Bernhard Cornelius

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My great grandfather, Bernhard Cornelius, was the third of five children born to Frederich Maximilian Cornelius. Bernhard's obituary states that he was born in Rothinsee, Kreiss, Hersfeld, Hessen Nassau, Germany. I understand that Rothinsee is a misspelling and Bernhard was probably born in Rotensee. Little is known about Bernhard's early life. His obituary indicates that he served in the German army for 3 years. At the age of 24, Bernhard along with his oldest brother, Wilhelm, set sail for America aboard the steamship Rhaetia, which was built for the Hamburg-American Line and sailed her maiden voyage only 12 months earlier. The ship's manifest lists Bernhard's occupation as a merchant, while Wilhelm, who was 4 years older, was a brewer. The brothers arrived in New York on April 8, 1884. That same year, the brothers reportedly traveled to Indianola, Texas.

Bernhard worked for two years as a ranch hand on his Uncle Fritz' 5TF ranch in Midfield, Texas, Matagorda County. His grandchildren remember Bernhard telling of driving cattle on the trail drives to Kansas City where the cattle was sold. The horses were then loaded on a train, and the ranch hands headed back for Texas.

Four years after their arrival in this country, both Bernhard and Wilhelm filed their declaration of intent to become citizens of the United States of America.

Later Bernhard would have the opportunity to enter his intended profession by becoming the manager of W. Westhoff & Co., a lumber business in Edna, Texas where he worked for two years. In a letter of recommendation written by Mr. Westhoff, who owned the business, Westhoff gave Bernhard a glowing letter of recommendation as an "honest, sober, careful businessman and good manager." Indeed, Westhoff Mercantile is still in business today. By April of 1890, Bernhard had established his own business in Ezzell, Texas (Lavaca County) according to that letter of recommendation.

Oral family tradition states that in 1895, Bernhard returned to his homeland to marry his sweetheart. However, Bernhard arrived in Germany to find that his betrothed was already married. After all, 10 years is quite a long time to wait! On his brief visit to the homeland, Bernhard met and married Anna Usbeck. Anna was 14 years his junior. However, since Bernhard's and Anna's families (reportedly) knew one another, they (apparently) approved of the marriage.

Bernhard and Anna, along with 318 other passengers boarded the S.S. Dania, a 4,076-ton ship with a carrying capacity of 1,156 passengers. The ship, measuring 370 feet long and 44 feet wide, traveled at a service speed of 14 knots. Bernhard and Anna arrived in America approximately one month after their voyage began. They made their home in Ezzell, Texas.

About 10 months later, Bernhard and Anna's first child made her debut in the obscure farming community of Ezzell, Texas. Two and a half years later twin daughters were born. How surprised Bernhard and Anna must have been when their family nearly doubled in size! As the babies were born near Thanksgiving, I am certain that the family was thankful that mother and both babies were healthy.

In late June of 1900, the Lavaca county census records Bernhard's family residing with his brother William and wife Helena. The occupation of both men is stated as "Ginner" which sounds dubious. However, the men are known to have built cotton gins in the South Texas. About one month after the family was counted in the census, Bernhard and Anna's fourth child was born bringing the family stats to: daughters - 4, sons - 0. I wonder if Bernhard was disappointed that there were no boys to begin working at the cotton gin or the farm? Finally in 1902, God favored Bernhard with his first son, Gottlieb. In 1906, another daughter was born and in 1908 a second son was added to the clan. Next came my grandmother, Mary Cornelius, the last of the Cornelius children born in Ezzell. With 8 children in school or soon to be school age, Bernhard certainly had a vested interest in the school system. Although I have yet confirm this, I am told that Bernhard served as school board member in Ezzell.

I was amazed to learn that although my grandmother had 7 older siblings in school, she did not learn to speak English until she began school herself. German continued to be the only language spoken in the home. Nonetheless, Grandma felt strongly that "If you are going to live in America, you should learn to speak the language!"

In the 1910 census, Bernhard is listed as owner of a general farm in Ezzell. While living in Ezzell, Bernhard is reputed to have operated a cotton gin prior to moving to Orange Grove, Texas where he operated another cotton gin. Bernhard is said to have built cotton gins in Robstown, Rabb and Chapman Ranch.

Shortly after moving to Orange Grove, Bernhard was instrumental in founding the First Evangelical Lutheran Church. Bernhard was a charter member and was the first secretary, while Anna served as the first organist. Bernhard's tenure as secretry was from 1913 - 1918 and Anna served as organist between 1914 and 1921. The church recently celebrated it's centennial and I learned that Bernhard's descendants were still serving on the church council.

While living in Orange Grove, two more children were born to Bernhard and Anna Cornelius. A son was born in 1914. A daughter, the tenth and final child, was born in 1917 and would come to be known affectionately as Baby Sis. Twenty-one years had elasped since the birth of Bernhard and Anna's first child.

Sometime in 1917, Bernhard purchased land in Alfred, Texas and began farming thre. The property remains in the family today and is owned by one of Bernhard's grandchildren.

Bernhard had always exhibited a good German work ethic. Now at nearly 60 years of age, Bernhard began to sell Raleigh products out of the back of his Ford Coupe. He sold products such as vanilla extract, spices and medicines as he went from town to town.

Around 1938, Bernhard retired and moved to Corpus Christi, Texas (Jim Wells County) where he was active in the First Lutheran Church. Seven years later, Bernhard's life ended at Agua Dulce, Texas, where he became ill while visiting one of his sons. Bernhard is buried in Hermann Son's Cemetery in Orange Grove, Texas. After Bernhard's death and until her passing several years later, Anna lived in Corpus Christi with one of her daughters. She is buried beside her beloved husband of 50 years.

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