Founding Father of Temple B'nai Shalom; Watch and Jewelry Merchant
|Born:||1824, Hanover, Germany|
|Died:||October 5, 1898, Huntsville, AL|
|Buried:||Maple Hill Cemetery, Huntsville, AL|
• "Bernstein was one of the first Jews to sink roots in Huntsville. He had settled here by 1859, as that year's city directory listed him as a resident and business owner. Bernstein was a jeweler before he became involved in real estate. He was born in German and settled in Baltimore, Maryland before heading south and marrying Huntsvillian Henrietta Newman in 1852. He became a business leader in Huntsville, serving on the board of the local bank." - The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life
• "The first Jewish settlers known to have come to Huntsville and remain were my two paternal great grandfathers, Morris Bernstein and Robert Herstein. Both were permanent residents of Huntsville by 1859, according to the Huntsville City Directory, which lists them as residents and owners of businesses. The names of Robert Herstein and Morris Bernstein are the only ones that appear in both the Directory and in theminutes of the organizational meeting on July 30, 1876 of Congregation B'Nai Sholom, the first Jewish religious congregation established in Huntsville. Among the earliest deaths recorded in the old Jewish section of Maple Hill Cemetery are those of Robert Herstein in 1878, Henrietta Bernstein in 1896, and Morris Bernstein in 1898.
According to family records, Morris Bernstein was born in Hanover, Germany in 1824. His wife, Henrietta Newman, was born in Bischafsheim, Germany in 1829. The Bernsteins immigrated to American in the 1840's and settled in Baltimore. As a boy, Morris had learned watch-making in Switzerland. Craft guilds excluded Jews in early nineteenth century Germany, which would explain why he apprenticed in Switzerland. In Baltimore he probably began his career as a clerk or peddler. After several years, Morris traveled south and met Henrietta Newman in Huntsville where they married in 1852. Although family records record this marriage in Huntsville, it is unknown when the Newmans immigrated or where they first settled. My father recalls distant relatives with the name Newman; however, they did not affiliate with the Jewish Congregation.
Prior to 1859 Morris had accumulated enough cash to purchase a building on the south side of the Public Square (Lot No. 13) where he established a jewelry store and watch repair shop. Henrietta Newman Bernstein operated a ladies' notions and accessories store located gn Commercial Row (Lot. No. 14) during the 1860's. The Bernstein's' three daughters; Betty, Sophie, and Lillie were born on the second floor of the watch repair shop where the family had their living quarters. Their eldest daughter, Betty, born in 1859, was the mother of my grandfather, Lawrence Bernstein Goldsmith, Sr.
Prior to the Civil War, the Bernsteins appear to have adopted the life style of the Huntsville community. A bill of sale perserved by the family states that, 'On August 8, 1859, George Everhart of Madison County sells to Morris and Henrietta Bernstein a negro woman of about forty-five years named Sally for Five Hundred Dollars.' Another receipt, this one from D. B. Fisher dated May 11, 1861, records the sale of 'an eight year old negro boy named Virgil to Henrietta and Morris Bernstein for three hundred twenty-two dollars and fifty cents. 'Slavery was basic to the social milieu of the Old South. The Bernsteins, like other southern Jews of some means, wanted to be part of their environment and to be accepted by their fellow citizens. Likely their attitude toward slavery was the same as most Southerners. It usually was a matter of their financial ability and family status that determined whether they were slave owners.
A combination of good business sense in addition to exercising the right to own property, a right denied Jews in Germany for centuries, prompted Morris to acquire several parcels of real estate both prior to the war and during Huntsville's prosperous years after Reconstruction. Several of these properties, including an antebellum home at the corner of Gates and Greene Streets, are still owned by the family.
Morris was a founding father of both the first Jewish Congregation and the local chapter of B'nai B'rith, an important early Jewish men's fraternal and religious organization in the South. I have a small Hebrew Bible printed in Hanover, Germany in 1840, one of the few possessions Morris brought to America. It is an indication to me that he identified with his Jewish heritage, a heritage he wished to continue in his new life in America. Morris died of heart disease at his residence in 1989, outliving his wife, Henrietta, by two years." - 5 Generations
• Watches & Jewelry, south side of Eustis, Between Franklin and Green. - Huntsville City Directory, 1859
• "My grandfather, Morris Bernstein, learned watch making in Switzerland. He established a jewelry store and watch repair shop at No. 3 South Side of the Public Square. Morris purchased this property, using the ground floor for his jewelry store and the upstairs for living quarters. My grandfather was thrifty and accumulated several valuable parcels of real estate in Huntsville, some of which are still owned by our family. He had thought that the North would win the War. If that happened, he knew that Confederate money would be worthless. As a precaution, he put all of his savings into real estate. My grandfather's grandmother, Henrietta Newman Bernstein had a notions store. I believe her shop was also located on the South Side of the Public Square near the jewelry store." - Catalogue
• "Following is the obituary published in the Huntsville newspaper shortly after Morris' death October 5, 1898.
""Morris Bernstein breathed his last breath at 4 p.m. yesterday. Was ill a very short while with heart trouble. Deceased was a native of Germany and removed to America in early manhood. Came to Huntsville in 1852 and resided here for forty eight years. Mr. Morris Bernstein, one of the oldest and most respected citizens of Huntsville died Wednesday afternoon at 4 o'clock at his residence at the corner of Gates and Green Streets. Death was the result of a brief illness caused by an affectation of the heart. His condition was precarious for several days and when he died, all his children were present at his bedside. Mr. Bernstein was seventy-five years of age. He was born in Hanover, Germany and removed to America as a young man. He resided in Baltimore two or three years, afterward removing to Huntsville in the year 1852. He was a resident of Huntsville continuously for forty-eight years. Mr. Bernstein was a watch maker by trade and by patient industry and good investments of small capital succeeded in piling up a fortune. He never closed his shop but continued to employ himself at his chosen labor until a short while before his death. Mr. Bernstein leaves three children, Mrs. Oscar Goldsmith and Miss Sophie Bernstein of this city and Mrs. Wm. Levy of New York.""" - Catalogue
• Margaret Anne Goldsmith said her grandfather mentioned Morris (his grandfather) had a peg leg. A letter tells of a flood and leg injury to Morris. "The broken leg injury must have been quite serious and caused Morris to have his leg amputated." - Catalogue
• "Morris was married on July 5, 1855 to Jenetta or Henrietta Newman. This is the first recorded marriage of a Jewish couple in Huntsville. Evidently this was the only Jewish marriage before the Civil War." - Kirshtein and Marks
• "Morris and Henrietta had three children, all of whom were born at #3 South Side of the Public Square in Huntsville. Daughter Sophie Bernstein was born September 23,1857 and died in Huntsville, Alabama March 1, 1938 at the age of 81. Daughter Betty Bernstein, my mother, was born September 25, 1859 and died November 29,1928 at the age of 68. The Bernstein's youngest daughter, Lilly, was born November 28, 1867 and died in New York City June 27, 1936 at the age of 69." - Catalogue
• Father of:
Sophia Bernstein (1857 - 1938)
Betty Bernstein (1859 - 1928)
Lillie Bernstein (1867 - 1936) - Ancestry.com
• Founder of Congregation B'nai Sholom-1876 - B'nai Sholom
• Charter Member of B'NAI B'RITH Chaper , Esora Lodge No. 236, Huntsville, Alabama. - Catalogue
• 1897: "The Bernstein building was built on the corner of Jefferson and Holmes Streets" - Record
• Even though he was actively involved in the Jewish community, he contributed to the building of the Catholic Church. The name is on the list of people responding to the following appeal: "Whereas, the Roman Catholics of Huntsville have no place of public worship, and since they are too few in number to build one without assistance and believing such a Church would in many ways advance the interest of the City, they hereby solicit the aid of their fellow-citizens." - Tumminello
• "Vandalism during these Federal raids wrecked havoc on town and countryside. Editor Withers Clay also fled Huntsville, and he took some of his printing equipment with him this time. For a while he was able to publish from Macon, Georgia. From there the Huntsville Confederate reported stories of fresh atrocities shared by the latest displaced persons. Out in the county Dr. Henry Binford lost all his meat, lard, soap, and his animals. Old Mr. Fleming was left sitting in his buggy as the vandals took his horse; 'Horses and mules-halt, maimed and blind, alike were carried off. Old Mr. Lanford, supposing himself doubly protected by riding a blind horse, was ruthlessly put afoot by the road side.' In town they robbed merchant Robert Bernstein o f his watches and jewelry and all goods at his clothing store. Mr. Kinkle was relieved of his whisky and tobacco supplies. Charley McCalley was robbed of the fine gold watch and chain he was wearing. Private homes were entered and sacks of flour and meal dumped out just for spite. Apparently homes of Union sympathizers were just as severely vandalized as those of the Confederates. The Bell Factory mills were emptied of several thousand bushels o f wheat stored there. Negro men between 18 and 45 years of age continued to be impressed for service whether manual labor or military duty. To complete the distressful news, Confederate soldiers on furlough or sick leave were captured-Lieutenants Jere Murphy and Wes McCravey, and Privates Jim Leftwitch, Jack Kelly, Scott, William Fackler, Billy Higgins, William Rutherford, William Bassett, and others. Any money the men were carrying seemed to disappear at their capture." - Rohr
• Their home was on the corner of Gates and Green Streets. But also owned summer home on Monte Sano Mountain. - Catalogue
• On the Board of the early bank that is now Regions. - Catalogue
• 1881: The Huntsville city fathers, still holding their meetings in the courthouse basement, added 3.41 acres to the cemetery, acquired from Morris Bernstein." - Record
• "Even with the addition of more than 12 acres, the demand continued to grow for new burial sites to the point that on September 6, 1881, further land was obtained to the immediate east of the original cemetery and the William H. Pope Lot #1 addition. This property, 3.2 acres, was obtained for $341.00 from Morris and Henrietta Bernstein who had purchased property from the courtenforced sale of the George Steele Estate at public auction on December 6, 1880. The Bernsteins secured 30 acres of the Steele property for $26.25 per acre, or a total of $795.00. The remaining portion of this land was obtained later to create the Chapman-Lee residential subdivision created in 1888.
The Bernstein purchase was important because it now provided a straight line southward for all of the city property down to the holdings of James B. White, or Lot #4 of the William H. Pope property. This allowed the city to add new streets within the cemetery proper and included sections designated as A through C, to join D through the Potter's Field of the Donegan property. The cemetery became an enclosed rectangle with common borders on all sides." - Maple Hill
• 204 Gates Avenue
"In 1883, Morris and Henrietta Bernstein built this 'High-Victorian' Italianate house for their daughter Betty and her husband Oscar Goldsmith. The Goldsmiths lived in the home for 54 years." - About.comRelated Links:
• 5 Generations - Article titled "5 Generations of Life: 'My Family and the Huntsville, Alabama Jewish Community' 1852-1982" by Margaret Anne Goldsmith Hanaw for Huntsville Historical Review, Volume 12, #3 & #4, Jul-82, Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society
• About.com - He built this house for his daughter (photo and caption) (Originally found at http://huntsville.about.com/library/weekly/aa040102a.htm.)
• Ancestry.com - Page owned by Jen White and can be viewed only with an Ancestry.com paid subscription (Originally found at http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/2216997/person/7025151227.)
• B'nai Sholom - Historic Huntsville Quarterly, Vol. XX, #4, Winter, 1994, Historic Huntsville Foundation. The entire Quarterly focused on the Congregation B'nai Sholom. Pages 206
• Bernstein House - Historic Huntsville Quarterly, Vol. XXII, #4, Winter, 1996, Historic Huntsville Foundation. Entire Quarterly dedicated to the Bernstein House Historic Preservation.
• Catalogue - The Bernstein, Herstein, Schiffman and Goldsmith Collection: A Catalogue by Margaret Anne Goldsmith, 2014 draft.
• Catalogue - The Bernstein Herstein Schiffman and Goldsmith Collection: A Catalogue, by Margaret Anne Goldsmith, 2014, pages 14 29 - 45.
• Find a Grave - Page created by Graveaddiction on May 10, 2004 with a photo of Mr. Bernstein added by Erik Skytte
• Huntsville City Directory, 1859 - Huntsville Directory, City Guide and Business Mirror. Volume 1. 1859-'60, by Reprinted by The Strode Publishers
• Kirshtein and Marks - Article titled "In Retrospect: One Hundred Years of Reform Judaism in Huntsville" by Mrs. Doris Kirshtein and Marsha Kass Marks for Huntsville Historical Review, Volume 5, #4, Oct-75, Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society page 3.
• Maple Hill - Maple Hill Cemetery, Phase One, by Diane Robey, Dorothy Scott Johnson, John Rison Jones, Jr., & Frances C. Roberts (Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society), 1995, pages xiv, xv, xvii, 72, 74, 80
• Record - A Dream Come True: The Story of Madison County and Incidentially of Alabama and the United States, Volume II, by James Record, 1978, pages 52, 92,
• Rohr - Incidents of the War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Jane Chadick, by Nancy M. Rohr, 2005, page 122
• The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life - The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) for the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities
• The Goldsmith Family Album
• Tumminello - A Mighty Fortress of Faith: A History of St. Mary of the Visitation Church, 1861-2011, by Edited by Pat Tumminello, 2012, page 62
The Following Pages Link to this Page:
• Henrietta Newman Bernstein
• 206 Gates Avenue SE
• 5 Generations
• B'nai Sholom
• Bernstein House
• Betty Bernstein Goldsmith
• Huntsville City Directory, 1859
• Kirshtein and Marks
• Maple Hill
• The Goldsmith Family Album