The Alfred Gratz family papers document two generations of a successful Philadelphia Jewish family through evidence of the family’s business and political affairs. This small collection includes correspondence, contracts, reports, and financial documents.
The family’s patriarch Barnard (1738-1801) immigrated to the United States in 1754. He and his brother Michael were two of the Jewish merchants to sign the Non-Importation Resolutions, which, in response to the Stamp Act of 1765 boycotted the importation of British goods into port cities. Barnard and Michael’s signatures can be seen on the digitized document on the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s exhibit “Preserving American Freedom: The Evolution of American Freedoms in Fifty Documents.” (http://digitalhistory.hsp.org/pafrm)
Barnard was also a founding member of Mikveh Israel, the first synagogue in Philadelphia, and now the oldest continuously running synagogue in the United States. He had ten children in all, three of whom are represented in Delaware’s collection: Hyman (1776-1857), Simon (born 1773), and Joseph (1785-1857).
During the War of 1812, Simon and Hyman supplied great quantities of saltpeter for the manufacture of gunpowder, mined from Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which Hyman Gratz purchased in 1813. As a Federalist, Simon helped prepare for a possible British invasion of Philadelphia, by representing the Middle Ward in raising funds for the Committee of Defense. Joseph served in the First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary.
Hyman Gratz became a director of the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance on Lives and Granting of Annuities in 1818, and in 1837 was elected the company’s President, an office which he held until his death in 1857. Hyman, greatly interested in art, served as a director (1836-1857) and Treasurer (1841-1857) of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Hyman Gratz, who was a leader in Mickveh Israel Congregation in Philadelphia, left a deed of trust which (after making provisions for his relatives) provided for the establishment and maintenance of a “college for the education of Jews residing in the city and county of Philadelphia.” Following the death of Hyman Gratz’s last heir in 1893, Gratz College was established.
Henry S. Gratz (born 1859) was the grand nephew of noted Philadelphia philanthropist Rebecca Gratz. (Referred to as “the jewel of the family,” Rebecca is often cited as Walter Scott’s model for the heroine of his novel Ivanhoe.) After his schooling, Henry traveled west and established an extensive cattle ranch near Folsom, New Mexico. In 1898, he returned to Philadelphia, where, among other pursuits, he became an avid balloonist. Henry owned his own balloon and made a number of trips over Philadelphia.
Although the Delaware Gratz papers span the dates between 1802-1894 and include documents related to five members of the Gratz family, the papers chiefly comprise correspondence and documents generated in the years following Alfred Gratz’s (1835-1938) election as Register of Wills for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1888. Alfred was Simon’s grandson. As Register of Wills, Alfred was also the ex-officio Clerk of Orphans’ Court. His business interests in Philadelphia centered on the Girard Fire Insurance Company and the Mechanics Insurance Company of Philadelphia. At various points, he served as a director of Mechanics Insurance Company, Susquehanna Coal Company, Amparo Mining Company, and Lykens Water Company.
Other resources for the Gratz family include the American Philosophical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, the Jewish Women’s Archive, and the American Jewish Historical Society. For more information about Delaware’s collection, view the online finding aid: http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/findaids/gratz.htm.
(A portion of this piece appears in the Fall 2015 Jewish Studies Program newsletter.)