Abraham Cohen Labatt
Abraham Cohen Labatt (1802, Charleston, South Carolina - August 16, 1899, Galveston, Texas) was an American Sephardic Jew who was a prominent pioneer of Reform Judaism in the United States in the 19th century, founding several early congregations in the South and in San Francisco after the Gold Rush. A merchant, in the 1830s he helped pioneer trade between United States interests in Charleston and those in Texas and Mexico.
Early life and education
Abraham Labatt was a Sephardic Jew born in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents were from families who had been in Charleston from its early colonial years. Their ancestors had emigrated from Spain and Portugal, via the Netherlands and England.
A few years later, he moved with his young family to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked as a merchant and trader. In 1831 he moved to New Orleans, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits. In that city, he was one of the founders of the first Jewish congregations in Louisiana, which became known as the Portuguese Jewish Nefutzot Yehudah congregation (or Portuguese Synagogue). (In 1870, its rabbi visited Galveston to dedicate the cornerstone of the first synagogue of Congregation B'nai Israel.)
In 1831, Labatt visited Velasco, Texas, then part of Mexico, which had achieved independence in 1821, to explore opportunities for international trade. A settlement had just been started based on a trading post. He visited again in 1837 as supercargo of the steamship Columbia. This was the first cargo ship to trade between the U.S., via Charleston, and Texas (by then an independent republic) and Mexico.
Following the Gold Rush of 1849, Labatt went to California as a merchant, along with hundreds of thousands of other migrants. One of the founders of the San Francisco synagogue Shearith Israel, he laid its foundation-stone in 1856. He also served as president of Congregation Emanuel.
Active in civic affairs, in 1849 Labatt was permitted to join the Masonic Lodge in San Francisco, the first regularly instituted lodge in the state of California. The Masons were usually restricted to Protestant Christians. Labatt helped name it the Davy Crockett Lodge, after an American pioneer of the Southeast. Active politically, Labatt was elected as an alderman of San Francisco.
Marriage and family
In Charleston, South Carolina, Labatt married Caroline Hyams (born 1802). They had sixteen children together.
Return to the Gulf Coast
In the 1860s, the Labatt family returned to Louisiana. They moved to Waco, Texas in 1869. After his wife died in the fall of 1878, Labatt moved to Galveston and lived with his son, Henry J. Labatt, until his death in 1899. Labatt joined the Congregation B'nai Israel, which was also Reform. He continued to be active in temple activities.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cyrus Adler (1901–1906). "Labatt, Abraham Cohen". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- Diana J. Kleiner, "LABATT, ABRAHAM COHEN", Handbook of Texas Online, Published by the Texas State Historical Association, accessed 2 November 2012
- Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas: Texas Heritage, 1989).
- Ruthe Winegarten and Cathy Schechter, Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews (Austin: Eakin Press, 1990).
- Diana J. Kleiner, "LABATT, ABRAHAM COHEN", Handbook of Texas Online, Published by the Texas State Historical Association