Wednesday, November 18, 2015

First Puerto Rican MLB player - Hiram Bithorn

Hispanic heritage month came and went faster than I could blink an eye! I wanted to write a post and as you can see never got the chance; but while doing some research I came across someone I had not previously heard about from Puerto Rico and decided to find out some more information about his background after not seeing much about his origin, despite having a surname like "Bithorn". So I decided to do some digging on Puerto Rico's first MLB Player- Hiram Bithorn Sosa.

Hiram Bithorn Sosa [Google Images]

Initially when I saw his name I thought, "Wait… this guy is Puerto Rican? And his name is Hiram Bithorn..? And I don't know anything about him??" As you can see I was just all around surprised. During my time in high school and most of college I looked up and researched a lot about Puerto Rico -- its history, its politics, its linguistics… anything I could get my hands on. But for some reason, I never came across Hiram. I was especially surprised since he was the first Puerto Rican baseball player to play Major League Baseball. I decided to see what I could find out about Hiram Bithorn Sosa. 

Wikipedia told me that Hiram was born in 1916 in San Juan and so I knew where to search for his birth certificate. I was mainly interested in finding out where this "Bithorn" surname came from since I had never seen it in my searches and isn't a common surname. Hiram was born as "Hiram Gabriel Bithorn Sosa", on the 18th of March 1916 in Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hiram was the son of Waldemar Bithorn and María Sosa, both from San Juan. His paternal grandparents were listed as Fernando Bithorn Andersen and Tomasa Huicy both deceased by 1916. And through his maternal line, Roque Sosa Reyes from Trujillo Alto and Santos Castillo, deceased. 

Hiram Gabriel Bithorn Sosa, 1916 [Ancestry]

Paternal Family 

Looking at his paternal grandfather's second surname Andersen we can guess sometime type of Danish origin or even Swedish if the person incorrectly wrote "Andersson". Huicy on the other hand I had no lead as to where that surname was from. The more I dug into his paternal family, the more information I found. It turns out that Fernando Bithorn Andersen was a native of St. Croix, at that point a Danish  island, son of a Danish man from Copenhagen and his mother a native of St. Croix. I was even able to find a 1846 census record from St. Croix listing his father, Carl Bithorn (originally from Copenhagen), his mother Elisa (née Andersen) along with his siblings Anna and Eugene. Notice that his name was originally Ferdinand and when moving to Puerto Rico he became "Fernando". We see this a lot with immigrants that come from non-Spanish countries who suddenly become "Juan" instead of John and "María" instead of Mary. 

St. Croix, 1846 Census [Ancestry]

So far I've been able to find one record for a potential baptism for Carl Bithorn in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1805. My guess is that it is the same man since it matches the information we have. 

Carl Bithorn - Danish Baptism, 1805 [Ancestry]

Hiram's paternal grandmother Tomasa Huicy has a different ancestry all together. Tomasa Huicy Marín died on the 24th of January 1889 and was the daughter of Bernardo Huicy and Catalina Marín Molinari. Her father was from Vizcaya, Spain while her mother was a native of Puerto Rico. Her grandparents though, Santiago Marín and Tomasa Molinari, where said to be from Corcega and the Dominican Republic respectively. I tried looking up more information about Bernardo Huicy (potential maternal surname "Ordorgoiti" but I can across nothing about his actual origin in Vizcaya. He was however important in Arecibo with different roles such as a member of the Board of Trustees as well as mayor in the early 1900s. 

Maternal Family

On Hiram's maternal side we see that his grandfather Roque Sosa Reyes was the son of Domingo Sosa Suarez and María Andrea Reyes Betancourt, both from the Canary Islands. María Andrea Reyes Betancourt specifically from the island of Lanzarote. Hiram's grandmother, Santos Castillo Pastrana has been the only ancestor hard to track. We know that she was from Trujillo Alto and passed away before 1906. Her parents were Fernando Castillo and María Pastrana but no idea if they were from Puerto Rico or somewhere else. 

It is interesting to notice that Hiram's family is fairly "recently" Puerto Rican seeing as how 3 out of his 4 grandparents had at least one parent born outside of Puerto Rico. From most of my searches, Puerto Ricans have deep roots on the island through at least one line or one side of the family, so it was interesting researching Hiram and finding his family easily traces out of Puerto Rico to various places such as Spain (Vizcaya and the Canary Islands), Italy, the Dominican Republic, and especially to Denmark. 

This link about Hiram's life gives a very interesting look into his career, life, and even some of what he faced due to his race. It's interesting how during those times, and even now a days, people quickly want to classify someone to a certain box in regards to race. With a name such as Hiram Bithorn, one might not expect a Puerto Rican to walk into the room, but that's the beautiful thing about our small island-- that there is such diversity amongst its inhabitants. 

Bithorn unfortunately passed away on the 29th of December, 1951 at the age of 35 in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, México after being shot by a police officer. It was very interesting learning about Hiram his ancestry, and the life he lived as the first Puerto Rican MLB player.