Tuesday, February 10, 2015

John Twohig - The Breadline Banker

John Twohig, a native or Cork, is like many of the early Irish citizens of San Antonio, not well known, to the general public, but one who had an impact on the city throughout the mid-19th century. Frank Jennings recounts Twoig’s contributions to the early history of San Antonio in his 1992 article “John Twohig: Breadline Banker” 

John Twohig, born in Cork, Ireland, became one of San Antonio’s most memorable pioneers. After serving as an apprentice on a British vessel and engaging in the coastal trade between New Orleans and Boston, he came to San Antonio in 1830. He brought a stock of goods and opened a store on Commerce Street and Main Plaza. In 1835, he fought in the Battle of Bexar, in which Texans, led by Benjamin R. Milam and Francis W. Johnson, defeated the Mexican forces under Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos in house-to-house fighting around Main Plaza.

On March 5, 1842, the Mexican forces of Gen. Rafael Vasquez returned to Texas and took over San Antonio without resistance. Alerted that the Mexican army was approaching the town, John Twohig invited the poor to take what they wanted from his store, and then blew it up in an effort to keep the gunpowder and other supplies from the enemy. A few months later, Mexican Gen. Adrian Woll led his forces into San Antonio. Captured along with more than 50 San Antonians, Twohig and the others were taken to Mexico and imprisoned in Perote Castle in the state of Vera Cruz. On July 2, 1843, Twohig and about a dozen other San Antonians escaped. Twohig was one of the nine men not recaptured. Disguising himself as a peddler, he walked through Vera Cruz, boarded a ship for New Orleans and returned to San Antonio in 1844. 

Twohig resumed his mercantile business, which included an extensive trade with Mexico, shipping his goods in mule-drawn prairie schooners. A quarter century later, in 1869, he turned exclusively to banking on the corner of Commerce and Soledad streets at Main Plaza. He had correspondent banks in New Orleans, New York, St. Louis, San Francisco and London, and advertised himself as “banker and dealer in foreign and domestic exchange, coin and bullion.” 

Twohig, known fondly in San Antonio as “the breadline banker” for his practice of buying bread by the barrel and handing out loaves to poor families at his home each Saturday, was quick to give money to those in need, especially to the Brothers of the Society of Mary who came from France to start a school in San Antonio. A devout Roman Catholic, he became a life-long friend and benefactor of the Brothers. 

Twohig advised the Brothers to build their school on land on the East bank of the San Antonio River, fronting on what became College Street. Beginning in 1853 as St. Mary’s Institute, the school served male students of all grades, some who boarded at the school, and some who came to school after crossing the river by boat. Later the school took the name of St. Mary’s University. [The Society of Mary in Texas, J.W. Schrnitz, pg 29)
--Frank W. Jennings, 1992

Full text article: http://www.uiw.edu/sanantonio/JohnTwohig.html

No comments:

Post a Comment