Local

Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County 
Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office
 
The Seelig Alexander Family of La Grange
By Carolyn Heinsohn
There already was a Jewish presence in La Grange by 1851 when Seelig and Bertha “Bertie” Rosenfield Alexander arrived. They followed her brother, John Rosenfield, who arrived in Texas in 1844. Then Gabriel Friedberger arrived; he owned a dry goods store on the downtown square in the 1850s and was later involved in the cotton trade during the Civil War. Julius Cohen was a peddler, and Bernard Zander, who moved to La Grange in 1859, owned a saddlery. 
Seelig’s older brother, Abram, arrived in La Grange in the late 1850s. All of these early Jewish residents were Prussian born and involved in retail trade. Throughout the decades, more Jews arrived; however, the best-known were the Alexanders, especially Abram’s family, some of whom lived here much longer than the others.
Seelig “Sam” Alexander was born in 1826 in Thorn, Prussia, now Torun, Poland, the son of Sprinze Seelig and an unknown father. Listed as a shoemaker, he immigrated to the United States with his wife from Wiszig, Germany, arriving in New York City in 1850; they stayed in the city for a year and then moved to La Grange. Sam’s actual name was Alexander Seelig, but when he entered this country, an immigration official recorded his name in reverse. When his brother, Abraham Seelig, emigrated, he kept the Alexander surname to avoid further confusion; thus, he became Abram Alexander. 
Sam was listed as a grocery merchant in La Grange in the 1860 census, when he and Bertha were next door neighbors to her brother, John, his wife, Fanny, and their four children. By 1870, John Rosenfield had moved with his family to Columbus, Texas, where he eventually owned a wholesale beer and ice company.  
During the Civil War, Sam served as the Captain of Company A 4th Battalion Texas Infantry, Confederate Army. By 1870, he was listed as a dry goods merchant in La Grange.
Seelig’s mother, Sprinze Seelig Badt, and her husband, Joseph Badt, were living with Sam and his family by 1880. Interestingly, Sprinze, listed as age 93, was 28 years older than Joseph, whose occupation was sausage maker. Eventually, she moved to Austin, where she died in 1888. The inscription on her tombstone in the Oakwood Cemetery states that she was born in 1776 and died in 1888 at age 112. However, based on census records, she would have been 101, which is more plausible.
By 1884, Sam owned a wholesale tobacco and cigar business, Seelig Alexander, Sr. & Company, located on Main Street in Houston, although his place of residence was still in La Grange. 
He and Bertha had a total of 10 children: Gertrude (Sass), Seelig “Sam” Jr., Moris, Joseph, Rachel (Sass), Matthew “General,” Callie (Cramer), Jacob, Rosa (Heilig) and Jonas. Eventually, all of the living children left La Grange.
Moris and Jacob died as children; Joseph, who remained single, died of ulcerative colitis at age 30. Gertrude, who married Pincus Sass, lived in La Grange for a while after her marriage; however by 1910, she had moved to Seattle with her children after her husband died. They lived next door to her sister, Sallie, who was married to Max Cramer. Their single brother, General M. Alexander, lived with Gertrude for a number of years, but by 1920, he had moved back to Houston, where he worked as a dry goods salesman. Initially, his name was listed as Matthew, but later, he used the name General M.  He died in a Jewish home for the aged in Memphis, Tenn. in 1948 at the age of 85. Gertrude also left Seattle by 1930 to live closer to one of her children in Dallas, where she died in 1934 at age 92. Sallie and Max Cramer moved from Houston to Seattle by 1910, where Max worked as a real estate agent and then as an automobile salesman. Sallie died there in 1940 at age 76. 
Seelig “Sam” Alexander Jr. married Hannah Cramer and was living in Houston by 1900; he worked there as a retail grocery merchant and a cigar merchant. Sam died in Houston in 1934 at age 79. 
Rachel married Herman Sass in 1878. The 1870 census lists him as 18 and working as a store clerk in La Grange, where he met Rachel. After they married, they too moved to Houston, where Herman worked as a traveling salesman. Rachel died in 1909 at age 49.
Rosa married Gustav Heilig, who was an important businessman, public official and newspaper publisher in La Grange before he and Rosa moved to Dallas around 1916. Semi-retired, he worked as a real estate agent. Rosa died in Dallas in 1952 at age 84. Jonas Alexander married Sadie Harris of Houston. They also moved to Dallas, where he worked as a traveling salesman; he died of a heart attack in 1933 at age 62.  
Seelig “Sam” Alexander Sr. died in La Grange on Sept. 16, 1896 at age 70 of heart failure. His wife, Bertha, died on Dec. 28, 1908 at age 77 of a stroke following a hip injury, based on an obituary description of conditions leading to her death. Both are buried in the La Grange Jewish Cemetery, along with four of their children: Moris (1856-1867), Jacob (1866-1868), Joseph (1857-1887) and Gertrude (1852-1934). 
In the early 1940s, the Jewish cemetery property was sold by the Ladies Hebrew Cemetery Association to a private buyer. The cemetery records were entrusted to Abram Alexander’s grandson, Bernard Sass, of Dallas; the whereabouts of those records after his death are unknown. The cemetery with only 33 graves is now on private land between the La Grange ISD football field and the Colorado River. 
Had it not been for Seelig Alexander’s decision to relocate to La Grange, the legacy of Abram’s family here would not have happened; his story is next. 
Sources: 
Alexander files; Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives
Ancestry.com; immigration, census and death records; family trees
Houston City Directory, 1884

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