Bernard von Kapff (1770-1829) put his stamp on early Baltimore as a merchant, public figure and leader of the German community. A native of Detmold in northern Germany, von Kapff established a tobacco importing business in 1795, and later joined fellow German Frederick W. Brune to create a prosperous mercantile house.
Von Kapff served from 1817-1822 as vice president of Baltimore's German Society, an organziation formed to protect the rights of German immigrants. He also donated $12,000 toward the construction of Baltimore's Battle Monument.
The von Kapff vault originally held the remains of Bernard, his wife, Hester, their son, J. Frederick (ca. 1820-1865), and his wife, Anne (1825-1911). Anne was later removed to Greenmount, and the others to a Philadelphia cemetery.
Kindred Souls The announcement of von Kapff's marriage to Hester H. Dider (1780-1821), daughter of a weathly Baltimore merchant and burying ground lot owner, published in the Baltimore Federal Gazette on May 30, 1804 included this verse:
Two kindred souls can only meet,
Tis love that makes the bondage sweet
And feeds the mutual flame.
Bernard J. von Kapff, copy after Robert Fields, oil on canvas, ca. 1800. Private collection
"The von Kapfff vault (lot 157) defies categorization and is unique in Baltimore. Its canted entrance, lotus capped pilasters, and enormous urn make it vaguely Egyptian; it was perhaps a response to the Buchanan-Calhoun pyramid and the Godefroy Gates."
Mary Ellen Hayward and Kent Lancaster, Baltimore's Westminster Cemetery & Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1984.
View of Westminster taken between 1885 and 1902
C.M. Kipner, photographer
Courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center, Baltimore, Maryland
International Trade Von Kapf & Brune, one of early Baltimore's leading commercial firms, imported German linens, exported produce and tobacco, acquired its own ships, and became active in the South American coffee trade. One of their ships made the Valparaiso-to-Baltimore voyage in a record-setting 69 days.
Advertisement published in Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, September 25, 1815