Rosanna Dyer Osterman (1809-1866) risked her life to act as a courier to the Confederate Army, after the city of Galveston, Texas, was occupied by the Union Army. From Osterman’s perspective, the Union Army were the occupiers. When she learned that the Union knew of the Confederates’ early January attack plan, she managed to get word to the Confederates so that they could attack early and retake the city.
Born in Germany, Rosanna Dyer moved with her family to Baltimore, Maryland in 1812. In 1825, at age 16, she married Joseph Osterman.
Ten years later, Rosanna’s brother Leon accepted a job as Quartermaster General for the Louisiana State Militia, which eventually led him to Texas just as the famous battle at the Alamo was ending. Leon, who is himself noted as a famous Jewish war hero, wrote glowingly to his sister and brother-in-law about the newly independent territory of Texas, and they soon opened a general mercantile and import business there.
Just as she had grown up in a family that took an active role in the Baltimore community, Osterman was devoted to growing the Jewish community of Galveston. She is noted for her involvement in bringing the first rabbi, who established the first Jewish cemetery in 1852.
Osterman’s contributions to Galveston society, however, were rooted in her good deeds. During the Civil War (in addition to sending information against those occupying her city), she opened her home as a hospital where she treated soldiers from both sides of the conflict.
In 1866, Osterman drowned when the steamship on which she was traveling exploded in the Mississippi River. A wealthy widow with no children, Osterman’s will distributed her estate through large donations to many major Jewish organizations throughout the country, including sufficient funds to create the Hebrew Benevolent Society in Galveston.
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