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Natalie Ornish

OSTERMAN, JOSEPH (1799–1861). Joseph Osterman, early Texas financier, was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1799 and sailed to the United States in 1819. He worked in the jewelry business in Philadelphia, then moved to Baltimore and became a charter member of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. On February 23, 1825, he married Rosanna Dyer (see OSTERMAN, ROSANNA DYER), whose father was president of the congregation. She was the sister of Maj. Leon Dyer, who in early 1837 escorted the captured General Santa Anna to Washington, D.C. Leon's son, Dr. Joseph Osterman Dyer, a physician, historian, and journalist, years later transcribed Joseph Osterman's diaries, which vividly describe pioneer life in Galveston. Dyer had visited Galveston and was impressed with Texas, so he advised Osterman to try his luck in the new republic. Osterman left his wife in Baltimore and took a steamer to New Orleans, where he and Leon stocked a schooner with cargo for a general store. When he reached Galveston in 1839, he set up business in a large tent on a vacant lot on Nineteenth and Church streets; he later located on Market and Tremont streets. At first he slept in his tent-store. A year later his young wife left the comforts of Baltimore and joined him in the infant republic.

Rosanna Dyer Osterman
Photograph, Portrait of Rosanna Dyer Osterman. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Portrait of Anson Jones
Portrait of Anson Jones. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

He brought the first ready-made coffins to Galveston (especially needed during yellow fever epidemics), imported the first Lucifer matches, and brought to Texas the first percussion caps and revolvers. His schooner made trips to Jamaica to bring rum and sugar, and he brought in tubs the first palms and oleanders to Galveston in 1842. As one of Galveston's first financiers, he helped the new city meet its debts. He built the first strongbox or vault in Texas to safeguard customers' valuables and papers and was one of three early southern bankers to make loans on cotton and unharvested crops. He built the first two-story house in Galveston, where he and Rosanna entertained early presidents of the republic, including David G. Burnet, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Sam Houston, and Anson Jones. The Ostermans became close friends of Gail Borden, Jr., to whom Mrs. Osterman gave her meat biscuit recipe. Osterman's money financed Borden's experiments that led to the idea of condensing milk. His money also rented Borden's brick store and built the ovens. Borden's other partner, Dr. Ashbel Smith, promoted the meat biscuit in London at the 1851 World's Fair, where it won a gold medal and attracted world attention. This portable food helped open up the western frontier.

Grave of Joseph Osterman
Photograph, Grave of Joseph Osterman in New Orleans. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Osterman was one of only two men Jacob de Cordova listed in his section on "The Jewish Denomination" in his book Texas: Her Resources and Her Public Men. Cordovanoted that Osterman donated the oldest Jewish burial ground in Texas in 1852, the Hebrew Benevolent Cemetery in Galveston. The dedication of this cemetery by a visiting rabbi from New Orleans was the first official public Jewish service in Texas. After becoming successful, Osterman sold out to his wife's brother Isadore Dyer and retired. Osterman was accidentally shot on August 19, 1861, and died a few days later. He and Rosanna left no children; she bequeathed their fortune to charity. In 1921 the Osterman house at Twenty-fourth and Broadway became the home of the YWCA.


Galveston News, August 7, 1921.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Natalie Ornish, "OSTERMAN, JOSEPH," accessed April 04, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fos09.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 9, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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