Seblaski


Earlier I had written a few posts about John Przybylski, son of Andrew and Frances Rochowiak. See here and here.

What fascinates me about this man is why did he change his name? Family lore has it he was involved in running liquor from Canada. I do not know whether this is true. However, Ken Burns’ series on PBS this week, “Prohibition,” certainly got me thinking. The Detroit “Purple Gang” was quite active in Toledo. While we have no connection for John to the Purple Gang, his name change and exit from Toledo coincides with the organized crime and violence that stemmed from Prohibition.

A couple of good reads to introduce us to what and who composed the “Purple Gang” is Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang by Paul R. Kavieff and  Unholy Toledo by Harry R. Illman.

When Prohibition was in effect, it was pretty easy for bootleggers to use the narrow waterways of the Detroit River, St. Clair Shores, and also Lake Erie to transport liquor from Canada. One theory existed that it was quite easy to do so as a recreational fisherman or during winter when one could cross the frozen Detroit River into Windsor with little problem. Usually, the booze went to Chicago where Al Capone sold it under the “Log Cabin” label but market demand was strong too in Toledo. The Purple Gang seemed to be in direct competition with Capone–in essence, trying to tell Capone to keep his hands off of the eastern Michigan market. Toledo seemed to be strategically located as a stopover and hideout for gangsters.

A United Press article located in The Southeast Missourian on March 24, 1936 summarizes the situation:

I don’t think we’ll ever find a documented reason for John’s movements and name change. I don’t know if he were ever involved in bootlegging. But history does provides some interesting insight and this situation certainly does give credence to the family lore. My guess would be John Przybylski was not a violent person and the name change was due in part to avoid the violence and from being sought out. Rather because liquor was a commonly consumed without shame or guilt in Polish Catholic families (it is not a “sin” according to the Catholic Church and vodka is a cultural drink for Poles), a theory could be that John likely was seeking sources for personal consumption or possibly playing the role of transport for a while. He certainly was living in Detroit at the time, the 1920 census places him there. But by 1927, we find evidence of him living in Miami.

Prohibition was in effect in the US for 13 years–1920 to 1933. It produced an empire built on crime and violence and created unique and colorful characters in our history such as Carrie Nation. (An interesting observation: A slogan used during Carrie Nation’s tirades was: “All nations welcomed except Carrie.”)

A basis used to justify Prohibition was “immorality”–to combat drunkness and poverty. Instead, it created a monster composed of violence and crime. Reading about the Purple Gang certainly opened my mind–these gangs at first were primarily composed of immigrants who were combating severe poverty and discrimination.

John Przybylski, son of Andrew Przybylski and Frances Rochowiak, proved to be elusive. Through correspondence with a few distant cousins, some details on his life became uncovered. I had stories about John, but found no evidence of his existence until locating his brother, Joseph’s, obituary published in the Toledo News-Bee on July 9, 1937.

Family stories state that John had been running from gangs in Toledo and had been involved in obtaining liquor from Canada in the 1920s. I could not find any records of border crossings from Canada; however the 1910 census and the 1920 census indicates that he was living in Detroit during that period. Additionally, these census records indicate that he was married to a woman named Hattie. John’s occupation was listed as a molder; Hattie’s as a dressmaker. The 1920 census indicates the name change.

I then located a marraige index from St. Hedwig’s parish in Toledo that states John had married a Hedwig Krzyzaniak on June 20, 1906. Hattie appears to be an Anglecized version of her name.

While the 1920 census data reflects that John was born in Ohio, it’s likely this data is incorrect. His birthdate of May 7, 1878 was noted on his World War I draft registration card places him as the third child to Frances and Andrew, born before the fourth child, Rose, who was born in 1880. Through census data, I’ve noticed that the family emigrated to the US about 1880 0r 1881, and Rose was born in Poznan according to the 1900 census data that shows her with her husband, Casper Koralewski. So it is reasonable to assume that John also was born in Poznan. Family oral history also places John in Miami as a boat captain and states that he changed his surname from Przybylski to Seblaski to elude the gangs. It’s reasonable to assume that by the 1920 census, he was hiding his identity.  At the time of 1917-1918 draft effort, John was already using the last name of Seblaski and has an address in Detroit. His World War I draft registation places him in Detroit and notes wife, Hattie, as his nearest relative. What is interesting to note here is that his birthplace is listed as “Austria?”. This is an angle to research later–we know the family was from Poznan and that Poland during that period was divided between Germany, Austria, and Russia. It is also possible that John hid his true birth place in order to avoid being traced. Also by the 1917-1918 draft effort, John was already using the last name of Seblaski.

By 1927, there is evidence that John was living in Miami. An article in the Miami Daily News on June 12, 1927 mentions a John Seblasky. The article is located here and is transcribed below:

Man Saved from Death by Train By Police Dog

“King” Proves He Has More Than Ordinary Canine Sense in Heroic Feat

“King” may be a dog, but he is no ordinary dog. He has more than common dog sense. He saved a man’s life Friday night.

The man had gone out on a “party,” where a “good time was had by all.” It grew late and slowly and unsteadily he staggered homeward.

A taxicable driver let the man out at Biscayne blvd., between N. E. Sixth and Seventh sts., and he started–a bit wobbly, to be sure, toward the bayfront, apparently intending to “make” one of the boats.

But things sudenly became dark and the man fell across the railroad tracks. He didn’t seem to mind. He really didn’t know his precarious position. So he just slept. In the meantime, a freight train was slowly rumbling nearer and nearer.

“King,” who was being taken out for a walk by his owner, John Seblasky, of the yacht “Hedwig,” moored at Pier 4, broke loose. He apparently sensed something wrong. later, the dog came back and by barking and jumping on Seblasky’s shoulder indicated something was wrong.

Guided by the dog, Seblasky and an F. E. C. railroad watchman found the sleeping man. A few minutes after they dragged the body off the rails the freight train rumbled by.

“King” is a Doverman Pincher German shepherd, commonly known as “police dog.” And he came to the United States in company with a dog which Senator James Couzens of Michigan, its owner, has insured for $8,000.

The 1945 State Population Census of Florida places John in Miami as a boat captain but notes his birthplace as Michigan. Thanks to John Plenzler, a copy of his Captain of Port identification is available here and was issued also in 1945. Note that this identification provides his birthplace at Toledo, Ohio. John Seblaski passed away in 1950. John Plenzler related a story to me that his parents drove to Florida to visit John. When they arrived there, they learned John had passed away just days prior to their arrival.

A Florida state death abstract for John Leo Seblaski states the year but no specific date. No further data is available yet for Hattie and no children have yet been identified.

Below are a few photos of John Przybylski Seblaski, thanks to John Plenzler.

Joseph, Frank, and John Przybylski (left to right)

Joseph, Frank, and John Przybylski (left to right)

John Przybylski Seblaski (date unknown)

John Przybylski Seblaski (date unknown)

This weekend, I was excited because I finally received the marriage records from Poznan, Poland for my great-grandparents and great-great grandparent: Eva Dauer and John Plenzler, and Andreas Dauer and Maria Aumiller (Eva’s parents), and for Joseph Plenzler and Mary Leiseick (John’s parents). I also received another Plenzler marriage record, one for Margaretha Plenzler and Michael Mruk (daughter of John Pleznler and Mary Leiseicka, my great-grandparents). These will be transcribed and I’ll get to posting more about Plenzlers in the near future.

I thought the Plenzlers were prolific–every time I seemed to have located one, another two popped up.

The Przybylskis are outdoing the Plenzlers. For sometime, I had reason to suspect that Frances and Andrew had more children than were documented here. John Plenzler had told me a few times that there were two other brothers: John and Joseph. However, I have not found records or any hints of these two until recently. Additionally, another sibling appears while I was looking for John and Joseph: Marianna.

I located Marianna while searching for any marriage records I could through St. Anthony’s Parish. I was actually looking to see if I could locate records for John or Joseph–typically, it seems as if the clan remained together and migrated together and stayed together so it made sense to see if they married in the neighborhood. Lo and behold. I didn’t find any marriage records for John or Joseph, but I did locate a marriage record for Marianna, who married Joseph Ertman.

I have not completely transcribe this record (it’s written in Latin and I’m very, very rusty with what little Latin I know); however, it’s clear to see that Marianna was the daughter of Andreas Przybylski and Francisca Rochowiak. Additionally, the marriage was witnessed and signed by Frank Przybylski.

A bit more research led me to locate the Ertman family on the 1910 census, where they were living at 1610 Vance Street. Many of the Przybylskis resided on Vance.

I did find some trace of John Przybylski. John Plenzler told me that he had changed his name and left the area to live in Miami, Florida to captain a fishing boat. The story goes he was running away from a gang. The names John Przybylski used were John Seblaski and Johnnie Bear. So, I managed to find two census records for John Seblaski: one in 1920 in Detroit, Michigan and another in a 1945 Florida census. The Florida census data does reflect that John Seblaski is a boat captain.

I also reviewed some of Andrew Przybylski’s data just to see if there were more clues about his children. I have little data on Andrew; however, there is a hint. Andrew was listed in the 1892-1893 Polk directory for Toledo. That same directory reflects a Joseph Przybylski, who resides on Blum Street. More research needed!

I also located data for John Przybylski. The 1900 census and the 1920 census both reflect him living at 1461 Vance Street with his wife, Teckla Mruk, and their family.

Now, a lot of this doesn’t quite add up, though. Per Frances’ and Andrew’s marriage record from Chometowo, and the marriage abstract from the Pozan Project website, Andrew and Frances were married in 1873. Marianna was born in 1875. It’s possible one other child was born prior to Marianna. However, John’s estimated birthdate is 1869. If Frances were born on the date as stated in her death certificate, September 8, 1859–she would have been only 10 years old. That’s not really quite possible, she would not have been of childbearing age. However, her marriage record of 1873 states that she is about 26, meaning she would have been born about 1847.

More mystery, more intrigue. Does this imply that perhaps Andrew was widowed and previously married? Does this imply a Polish shot gun wedding? Does this imply that perhaps Frances ran away to marry (that perhaps the age on the marriage record is inaccurate)? We may never know! And more research is needed on John, Joseph, and Marianna!

But for now, goodnight to all and to all a goodnight!

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