|Special Collections Division
the University of Texas
at Arlington Libraries
Vol. XV * No. 1 * Spring 2001
Graphic of Galveston, Texas, ca.1852.
Samuel Maas was one of the many adventurers of early Galveston who invested his money and life in the prosperity of his Galveston business. Such capitalistic ventures quickly led to the development of Galveston's economy, politics, culture, and growth. Maas contributed to this development through Texas land investments, mercantile businesses, translating land titles, and ship chandlery.
Maas was a prominent Jewish businessman in Galveston from 1839 to 1897. He immigrated from Germany in the 1830s to find financial success in America. He was not the typical immigrant of the nineteenth century. His family was wealthy, and he spoke English fluently before arriving in the United States.
Relying on the economic trends of early Galveston, Maas was shaped by Galveston's prosperous, yet sometimes dangerous, environment. In Galveston: A History, David G. McComb compares early Galveston to the oleander shrub, which was very popular in early Galveston landscaping. He explains that while the oleander produces a beautiful flower and scent, it can be poisonous to humans. Galveston was a land of opportunity, but it also had economic, health, and environmental dangers. Maas was directly affected by both Galveston's beauty and hazards. Maas responded to his circumstances in various ways, sometimes following traditional customs, and other times breaking accepted conventions.
Maas was born in Meinbeim, Baden, Germany, on March 1, 1810. His European education taught him to speak fluent French and English. He used these linguistic skills as a tool to succeed in the Texas business environment. Maas' family owned a thriving gold and silver business. He had the opportunity to stay and help operate the family business, but decided to move to the United States instead. Maas was an adventurer who was willing to take bold risks, leaving the security of his family, their business, and his native country.
Sometime in the 1830s, Maas lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Maas made business contacts in many of the cities that he visited. In Pittsburgh, he met a Frenchman, who was six years his senior. This Frenchman was an experienced merchant and a colonel under Charles X. Maas later used this contact to help build his mercantile businesses in Galveston and Houston.
Maas did not stay in Pittsburgh very long, and moved to South Carolina, where he had relatives--the Hart family. Maas established business and personal relations with the Hart family, and became engaged to Caroline Hart. Maas again decided to leave the security of family and friends to find independent economic success. He left his fiancÚ in South Carolina and moved to Texas. He submitted to his adventuresome side and traveled west to seek his fortune. Maas' first attempt to move to Texas was a life threatening failure. The ship on which he was travelling was destroyed by a violent tropical storm, and Maas had to swim to shore. The ship was carrying the lumber that Maas planned to use to build his house in Texas. Though the trip cost him the lumber and nearly cost him his life, he was still determined to move to Texas. In 1836, he arrived in Nacogdoches County, where he became fluent in Spanish and found work translating Spanish land titles into English.
Maas moved to Galveston in 1839, and lived there until his death in 1897. Because Galveston had a small population, it was less competitive than other port cities. There was also a constant flow of newly arrived immigrants in need of supplies and land. These immigrants were a large percentage of Maas' customer base. Maas' business generally prospered when ships, containing large numbers of wealthy immigrants, came to Galveston. In one letter, Maas stated that he hoped the Lord will make "... rich immigrants to flock into our country that the land trade may prosper."
Maas saw Galveston as a land of opportunity. "My chances, especially in the land business are great; some good strong transactions in aid business, yield always fair profits..." The port was convenient for his ship chandlery, and there was plenty of land in which to invest. He opened one mercantile in Galveston and another in Houston. He borrowed money from the Williams and McKinney Company, who provided banking services in Galveston. Among his many land purchases was an entire town from T. J. Pinckney. He divided the land into lots, sold the lots, and called the town Pinckneyville. Maas also worked as a trading agent for Ashbel Smith. Maas was excited to work in Texas. He believed that Texas was "expedient" for "new comers" because of its rich soil, commerce, and small population.
Though Galveston proved to be advantageous for Maas, it was not the land of milk and honey. Galveston was a young city when Maas arrived there. It was described as dreary and sandy, with very little landscaping or urban development. The city's drainage system consisted of ditches on the side of the roads. The combination of ships bringing diseases, poor waste management, and mosquitos caused horrible yellow fever epidemics. All of these conditions heavily impacted business and the economy.
Letter from Samuel Maas to Carolina Hart,
February 5, 1840.
By the 1840s, Galveston's appearance improved, and the population increased. The city built streetlights, sidewalks, theaters, and churches. The general infrastructure was improved. Galveston made all of these improvements, but did not industrialize. The Galveston boosters knew that industrialization was the proper direction for the city. Unfortunately, no one wanted to make the necessary investments in industrial equipment, fearing that the possibilities of a hurricane could ruin their investments. As a result, Galveston could no longer compete with other growing cities and lagged behind in progress.
Maas was affected by the advantages and disadvantages of Galveston. In his letter to Caroline Hart, he sometimes expressed his worries of economic insecurity. He explained how business was very "risky" for him. In 1839, Maas lost a large number of items during a shipment. They were accidentally dropped overboard. Though he was compensated $200 in the settlement, the entire affair was a distressing experience. Maas was always concerned about the value of Texas currency. He did not feel confident enough to leave his business for a few weeks and visit Hart. He asked her to consider the consequences of leaving a business that does not have a dependable person to run it. "... must I not entirely depend upon my own means--whom else can I depend upon?" He was deeply disappointed that he could not go to South Carolina to see her, but he feared that his business would be in ruins upon his return.
Maas was a busy man in Galveston, yet, he wrote frequently to Caroline Hart. Though their relationship followed many nineteenth century customs, Maas did not always fit the historical stereotype. Maas exerted his dominance in the relationship, writing in an authoritative tone, sometimes sounding more like a father than a fiancÚ. He told her that she was too "timid and delicate" to withstand the Galveston environment. He reprimanded her for not genuinely expressing her love for him. "I tell you, I think you will sin most provokingly against all my higher affections, if you can't fall in love with me deeply, strongly above all other considerations...." He warned her that a war may break out, and that she must be strong without being masculine. He did not want her to submit to the female weaknesses of being terrified of war. He advised her to look to the women of the American Revolution for strength.
Though Maas followed the traditional gender roles, he was not one-dimensional. He also encouraged Hart to read newspapers and expand her knowledge beyond domesticity. By 1842, he no longer believed that she was too fragile for the Galveston environment, and he begged her to move to Galveston. In 1842, when she refused to make such a move, the engagement ended.
In 1844, on a visit to Germany, Maas met and married Isabella Offenbach. At the age of twenty-seven, Offenbach gave up Europe and royal suitors for a life in Galveston as Maas' wife. "Isabella left the salons of Europe, for the saloons of early Texas," wrote historian Natalie Ornish. Perhaps she was as adventuresome as Maas was. Shortly after arriving in Texas, Isabella was infected with the deadly disease, Yellow Fever. She overcame this fatal disease. She and Maas had four children: Maxwell, Julius, Miriam, and Rosa.
From 1846-1847, Maas reported from Vera Cruz on the war with Mexico for Mr. H. Stuart, the editor of The Civilian Galveston News. He described the trains, carrying $3.5 million to pay the troops, and supplies, that were attacked by a Mexican guerilla band. He described the loss of Texas and Mexican soldiers. Maas rented the Aurora shop on the Plaza de la Vendura where he maintained a mercantile business.
The Civil War destroyed the Galveston economy, threatening the livelihood of the Maas family. Commerce ceased for almost a year. Though the Confederate troops worked to defend Galveston, they were feared by Galveston citizens. The southern troops stole from merchants, tore down fences, and ransacked homes. Many citizens left Galveston because they feared northern and southern troops, and suffered from the ailing economy. The city's population decreased by at least fifty percent.
During the Civil War, Maas left Galveston, while his wife and children remained. Perhaps the reason that Maas left was because he was accused by the Confederate courts of "aiding the alien enemy." He was suspected of this crime because he accrued business debts owed to certain New York merchants. Maas was again separated from his wife and children. His wife, Isabella, and his daughter, Miriam, frequently wrote to him, requesting money and supplies. Maas' family could not leave Galveston because his son, Max, was sick with a bad fever. Isabella was very worried that northern soldiers would take Max away. She also had a great deal of trouble controlling the slaves. Isabella wanted to sell the slaves and take the children to Europe. Maas outlined all of her letters, listing all of the goods that she requested, and shipped the necessary items to her.
Many foreign citizens claimed citizenship to their native countries in order to avoid service in the Confederate army. John Henry Tobelmann, who was another Galveston businessman and friend to Maas, was one who claimed citizenship in Europe to avoid conscription. After the war, business returned to Galveston within days. Northern troops remained in Galveston during reconstruction, protecting the citizens from unruly southern soldiers. The Maas family also returned to life in Galveston as it was before the war.
Maas' letters reveal his distinct personality traits. First, it was very important to him that his family and other close relations make him feel loved. He wanted their expressions of affection to be sincere and honest. This is seen in many of his letters to Caroline Hart. He sometimes accused her of being shallow and insincere in her letters. When she wrote him a letter about her friendship with another man, he wrote that her games to make him jealous were not going to work, and that if she continued such tactics he would end the engagement.
Maas ended his relationship with his brother Nathan for the same reasons. Maas alienated himself from Nathan because Nathan seemed ungrateful, indifferent, and insincere. He wrote to Caroline Hart about his brother, stating, "I will pardon anything except ingratitude. I like sincerity, an openness of character-- among friends particularly." Maas also ended his relationship with his brother, Jacob, because he did not pay his debts owed to Maas. Maas sued Jacob for nonpayment, and sent the local sheriff to Jacob's house to collect payment.
Maas also had difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship with his wife. Isabella was often left alone for long periods of time. During the Mexican War, he was gone for an entire year. During the Civil War, she was left alone to protect the children and maintain the slaves. Isabella was very unhappy, so she separated from Maas and moved into the house across the street. It appears that when members of Maas' family did not meet his expectations, he either allowed the relationship to deteriorate or completely terminated his relationship with the individual.
Another personality trait of Maas was his interest in subjects outside of business. He was a man of letters, interested in linguistics, reading, writing, and promoting cultural developments. He wrote several journals, which are now located at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to writing Mexican War accounts to The Civilian Galveston News, he also wrote reviews of local musical performances for the Galveston newspapers. Maas subscribed to a French newspaper for almost fifty years. Though he could have had a successful political career, he preferred to stay home and develop his personal and intellectual interests. In a letter to Caroline Hart, he stated that he tried to read and remain cultured in the middle of business pursuits.
A third personality trait of Maas was the way he conducted business. He expressed to Caroline Hart the importance of being an "honest and upright" businessman. Maas was only interested in conducting business with honorable men, who showed a great deal of strength. He dissolved partnerships if he believed someone was dishonest or weak. Maas was also a practical businessman, involved in only solid business deals. He was careful not to chase after "castles in the sky." Though Maas was an adventurous risk taker, he was also very cautious, and somewhat conservative in his business pursuits.
Maas died in 1897, at the age of eighty-seven. His last years were almost hermitlike. He stayed home, reading his books and newspapers. By the time of his death, he had seventeen grandchildren. Isabella died six years earlier.
The Samuel Maas Papers consist of personal correspondence and financial records dated from 1829 to 1900. The collection is .75 linear feet. The personal papers provide insight into Maas' family life. The financial records reveal the mechanics of his mercantile business and land investments. They include Texas land deeds, inventories, account ledgers, and bills of sale.
The papers provide an honest account of life for immigrants in early Galveston. They reveal business customs, social customs, and the hardships of war. Maas was shaped by the Galveston experience. Galveston was a land of opportunity, but also a city fraught with obstacles. Maas met these obstacles and became a successful businessman.
The Samuel Maas Papers are fully processed and located in the Special Collections Division of The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. A Finding Aid for the Samuel Maas Papers is available online as well. For more information about the papers, please contact Shirley Rodnitzky, Archivist, Box 19497, UTA Libraries, Arlington, TX. 76019-0497, 817-272-3393 (phone), 817-272-3360 (fax), or email <email@example.com>.
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