The following is an original, copyrighted work by Scott Phillips, Genealogical Historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® Genealogy Services Company. This is Chapter One of The Genealogy & History of the Original Bohemians (Czechs) of Cleveland. Subsequent chapters will follow. I hope you will enjoy this incredible journey of discovery and documenting the very first Bohemian (Czech) immigrants to Cleveland, Ohio. Scott
The Genealogy & History of the Original Bohemians (Czechs) of Cleveland
Chapter One: Arrival in Cleaveland, Ohio
Immigration has never been easy. Leaving your homeland, family, friends, and all that is familiar and comfortable. Arriving in a totally new country with only what was on your back and what you could carry in your arms and in the case of Bohemian immigrants, more often than not, with your family in tow.
Such was the case with the original Bohemian immigrants to Cleveland, Ohio who first began to arrive in the city in the 1840s. One of the first questions that came to my mind was ‘What kind of place was Cleveland at that time?’ Let’s take a brief look before we move into the Bohemian immigration.
The area destined to become the State of Ohio and the land of the future city of Cleaveland (later Cleveland) is an incredibly ancient area. When General Moses Cleaveland first arrived in 1796 to survey the area surrounding the CuyahogaRiver, I doubt he realized that the landscape was crafted during the Late Pleistocene Ice Age and is part of the Glaciated Allegheny Plateau. The Native Americans he met on his initial visits were actually relative newcomers. The first Native Americans had dwelt there some 11,000 years earlier and are now referred to as ‘Paleoamericans’. If you are ever at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History I recommend you take a look at the fascinating flints, arrowheads, and other artifacts that have been discovered from these earliest ‘Cleavelanders’.
Now let’s briefly fast-forward thousands of years to 1789. This was the year that the United States government gained all of the land west of the Cuyahoga River as far as the Mississippi River, and as far south as the Ohio River. Called ‘The Reserve’ a group of men under the title of the Connecticut Land Company bought 3 million acres and that same year General Cleaveland set out to survey their new holdings. Cleaveland negotiated with members of the Native American tribes that he encountered (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Iroquois) and reportedly for ‘cattle and several casks of spirits’ he came to an amicable understanding for access to their lands.
By 1800 the community had its first mill, a school, and (no surprise here) had built its first wine press. In 1818, ‘Walk-in-the-Water’, the first steamboat arrived in Cleaveland. That year the city also had its first newspaper, Cleaveland Gazette and Commercial Register. In 1831 the town changed its name from Cleaveland to Cleveland, and in 1832 the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed to connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River (a feat actually envisioned by George Washington in the 1780s). By 1835 the town of Cleveland had a robust population reported at 5,080, and gained official city status in 1836.
Just a few years later, in the late 1840s, ‘our’ first Bohemians were to arrive on this scene. And what a scene it was. This was an industrial city, which was home to John D. Rockefeller and his new firm, Standard Oil plus a hugely expanding steel industry. However, it also was a city with its rough edges still showing. In 1895, Hugo Chotek related:
“It is clear that life for the first settlers was no bed of roses. But men back then were individualists who were skillful in field and domestic work, while the women were not spoiled, faint-hearted, or frivolous, but rather tough, heroic, and sacrificing. They all helped the men build their homes from heavy logs and did not faint when confronted with a bear, mountain lion, or wolf all of which were quite abundant around Cleveland at that time. Old timers tell many stories of fighting with these wild creatures and often about how Governor Huntington only barely escaped a pack of wolves. Doctor Josef Sýkora often spoke to me of many very long snakes he saw in the marshlands of what is now Euclid Avenue with all its beautiful public and private buildings.”
Every author who has researched the early Bohemian immigrant community of Cleveland agree that the first Bohemian to arrive in Cleveland was a gentleman by the name of Adam. This first Bohemian made his mark in the city as a masterful musician and was instrumental (pardon the pun) in providing many jobs to early Bohemians in a local orchestra he directed. Most authors, such as Jan Habenicht, Francis Dvornik, and others maintain that Adam’s first name was Gustav; however Chotek only refers to him as ‘Prof. Adam. My early work indicates that he may have actually been Rudolphus Adam, as reported in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on February 16, 1850 and several other dates in 1850. I will be writing more about ‘Prof. Adam’ in a future chapter.
As I have related in my earlier writing on these early Bohemians, Hugo Chotek reported that he spent a year of his life locating, interviewing, and documenting the earliest of the Bohemian immigrants and their stories. His most prominent interview was with Leopold Levi, who arrived in Cleveland in 1848 with his wife, two children and best friend, Bernard Weisenthal. Much more on Leopold and Bernard are yet to come, also in future chapters.
Harvard Professor, Dr. Francis Dvornik, in his 1961 research book, Czech Contributions To the Growth of The United States, wrote about the earliest Cleveland Bohemians and Thomas Čapek in his book The Čechs (Bohemians) in America: A Study of their National, Cultural, Political, Social, Economic and Religious Life (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920, New York) had this to report from Mrs. Novák, who stayed with Levi:
“When we reached Cleveland in 1853, we could see Indian tents that were pitched just beyond Newburgh.”
On February 17, 1869, the newspaper, The Slavie, reported on a private census taken of the Cleveland Bohemian community. It reported 696 families with 3,252 individuals. Of these 1,749 were men and 1,503 were women. This private census reported the men’s occupations as follows: 346 laborers, 76 masons, 72 joiners, 56 tailors, 44 shoemakers, 39 coopers, 25 locksmiths and machinists, 22 saloonkeepers, 13 musicians, 12 butchers, 11 smelters, 9 saddlers, 9 weavers, 8 stone cutters, 7 wheelwrights, 6 furriers, 6 tinsmiths, 5 bakers, 5 tanners, 1 printer, 1 watchmaker, 1 sanitary inspector, 1 policeman, 1 brewer, 1 lithographer, and 1 priest. The reported census taker (Erhart Payer) also reported 396 as owners of cottages, well over half.
In 1905, a Bohemian-American nurse, Ms. Magdalena Koucera, wrote an article titled “The Slavic Races in Cleveland”, which was published in Charities: A Weekly Review of Local and General Philanthropy (Volume XIII, No. 16, January 14, 1905). She begins her article with this:
“The Slavic races in Cleveland number one-fourth of the population and include Bohemians, Slovaks, Slovenes, Poles, Croatians, and Russians. The most number are the Bohemians, Poles and Slovaks. Of the Bohemians there are about forty thousand.”
I was amazed by the pace of the growth of the Bohemian community. From an original group reported of 16 to ‘about 40,000’!
What’s Coming in Chapter Two?
Coming up in Chapter Two: Finding the originals … Who were they? Who documented them? Are we sure?