach, J. Hala, Andrew Polak, and other families with names such as Nemec, Kotapi, Zajeda, and Pecak.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer Magazine Section, pages 1, 12, 13, and 16)
In 1961, Dr. Francis Dvornik, Harvard Professor at Dumbarton Oaks also provided a list in his book Czech Contributions To The Growth of The United States. Dvornik writes that the first Czech immigrant to reach Cleveland was ‘Gustav Adam’, followed by “three Czech Jews, L. Levy, B. Weidenthal, and Z. Stein” and that H. Hladík arrived with them. Dvornik adds this:
“One Czech group settled here (Cleveland) in 1852. They were mostly natives from the country of Písek: J. Havlínek: V. Žák, the first Czech baker in Cleveland: J. Kříž, a cooper: J. Vitoň, a mason and F. Knechtl. This small colony was augmented in 1854 by seven new immigrants among whom M. Krejčí was the most prominent.”
He goes on to add the names J. Sýkora (1854) and J. Čapek and J. Doubrava (1853) and adds “In 1860 only 15 Czech families were known to have settled in Cleveland.”
As you can see, Dr. Dvornik provides us with a total of 14 names.
We continued our research by contacting the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, since so often Jewish information was not included in mainstream media, such as books and newspapers, etc. What an excellent decision this was! This organization has some exceptional files, access to some rare resources such as an index to the Western Reserve Historical Society’s database “Jewish Cleveland Before the Civil War’, community newspapers, plus a cadre of wonderful volunteers. As a result of our inquiry we have gained significant additional information on Leví, Lederer, and Weidenthal and have been able to add the names of Neuman and Skall.
What’s to come in Chapter Three?
Now that we have these lists of potential candidates for our first Cleveland Bohemians we will begin to analyze the lists, search for documentary evidence to support these lists, and begin to arrive at who really were the ‘Original Bohemians’.