Solomon Bear and German Immigrants to Wilmington
Solomon Bear came to Wilmington with brothers Marcus and Samuel in 1853 from Bavaria, and of course immersed themselves in the growing German and Jewish population. Bavaria was the part of Germany where the largest number of Wilmington’s adult German immigrants hailed from by 1860 and subsequent chain migration brought their relatives to the area, many being those of modest income rather than poor. In 1860 Wilmington’s German-Jewish immigrants were mostly self-employed merchants who most often began as clerks in Jewish-owned stores. In that year twelve of the eighteen clothing stores in town were Jewish-owned. Business success followed Solomon Bear’s “Sol. Bear & Brothers” wholesale and retail clothing at 20 Market Street which included hats, boots, caps, fancy dry goods as well as wine and liquor.
Wealthy Jewish immigrant Menasse Kahnweiler had arrived much earlier and involved himself in road construction, raising sheep, and real estate. In 1811 he utilized the upper floor of his building as a small synagogue for local Jews to worship. As more German Jews arrived, they established such organizations as the Germania Lodge of the Knights of the Pythias, and the Schutzenverein Rifle Club which evolved into the German Volunteers (German Light Infantry) led by Capt. Christian Cornehlson, born in Hanover, Germany.
As was common in the American South of that era, Jewish merchants held black laborers with five at the Kahnweiler establishment in 1860 and owned by the company itself. Historian Jonathan Sarna tells us that “as a rule those Southern Jews who could afford slaves did so.” At the same time in Charlotte, 3 German-born Jewish dry goods merchants owned slaves.
By 1858 Wilmington had developed a considerable German population which began a drive to build a place of worship in the city – soon to be known as St. Paul’s Lutheran when completed in late 1858. The pastor was Rev. John H. Mengert, D.D. The German Jewish population sought a place of worship which was not realized until after the war – the Temple of Israel.
When war began in 1861 Solomon Bear was already involved with Wilmington’s German Volunteers which soon became Company A of the Eighteenth North Carolina Regiment on June 15. Solomon first served as a hospital steward, quite possibly through fellow Wilmingtonian and wartime assistant surgeon Thomas Fanning Wood. Other German-born Hanoverians in the Volunteers were lieutenants Ackerman, Runge, Schulken and Vollers – and enlisted men with surnames such as Bachman, Henry Bear, Brahmer, Buckner, Dienstbach, Domler, Eigenbruner, Geier, Goldenschmidt, Gunther, Heins, Hoener, Jacoby, Katz, Klein, Koch, Koppel, Kordlander, Kornahreas, Kuhl, Kyhl, Linsbrink, Luhrs, Mauss, Ortman, Overbeck, Pfundt, Portwig, Rosenthal, Schlobohmm, Schoeber, Scwartz, Solomon, Steiniger, Stolter, Teller, Theis, Ulbrich, Von Glahn, Voss, Wagner, Weil and Westerman.
Jacob Blumenthal and Henry Wertheimer were among those who did not return home after the war.
As was common in the South, those with merchant and trading backgrounds were sent to Europe as purchasing agents for the Confederacy and Bear was no doubt charged with obtaining medical supplies to run through the blockade. The Kahnweiler store offered many European luxuries such as millinery, shoes and thread brought through the blockade. Nephew Simon Kahnweiler was a Southern agent in Europe and through his father in Philadelphia arranged for ships to run the blockade to Wilmington.
After the war Solomon returned home with wife Henrietta Melman whom he had met in Richmond, and their union produced eight children. Their residence was on North Fifth Street and business success enabled them to build their summer cottage “Breezeland” at Wrightsville Beach. Solomon took an active interest in religious affairs and was a driving force in the construction of the Temple of Isael at Fourth and Market Streets. A poignant photograph exists of the grey-clad veteran Solomon Bear on horseback on January 19, 1900 – Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Birthday. Solomon died in 1904 and sons Isadore and Fred managed the business. In 1912 they built the Bear Winery at Front and Marstellar Streets and through a legal loophole in the Prohibition Act, were able to manufacture their wine for medicinal purposes only.
Lastly, though he served in the Northern military during the war, postwar immigrant Solomon Fishblate acclimated himself to Wilmington as a supporter of the conservative Democratic party. He rose to mayor of the city first in 1878, then again in the early 1890s.
Notes and Sources:
Heike. Anton. Jews at the Cape Fear Coast. Southern Jewish History.
Solomon Bear. Wilmington Past, Present and Future. 1908.