By: Herman Rosenthal
Town in the government of Courland, Russia, with a population (1897) of 5,223, of whom 3,800 were Jews. With the admission of Jews into Courland toward the close of the seventeenth century a Jewish community was established there, chiefly by settlers from neighboring Lithuanian towns and from White Russia. The latter found Friedrichstadt, owing to the rapids in the River Düna some miles above the town, a convenient halting-place in their voyages down the river, which was the main channel for a considerable trade in lumber, grain, and other merchandise between White Russia and Riga, a city below Friedrichstadt.
The archives of the city of Riga for the eighteenth century show that in the opinion of its burghers the commercial prosperity of their city depended largely on the trade brought there by way of Friedrichstadt through the Jews of White Russia (Buchholz, "Geschichte der Juden in Riga," pp. 29, 44-48). The Jewish community of Friedrichstadt is mentioned in Russian documents of the year 1742, when a ukase dated Dec. 14 ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Russia. When this ukase was enforced the burghers of Riga petitioned the government to grant the Jews permission to reside at least temporarily in their city, saying that unless this permission was granted they would be commercially ruined. As this petition proved ineffective, new conditions arose that gave impetus to the commerce of the Jewish community of Friedrichstadt. Barges and rafts sailing down the Düna laden with cargoes for Riga were detained at Friedrichstadt, and thus the trade of the Riga merchants was so seriously hampered that they feared it might eventually be diverted into other channels; and to obviate this danger they sent a special commissioner to Friedrichstadt for the purpose of obtaining relief (ib. p. 47).
In 1771 the Jewish community of Friedrichstadt suffered severely from floods due to a sudden breaking of the ice in the Düna. On this occasion the greater part of the town was swept away. Another flood equally disastrous to them occurred there in 1837 (see "Mittheilungen aus der Geschichte Liv-Est's und Courland's," i. 360). By the beginning of the nineteenth century the town had become an important commercial center. A number of prominent Jewish firms were engaged there in foreign trade as middlemen between German importers and Russian merchants of the interior. The chief articles of commerce were hides, furs, and bristles, which were collected from over all Russia and exported to England, Germany, and the United States. Local industry also received an impetus, and factories for the manufacture of cigars, soap, needles, chocolate, etc., were started; but with the opening of the Riga-Dünaburg Railroad in 1862 the commercial importance of the town began to wane. Nevertheless, its population, which in 1850 aggregated 1,483 inhabitants, steadily increased. A government school was established there in 1858. Among the most prominent Jewish families of this town are the following: Kahn, Birkhahn, Rosenthal, and Heyman.