The American dream. For some it is to be successful, to have a family, and to help others. The patriarchs of Galveston’s leading families — the Kempners, Moodys and Sealys — all had precarious starts in life but were able to rely on their natural abilities and recognition of opportunities to obtain great wealth.
While from different backgrounds and locations, John Sealy, William Lewis Moody and Harris Kempner’s roads to their fortunes began by selling goods.
Sealy was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 18, 1822. He worked in a country store for 10 years until he heard about the new state of Texas, moving to Galveston in 1846, where he clerked in the mercantile business until he formed a partnership with John H. Hutchings and moved to Sabine to establish a store.
On May 19, 1828, Moody was born in Essex County, Virginia. Faced with becoming an orphan at 15, Moody still went on to attend law school at the University of Virginia, graduating in three years in 1851. The following year, Moody moved to Texas and settled in Fairfield. After three years of practicing law, he was joined by his brothers and went into the mercantile and cotton business.
Around the world in Krzepitz, Russian Poland, Kempner was born on March 7, 1837. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 in 1854, living in New York, where he worked as a day laborer and studied English at night. Kempner moved to Cold Springs, Texas, in 1858, where he first peddled goods to farms and then formed a small general store.
Fought for Dixie
The Civil War caused men, many in the same family, to choose a side to support. By the outbreak of the fighting, each of the men — Sealy, Kempner and Moody — believed in standing for the side they, at the time, had called home.
As an established businessman on the island, Sealy helped open and maintain trade channels through Mexico for the Confederacy. In 1854, Sealy and Hutchings had been joined by a third partner, George Ball, leading the men to return to Galveston to set up Ball, Hutchings, and Company, a commission banking business that later became Hutchings-Sealy Bank. That same year, Sealy and several other business leaders in Galveston purchased several wharf companies and established the Galveston Wharf Company. In 1858, Sealy served as president. Due to the Union blockade of Galveston, he had to move his firm to Houston.
Though against slavery and a believer in human civil rights, Kempner felt it was his duty, serving with Captain Stokes’ company from Ellis County until wounds prevented him from returning to the fighting line. He continued to provide support to the rebels as a quartermaster sergeant.
Moody, an ardent secessionist, brought the state pride he grew up with in Virginia to Texas. In the summer of 1861, he organized Company G of the Seventh Texas Infantry and served as captain of the company. He became a prisoner of war following the fall of Fort Donelson in Tennessee and spent months in prison camps before being part of a prisoner exchange in September 1862. Moody then participated in the reorganization of the Seventh Texas Infantry, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. He went on to fight campaigns in Mississippi until he was seriously wounded near Jackson. He was sent back to Texas to convalesce, promoted to colonel, and spent the remainder of the war in Austin.
Bought on the island
After the Civil War, all three men recognized that Galveston was where they would have an opportunity to find their fortunes. Sealy returned to Galveston with his firm and helped organize the Galveston Gas Company. Kempner had returned to Cold Springs, where he turned his attention to the economic problems of the cotton farmers, before setting off to Galveston in 1870. Along with Marx Marx, Kempner established a wholesale grocery that became one of the largest in Texas. Moody moved to the island in the summer of 1866, where he opened his firm of W.L. and L.F. Moody on Sept. 1, 1866, as cotton brokers.
Brought philanthropy to Galveston
Because of the considerable wealth each man had accumulated and the values they had instilled in their families, their heirs went on to establish foundations to give back to the community.
Sealy died in Galveston on Aug. 29, 1884, leaving $50,000 to be used for “a charitable purpose.” His wife, Rebecca, decided to build a hospital. The John Sealy Hospital in Galveston opened in 1890. John Sealy and Jennie Sealy Smith, joined by her husband, R. Waverley Smith, established the Sealy-Smith Foundation in 1922 to carry on the family concern for the health care of the people of Galveston.
Following his death in Galveston on April 13, 1894, Kempner’s eldest son, Isaac Herbert, who would go on to found Imperial Sugar, continued his father’s work and expanded the family business into a major diversified corporation. In 1946, the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund was established with $38,500 to provide support for organizations vital to Galveston Island through grants to local efforts to improve health, education, culture and the general welfare in Galveston County.
On July 17, 1920, Moody died in Galveston. His son, W.L. Jr., enlarged the family business to include the formation of American National Insurance Company, and along with his wife, Libbie Rice Shearn Moody, chartered the Moody Foundation in 1942. Based in Galveston, the foundation focuses most of its funding on programs involving education, social service children’s needs, and community development “to benefit, in perpetuity, present and future generations of Texas.”
TEXAS STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
ARTICLE BELOW PULLED FROM WEBPAGE https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fke18
KEMPNER, HARRIS (1837–1894). Harris Kempner, businessman and Civil War soldier, was born in Krzepitz (now Krzepice), Russian Poland, on March 7, 1837. In 1854 he sailed to the United States, where he lived for a time in New York and studied English at night. About 1858 he moved to Cold Springs, San Jacinto County, Texas, and formed a mercantile partnership. During the Civil War he served the Confederacy with a Captain Stokes's company from Ellis County until injuries forced him from the fighting line and he became a quartermaster sergeant. He returned to Cold Springs after the war and turned his attention to economic problems of the cotton farmers. Kempner moved in 1870 to Galveston, where with a man named Marx Marx he established a wholesale grocery that became one of the largest such concerns in Texas and perhaps the South. The company took advantage of its location and imported such vital commodities as salt, coffee, and packing materials for cotton. Kempner invested in land but not in city property; he thought the latter overtaxed and financially risky.
After losing investments in the Island City Savings Bank of Galveston in 1885, he became president of the bank's reorganization committee. He was for many years president of the Texas Land and Loan Company. He was also a stockholder and director of national banks at Giddings, Cameron, Mexia, Ballinger, Athens, Groesbeck, Marble Falls, Gatesville, Velasco, and Hamilton. In 1886 his partnership with Marx dissolved, and he focused on improved transportation for cotton. To this end he served on the planning board of the Galveston Deep-Water Committee, which after his death acquired federal funds to construct the first deepwater port in the state. He also served as a charter member and lifelong director of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway.
Kempner was a devout Jew who appreciated the religious freedom available to him in the United States. He married Elizabeth Seinsheimer in 1872. Eight of their eleven children survived until adulthood. Though he never entered politics, he was a well-known public figure because of his considerable civic involvement. He aided many public enterprises in Galveston and in addition sent funds to bring relatives from Poland to the United States. The work he began was not halted by his death. His sons, under the guidance of the eldest, I. H. Kempner, continued and expanded the family business into a major diversified corporation. Kempner died on April 13, 1894. The Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund was founded in 1946 by family members.
SEALY, JOHN (1822–1884). John Sealy, merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 1822. He worked in a country store for ten years. He moved to Galveston in 1846 and clerked in a mercantile business until he formed a partnership with John H. Hutchings and moved to Sabine to establish a store for the partnership. In 1854 they were joined by a third partner, George Ball, and returned to Galveston to set up Ball, Hutchings, and Company, a commission and banking business that later became the Hutchings-Sealy Bank. That year Sealy and several other business leaders in Galveston purchased several wharf companies and established the Galveston Wharf Company. In 1858 Sealy was company president. During the Civil War he helped open and maintain trade channels through Mexico for the Confederacy, but the blockade of Galveston caused the firm to move to Houston. Sealy returned to Galveston after the war and helped organize the Galveston Gas Company. In 1870 he had real property valued at $250,000 and personal property of equal value. He and his associates bought the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway in 1870 and the Houston Tap and Brazoria in 1873. In 1876 he was president of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad. In 1879, after his brother George Sealy bought the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, Sealy became president of that line. He resigned in 1881 because of health problems but became general manager the next year and served in that role until his death. Sealy married Rebecca Davis of Bedford, Pennsylvania, in 1857. They were parents of two children, Etta Jane and John Hutchings Sealy. Sealy died at Galveston on August 29, 1884, and left $50,000 to be used for "a charitable purpose." His brother and wife decided to build a hospital. John Sealy Hospital in Galveston opened in 1890 and is a part of the medical branch of the University of Texas.
MOODY, WILLIAM LEWIS (1828–1920). William Lewis Moody, entrepreneur, was born on May 19, 1828, in Essex County, Virginia. The son of Jameson and Mary Susan (Lankford) Moody, he was raised in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Moody was orphaned at fifteen. He attended law school at the University of Virginia and graduated after three years in 1851. In 1852 he moved to Texas and settled at Fairfield in Freestone County. After three years of practicing law, he was joined by his brothers and went into the mercantile and cotton business as W. L. Moody and Brothers. Moody married Pherabe Elizabeth Bradley on December 1, 1860. They were the parents of six children. One was still born and two daughters died in infancy. His two sons, William Lewis Moody, Jr., and Frank Bradley Moody, were in business with him. William Lewis Moody, Jr., would become one of the most significant financiers in Texas during the first half of the twentieth century. His surviving daughter, Mary Emily Moody, married Sealy Hutchings of Galveston. The Moodys lived in Fairfield until 1866, when they moved to Galveston where they lived for the remainder of their lives. With the coming of the Civil War, Moody was an ardent secessionist. In the summer of 1861 he organized Company G of the Seventh Texas Infantry and served as captain of the company. His unit, under the command of Moody's friend John Gregg, was captured at the fall of Fort Donelson. After months in prison camp, Moody was exchanged in September 1862 and participated in the reorganization of the Seventh Texas Infantry, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. He fought through the spring 1863 campaigns in Mississippi and was commended for bravery at the battle of Raymond on May 12. On July 10 he was seriously wounded in fighting near Jackson, Mississippi. He was sent back to Texas to convalesce, promoted to colonel, and spent the remainder of the Civil War in Austin.
After returning to Fairfield, he determined that there were better opportunities in Galveston. Arriving in Galveston in the summer of 1866, he opened his firm of W. L. and L. F. Moody on September 1, 1866, as cotton factors. The name of the firm varied over the years, becoming Moody, Bradley and Company in 1867, Moody and Jemison in 1871, and W. L. Moody and Company in 1881. During Reconstruction Moody devoted his attention to his business and related activities. In 1872 he participated in the founding of the Galveston Cotton Exchange and served as president of the exchange for the years 1877–82, 1884–88, and 1898–1900. He also was involved in founding the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway and served as a director for the line. In the early 1880s Moody became chairman of the Galveston Deep Water Committee, which sought help from Congress in funding the development of Galveston as a deep-water port. Although the committee failed to gain passage of its bill while Moody was chairman, the legislation finally won congressional approval in 1890. With the end of Reconstruction he became active in the Democratic party and was elected to the Texas legislature in 1873. In February 1874, at the request of Governor Richard Coke, he resigned to become the Texas financial agent, selling bonds in New York City