Francis “Frank” Joseph Sylvester
Birth: 1837 in England
Death: December 25, 1908 (age 70-71) in Victoria, B.C.
Due to harsh economic conditions in Poland/Prussia, Frank Sylvester’s parents immigrated to Manchester England in the 1830’s. In 1837 the couple and their children moved to New York. It’s unclear whether Frank Sylvester was born in England or in New York. There were 8 children, all of whom died except for Frank and his older sisters Rebecca and Rachael. In 1843, their mother passed away after nursing Rebecca back to health from a serious illness.
In 1856 Frank and his father went to San Francisco via the overland route and across the Isthmus of Panama. Frank managed his brother-in-law, Martin Prag’s hardware and tin shop in Shasta, California. In 1858, Martin Prag sent Frank to Victoria with $2000 to open a Victoria location for his Hardware and Tin-ware store. Frank slept in a tent near Yates street his first night in Victoria. He rented a 15 foot lot from Amor De Cosmos for $100.00 a month. At first, Frank was successful in building and operating a small store. But by the end of the year, due to stiff competition, he was unable to pay the rent and forfeited the store to Amor De Cosmos.
In July 1859 Frank went to the gold fields on the Fraser River to sell Prag’s merchandise. Accounts of Frank’s movements until the mid 1860’s are varied. He may have gone to Lilloocet, Quesnel, Fort Alexandria, Barkerville and to the Caribou.
When he returned to Victoria, Frank became an agent for his brother-in-law, and started another hardware and tin store on lower Yates Street. From January 1862-December 1864 he was the secretary and bookkeeper for the Tiger Engine Co. Volunteer Fire Brigade. In 1863, Frank began a job as the bookkeeper for JP Davies & Co. He met and fell in love with JP Davies’ second daughter, Cecelia. She was about a dozen years his junior, and Frank waited a number of years before courting her. They married in 1869 and had 8 children, three boys and 5 girls.
When JP Davies died suddenly in 1879, his son Joshua inherited the business and cut Frank’s salary from $150 to $75 a month. Frank quit. Although he was offered jobs with a rival auctioneer, Frank become an independent accountant. He later joined his three sons in running The Sylvester Feed Store.
For a while Frank returned to San Francisco about four times a year to visit family, friends, and business associates as well as to purchase goods. He was on the Labourche in 1866 when in a dense fog not far from San Francisco; the ship got stuck on a reef and later sank. Frank was in part responsible for saving the lives of most of the passengers.
Frank was prominent in the business community and a member of a number of fraternal organizations including the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Freemasons. In addition, he was a founding member and secretary of the Natural Historical Society, and wrote and presented a number of articles.
Frank had a religious Jewish upbringing. Despite sometimes straying far from the dietary restrictions while travelling, Frank maintained an Orthodox perspective and a keen interest in Jewish life. Known to be socially responsible and altruistic, Dr. Helmcken said of Frank that he was always ready to help on every project for the advancement of the city, with money, influence and time and that he took a deep interest in all that affected the well-being of the community.
On December 25, 1908, after returning home from a visit to the home of his daughter, May (Mable) Ellis, Frank was reported to have been in the best of health and spirits. He chatted with his family before leaving the room to go to bed. Soon after, he was found dead on the floor. The doctor was called, but could only say that Frank Sylvester died instantly.
Gravesite Details: Row F – Plot 39
Eula Sarah Silberstein (Anglicized to Julia Sylvester)
Hyman Silberstein (Anglicized to Henry Sylvester after arriving in NY in 1842)
Cecelia Davies Sylvester (1848–1935)
Elizabeth Eula Sylvester Menkus (1869–1937)
Louise Miriam Sylvester (1871–1955)
William Benjamin Sylvester (1874–1931)
Clarence Bertram Sylvester (1876–1933)
Mabel Violet Sylvester Ellis (1878–1941)
Jesse Percival Sylvester (1880–1945)
Rachel Valentine Sylvester Campbell (1884–1975)
Rebecca Florence Sylvester Macrae (1889–1980)
Jewish Museum of the American West:
Francis Joseph & Cecelia Sylvester: Early Jewish Settlers & “Community Givers” of Victoria, BC
Jewish Museum and Archives:
On These Shores