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Syrian refugee, Solomon Joseph, operated a wholesale dry goods business in Java Jive building

This photo, from the Maddox family collection, is identified on the back as: S.G. Butler, Han Merc Co 1-22-13. Presumably, Solomon Joseph, owner of the Hannibal Mercantile Company, is seated at the roll top desk. One of the two men standing is probably Seeley G. Butler. Originally from Shelbina, Mr. Butler spent much of his career working for the Star Shoe factory in Hannibal, but for a brief time in Mr. Joseph’s employ. Jennie Foster may be the woman seated at the left of the photo. In 1909 she was employed as stenographer and bookkeeper at Mr. Joseph’s business, and a decade later, the two were married. This photo was taken at 209 North Main Street, near the front window. The building’s windows and doors were arranged virtually the same as they are in 2016, the building now occupied by Java Jive. CONTRIBUTED BY TOM MADDOX


Just prior to the dawn of the 19th century, Solomon Joseph ventured out by rail, a connecting maze of metal that enabled access between the hamlets of Northeast Missouri, such as Shelbina, where he operated a dry goods store. Ultimately he crossed the Mississippi River to Quincy, Ill., a growing community built upon a hillside that was rich with immigrants like himself.

Newspaper reporters gathered at the depot at all hours of the day, in hopes of gathering snippets of information from travelers such as Mr. Joseph.

The story told by Mr. Joseph and subsequently published in the July 13, 1899 edition of the Quincy Whig, is of lasting importance for its historic and cultural content. It not only touches upon Mr. Joseph’s association with Shelbina and Quincy, but also serves as a future indicator of the business climate of Hannibal, Mo.

Solomon Joseph was recognized as the head of the Syrian colony in this region. He left his native land circa 1893, fleeing to avoid a three-year mandatory military service to the sultan of Turkey, an uncompensated requirement for all 18-year-old males. Mr. Joseph was born in Maaser, a town 120 miles northwest of Jerusalem.

Once in the United States, he joined others of his heritage in Quincy, Ill., who had established a colony near Quincy’s riverfront. He operated a business on North Fourth Street. After two years, circa 1895, Mr. Joseph moved westward to Shelbina, where he established retail dry goods store and wholesale establishment. There, for the next few years, he employed young men of his native land – also escapees from oppression – as peddlers. These men sold Syrian clothing and merchandise in the rural areas surrounding Shelbina.

One of these young peddlers, Ollie Amar, drowned while swimming in a creek near Rutledge, eleven miles from Edina. Mr. Joseph made arrangements for the young man’s burial in Quincy’s Woodland Cemetery, next to Frank Yazbeck, another young Syrian peddler who had died an unfortunate death.

Robbed in Kirksville

In January 1902, while on a business trip to Kirksville, Solomon Joseph was the victim of a robbery. A man named Kassem Hammett was accused of robbing Mr. Joseph, stealing $8,500 in cash.

Those who knew Mr. Joseph told the Quincy Daily Whig that a year prior, Mr. Joseph had returned to his native land and sold considerable assets there, and was visiting towns in Northeast Missouri in search of potential business opportunities.

The preparations for that trip back to Syria were documented by the Quincy Daily Whig in its April 25, 1900 edition.

In a story titled “Four interesting visitors to Quincy,” the newspaper described the process involved for Solomon Joseph and three fellow countrymen, Assad Joseph, Ali Mahmood and Nassees Tennori, who were planning to travel to their homeland.

Described by the newspaper as “four dusky sons of the Orient,” they were in Quincy seeking proper documentation to allow for the May 3, 1900, passage to the vicinity of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Damasous. In Quincy, they were seeking copies of their naturalization papers and making application for passports.

They received the necessary documents, made the trip, and ultimately became citizens of the United States.

Move to Hannibal

Not long after the robbery in Kirksville, Mr. Joseph moved to Hannibal and established both a retail and wholesale business he named Hannibal Mercantile Company. In 1909, the wholesale business was located at 209 ½ and 211 ½ North Main St.

1909 employees included: Solomon Amor, peddler, res. 312 N. Third; George L. Dean, manager, residence, Central Hotel; Miss Jennie F. Foster, bookkeeper, residence 107 Grace; Cablam McMood, clerk, residence 213 N. Main; J. Forest (Emma) McMahan, traveler, residence Hubbard, near St. Mary’s Ave.; Harold Noel, driver, residence 522 North; and Wm. M. Ray, clerk, residence 1728 Broadway.

In 1913, the same year that the picture which accompanies this article was taken, employees included Miss Mary McMahan, clerk, Hannibal Mercantile Co., residence 107 S. Sixth; and Miss Jennie F. Foster, stenographer, Hannibal Mercantile Co., resides 201 S. 10th. Others were Joseph Achmed, Seeley G. Butler, John Hughes, William Ray and Clarence Williams.

Budding romance

By 1920, a romance had blossomed between Mr. Joseph and his stenographer, Miss Jennie F. Foster, 43.

Miss Foster lived with her mother, Mildred Foster, 66, and brother and sister, Enid, age 29, and Clyde Foster, age 27, at 201 S. Tenth. Listed as a boarder in the Foster household in the 1920 Census was Mr. Joseph, age 48.

One problem existed that prevented a union between Mr. Joseph and Miss Foster. He was already married. His wife, Nada Joseph, was still in Syria. He filed a petition in the Hannibal court of common pleas for divorce against his wife in November 1919. The grounds listed for divorce were desertion. People who knew Mr. Joseph in Shelbina told that she was in Syria during his entire residency there.

The divorce cleared the path for the marriage of Mr. Joseph and Miss Foster. They remained childless, and the Fosters and Mr. Joseph continued to live together until their deaths.

Pre 1930, the extended family moved to 521 Bird Street.

Mildred Foster died in 1930; Solomon Joseph died in 1946; Jennie F. Joseph died in 1957; and Clyde Foster died in 1958. They are all buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

A photo taken Saturday afternoon, Oct. 22, 2016, from the interior of 209 North Main Street shows the same framework as the building had in 1913. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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