Kindred Spirits

Savannah is a city of families.  Some of us came over on the Anne in 1733.  Some arrived on Jet Blue in 2014.  And if history is any indicator, many will still be shaping our culture in 2133. Photography by Cedric Smith. In honor of this magazine’s 25th anniversary, we wanted to honor the fiber of our city: the families who helped build it.  We set out to profile a few of the multi-generational dynasties that have left a lasting mark on this city.  We got a lot more than we bargained for—and we were still interviewing as this magazine went off to press. From roots to leaves, Savannah’s family trees are like our signature live oaks: the roots run deep, the branches spread far and wide—and the leaves are always green.

 

The Ambos Family

If you know where to look on Romerly Marsh, near the north end of wild Wassaw Island, you can still see the ramshackle remains of an oyster outpost.  It’s the most remote marker of the Ambos Seafoods empire, a fixture in Savannah since the late 1800s.  It began in 1870 with a waterfront restaurant in Thunderbolt and has grown into a full-scale distributor of seafood, chicken and sausage.

“The business has changed a lot through the years, but we’ve always focused on the best product and service,” reflects Hal Ambos, who owns and operates this fifth-generation family business with his brother, Drew.  “That will never change.”

Deep Freeze:  In 1948, Henry F. Ambos and his business partner, William Mullis, invented a method to bread and freeze fantail shrimp.  They distributed the ready-to-cook product across America, transforming the seafood industry and bringing shrimp into millions of land-locked homes.

—Florence M. Slatinsky

 

The Bond Family

Pin Point Betterment Association president Hanif Haynes is a direct descendant of a slave and a sharecropper on Ossabaw Island.  His great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Bond, came to Pin Point—a tiny African-American hamlet located off Diamond Causeway—in 1897, purchasing the first lot in the tiny waterfront neighborhood.  Over the years, the Bond family helped build the community, fishing local waterways, working at the Pin Point Oyster Factory and founding two local houses of worship.

“This community comes from a group of people who persevered through slavery and sharecropping and were able to purchase land for themselves and to enjoy their first freedom,” Hanif observes.  “With such a legacy, it’s no wonder the spirit of Pin Point perseveres.”

My Brother’s Keeper:  Almost everyone in Pin Point is related to one another through a common ancestor: David Bond.  The Bond family tree dates back several generations and even includes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a Pin Point native.

—Allison Hersh

 

 

The Minis Family

It remains a family mystery as to what prompted Abigail and Abraham Minis, Ashkenazi Jews of German origin, to board the William and Sarah in 1733 with two young daughters, leaving London for the wilds of Savannah.  They were among the 42 Jews who left without knowing if Gen. James Oglethorpe would receive them into the Colony of Georgia, which he had founded just a few months earlier.  They couldn’t know if he would receive them—because they hadn’t asked for permission to come.

After consulting with attorneys in Charleston, Oglethorpe decided not only to let the Jews stay but to grant them land.  Despite the hardship and the uncertainty of life in a colony with foreign traditions and few other Jews, the Minises thrived—and they’ve lived continuously in Savannah for 282 years.

From the moment they landed, and through every successive generation, the Minises have invested in this community and been proud to be part of it.  Abraham was a farmer and merchant shipper who supplied Oglethorpe at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island.  His widow, Abigail, raised eight children, operated a tavern that hosted many local dignitaries, and amassed huge land holdings that she passed on to her children.  She supported the American Revolution.  So did her son, Philip, who also led a failed raid against the British.  Her daughter, Judith, entertained Oglethorpe regularly.

Successive ancestors invested in the first steamship, served in the military, in local government and as leaders of their synagogue and churches.  They were founding members of Congregation Mickve Israel, the Hibernian Society and the Oglethorpe Club.  They were doctors, merchants and seamen—most with an interest in business and an affinity for numbers.  Bob Minis started the investment firm Minis and Co. and later owned Carson Products, where his three children—Bobby, Henry and Peggy—were also involved before the company was sold in 1995.

Call Declined:  After the Civil War, Abraham Minis and his wife, Lavinia, no longer wanted to vacation in the North.  Instead, they summered in Nova Scotia, where they met inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  Abraham declined to invest in a prototype of the telephone, saying, “I cannot invest in the hope of a solid wire being able to carry a voice.”

Law and Order:  In 1867, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Dinah Minis, who was accused of treason for actively supporting the Confederacy.  Dr. Philip Minis, Dinah’s son, killed a man in a duel for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks.

True Romance:  Mary Haskell Minis turned down a proposal from her protégé, writer and artist Kahlil Gibran.  Though her husband disapproved of the emotional relationship, she edited Gibran’s work and supported him financially.  Their letters were published under the title The Beloved Prophet, and her collection of his drawings and paintings now resides at the Telfair Academy.

—Florence M. Slatinsky

 

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