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LEVI, ABRAHAM

LEVI, ABRAHAM (1822–1902). Abraham Levi, merchant and banker, son of Getchell and Rachel Levi, was born in Hatte, Alsace, France, on June 24, 1822. Getchell Levi died when Abraham was eight, and at thirteen the boy roamed the countryside peddling ribbons and baubles. After his mother died he remained in France to resolve family debts and then, in 1846, boarded a ship for New Orleans. He arrived in America at age twenty-four and worked as a laborer as he moved up the Mississippi to Natchez. There he worked as a butcher and then as a peddler until he took a job with A. Schwartz, a merchant in Liberty, Mississippi. In 1848 Schwartz's brother-in-law, Jacob Halfin, lent his younger brother, Henry, $3,000 to enable Henry and Levi to open a business in Texas. Levi reached Victoria with his goods in 1849 and opened a store in the Globe House, a hotel. The same year he married Halfin's sister Mina. The union produced seven children. The business expanded rapidly and in 1861 became the largest dry-goods establishment in Southwest Texas. When a fire burned the building, Levi dissolved his partnership with Halfin, who lost the rest of the business during the Civil War.

In 1864 Levi went to France. He returned in 1865 to America and set up a business in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. In 1866 he moved back to Victoria and opened a wholesale grocery store. With his cousin Henry Levy he formed a partnership, A. Levi and Company. He began to sell banknotes and formalized his banking business under the name A. Levi and Company, Bankers, which became in 1875 the largest state-chartered bank in Texas; its name was changed to Victoria Bank and Trust Company in March 1923. The Levi company also owned 25,000 acres of land in six Texas counties and had extensive cattle interests.

Levi served as president of the Victoria Jewish congregation for a quarter of a century. He also financed the area's first electrical generator and ice plants. He was elected an alderman in 1857 for a year and served again from 1867 until June 1869. He died on November 30, 1902, and was buried in the B'nai B'rith Israel Cemetery at Victoria. In 1908 the family sold the wholesale grocery concern, and in 1910 they relinquished control of the bank by incorporating it under the name Levi Bank and Trust Company. Levi's son-in-law, Jules K. Hexter, who had married Levi's daughter Melanie, stayed in Victoria for a year to teach the new owners how to manage the bank, then moved to Dallas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Memorial and Genealogical Record of Southwest Texas (Chicago: Goodspeed, 1894; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas: Heritage, 1989). Victor Marion Rose, History of Victoria (Laredo, 1883; rpt.,Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961). Robert W. Shook, "Abraham Levi, Father of Victoria Jewry," Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 9 (January 1977).

Natalie Ornish

Citation

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

Natalie Ornish, "LEVI, ABRAHAM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fle74), accessed September 18, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.