Texas History: Jewish Faith in Galveston


Born in Germany in 1809, and married at the age of 16, Rosanna Dyer Osterman was still a young wife when she and her Dutch-born husband Joseph moved to Galveston. Together, they started a business that was so successful, they retired five years later.


Seeking friends of like precious faith, Rosanna quickly learned that there was no established Jewish community on the Island. Not long after arriving, one of the few Jewish elders that she had met, died and had to be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery. This stirred Rosanna to solicit funds to establish a cemetery for people of the Jewish faith.


In 1852, the cemetery was complete, and open to service the community. Rosanna then brought in Rabbi M. N. Nathan, the first Jewish clergyman to minister in Texas. He dedicated the new cemetery and established the earliest organized Jewish community in Galveston.


The Civil War caused the business district of Galveston to virtually close. Most workers went to war and the military blocked the ports. As a result of regional warfare, civilian and military casualties overwhelmed area medical facilities. It was Rosanna Dyer Osterman who led teams to minister to the sick and wounded.


When Galveston was captured by the Union forces, Rosanna ministered to their injured soldiers, too. But she also worked as an undercover agent for the Confederate army and kept them aware of troop movements. Due to the covert intelligence that she acquired, she was instrumental in the Confederacy re-taking the Island in 1863.

At the age of 57 years, Rosanna was tragically killed in a Mississippi River steamboat explosion. The loss was a shock to Galvestonians and many grieved. But this remarkable woman of God had prepared a will that would direct her substantial fortune to support or create organizations that would greatly benefit the city of Galveston and elsewhere.


Those organizations included a non-denominational Widows’ and Orphans’ Home, a new brick synagogue in Galveston, a new synagogue in Houston, the Jewish Benevolent Society of Houston, the Galveston Sailors’ Home, and various charities in Philadelphia and New Orleans.


As a tribute to Rosanna Dyer Osterman, The Galveston News stated in 1866: "The history of Rosanna Osterman is more eloquently written in the untold charities that have been dispensed by her liberal hands than by any eulogy man can bestow."


Rosanna beautifully fulfilled Proverbs 11:24-25 (ESV), “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”


On her gravestone, the family placed her favorite scripture: Psalm 97:11 - “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Certainly, the light has shown on Mrs. Osterman. May her shining example encourage each of us to do more for God in our own community.

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