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DIGNOWITY, ANTHONY MICHAEL

DIGNOWITY, ANTHONY MICHAEL (1810–1875). Anthony Michael Dignowity, Czech-American writer and public official, was born in the mining city of Kutná Hora, Bohemia, on January 16, 1810, the tenth and last child of Wenzeslas (Václav) and Catharine Dignowity. Like many other Czechs who immigrated to the United States, he fled the Austrian conscription laws. He sailed from Hamburg for New York in 1832. In the United States he traveled from state to state, working at many different jobs.

After arriving in San Antonio with a group of Arkansas volunteers for the Mexican War, he became a successful doctor and businessman, but in the 1850s his outspoken abolitionist views made him controversial. Possibly as a result of political persecution, he was convicted of a real estate swindle, briefly imprisoned until pardoned by his friend Governor Sam Houston, and then charged with another swindle. In 1859 he published an autobiography in English, Bohemia under Austrian Despotism, to clear his name; he was one of the first Czech-born writers to publish in America. In his book Dignowity rails against the "tyranny" of American public opinion and criticizes the American legal system. Nevertheless, Bohemia is chiefly concerned with memories of his childhood and early adult life. He suffered from poverty in his youth, but his descriptions of family life and vignettes of the Bohemian countryside convey a strong sense of affection. His experiences as fugitive and rebel soldier, his boyhood occupations of pretzel vendor and birdcatcher, his stay in the Catholic Charity Hospital of Prague, and his conversion of a Hamburg prostitute to respectability are among the details that make the book interesting to a modern reader.

Dignowity's reputation as a Unionist and abolitionist continued to plague him, and in 1861 he narrowly escaped hanging in the San Antonio plaza. He traveled by horseback to Washington, D.C., where he was employed by the federal government. His property was confiscated, and two of his sons were conscripted into the Confederate Army. The sons later escaped to Mexico, however, and joined the Union Army.

After the war Dignowity returned to Texas. He was in poor health for the rest of his life and was never able to rebuild his fortune. During Reconstruction he appealed to the Republican Congress for moderation on the behalf of the "loyal residents" of the South. Dignowity married Amanda J. McCann on February 9, 1843, in Little Rock, Arkansas. They had eight children, one of whom, Franti_ek, was a founder of Del Rio, Texas. Dignowity died on April 22, 1875, in San Antonio.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Estelle Hudson and Henry R. Maresh, Czech Pioneers of the Southwest (Dallas: South-West, 1934). Clinton Machann and James W. Mendl, Krásná Amerika: A Study of the Texas Czechs, 1851–1939 (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983).

Clinton Machann

Citation

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

Clinton Machann, "DIGNOWITY, ANTHONY MICHAEL," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdi15), accessed November 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.