The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birmingh

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 4:09 am

8. "MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE WINDWARD COAST OF AFRICA"

EVEN AFTER it became a British colony, New York remained very Dutch in feeling. The brick and tile with which the houses were built, the architecture, the machinery, the utensils -- everything had been imported from the Netherlands until a replica of a Dutch dorp had been created on the tip of Manhattan, a miniaturized Amsterdam. The British had arrived and taken over things, but the Dutch families refused to change their quiet, cultured ways. They continued to live with their mahogany furniture, their Oriental rugs, their delft ornaments, their fine brass and silverware, their paintings by Dutch masters. They continued to worship at the Dutch church, and to speak the Dutch language. So resolutely did they cling to their old-world roots that Dutch was spoken in the Dutch Church of New York right up until the time of the Civil War.

The Dutch were scornful of the British arrivals, and considered them boorish and uncultivated. The people who counted were still the Dutch families -- the de Peysters, the Bogarduses, the Lockermans, the Van Cortlandts, the Kierstedes, the Van Rensselaers, the Phillipses, and the Beekmans. The Jews of New York, with their affinity for things Dutch, felt similarly about the British. (England had, after all, had anti-Semitic pogroms, which Holland had never had.) As Revolutionary sentiments were marshaling themselves, there was no question of where most of the New York Sephardim would stand: squarely against the British.

But as the trickle of Sephardic arrivals continued -- along with a much smaller trickle of Jews from central Europe, who joined the Sephardic congregations when they got here -- Jews were scattering to cities other than New York, establishing little settlements in Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans to the south, and in New England to the north, following the pattern of expansion of the American colonies along the eastern seaboard. A particularly important Sephardic community had been established early in the eighteenth century in Newport, where sons and grandsons of the Twenty-Three, along with their later-arriving cousins, had settled and were taking part in Newport's booming trade. By 1750, Newport had outdistanced New York as a commercial seaport, and Newport's Sephardim were getting even richer than New York's. There were strong ties between Jewish Newport and Jewish New York. The famous Touro Synagogue in Newport was built as -- and continues to be -- a branch of New York's Shearith Israel, and is owned by the New York congregation (it pays rent of a dollar a year). But in terms of eighteenth-century politics, Newport and New York were somewhat unlike. Newport, after all, was a New England city. There was more pro-Tory feeling about. Writing to his young Newport cousin, Aaron Lopez, Daniel Gomez frequently chided him for failing to support the Revolutionary cause. But young Aaron, though he respected his New York relative, had different ideas. On his arrival in America he had sworn in his naturalization oath to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty George the Third." And Aaron had business reasons for remaining on good terms with the British. He had extensive dealings with them in Newport's flourishing slave trade.

Aaron Lopez was a very determined young man. He had arrived in Newport from Portugal -- where his family had been successful Marranos -- in 1750 at the age of nineteen, and he had already acquired a wife, another cousin, five years older than he, named Abigail (Anna had been her Christian alias in Iberia), and a tiny daughter, Sarah (alias Catherine). In Newport the little family immediately resumed their Old Testament first names, and Aaron and his wife were remarried in the Jewish rite.

Men of Aaron's generation had a distinct advantage over the earliest pioneers such as the Twenty-Three. There were other Jews, many of them relatives, to welcome them and help them set themselves up in business. In Aaron's case, there were his Gomez and de Lucena connections in New York, and, in Newport, an older half-brother, Moses Lopez, and still another cousin, Jacob Rodriguez Rivera, who had both become successful merchants. For several years, Aaron Lopez worked for Jacob Rivera while he saved his money so as to get into something on his own. Mr. Rivera was credited with having founded Newport's spermaceti industry, dealing in the whitish, waxy substance that could be separated from the oil of the sperm whale and was the principal ingredient of candlemaking. Between spermaceti and the town's "other" industry -- slavery -- Newport's harbor was one of the busiest in America, where as many as 150 ships lay at anchor at a time.

Slavery, and their part in it, has understandably become a sore point with the Sephardim, who tend to play down their ancestors' role, or to insist that Jewish merchants who took part in the slave trade did so "only on a very limited scale." Looking at it in historical perspective, however, and bearing in mind the attitudes that prevailed at the time -- and remembering man's limitless capacity to overlook his own folly -- it is possible to view slavery as it was viewed in the eighteenth century, as just another business. No one questioned the morality of the slave trade. Whether it was right or wrong was something not even considered. It was not in any way a Jewish preoccupation. All the "best people" were involved in it, and a great many of New England's oldest, finest, and most redoubtable fortunes are solidly based on human cargo. (One should not point to the Jews and overlook the Christians.)


April 14, 1775: First American abolition society founded in Philadelphia

The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, the first American society dedicated to the cause of abolition, is founded in Philadelphia on this day in 1775. The society changes its name to the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage in 1784.

Leading Quaker educator and abolitionist Anthony Benezet called the society together two years after he persuaded the Quakers to create the Negro School at Philadelphia. Benezet was born in France to a Huguenot (French Protestant) family that had fled to London in order to avoid persecution at the hands of French Catholics. The family eventually migrated to Philadelphia when Benezet was 17. There, he joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) and began a career as an educator. In 1750, Benezet began teaching slave children in his home after regular school hours, and in 1754, established the first girls’ school in America. With the help of fellow Quaker John Woolman, Benezet persuaded the Philadelphia Quaker Yearly Meeting to take an official stance against slavery in 1758.

Benezet’s argument for abolition found a trans-Atlantic audience with the publication of his tract Some Historical Account of Guinea, written in 1772. Benezet counted Benjamin Franklin and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, among his sympathetic correspondents. He died in 1784; his funeral was attended by 400 black Philadelphians. His society was renamed in that year, and in 1787, Benjamin Franklin lent his prestige to the organization, serving as its president.

-- April 14, 1775: First American abolition society founded in Philadelphia, by History.com


In New England, slavery was not only tacitly approved. It was actually touted as an institution of great benefit to the black man, in that it brought him out of the heathen jungle into the civilized land of Christian godliness. A certain elder of the church in Newport would, according to one historian, go to church the Sunday following the arrival of a slaver from the Coast and "thank God that another cargo of benighted beings had been brought to a land where they could have the benefit of a Gospel dispensation." In a volume called Reminiscences of Newport, an idyllic picture of slavery is painted, and the attitudes prevalent in Aaron Lopez' day are perfectly defined. "If we look at the relation of master and slave at that time," the author writes, "we must own that the attachment between them was stronger, and the interest manifested in the welfare of each other far greater than anything in our days between employer and employee." He adds, "Few were the complaints of the servitude exacted." True, there were some who regarded slavery with distaste or even horror, but these were regarded as harmless eccentrics. Ministers such as Ezra Stiles and Samuel Hopkins ranted against slavery from their New England pulpits, but to little avail. Every man of substance owned slaves. The Episcopal Church itself owned a plantation in Barbados, and from time to time had to purchase fresh slaves to keep it in operation. And slavery had become such an immensely profitable business that those men engaged in it had no difficulty whatever in turning deaf ears to their scattered critics.

To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisers does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the Legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expense, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniuses, till the females should be eighteen, and the, males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of household, and of the handicraft arts, seeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c., to declare them a free and independent people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed. It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the State, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which Nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race. To these objections, which are political, may be added others, which are physical and moral. The first difference which strikes us is that of color. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf skin, or in the scarf skin itself; whether it proceeds from the color of the blood, the color of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in Nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favor of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan [orangutan] for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man? Besides those of color, figure and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odor. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites. Perhaps, too, a difference of structure in the pulmonary apparatus, which a late ingenious experimentalist has discovered to be the principal regulator of animal heat, may have disabled them from extricating, in the act of inspiration, so much of that fluid from the outer air, or obliged them in expiration, to part with more of it. They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labor through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female; but love seems with them to be more an eager desire than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether Heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labor. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep of course. Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here on the same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed. It will be right to make great allowances for the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move. Many millions of them have been brought to, and born in America. Most of them, indeed, have been confined to tillage, to their own homes, and their own society; yet many have been so situated, that they might have availed themselves of the conversation of their masters; many have been brought up to the handicraft arts, and from that circumstance have always been associated with the whites. Some have been liberally educated, and all have lived in countries where the arts and sciences are cultivated to a considerable degree, and have had before their eyes samples of the best works from abroad. The Indians, with no advantages of this kind, will often carve figures on their pipes not destitute of design and merit. They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or a country, so as to prove the existence of a germ in their minds which only wants cultivation. They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never seen even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved. Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar oestrum of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination. Religion, indeed, has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism. The heroes of the Dunciad are to her as Hercules to the author of that poem. Ignatius Sancho has approached nearer to merit in composition; yet his letters do more honor to the heart than the head. They breathe the purest effusions of friendship and general philanthropy, and shew how great a degree of the latter may be compounded with strong religious zeal. He is often happy in the turn of his compliments, and his style is easy and familiar, except when he affects a Shandean fabrication of words. But his imagination is wild and extravagant, escapes incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste, and, in the course of its vagaries, leaves a tract of thought as incoherent and eccentric as is the course of a meteor through the sky. His subjects should often have led him to a process of sober reasoning; yet we find him always substituting sentiment for demonstration. Upon the whole, though we admit him to the first place among those of his own color who have presented themselves to the public judgment, yet when we compare him with the writers of the race among whom he lived, and particularly with the epistolary class in which he has taken his own stand, we are compelled to enroll him at the bottom of the column. This criticism supposes the letters published under his name to be genuine, and to have received amendment from no other hand; points which would not be of easy investigation. The improvement of the blacks in body and mind, in the first instance of their mixture with the whites, has been observed by every one, and proves that their inferiority is not the effect merely of their condition of life. We know that among the Romans, about the Augustan age especially, the condition of their slaves was much more deplorable than that of the blacks on the continent of America. The two sexes were confined in separate apartments, because to raise a child cost the master more than to buy one. Cato, for a very restricted indulgence to his slaves in this particular, took from them a certain price. But in this country the slaves multiply as fast as the free inhabitants. Their situation and manners place the commerce between the two sexes almost without restraint. The same Cato, on a principle of economy, always sold his sick and superannuated slaves. He gives it as a standing precept to a master visiting his farm, to sell his old oxen, old wagons, old tools, old and diseased servants, and every thing else become useless: "Vendat boves vetulos, plaustrum vetus, serramenta Vetera, servum senem, servum morbosum, & si quid aliud supersit vendat." — Cato de re rustica, c. 2. The American slaves cannot enumerate this among the injuries and insults they receive. It was the common practice to expose in the island of Aesculapius, in the Tyber, diseased slaves, whose cure was like to become tedious. The Emperor Claudius by an edict gave freedom to such of them as should recover, and first declared that if any person chose to kill rather than to expose them, it should be deemed homicide. The exposing them is a crime, of which no instance has existed with us; and were it to be followed by death, it would be punished capitally. We are told of a certain Vedius Pollio, who, in the presence of Augustus, would have given a slave as food to his fish for having broken a glass. With the Romans, the regular method of taking the evidence of their slaves was under torture. Here it has been thought better never to resort to their evidence. When a master was murdered, all his slaves in the same house, or within hearing, were condemned to death. Here punishment falls on the guilty only, and as precise proof is required against him as against a freeman. Yet notwithstanding these and other discouraging circumstances among the Romans, their slaves were often their rarest artists. They excelled, too, in science, insomuch as to be usually employed as tutors to their master's children. Epictetus, Diogenes, Phaedon, Terence, and Phaedrus, were slaves. But they were of the race of whites. It is not their condition then, but Nature, which has produced the distinction....

Notwithstanding these considerations, which must weaken their respect for the laws of property, we find among them numerous instances of the most rigid integrity, and as many as among their better instructed masters, of benevolence, gratitude, and unshaken fidelity. The opinion that they are inferior in the faculties of reason and imagination, must be hazarded with great diffidence. To justify a general conclusion, requires many observations, even where the subject may be submitted to the anatomical knife, to optical glasses, to analysis by fire, or by solvents. How much more then where it is a faculty, not a substance, we are examining; where it eludes the research of all the senses; where the conditions of its existence are various, and variously combined; where the effects of those which are present or absent bid defiance to calculation; let me add too, as a circumstance of great tenderness, where our conclusion would degrade a whole race of men from the rank in the scale of beings which their Creator may perhaps have given them. To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as Nature has formed them? This unfortunate difference of color, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people. Many of their advocates, while they wish to vindicate the liberty of human nature, are anxious also to preserve its dignity and beauty. Some of these, embarrassed by the question, "What further is to be done with them?" join themselves in opposition with those who are actuated by sordid avarice only. Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.

-- Notes on the State of Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson


Newport's first human cargo from Africa arrived as early as 1696, and soon afterward began that interesting triangular trade route which the slavers followed for the next hundred years. A ship would set sail from Newport to the west coast of Africa loaded with hogsheads of New England rum. In Africa, the rum would be traded for slaves, who would then be carried to the West Indies, where the third major transaction would take place -- slaves traded for sugar, which was then brought back to Newport, where no less than twenty-two stills waited to turn the sugar into rum, which would then make its way back to Africa to be exchanged for more slaves.

The rum, in part, stayed in the African coastal colonies, where it was simply another form of currency, and of course a small portion of it went into the interior of Africa, where tribal chieftains accepted it in payment for their people. But most of the rum eventually went to Europe -- to England, France, Holland, Portugal, and Denmark -- for all these countries were then engaged in what amounted to an international business. And these were the countries, too, that needed slaves to provide labor in their expanding colonies.

There were opportunities for sizable profits at each corner of the triangular slave trade, and from a great variety of other goods that were bought, sold, and traded along the way. But slaves produced the tidiest yield -- between £1,500 and £2,000 profit per shipload being about average, at a time when, to get an idea of comparative prices, a hundred-gallon cask of Madeira wine sold for something like £6. At the height of the slave trade when Aaron Lopez was active, as many as 184 vessels were involved from the state of Rhode Island alone. In the United States, only South Carolina exceeded this figure. This meant that Newport saw the arrival or departure of a slave ship every single day of the year.

Of course it was easier for the men who owned the slaving fleets to justify their curious occupation. Most owners never set foot aboard their ships. They had never seen a slave ship being unloaded or watched the sick and filthy men and women -- and children, too -- emerge with their black skins gone gray from hunger and confinement below the decks. The same was true of the rest of commercial and social Newport. Slavery was invisible. Slaves were nearly always disposed of in West Indian or southern ports.
As Jeremy Belknap, an old Newporter, once recalled: "Very few cargoes ever came to this port. . . . I remember one, between thirty and forty years ago, which consisted almost wholly of children . . . sometimes the Rhode Island vessels, after having sold their prime slaves in the West Indies, brought the remnants of their cargoes hither for sale." Mr. Belknap then wistfully added: "Since this commerce has declined, the town of Newport has gone to decay."

Out of sight was out of mind and, meanwhile, an altogether different sort of character was required for the man who captained a slaving ship, who anchored off the African coast and engaged in the actual barter of human bodies in exchange for hogsheads of rum.

Of a different caliber, too, was the "governor" who operated the coastal "castle" where slaves were herded and corraled until sold.
At the height of the eighteenth-century slave trade, as many as forty of these stations were strung along the so-called Slave Coast, the low-lying delta country that stretches for 700 miles between the mouth of the Volta River and Mount Cameroon. Here, those blacks "deemed to make the best slaves" were brought for 350 years. Of the forty castles, fourteen were English, three were French, fifteen were Dutch, four were Portuguese, and four were Danish. But from the figures of a single year of trade -- 38,000 slaves sold by the British, 20,000 by the French, 4,000 by the Dutch, 10,000 by the Portuguese, and 2,000 by the Danes -- it is quite clear that more than half the trade was in British hands. [ i]

Slaves were driven on foot to these castles from their villages in the interior. For this most dreadful stage of their long journey, during which the greatest loss of life occurred, their herdsmen were almost always their own people. The most demoralized positions in the entire slave trade fell to these men. As for the native chieftain who sold off members of his tribe for barrels of rum, he was almost as remote from the death and torture of the business as the powdered and bewigged ladies and gentlemen back in Newport, chatting over teacups, the leaders of business and society who were enjoying the gratifying monetary fruits of the operation at the other end. White or black, slavery was the creation of the nabobs.

On the African coast, price negotiations were in the hands of the slaver captain and the resident governor of the castle. It was all very businesslike, and there were fluctuations in the market just as there were in every other commodity. Sometimes it took months for a satisfactory deal to be completed, but once it was, the slaves were loaded aboard with great dispatch. A captain who "lost" his slaves for any reason was, understandably, not assured a precisely warm welcome back in Newport, and so some care was taken for the slaves' well-being, but no more care than was economically feasible. Slave quarters were in spaces between the decks, three to three and a half feet high. Men were stretched out on their backs, in spaces eighteen inches wide per man, their ankles secured by chains. Women and children lay in a separate compartment, equally crowded but unchained. The journey across the Atlantic took anywhere from six to ten weeks, depending on the weather. Sometimes, if the captain was a lenient one, the prisoners were allowed above decks for short periods to get exercise and a breath of fresh air. Often, during these moments, prisoners tried to fling themselves overboard into the sea. Uncooperative prisoners were punished in such bizarre ways as being tied to ships' anchor chains and dragged in the wake.

There were equally bizarre dangers to be encountered by those employed at various points of the slaving triangle. One of Aaron Lopez' Da Costa cousins, who helped her husband with his end of the business in Kingston, Jamaica, and who happened to be pregnant at the time, one night "went to draw rum to adulterate for the Sunday sale of slaves" [ii] by candlelight. A spark from her candle dropped into the high-proof rum, and the rum, along with the unfortunate woman, went up in flames. Mrs. Da Costa very nearly did for Kingston what Mrs. O'Leary's cow later did for Chicago, for nearby were "rum, brandy and gin shops by the score" which contained thousands of inflammable gallons. Luckily, the "eingine" arrived quickly and the fire was extinguished, though too late to save the lady.

In this, Newport's leading, highly respected, even fashionable industry, young Aaron Lopez -- enterprising, handsome, with dark hair, high cheekbones, and large, dark, commanding eyes; small and wiry -- was an early success. From the pennies saved while working with his cousin Jacob Rivera, he had been able, within two years, to become a partner in the purchase of the ship Ann, described in her bill of sale as "A double deck new brigantine about 113 tons burthen . . . completely finished for the African trade . . . to be sheathed with inch pine boards or 1/2 inch cedar ... the awning, a second boat, caboose, colors, small arms, chains and hand cuffs [these items are underscored in the bill of sale] and every other small utensil to be excluded and provided by the Captain." Not even the implements of imprisonment were dealt in by the owner. [iii]

At 113 tons, the Ann was probably about seventy feet in length, a small ship for such long voyages, but few slave ships were larger. Her cost to Aaron Lopez was quoted at "£690 Sterling," not even half the profit that could be made from a single load of slaves. On November 27, 1772, nine months after she had been ordered, the Ann lay ready to sail in Newport harbor, her decks loaded with such items as Madeira wine, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, thirty sheep, thirty-nine turkeys, twenty-eight geese, twenty-one ducks. But the largest item, which caused the Ann to ride low in the water, was "98 hogsheads and 14 tierces New England Rum," approximately 11,000 gallons, weighing over forty tons. Lopez made a brief inspection of his new ship -- probably the last he ever saw of her -- and turned her over to his captain, a sturdy Yankee named William Einglish, with the following orders:

Sir:

Our brig the Ann, of which you are at present the master, being loaded and ready for the Seas, Our orders to you are, That you Embrace the first fair wind and make the best of your way to the Coast of Africa; and as we have no opinion of the windward Coast trade, we think it advisable, that as soon as you procure the necessary rice that you proceed without delay to Anamoboe Road; when please God you arrive there safe Convert your cargo into good Slaves; on the best terms you can; you are not insensible that lying any considerable time on the Coast is not only attended with a very heavy expense, but also great risk of Slaves you may have on board. We therefore would recommend to you dispatch, even if you are obliged to give a few gallons more or less on each slave....


Obviously, a great deal depended on the reliability of the captain, and there is no way of telling how many of these men were able successfully to cheat their owners. But Einglish seems to have been an honest man. His orders went on to explain that a certain David Mill, governor of one of the coast castles, still owed Lopez' cousin Jacob Rivera "twenty-seven men and thirteen women slaves" from an earlier shipment which had arrived short that number. These, Lopez asserted, Mill would "immediately deliver" to Captain Einglish, and he was sure of this "from Mr. Mill's universal character." In order that these forty not be confused with the rest of the shipment, Lopez instructed the captain to "put some distinguishing mark" on those, "that we may distinguish them from those of the cargo."

The bookkeeping was then explained. Two-thirds of the regular cargo were to be bought on Lopez' account, and the remaining third were to be charged to Jacob Rivera. The forty owed slaves were to be credited to each man equally. All slaves, the orders advised, were to be sold in the slave market of Savannah La Mar, Jamaica, and the Ann was to return to Newport "clean of them."

It would be romantic and wrong to picture Captain Einglish as a demon. Actually, his approach to the business was crisp and dispassionate.
He had a job to do. He was meticulous in his record keeping, and anything that smacked of inefficiency or wasted motion annoyed him. In his first report to Lopez, dated January 14, 1773, Einglish wrote: "After a voyage of forty days I arrived at the Islands of Deloes on the windward Coast of Africa, where I furnished myself with what rice I think will be sufficient for my voyage [rice, and a little mutton, comprised the diet of the captured slaves], and shall sail this day for the Gold Coast, wind and weather permitting." Rumors, he said, had reached him that business was "very Dull for our Trade," and that ships were being forced to move further eastward along the coast in search of slaves. "The lowest price that they asked for slaves here," he wrote, "is a hundred and fifty barrels, which is equal to two hundred gallons of Rum." He went on to report that "Various Gales of Wind" had meant that "the greatest part of my Turkeys Perished, Also Lost the 30 Bundles of Hay the Fourth day after I sail'd. I have still on board twenty-eight sheep with the greatest part of the Geese and Ducks which I expect to deliver in good order." This meant that only two sheep had been butchered and consumed during the crossing, a commendably thrifty record.

Two months later, in March, Einglish wrote to Lopez from Anamabu, a village still standing on the Gold Coast, saying: "I arrived at Cape Corse Castle on the 12th of February, where on my arrival applied to Governor Mill and gave him the offer of my cargo on Various Terms, from one hundred and eighty gallons to two hundred for men and in proportion for women," who were always sold for somewhat less. Mr. Mill, it turned out, despite his "universal character," was somewhat overextended. He owed slaves to captains in all directions -- including, of course, the forty to Lopez and Rivera -- and the best he could promise Einglish, the captain reported to his employer, was that after every ship, in its proper turn, had received its share, he might be able to supply Einglish with some "in about Eighteen Months." As for the forty short from the previous order, Mill replied vaguely that he would have them for Einglish when Einglish was "ready to sail."

Anamabu that spring was understocked with slaves and overstocked with rum. Wrote Einglish: "Here is very poor times for every fort and private house is stocked with Rum. . . there is no selling of Rum nor anything else. I have not been five nights on board since my arrival but continually cruising from one fort to another striving to sell my Cargo." The more he cruised, apparently, the higher the price of slaves became and the longer the wait for delivery. From a deal which he reports "I struck with Mr. Henrick Woortman," he exchanged four thousand gallons at the rate of "two hundred gallon for men and one hundred and eighty for women, payable in three months." From "Various private traders," he was able to get a few more at a slightly lower price -- "190 Gallon and 195 for men and in proportion for women" -- but soon the price jumped again to 210 gallons for men slaves, and a three-month delay. He wrote to Lopez and Rivera: "Gentlemen, I have but five Slaves on board and God knows when I shall have five more for the Country Trade is so dull and Slaves scarce." He added that his supply of sheep was now down to twenty-seven, along with sixteen geese, twelve ducks, and five turkeys.

Two weeks later, Einglish wrote to Lopez that he had bought ten more slaves, bringing the total on board to fifteen, and that he was about to deliver Mr. Woortman's rum at his castle. "If Mr. Woortman pays me according to agreement," he noted somewhat nervously, "I shall sail the Beginning of June." The rum market continued depressed and, "There is no Governor, neither English Nor Dutch that will take Rum for present pay." The same went for "Lisbon wine," though the captain noted a better market for "wine that will pass for Madeira." The price of rum was driven further downward by the arrival of two more vessels, one from Boston and one "of Mr. Brown of Newport," both loaded to the gunwales with hogsheads of the stuff and, of course, when rum prices dropped, slave prices rose.

By the middle of May -- Einglish had been at anchor over two months -- thirty slaves were on board the Ann. Governor Mill had still not delivered the forty slaves he owed Aaron Lopez and Jacob Rivera, and Captain Einglish was still anxiously awaiting delivery from Mr. Woortman, which was promised for May 28. There was more bad news. Captain Einglish's chief mate, whom Einglish describes as "a worthless Drunking fellow," had, in a moment of bibulous carelessness, been responsible for the loss of the Ann's longboat and a load of valuable provisions. "I dispatched him," Einglish writes, "to Cape Cord in the Long Boat for water and to settle some business there that I could not leave the vessel to tend, his boat being well fitted with everything that I thought necessary, and had in Twenty Three water casks, two barrels flour, one box soap, and fifty pounds of coffee, which goods he was to deliver and receive the Gold." However, "In one of his drunking frollicks, carrying more sail than Good Judgment would allow him, he took in a large quantity of water and stood so nigh the shore that he was almost in the breakers, whereupon the natives perceiving came off with a number of canoes and several of them boarding the boat on one side, and she already waterlogged, readily overset and Every shilling's worth lost to the Great Determent of the Voyage. For now I am obliged to hire a canoe and employ a number of Blacks that I should have had no occasion for." To add to his indignation, he noted that the price of slaves had climbed to 230 gallons a head.

By June 6, Einglish had forty-one slaves on board,
and Woortman was eight days past his deadline, promising delivery now "in a few days." Mr. Mill, too, was dragging his feet, and the captain wrote to his employer in Newport: "I waited on Governor Mill two days ago for the slaves due, but did not receive them, although his promise to me was that I should have them whenever demanded." If Mill's response seemed suspiciously evasive, Einglish's countermove against Mill was properly aggressive. He applied to Mill for payment of the sunken longboat, claiming that it was the natives, who were in Mill's charge, climbing aboard on one side that had caused the boat to sink, not the chief mate's drunkenness and poor judgment. Mill agreed that the "Natives should be made to pay," and Einglish seems to have concluded that this was quite just since "they were concerned in a most Vilanous Action in plundering and oversetting her." Einglish concludes with a prayer that no more rum might arrive from New England to further drive down the price.

On July 12, Governor Mill wrote to Lopez and Rivera explaining that he was once again sending the firm a short shipment. "I have only been able, trade being so bad," he said, "to pay Captain Einglish 30 of the 40 slaves owed . . . and hope the detention of those ten will be no loss to you. If it is I will thankfully pay you. I have paid for the stock and I hope to your satisfaction." He does not mention paying for the longboat. The same day, Captain Einglish added to the list what his hold contained: "19 men slaves, marked '0' on the right thigh, also 11 women marked ditto. Being marked and numbered as in the margin, and are to be delivered in the like good order and well conditioned at the port of Kingston in Jamaica (mortality, insurrection, and the danger of the seas only excepted)."

The Woortman delivery must have been made soon after because, on July 15, Captain Einglish set sail from Anamabu, where he had spent just over five months, with a load of ninety-five slaves comprising, in addition to the thirty from Mill, "33 men slaves, 2 boys, 27 women, and 3 girl slaves." All, he noted, "is very good and healthy at present and have not lost one slave yet. Thank God for it." It took Einglish eighty-five days, in heavy weather most of the way, to make the westward journey across the Atlantic to Jamaica. Once there he was forced to report that he had had "the misfortune of burying six slaves on my passage," five of them from the regular cargo and one of the group marked "0" -- probably by branding -- on the right thigh. Of the remainder, he commented that they were "for the great part in good health and well liked by the gentleman who intends to purchase. . . . By what I can learn from several gentlemen that has seen the slaves they will sell to good advantage -- the 13th Inst. is the Day for Sale." A few weeks later, however, the captain's report from Jamaica indicated that he had been somewhat optimistic in his earlier letter, as to both the state of the slaves' health and that of the market. A disorder which Einglish characterizes only as "swelling," and which was probably a form of scurvy or food poisoning, had afflicted many of his cargo during the crossing, and now Einglish wrote: "Gentlemen, I buried one man slave since my last, and the Swelling began to range so violent among the slaves that nine of them was sold for a mere trifle . . . when I arrived, there was but two slaves that had the least sign of swelling. This disorder first begun in their feet and worked upward ... when got as far as their stomach they died in a few hours." He added gloomily that "There has been three ships' cargoes of slaves sold since my arrival, and none of their averages exceeded [ours] not five shillings in a slave. Therefor I do not think that this market is as good as the Merchants here says it ought to be."

Still, Captain Einglish was, according to the accounting he submitted, able to sell his remaining slaves for £3,620. Expenses amounted to £1,399, which meant a tidy profit of £1,259, or about 90 percent. He sailed from Jamaica in December and, after a brief stop at Mole Saint Nicolas, on the northwestern tip of Haiti, where he loaded the Ann with sugar, he headed home to Newport.

_______________

Notes:
 
i. Slavery was brought to the colonies by the English. England did get around to abolishing slavery somewhat before the United States did, in 1807. Denmark was the first nation to abolish slavery, in 1792. The northern American states, meanwhile, starting with Vermont in 1777 and ending with New Jersey in 1804, all had adopted state abolition laws before Great Britain did.
 
ii. Undoubtedly to thin it with water.
 
iii. There was an ancient Talmudic principle involved here. For centuries the rabbinate decreed that when a Jew was involved in the human slave trade,  he could not go below certain standards of humanity and decency. The Jew could deal in slaves as a business -- as everyone else did -- but he could not be involved in their punishment or torture. In the tenth century, for instance, there was a great vogue for blond eunuch slaves. They were used in harems and for homosexual purposes. The Jews of the Orient and Middle East were disturbed by this trade, and went to their rabbis for guidance. They were advised that it was permissible for them to buy and sell eunuchs, but that they were under no circumstances to be involved with the performance of castrations. The rabbis told them, "Let the goy do that."
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:01 pm

9. ALLARUMS AND RAVAGES

AARON LOPEZ' SHIPS made yearly visits to Africa in this fashion and, from his modest beginning with the Ann, his fleet grew to the point where, at the height of his career, just before the first guns of the American Revolution, he owned, or partly owned, more than thirty vessels in what was called the "African Trade," or, more euphemistically, the "West Indian Trade."

As his fortune grew, so did the size of his family. He seems to have been cut out to be a patriarch on the grandest scale, and doubtless envisioned each new son as a future asset to his business. His first wife, Anna, bore him eight children before she died -- in childbirth -- in 1762. She, of course, had been Aaron's cousin, and Aaron next married another cousin, Sally Rivera, some sixteen years his junior, the daughter of his business associate, Jacob Rodriguez Rivera. Thus his partner became his father-in-law.

Aaron's second wife proceeded to present him with nine children and when, one by one, the members of this voluminous family reached marriageable age, suitable partners had to be found among the Sephardim of Newport and New York, who, at this point, were nearly all relatives already. The web of intramural marriage drew even tighter. One Lopez daughter married a Touro, and two of Aaron's daughters married Gomez boys -- who were each other's first cousins, and both nephews of Daniel Gomez -- and another married a Hendricks (who were already related to Gomezes) and still another became Rachel Lopez-Lopez when she married her own first cousin. Two other Lopez girls married the same man, Jacob Levy. This happened when Mr. Levy, widowed by one Lopez girl, married her younger sister. This marriage was not so much dynastic as dizzying in the extent to which it crossed up various Levys. Since Levy had children by both his wives, his marriages made his various children first cousins. To further confuse the tangled Lopez-Gomez-Rivera bloodline, one of Aaron Lopez' daughters, Hannah, married her uncle. With this union, Aaron's brother-in-law became his son-in-law as well, and Hannah Lopez became her mother's sister-in-law.

An inevitable result of these marriages was that the two family heads, Aaron Lopez and Daniel Gomez, had close ties -- family as well as business -- even though they did not see eye to eye on pre-Revolutionary politics. Over the years, the two men corresponded between New York and Newport, and much of this correspondence survives. Though Daniel was more than thirty years older than Aaron, the two had much in common. Each wrote to the other in a formal, courtly style, the older man addressing his younger Newport friend as "your grace," referring to "the lady your wife," and extending best wishes to others of "your noble house."

Both Gomez and Lopez liked to gamble, and much of their correspondence concerned Gomez' purchase of lottery tickets in New York for Lopez. Neither man had much luck. In August, 1753, Gomez wrote Lopez: "According to your order, I bought in your name two lottery tickets, Nos. 1190 and 1192, which may please God to be venturous and that by that way you may obtain something of consequence. I have charged to you their cost which is £3. Your Grace orders me to send you the tickets, but I do not see fit to do it until a second order arrives because in case they are lost Your Grace will lose what they provide." Alas, a few weeks later, Daniel Gomez advised: "I sent my son to find out about the lottery tickets, but because of our sins both your tickets and mine came out blank. ... I assure Your Grace that I am sorry that they have had such little fortune. God may please to give us a better one." Their prayers, however, seem to have gone unanswered. Years later, Gomez was writing: "According to your request I have bought, in your name, a Lottery ticket number 77 which will please Your Grace to be fortunate." And, a short while later, he was advising: "Enclosed is your lottery ticket which I am sorry to say came out blank. God may give you a better fortune next time." Gomez' system seems to have been to buy tickets containing double numbers -- 1190, 77, 881, 544, 311, 2200, etc. It was as good a system as any.

The two kept each other posted on family news. When Daniel's young wife, who had been ill for many months, died, he wrote to his friend movingly: "I cannot express in words the great grief and sorrow that accompanies me as Our Lord has served to free from my company, and from this to a better life, my esteemed and loving wife, who offered her soul to the Creator on the 31st of May. . . . May the Great Majesty receive her soul with kindness and place her with the just and good ... and that she is enjoying eternal Glory as her good heart and her being a good Jew confirm me in that certainty." And learning of the death, in infancy, of one of Aaron Lopez' children, Daniel wrote to him: "You stated your hopes that your little angel would improve in health, but [I have been informed] that God has received him and I assure you that we are in grief as if he were of our own, and I send Your Grace, the lady your wife, and the rest of the family, our sympathy, and pray to God that the life the little innocent lacked will be increased in yours."

For all his deferential manner toward Aaron Lopez, Daniel Gomez was not hesitant to give him business advice when he felt this was in order. He had little use for Lopez' candle business, which was something of a sideline, and told him: "I am sorry there is no better way in which Your Grace may occupy himself other than by making candles. My brother David invested £240 last year in green wax and tallow, his negroes made candles which he sent to all the islands, and there they stand, with no sales, and at a very low price. All of this I inform Your Grace of.... You will suffer great losses and if you could sell the candles I advise you to proceed." Either Lopez failed to receive this letter or he simply ignored Gomez' advice because, a few weeks later, Gomez complained because Lopez had sent them on to New York for Gomez to sell instead of selling the candles in Newport. He wrote testily: "acknowledging six boxes of spermaceti and candles which you have sent me by Captain Morrow's schooner, which I received, and am sorry you sent such merchandise to be sold here, and to exchange for tallow, when you know and everybody knows that it is very difficult to sell here and that tallow is cash money. I would appreciate your ordering me to return them to you, as I offered them to different merchants and not one is interested. I am willing to serve you in what I can, but I cannot do the impossible." His anger was quickly spent, however, for a few paragraphs later in the same letter he wrote: "Today is the last day for the Lottery. . . . I wish God is willing to give you some prize.... "

At the same time, the labyrinthine bloodlines that bound the Sephardim of both Newport and New York together were capable of producing weighty problems. When people are tied together by blood as well as money, the two elements fuse and cross in ways that can be painful, and already the Sephardim were showing signs of the strain. There were whole branches of certain families which -- often for the most trifling reasons -- no longer spoke to other branches, and the little band of Jews, who had first approached the vicissitudes of the new world with a certain unity of purpose, had spread and dispersed into touchy factions. Nearly always it was money -- what some relative had done with his money, which displeased some other relative -- that lay at the heart of the dispute. The more relatives there were, the more complex were the relationships.

Not only each new son, but each new son-in-law, had to be given some sort of position in the interconnected family enterprises. And, alas, not all these sons and sons-in-law possessed the talents the older generations might have wished. Both Daniel Gomez and Aaron Lopez faced this problem. Daniel's son Moses married Daniel's brother's daughter, Esther -- first cousins again -- but neither of their two sons (two others died in infancy) displayed any ability in the fur trade. Isaac, Jr., was always getting "stung" by the Indians. "Stung again!" he would write the patriarch, almost gaily, each time it happened. There is a suggestion that Isaac had taken to imbibing some of the firewater used in the Indian trade, a practice his grandfather had abstemiously avoided. Isaac married one of the Lopez girls.

An even more ticklish situation existed in Aaron Lopez' family. Aaron's oldest daughter, Sally, had married a young man named Abraham Pereira Mendes, a member of an old and distinguished Sephardic family that had settled in Jamaica. At the time of the engagement, Abraham Mendes' elder brother wrote to Aaron Lopez: "The choice of my brother Abraham to your daughter Miss Salle, for his consort, has merited much our Abrobation [sic], as also that of my honoured Mother. The Amiableness of your daughter, the Bright Character and honour of your family's, as much in these parts, as those of ancient, in Portugal, cannot but give us in general the greatest satisfaction.... From my brother repeated expressions of their reciprocal love must make them happy, and pleasing to you, and beg leave to return my congratulating you and all your good family, on this joyfull occasion, wishing them all the Happiness they can wish for, and pray the Almighty may crown them with his Blessings.... " There were other reasons for rejoicing. Sally Lopez was a rich man's eldest daughter, and the Mendeses of Jamaica, though they bore an ancient name, were sorely in need of an infusion of money. Leah Mendes, Abraham's mother, had been widowed with several children, and was described by her son as being "reduced very low, owing to the great Losses she has met with . . . the condition I found her in shocked me to the highest degree."

Abraham's brother added that he was sure Aaron had found in Abraham "such Bright Qualitys which few of his age are endowed with." He added that while Abraham's education might leave something to be desired, considering the sort of formal education available in those days on the West Indian island, his intellectual abilities were "those of Nature." He was sure, he said, that "with cultivating in your good Advice must make him a Bright Man." This, however, turned out to be wishful thinking.

The noun bright was coined by Geisert as a positive-sounding umbrella term, and Futrell defined it as "an individual whose worldview is naturalistic (free from supernatural and mystical elements)". Daniel Dennett has since suggested that people that believe in the supernatural could choose to be referred to as supers. As of 2009, the Brights' Net tagline is "Illuminating and Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview".

-- Brights Movement, by Wikipedia


Aaron decided that his new son-in-law's acquaintance with the island would make him an excellent candidate for the job of overseer of the Lopez enterprises in Jamaica, a task that up to then had been performed by a series of non-family firms. From the very beginning there were difficulties. For one thing, Abraham Pereira Mendes appears to have enjoyed poor health. A great deal of the business correspondence between father and son-in-law concerns the state of the latter's stomach, feet, or head. Abraham and Sally were married in Newport, and soon after their return to Kingston, to take up his duties, Abraham was writing Aaron: "I must now acquaint you of my safe arrival in the place. . . . I can't say agreeable being sick all the passage, and was reduced very low. At my landing I could hardly keep my legs.... " A few days later he was no better, writing: "My hands with weakness tremble in such a manner I can hardly write." The next year, he was complaining of "A surfeit and a fit of the Gout, which has laid me up three weeks and am now in a most deplorable condition and cannot mount my horse, which has put my business backward."

This, of course, was the most irritating result of a sickly son-in-law -- business, inevitably, was put backward, and Abraham's letters back to Aaron are full of apologies and excuses for his poor performance. The news is nearly always gloomy: "We lost 10 sheep. . . . The black horse looks very bad. . . . Stepped on board to view the slaves . . . the major part of them are small things, and those that are large has age on their side. . . . The poor success I had in receiving your Outstanding Debts and not getting cash for the cargoes have not enabled me to remit until March. . . . I am much afraid your Out-Standing Debts will not be collected, not for want of my care, but the people being incapable." His father-in-law warned him about a certain slave captain named All, whom Aaron Lopez distrusted. Abraham met the man and, "To my great Surprize," found him quite satisfactory. The result was disastrous. The man turned out to be an utter scoundrel. By making private deals with Slave Coast governors, Captain All bilked Aaron Lopez out of a full year's profits.

One of Abraham's problems, in addition to his health, was his lack of education. His letters are full of eccentric spellings, their sentence structure is erratic, and at one point he apologizes: "You'll excuse the Writing being oblige to gett a Young Cousin to scrible over." It is possible that a "Young Cousin" wrote most of his letters.

His devotion to his young wife was, despite his brother's assurances, something less than complete. During the early days of his Jamaica sojourn she remained behind in Newport, and it would seem as though Abraham missed her rather little. Writing to her father, at one point, he mentioned that he had had a letter from "my dear Sally," though he has yet "not received the Sweet Meets she had promised to send." He added that he would have "no time" to write her, and quaintly urged her father to "embrace her in my behalf with all the love of a Loving Husband." His attitude may have disturbed Sally because, about a year later, she sailed to Jamaica to join him. He was probably less than happy to see her. A few months after her arrival, he did a thing that was shocking news to eighteenth-century Newport as well as to Jewish society in the West Indies. He ran off with another woman.

Obviously, this was a situation requiring delicacy and a certain firmness. Aaron Lopez was disgusted with his son-in-law's delinquency and poor performance, and he was ready to wash his hands of him. The same was true of Abraham's brothers. His father was dead, and it fell to his mother, Leah Mendes, to put her child's household in order. There was, after all, much at stake -- not only Abraham's job, but the family's reputation, the possibility of future children. She set about single-handedly to repair the marriage. It wasn't easy, and took her many months, and once she had exacted her son's promise to return to his wife it was next necessary to appease his angry father-in-law. It is possible to envision this aristocratic old lady, who had been born in Spain, who had watched many of her Marrano relatives die in the Inquisition, writing this poised and elegant letter to Aaron Lopez announcing the success of her mission and begging him to forgive her son:

HONOURABLE SIR,

It is with great pleasure and joy I now write you acquainting of the dutifulness of my son Abraham in complying to our request to return home. He has insured me of never disobliging nor never to cause you and his wife any more grievance, and will always be bound to your obedience, and he has acknowledged his fault of being so long absent, and it is with no doubt it gives him great concern in reflecting on his follies, but you are fully sensible that youthness and bad advisers are always of great prejudice, and much so when they won't be ruled. But all his transgressions will be an example for his better amendment, and I make no doubt that he will fulfill his promises to me, and he goes overjoyed to your feet to crave pardon, and which I hope you'll grant for the sake of a poor widow'd mother, who will always receive great satisfaction and contentment in knowing of his good proceedings and dutifulness to you. And as God (the best exemplar of the whole world) forgives mankind, so I hope you'll be so pleased as to pardon him, and in granting me this favour I shall forever acknowledge.

LEAH MENDES


Abraham seems to have been incapable of speaking for himself, so his mother wrote to his wife also:

LOVING DAUGHTER,

It is with great pleasure I now acquaint you of Abraham complying to our request in returning to enjoy your sweet company, and I beg of you that you'll forgive him of his misbehaving and his absence from so good a wife as you, but he has promised of never causing any more grievance, but always to be the instrument of seeking for to give you pleasure and content, therefore hope that all will be forgotten, and shall always be pleased to know of both your happiness, and remain craving you health and prosperity from, Your Loving Mother,

LEAH MENDES


All, however, was not forgotten, and the marriage continued on an unsteady course. There were a number of other separations, each of them painful for all concerned. Two years later, his brother David visited Abraham in Kingston, found him parted from his wife, and wrote to Aaron Lopez: "I found my Brother Abraham in a very poor state of health. He is just come out of dangerous fit of sickness. He seems to be very anxious of seeing his wife, and throwing himself at your feet. I shall dispatch him by the latter end of next month, in the manner I promised you, and shall write you by him more copiously on that subject." But at that point Abraham's name drops from the family correspondence. He was "dispatched" to Newport, his brother succeeded him in Jamaica, and Abraham's wife followed him home a few months later.

Aaron Lopez, meanwhile, continued to prosper until he was counted among Newport's richest men. In March of 1762 he had attempted to be naturalized but had been refused by the Newport court. His Tory leanings were making him unpopular. Since he also maintained a summer home in Swansea, Massachusetts, he petitioned the superior court of Taunton to make him a citizen of that state, and on October 15, 1762, he became the first Jew to be naturalized in Massachusetts. At his request, the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" were deleted from the oath.

He had also joined a club, established a year earlier, which was purely social and exclusively for the use of gentlemen of Newport's Jewish elite. It was the answer to Newport's Fellowship Club, which had no Jews as members. Aaron took his club with great seriousness, and was nearly always present at its gatherings, on Wednesday evenings "during the winter season." The others in the club, it might be noted, were nearly all, in one way or another, Aaron Lopez' relatives, members of the Lopez-Rivera-Mendes-Levy-Hart complex of families. The club operated under strict rules. From five to eight, members were "at liberty to divert at cards," and in order that the club not gain the reputation of a gaming club, stakes were set at "twenty shillings at whist, picquet, or any other game." If a member was found guilty of playing for higher stakes, he was to be fined "four bottles of good wines," to be enjoyed by the club at its next gathering. At eight, the rules noted that "supper (if ready)" was to be brought in. No card playing was permitted after supper, and members were to depart for their homes at ten. If any member had a matter of club business to discuss, he had to wait "till the chairman has just drank some loyal toast." The club was an excellent diversion from home, wives, children, and attendant problems. The club bylaws also specified that there should be no "conversations relating to synagogue affairs" during club evenings. Again, the punishment for mixing synagogue and club life was "four bottles of good wines."

Aaron had not joined in the nonimportation agreement, according to which a number of New England merchants had pledged to import no further goods from Britain. He could not afford to. A good standing with the British was important for business reasons. At heart, he was probably not an outright Tory. He was not as Tory as, for instance, his neighbor and fellow clubman Isaac Hart, and several other Newport Jews -- a state of affairs that had begun to split Newport's Jewish club down the center. Lopez found himself in a difficult situation when the British attacked and seized Newport in 1777 -- moving 8,000 troops onto the island, destroying 480 houses, burning ships in the harbor, devastating fields and orchards, and in general sacking and looting the city. At this point, Aaron deemed it wise to move his large family elsewhere, to secure them, as he put it in a letter to a friend, "from sudden Allarums and the Cruel Ravages of an enraged Enemy." He chose the considerably safer inland town of Leicester, Massachusetts. All the Lopezes -- including his father-in-law, Mr. Rivera -- moved there in the autumn of that year.

Here, he wrote, "I pitched my tent, erecting a proportionable one to the extent of my numerous family on the summit of a high healthy hill, where we have experienced the civilities and hospitality of a kind Neighborhood." It was indeed a proportionable tent that Aaron Lopez pitched -- a huge, square mansion of brick with white pilasters at the comers and tall arched windows that addressed the surrounding landscape. The Lopez mansion still stands as part of Leicester Academy. In his grand house, decorated by his young and pretty wife, Aaron Lopez became a great host, and was noted for the size and opulence of his dinner parties, receptions, and balls. He became a Jewish Maecenas, a vast patron of the arts and education, a collector of paintings
, and he was still under fifty, still in his prime. There were hardly any who dared suggest to him that now, with his shipping trade cut off and his business seriously limited by the war, he might be spending too much.

He continued to keep in touch with Newport, gathering what news he could from friends who passed through the besieged city, and wrote that he had heard that "the poor inhabitants of that Town have been very much distress'd this winter for the want of fuel and provisions, those Individuals of my Society in particular, who [my informant] said had not tasted any meat but once in two months: Fish there was none at this season of the year, and they were reduced to living upon Chocolate and Coffee. These and many other Callamities and Insults the wretched inhabitants experience ought to incite our thanks to the Great Being who gave us resolution to exchange at so early a period that melancholy Spot for that we are now enjoying." To a friend he wrote: "Your dwelling house I understand has suffered much. Your neighbor Augustus Johnson was found dead at his house. My [former] neighbor Gideon Sesson's wife is crazy." What he appears to have resented most was news that the occupying British officers were spreading slanderous tales about Newport womanhood. He complained that "the vertue of several of our Reputable Ladies has been attacked and sullied by our destructive Enemys." When the chips were down, he too became a Revolutionary.

The Revolution ended the golden age of Newport as a commercial center -- though of course it would flourish again as a resort -- and Aaron Lopez was never to return. In 1780, he was saddened to hear of the death, in Philadelphia, of his old friend Daniel Gomez, who had reached the lofty age of eighty-five. With his death, Daniel's son Moses became a rich man. Aaron Lopez' own affairs were in a somewhat shakier condition. The situation of his oldest daughter, "my darling Sally," continued to depress him. She and Abraham Pereira Mendes had moved to Leicester with him, and the couple had taken a small house near Aaron's. Abraham continued to display his ineptitude and poor health through one or two other business ventures in which his father-in-law tried to place him. For a while he was in the candle business, and was no good at that either. Finally, which was best, Abraham was given nothing to do. Ten years after their marriage, Sally Lopez Mendes gave birth to a tiny son, on whom she doted. It began to be said that Sally was "touched," for after the baby's birth she never set foot outside her house again -- a strange, unhappy woman in an unhappy marriage.

Late in May, 1782, Aaron Lopez started out for Newport in his sulky. About five miles outside Providence, at a place called Scotts' Pond, he stopped to water his horse. Suddenly the horse stepped out of its depth and the sulky came plunging after him into the pond. Aaron Lopez was flung forward, out of the sulky. He could not swim, and the servant who tried to swim after him was unable to rescue him before he drowned. He was fifty-one years old.

Learning of his death, Ezra Stiles, who was by now president of Yale, extolled himas

that amiable, benevolent, most hospitable & very respectable Gentleman Mr. Aaron Lopez ... a merchant of the first eminence; for Honor & Extent of Commerce probably surpassed by no Merchant in America. He did business with the greatest ease and clearness -- always carried about a Sweetness of Behavior, a calm Urbanity, an agreeable & unaffected Politeness of manners. Without a single Enemy & the most universally beloved by an extensive Acquaintance of any man I ever knew. His beneficence to his Family Connexions, to his Nation, and to all the World is almost without a parallel. He was my intimate Friend & Acquaintance!


The fact that much of Aaron Lopez' business was the business of slavery appears to have made little difference to the noted educator and antislavery preacher. Stiles, apparently, was against slavery in the abstract, while quite aware that a number of his intimate friends and acquaintances made their money in it. He did, however, find it quite difficult to reconcile the long list of glowing qualities he attributed to Mr. Lopez with the fact that Aaron Lopez was a Jew. His eulogy continues: "Oh! How often have I wished that sincere, pious, and candid mind could have perceived the evidence of Xtianity, perceived the Truth as it is in Jesus Christ, known that JESUS was the MESSIAH predicted by Moses and the Prophets !" He then goes on to pray that those in charge of heaven will perhaps overlook Aaron Lopez' Jewishness and admit him anyway, despite his "delusions," into "Paradise on the Xtian System, finding Grace with the all benevolent and adorable Emanuel who with his expiring breath & in his deepest agonies, prayed for those who knew not what they did."

The size of Aaron Lopez' estate was respectable for its day, but hardly what it might have been had it not been for his extensive hospitality during the Leicester years. And when it became divided between his youthful wife and that vast horde of seventeen children, his fortune began to seem a disappointing one. Each child received an inheritance of about eighty thousand dollars.

When, around 1858, Longfellow visited the old Jewish cemetery at Newport, he was so moved by the experience that he wrote a poem about it. "How strange it seems!" he wrote, "These Hebrews in their graves,/Close by the street of this fair seaport town/ .../The very names recorded here are strange.../ Alvares and Rivera interchange/ With Abraham and Jacob of old times... ." Longfellow mused:

How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o'er the sea -- the desert desolate --
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?
They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in murk and mire; [i]
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire. . . .


Aaron Lopez was among those who reposed there during Mr. Longfellow's visit.

_______________

Notes:

i. Longfellow obviously was not too clear on the living conditions of Jews in medieval Spain.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:35 pm

10. MISALLIANCES AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS

As MORE Ashkenazic Jews trickled in from Germany and central Europe, they found that the Sephardic culture, tradition, and form were what prevailed among Jews in America. The newcomers were accepted -- albeit a trifle disdainfully -- into the Sephardic synagogues, and became, as it were, honorary Sephardim. The Sephardic Old Guard made it quite clear to the Johnny-come-latelys that their elevated status was being bestowed upon them without being actually earned. No small degree of social difference existed between the "new" Sephardim and the authentic Sephardim, and this was not helped by the fact that the "rough-spoken" (meaning they had foreign accents) Germans, finding themselves Sephardic blue bloods in name, if not by inheritance, often took to putting on airs and otherwise pushing themselves forward socially in a way that the Old Guard found thoroughly offensive. It was a case of titled Spaniard versus ghetto German, of third- and fourth-generation American versus foreign-born, of rich versus poor, of the cultivated versus the uncouth. In a situation like this, there were bound to be reactions.

In New Orleans, for example, the general instability of the Jewish community -- still predominantly Sephardic, but with an admixture of Ashkenazic "outsiders" -- was not helped by a visit from young Mathias Gomez, one of Daniel Gomez' great-nephews. Mathias got into an argument with a young man of Ashkenazic extraction over, of all things, the correct wording of a quotation from a poem. It seemed terribly trifling, but not to Mathias when his Ashkenazic acquaintance called him a "fool." Immediately, Mathias insisted on the aristocratic privilege of challenging the man to a duel. They fought with muskets at forty paces, and each fired four times with no shot reaching a target. Normally, this is considered sufficient exercise to call off a duel, but Mathias insisted on a fifth shot, which wounded his opponent in both legs and killed Mathias himself instantly. He had made his point, however, that nobody, but nobody, should insult a Gomez.

It was said by the Sephardim, who had undergone so much horror and terror for the sake of their faith during the Inquisition, that the Jews of the rest of Europe might be Jewish, but they weren't very. They were said to lack piety, and to be easily swayed by Christian thinking and Christian methods. A case in point was certainly the New Orleans community. Everything went reasonably well in New Orleans as long as a member of one of the old Spanish families was in charge of the congregation. But when a German suddenly inherited the job of chief rabbi -- well, a hundred fifty years later the New Orleans Jewish community still remembers what happened.

He was Albert J. "Roley" Marks, who described himself as a "Part-Time rabbi," and who actually earned his living as a bit player in southern traveling theatrical companies. He had earned his nickname because one of his best performances was said to be that of Rowley in The School for Scandal. He was also of somewhat rolypoly proportions, which made the sobriquet appropriate. He was once described by a contemporary as:

A little below the middle size, IPeasuring in his stockings, about four feet and some inches. A gleam of good humor is always beaming on his countenance, except when he experiences a twinge of the gout (unfortunately pretty often), and he is one of the best-natured fellows in existence.


"Roley" Marks's acting range was considerably limited by his size. His specialty parts were comic old men, and he was famous for a way he had of laughing on stage. "It would do your heart good to see one of his laughs," a critic of one of his performances wrote. "I say see one of them, for nothing in particular is heard when he laughs; a sort of turning up of his eyes, a filling up of his cheeks with wind, and suddenly letting it burst forth, at the same time giving himself a half turn, stooping as if to spit, indulging in a sly wink at the public, and swinging his cane about -- and it is done." He performed in such popular dramas of the day as Governor Heartall, Old Smacks, and Andrew Mucklestane. Of his performance in the title role of the latter, the same critic wrote:

Andrew Mucklestane! Ah! How often have I witnessed his impersonation of this character, which is nothing more or less than a sentimental Scotch fisherman, very benevolent in his feelings, and ever ready to rescue runaway countesses and drowning children! And to see Rowley sweating through the "business" of this character is a treat to all lovers of the romantic drama. Rowley introduces thirteen falls in his performance, and more than once has it been found necessary to prop the stage before subjecting it to his energetic manoeuvres. . . .


How did such a charming buffoon manage to become chief rabbi of the Sephardic congregation in a sophisticated city like New Orleans? Apparently his good nature won the congregation over in a weak moment, and he was given the job. He also worked as a parttime inspector at the custom-house and as a fireman. He was made a director of the Firemen's Charitable Association, helped it put on burlesques and reviews for fund-raising purposes, and composed a ditty called "The Fireman's Song," in return for which the City of New Orleans appointed him "Poet Laureate of the Firemen."

His antics, however, were somewhat differently regarded by the Sephardic elders of the synagogue, who began referring to him as "a stain on the Jewish clergy." It was reported that "Roley" Marks did not keep the dietary laws, that he had not bothered to have his sons circumcised, and that at one point, on the festival of Purim, he found himself too busy with other activities to conduct the services. At last, during a Rosh Hashanah service, an older member of the congregation rose boldly to his feet and announced to the assemblage that it was a disgrace that a man should act as rabbi "who did not have his sons initiated into the covenant of Abraham," and who "got beastly drunk on the day when his two sons died." This was too much for even "Roley" Marks's good nature. He banged his fists on the pulpit and shouted, "By Jesus Christ! I have a right to pray!"

It would have been easier to blame "Roley" Marks's outrageous behavior on his "low" Ashkenazic origins if it could have been claimed that the "old" Sephardic members of the New Orleans synagogue were all, to a man, acting on their best behavior. Alas, many were not. There was the case of Victor Souza, of pure Spanish bloodlines on both sides (his mother was a Pereira), who became engaged to a girl named Rose Bourdeaux, a Catholic. Nineteen days before the marriage, Victor underwent Roman Catholic baptism and the pair were married by Pere Antoine in New Orleans' Saint Louis Cathedral. This did not prevent Victor Souza's being identified as an "Israelite" in the church records several years later, and the scandal of his intermarriage was as nothing compared with the announcement, not long afterward, that he and his partner, Decadie Baiz -- another member of an "old" Sephardic family that had distinguished connections both in New York and on the island of Saint Thomas -- had "absconded and defrauded their creditors whom they have shamefully deceived." A thousand dollars was offered for the capture of the pair, or five-hundred dollars for either, and the Catholic convert was described in the 'Wanted" poster:

Victor Souza, a Jew, is about 4 feet 11 inches high, has a large face, large nose and a small mouth; his face is red and his beard strong and black. D. Baiz, a Jew, about 5 feet 3 or 4 inches high, full face and pock marked, strong black beard. . . .


Victor Souza was caught, tried for fraud, convicted, and sent to prison.

The business feuds between those of Ashkenazic origins and the Sephardim were probably the worst of all, even though the men were all of one, supposedly unifying, congregation. One of the most disgraceful battles in New Orleans took place between Mr. Solomon Audler and Mr. L. A. Levy, Jr. The Audlers had come from Germany, and had made some money manufacturing something called Asiatic Lenitive, a ninety-proof patent medicine advertised "for the cure of toothaches, headaches, and other diseases." Solomon Audler also ran a leather and dry goods store. The Mr. Levy was one of several Sephardic Levy families who were now scattered up and down the Atlantic Coast. The quarrel was over an overcoat.

It seems that a certain Mr. Phillips (also old Sephardic) was selling a consignment of linen overcoats at auction, and he had promised his friend Levy a coat, if any were left over, at the same price the coats had brought at auction. After the auction, when Levy went to Phillips' establishment to look over the remainder from the sale, he could not find an overcoat that fit him. So he -- rather highhandedly, it seems -- exchanged one of the remaining coats for a coat that did fit him out of a pile of coats purchased by Mr. Audler. Levy then paid Phillips for the coat. When Mr. Audler found out about the switch in coats he was not amused. He had, after all, made his selection of coat sizes with a reason. So he sent Mr. Levy a bill for the coat, which Levy, seeing no need to pay for his coat twice, refused to pay. Audler then sued Levy for the price of the coat, lost his suit, and, in a fury, stormed Mr. Levy at his place of business and called Levy a thief. Immediately Levy challenged Audler to a duel, but Audler haughtily refused the challenge, saying that Levy was "not a gentleman and therefore not entitled to satisfaction." Levy promptly ordered a handbill printed and distributed in the streets, which proclaimed:

Notice to the public.... S. Audler having gravely insulted me this morning. . . I deem it my duty in justice to my reputation, to state to the public, that my friends called upon the said individual for satisfaction, which he did not grant, I hereby proclaim him to the public, as a coward, and no gentleman, and beneath the notice of the community.


The tempest in a teapot continued to escalate. Audler, not to be put down by mere handbills, took an advertisement in the newspaper in which he demanded to know:

I have been required to give gentlemanly satisfaction, to whom? I would ask -- to a man? a gentleman? No! it is to one who cannot prove himself a gentleman, for the act of which he stands charged by me cannot be termed the act of a gentleman. A man he is not; it needs but a glance to perceive it; he was well aware at the time he wrote the challenge that he could not obtain a gentlemanly satisfaction from me, otherwise he would not have demanded it.


Audler ran his advertisement not only in New Orleans but also -- doubtless to impress his friends and relatives -- in the newspapers of New York and Philadelphia as well. Levy, not to be outdone, added the city of Charleston to the list of cities in which he ran his advertisement, which contained this sort of frenzied invective:

This self-same Audler -- this vendor of worn-out harness -- this wash-tub dealer has the impudence and characteristic daring inherent in triflers called me ... "a Thief" ... Sol Audler!!! and who does not shrink at the very letters of his name. He has been is and ever will be the detestation of the honest man, the land mark for the Coward, the beacon for the Insolvent debtor, the light house for the smuggler ... Oznaburgs, Italian silk cottonades, old swords and belts &c. &c. groan loudly a requiem for the ledger of his poor creditors. .. this blackened lump of infamy . . . the public must condemn him for calling me a Thief when he himself is so notoriously known as an adept in the business. . . .


Well. A good lawyer must have seen that Audler had a cause for action after being subjected to that sort of public abuse. But Audler, at this point -- perhaps aware of the amusement the word battle was creating up and down the eastern seaboard -- chose politely to withdraw with the calmly worded announcement that "after a long residence in this city (I flatter myself without reproach) . . . my reputation cannot suffer in the opinion of an impartial public, by the slanderous and unfounded accusations of such a worthless fellow as Levy." Therewith the battle ended, as both parties withdrew to their tents to lick their wounds.

At the same time, when an Ashkenazic Jew married one of the Sephardim, there were almost certain to be troubles, as happened in New Orleans to Samuel Jacobs (German) and his wife, Rosette (Sephardic), a Spanish-tempered lady who spoke sneeringly of her husband's "peasant" ancestry, even though Germany's Jews were somewhat worse off than the peasants. It was not long before readers of the Louisiana Gazette were titillated to see the following paid notice:

CAUTION. Whereas my wife Rosette has left my house without any just cause whatever, this is to caution the public not to trust her on my account, as I will not pay any debts contracted by her.


A month later, Mr. Jacobs published a retraction to the above, saying that it had all been "merely through a mistake," and adding, "I have the pleasure to let the public know that we live in perfect harmony." Despite this claim, however, the marriage continued to be a stormy one and, in less than a year, the couple were granted a legal separation, one of the first in Louisiana history and a great rarity in its days -- particularly in a Jewish marriage.

When word of these scandalous goings-on in New Orleans reached the ears of Jews in such staid northern cities as New York and Newport, the reaction was one of shock and dismay. The fabric of Jewish life in New Orleans seemed to be flying apart, and this was something that Jews in the North could not accept with equanimity. Many of the New Orleans Jewish families were the northerners' close relatives. A close tie between Newport and New Orleans, for example, lay in the person of Judah Touro, the man whose celebrated will has made him something of a legend among American Jewish philanthropists.

The Touros were an old Spanish family who came to Newport by way of the West Indies, and Isaac Touro -- the first to arrive -- was immediately taken in by Jacob Rivera and Aaron Lopez, and made a member of Newport's exclusive Jewish club. Isaac Touro, along with Lopez and Rivera, was among those who drew up the plans for Newport's famous synagogue in 1759, and Isaac was the one selected to perform the dedication of the building when it was completed four years later. The building (which has since been renamed the Touro Synagogue and designated a national historic site) contains an architectural detail that is a haunting reminder of the Marrano past of its builders, and the dangers their ancestors faced if they wished to practice their faith in Inquisitional Spain. The plans call for "a few small stairs which lead from the altar in the center, to a secret passage in the basement" -- for escape.

Isaac Touro married a Hays, another old Sephardic family, [i] and their daughter married one of Aaron Lopez' many sons, thus bringing the Touros, who had been merely friends, into the Lopez-Gomez-Rivera family complex.

Just what brought Isaac Touro's son Judah to New Orleans is something of a mystery. Since Judah Touro has become a legend, his life has suffered the fate of so much that is Jewish legend-distortion, and expansion out of all proportion to the facts at hand. Since he did indeed become a very rich man, and since he did write a famous will, leaving a fortune to different charities, Jewish legend makers have tended to have it that he was one of New Orleans' bestloved figures, that the entire city went into mourning when he died, and so on.

The facts indicate that Judah Touro was actually not well liked in the southern city, that he was an odd little man who may not have been even very bright, a recluse, a string saver, a nineteenth-century Collyer brother. It has been said that he left his native Newport because of blighted love, that he loved a beautiful cousin, and that his stem old uncle Moses Hays (his mother's brother) refused to let his daughter marry such a close relation. One version of the tale has it that he left Newport because of the death of this cousin, Rebecca Hays. Actually, Rebecca died nine months after he left.

Another version insists that the cousin was not Rebecca but her sister Catherine, and that Uncle Moses would not let them wed. And yet Uncle Moses Hays died a few days after Judah Touro arrived in New Orleans. With the opposition out of the way, wouldn't this have been the moment for him to hurry home and claim his love, or for her to run to him? It is true that neither Catherine Hays nor Judah ever married, and that they never set eyes on each other again. A romantic story exists that, throughout their lives, the two corresponded in a long series of love letters, and that in these letters the lovers never aged, that they wrote to each other as if they were both still teen-agers, even in their seventies speaking of "your tiny dancing feet and glancing eyes." It may be true, but no one has ever discovered this remarkable correspondence. It is said that in the delirium of his last illness Judah Touro "talked of walking in a beautiful garden with Catherine Hays, his first and only love." Perhaps, but just to whom he spoke these words is not recorded. He did, it is true, leave her a small sum of money in his will, apparently unaware that she had died a few days before he signed this document.

In any case, he did indeed, as a young man, move permanently from his native Newport to New Orleans. There may have been a falling out with his uncle Moses, because Judah did not come, as might have been expected, to represent his uncle's business. He came independently, as a loner, and set himself up in business as a loner. He became a commission merchant, and his earliest advertisements show him dealing in such diverse merchandise as beer, herring, lobster, butter, cigars, candles, soap, nuts, and Holland gin. He prospered, in a modest way.

The man who may have known Judah Touro best, an executor of the famous will, considered him a most peculiar man. He wrote, "Mr. Touro is the very impersonation of a snail, not to say of a crab whose progress (to use a paradox) is usually backward. . . . I must be very careful to humor him ... he is very slow .... You know he is a strange man." In business Judah Touro was hesitant, indecisive, never adventuresome or imaginative. And yet he was successful. He was by no means the most successful commission merchant in New Orleans. He was not even the most successful Jewish commission merchant. And yet, little by little, he was becoming very rich, and, little by little, the rest of New Orleans began to suspect this fact and to study him with new interest. What was his formula to riches? It was simply that he didn't spend. The fortune Judah Touro was amassing was coming to him penny by hard penny, and he was squirreling it away in banks. As a rabbi acquaintance explained it:

Mr. T. was not a man of brilliant mind; on the contrary, he was slow, and not given to bursts of enthusiasm, as little as he was fond of hazardous speculations; and he used to say that he could only be said to have saved a fortune by strict economy, while others had spent one by their liberal expenditures . . . he had no tastes for the wasteful outlay of means on enjoyments which he had no relish for. He had thus the best wines always by him, without drinking them himself; his table, whatever delicacies it bore, had only plain and simple food for him. . . .


His existence was solitary. For most of his life he lived in a series of cheap rooming houses on the wrong side of town, at a time when other New Orleans rich men were trying to outdo each other by building elaborate mansions. Only late in life did he permit himself the luxury of buying a small house. When he bought real estate, it was as an investment. He never sold anything, and his real estate, in a growing city, tended to appreciate over the years. He was a hoarder, but only of the barest necessities of life. He shunned possessions to such an extent that, when he died and his estate was appraised, only $1,960 was assigned to personal property. This included silverware valued at $805 and $600 worth of wine -- wine seems to have been his sole personal indulgence -- and $555 worth of crockery, glassware, office furniture, his carpets, hat stand, bedspread, and chairs. His personal estate was valued at $928,774.74 -- doubtless an extremely low appraisal. Though the sum is not staggering by today's standards, there were probably only ten Americans in Judah Touro's day who were worth as much.

Judah Touro, according to the legend, gave away a fortune in private philanthropies during his lifetime. If true, he must have given anonymously, adhering to the Talmudic exhortation that "Twice blessed is he who gives in secret." He also, according to the legend, gave away the entire $80,000 fortune he inherited from his sister, Rebecca Touro Lopez, who died before him. This appears not to be true since no record of any such bequest exists in the various papers pertaining to Mrs. Lopez' estate. The plain fact is that, during his lifetime, Judah Touro evinced no interest in philanthropy whatever, and seemed obsessed only with the making and saving of money.

What prompted him, in the end, to give it all away remains another puzzle. But two weeks before his death he sat down and wrote his famous will. In sixty-five separate bequests, Judah Touro gave away money, in sums ranging from three thousand to twenty thousand dollars, to a long list of charitable causes throughout the eastern United States, from the orphans of Boston to the Ladies Benevolent Society in New Orleans. The Jewish congregations of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Mobile, Savannah, Montgomery, Memphis, Louisville, Cincinatti, Cleveland, Saint Louis, Buffalo, Albany -- and, of course, New York and Newport -- all received bequests.

In Boston, Touro's name is now associated with Massachusetts General Hospital, the Asylum for Indigent Boys, the Female Orphan Asylum, the Humane Society, and many other charities. To New Orleans he left funds to combat yellow fever, which was in those days endemic, and a hospital -- the Touro Infirmary -- was established in that connection. A bequest to Newport's "Old Stone Mill," also known as the Newport Tower, saved that venerable structure from demolition by the city fathers, and he also left funds to the City of Newport for a public park to be laid out around the tower. This plot is now known as Touro Park.

All in all, a grand total of $483,000 went to charities. It was, indeed, the greatest display of philanthropic largesse the new world had ever seen. Thus, his death being the most significant act of his life, Judah Touro entered history, and legend.

The balance of his estate, after all the charitable bequests were paid, was directed to go to "my dear, old and devoted friend," Mr. Rezin Davis Shepherd. When serving in the Louisiana Militia during the Battle of New Orleans, Judah Touro had been wounded in the thigh by a shell, and it was Shepherd who carried him off the field to a doctor, and whom Touro always credited with saving his life. Shepherd, whose great-great-grandson is Senator Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, received between $500,000 and $750,000 under Touro's will -- again a huge sum at the time -- and this windfall is one of the cornerstones of the Boston Saltonstalls' family fortune.

One of the elements of the Judah Touro legend is that he was an early pioneer for civil rights, and frequently bought Negro slaves only to set them free. Alas, there is no proof of this, either, although there is evidence that he did not trade in slavery as extensively as his southern contemporaries, and that he had a genuine aversion for the trade in which his sister's husband's family, the Lopezes, had made so much money. On the other hand, a timid trader, he didn't trade in anything extensively.

There are, however, two quite intriguing pieces of information in this regard that turned up after Judah Touro's death. One was the discovery that a certain Ellen Wilson, identified as an "F.W.C." (Free Woman of Color, in southern parlance), had had a house purchased for her in Judah Touro's name. Among his effects, a note to this same woman in the amount of $4,100 was found. Ellen Wilson, who may have already died, never came forward to claim her inheritance, and has never been identified.

The second fact is that Pierre Andre Destrac Cazenove, appointed by Judah as one of the executors of his will, and one of its beneficiaries -- Cazenove received a $10,000 gift -- was a mulatto. Little is known about Cazenove, except that he was some forty-eight years younger than Judah Touro, that he had once worked for Judah as a clerk and was described as a great "pet" of Mr. Touro's. At the time of Touro's death, young Cazenove was reportedly worth some $20,000, quite a lot for a black man in the antebellum South. By the time of the Civil War, Cazenove and his four sons were operating a funeral parlor and livery stable, and were said to be worth $100,000. The Cazenove family were described as "Quadroons-Creoles, more properly now called colored persons."

It is astonishing that when the contents of Judah Touro's will were made public -- and made headlines in newspapers all over America -- no mention was made of the startling fact that Touro had named a "colored person" as one of his executors, yet none was. Was this a fact deliberately suppressed, in order that the good Judah had done through his bequests should not be sullied by some sort of interracial scandal? Was Ellen Wilson actually Judah Touro's mistress? Such alliances were certainly not unheard of, but would have been considered by the press unsuitable for public consumption. Was the romantically named Pierre Andre Destrac Cazenove, then, of whom Judah Touro was so fond, one of the few men he could trust to execute his will, actually Judah Touro's son? And who was John Touro, who appeared in New Orleans between 1855 and 1865, not long after Judah Touro's death? None of his known relatives ever followed him there. All these questions can now be only the subject of speculation.

With all the embellishments of the legend that have grown around this odd little man, Jews today proudly point out to their children that America's first philanthropist on any important scale was a Jew. Sephardim today remind their children that Judah Touro was a Sephardic Jew, "one of us," with all his credentials in order. Judah Touro rests, along with all the puzzles and questions about his life, in the Jewish cemetery in his native Newport, with all his relatives. But what the purveyors of the legend do not tell their children -- what many of them, in fact, do not know -- is that many of Judah Touro's benefactions were to Christian causes. At one point, for example, when the First Congregational Church of New Orleans was having financial difficulties, and was about to be torn down, Judah Touro bought the church for $20,000 and then gave the building back to the congregation.

But Congregationalism was never quite his cup of tea. Quite early on, after his arrival in New Orleans, he rented a pew at Christ Church, and became an Episcopalian.

Meanwhile, farther north, in Philadelphia, another Sephardic Jew was becoming the center of a storm of controversy and the basis of a legend. Haym Salomon, his family and other admirers were claiming, had actually "financed the American Revolution" by presenting General George Washington with a large personal loan at a crucial moment. Salomon's detractors, meanwhile, were saying in loud voices that he had done no such thing. Once more, as in the case of Judah Touro, the extent of Jewish contribution to the course of American history was under examination.

From the beginning, of course, the spirit that guided the American Revolution had strong Judaic overtones. The Old Testament had become, in many ways, a Revolutionary textbook. For one thing, the Puritans of Colonial New England considered themselves the spiritual offspring of Old Testament characters. Like the Jews, they gave their children Old Testament names. It was to the Old Testament that the Puritans turned to find God. They regarded the New Testament as merely the story of Christ. In England, the Puritans had been called "Jewish fellow travelers," and they had compared their flight to America with the Jews' escape from Egypt. They called the Massachusetts Bay Colony "the New Jerusalem." There was a proposal that Hebrew be made the official language of the Colonies (it was on the regular curriculum, along with Latin and Greek, when Harvard was founded, a knowledge of the language being considered part of the equipment of a cultivated man). John Cotton had suggested that the Mosaic Code be used as the basis for Massachusetts laws. There is a manifestation of the Code, meanwhile, in the wording of the American Constitution.

Under the oppression of George III, the American colonists likened themselves to the Jews, and the king to the pharaoh. They quoted Samuel, who, when the people of Palestine came clamoring to him for the creation of a Hebrew royal family, raised strong objections to this notion, and the colonists found in his arguments a biblical authority for their refusal to submit to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. In 1775, the Reverend Jonathan Mayhew, a Boston preacher, announced from the pulpit -- the most effective medium of communication of the day -- that the American colonists were like the people of Israel who resisted the unjust taxation of Solomon's successor, and the Reverend Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard, preached that just as ancient Israel was wrong to take a king for itself, so were the colonists wrong to accept a king who was a tyrant. Aaron Lopez' friend President Ezra Stiles of Yale delivered a sermon in which he traced the evolution of the democratic form of government from Palestine to America. He called America "God's American Israel," and George Washington "the American Joshua," called forth by God to set His people free.

The first Independence Day was something very close to a Jewish holiday. On July 4, 1776,the day that the great Declaration was officially published, the Continental Congress appointed a committee of three -- Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson -- and asked them to prepare a seal for the United States of America. The design chosen by the committee depicted Pharaoh, crowned, in an open chariot, with a sword in his hand, passing through the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites. On the opposite shore stood Moses bathed in light from a pillar of fire, extending his hands toward the sea and bidding the waters to close and swallow Pharaoh. The legend emblazoned upon the seal was: "Rebellion against tyranny is obedience to God." The theme, of course, was freedom, and this first Great Seal of the United States seems somewhat more appropriate than the present, more warlike seal, with its fierce eagle clutching a handful of arrows.

Haym Salomon, meanwhile, who mayor may not have "financed" the Revolution, was a member in good standing of two Sephardic congregations -- Shearith Israel in New York and, later on, when his activities were centered there, Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. He had, however, been born in Poland -- around 1740 -- and this fact, of course, made him Sephardic second class. In America, after his arrival in 1772, he made an auspicious marriage, to Rachel Franks, daughter of Moses Franks of Philadelphia. Frankses -- the name had been Franco in Spain -- were a prominent mercantile family in both Philadelphia and New York, and families such as the Gomezes, Lopezes, and "old" Levys considered the Franks family "one of us." At the time of his marriage to Miss Franks, Haym Salomon was thirty-seven. His bride was fifteen. Still, this alliance considerably elevated his social position in the Jewish community.

He also had acquired, before leaving Europe, a university education, which was unusual for a young Polish Jew in the late eighteenth century. He spoke a number of languages, including, as he once mentioned offhandedly in a letter, "French, Polish, Russian, Italian, etc. Languages." He also spoke Hebrew, and Yiddish -- a tongue the old Sephardic families had only vaguely heard of.

Despite his educated tastes, he first set himself up in New York as a dry goods merchant and, in 1776, Leonard Gansevoort, himself a prominent store owner, recommended young Salomon to Philip Schuyler, who commanded the troops of the Northern Department in upper New York State, and asked that Salomon be allowed "to go suttling to Lake George," that is, to accompany the troops and provide them with clothing, provisions, whiskey, and such. Gansevoort wrote to Schuyler: "I can inform the General that Mr. Salomon has hitherto sustained the Character of being warmly attached to America." He followed the troops through most of that summer, returned to New York in September, and when, on September 15, 1776, the British captured New York, Haym Salomon was one of a group of men who formed a dangerous plan to send fire ships into the Narrows of New York harbor to destroy the British Beet. The plan was discovered, and Haym Salomon was arrested as a spy.

Whether or not he was sentenced to be shot by a firing squad is another point widely disputed within and without the now extensive Salomon family, and among historians of the Revolution. Saleman's son, who may have had reasons to exaggerate certain aspects of his father's career, always insisted that the threat of death was there. In the only existing description of the event by Haym Salomon himself, he makes no mention of this. He became, however, a valuable prisoner. With his knowledge of languages he was able to communicate with a motley assortment of other prisoners, which included mercenary soldiers Britain had hired from all over Europe to fight its war, and Salomon was assigned the job of prison interpreter.

He must have done his job well, for he was eventually released. In 1778,threatened with arrest again, he fled to Philadelphia, where he decided to remain since he possessed "principles repugnant to British hostilities," as he put it in his somewhat flowery style.

In Philadelphia, he wasted no time before appealing to the Continental Congress for a job, citing in his letter his past services to the Revolution, and informing the Congress that he had left behind him all his "Effects and credits to the amount of five or six thousand pounds sterling and [a] distressed Wife and Child of a month old at New York, waiting that they may soon have an opportunity to come out from thence with empty hands." Robert Morris, the Philadelphia financier who had founded the Bank of North America -- and whose personal credit at one point during the war was better than the government's -- took Salomon on and assigned him to negotiate war loans. What this amounted to was going out into the market and selling the infant government's bonds. He was so good at this that soon he was being called "the most successful of the war brokers," and, though he charged only a modest 1/4 of 1 percent for his services, his account at the Bank of North America grew until it was nearly as large as Robert Morris'. With hands no longer empty, he sent for his wife and child, and the family settled comfortably on Philadelphia's Front Street.

He dealt in other goods than government securities, as is apparent in a letter that survives, written to a merchant in Virginia and advising that "The hats are so much higher than you judged that I shall defer sending them till I hear from you. They cannot be got for less than 10-1/2 dollars. Silk stockings are also high and scarce, and am afraid shall not be able to send the quantity you want. Goods are grown scarce, and from the number of vessels we have lost, and our capes now swarming with enemy cruisers, we expect they [the goods] will rise considerably." Wartime inflation was on, but still the amounts Salomon dealt in were not impossibly large. In this same letter he adds: "The forty dollars in favor of Robert B. Chew I have paid."

In 1781, he was prosperous enough to send off a draft in the amount of a thousand pounds to his family in Poland. This turned out to have been an unwise move. The minute his relatives in Europe discovered that they had an affluent kinsman on the other side of the Atlantic, they descended upon him in droves, hat in hand. Haym Salomon found to his dismay that he had more aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins in more corners of the Continent than he had ever imagined, and that they all expected to be put on allowances. Furthermore, as Jewish relatives have always tended to do, they did not simply ask for their share of their cousin's wealth. They demanded it as their right, and were highly indignant when they were turned down. By 1783, Haym Salomon had clearly begun to weary of their petitions, and we see him writing to an itinerant uncle in England: "I have ordered fifty guilders to be paid you by Mr. Gumple Samson in Amsterdam, which letter giving that order you must already have rec'd, and I now send you an order for six guineas." As patiently as possible he tries to outline his financial situation to his uncle:

Your bias of my riches are too extensive. Rich I am not, but the little I have, think it my duty to share with my poor father and mother. They are the first that are to be provided for by me, and must and shall have the preference. Whatever little more I can squeeze out I will give my relations, but I tell you plainly and truly that it is not in my power to give you or any relations yearly allowances. Don't you nor any of them expect it. Don't fill your mind with vain and idle expectations and golden dreams that never will nor can be accomplished. Besides my father and mother, my wife and children must be provided for. I have three young children, and as my wife is very young may have more, and if you and the rest of my relatives will consider things with reason, they will be sensible of this I now write. But notwithstanding this I mean to assist my relations as far as lays in my power.


His uncle had mentioned coming to America, where, without doubt, he expected to be put on the payroll. Haym wrote him indignantly:

I am much surprised at your intention of coming here. Your yikes [family background and education] is worth very little here, nor can I imagine what you mean to do here. I think your duty calls for your going to your family, and besides these six guineas you will receive in Amsterdam fifty guineas from Mr. Gumple Samson. . . . I desire no relation may be sent. Have I not children, are they not relations? When I shall be fully informed of all the young people of our family and their qualifications explained, I may then perhaps advise sending one or two to this country. I will explain to you the nature of this country: vinig yidishkayt ['little Jewishness"].


He had a sense of humor, and was capable of writing gossipy letters, too, as he did to a friend whom he accused of not keeping him posted, twitting him that doubtless "your whole time is devoted to the ladies, and can't spare time to inform a friend of your welfare. . . . I doubt if the ladies here have the same reason to complain of your neglect. Am certain you would not make it long before your return, was you to know how desirous the ladies are of your presence. And one in particular who wishes that no pecuniary views may get the better of the partiality you always entertained for her.... "

He was proud of his position as the Revolution's leading -- and best -- banker, and he guarded this position jealously. Other Jewish brokers were doing what Haym Salomon was doing, buying and selling government notes. These included Isaac Franks, Benjamin Nones, and Lion Moses, but Salomon did the biggest amount of business and, in 1782, he asked Robert Morris for permission to advertise himself as "Broker to the Office of Finance." Morris gave him permission to use this prestigious title, noting in his diary: "This broker has been usefull to the public interest, and requests leave to publish himself as broker to the office which I have consented, as I do not see that any disadvantage can possibly arise to the public service but the reverse, and he expects individual benefits therefrom" -- benefits, of course, in respect to his competition. In his advertisements, Haym Salomon frequently made such statements as one which announced that the advertiser "Hatters himself that his assiduity, punctuality, and extensive connections in business, as a broker, is well established in various parts of Europe, and in the United States in particular." He continued to buy and sell on commission tobacco, sugar, tea, silk stockings, and ladies' bonnets. But he summed himself up in a letter to a London merchant when he said: "My business is a broker, and chiefly in bills of exchange, and so very extensive that I am generally known to the mercantile part of North America." All this is most certainly true.

On Yom Kippur eve, 1779 -- it is said -- Washington's armies were in desperate straits. His soldiers had not been paid for several months, they were at the point of mutiny, and battle was at hand. Washington pleaded with his men, then threatened, but they were adamant; they would fight no more without their wages. At last a desperate Washington sent a messenger on horseback through the night to Philadelphia with instructions to obtain, from Haym Salomon, a loan of $400,000,an enormous sum in those days, to pay and provision his troops. The messenger found Salomon in the synagogue, and a hasty whispered conference took place. Salomon rose and quickly moved about the synagogue, collecting certain friends. A small group left together, and that night the money was raised. Did Haym Salomon himself contribute $240,000 of the money? So the legend, perpetuated in many accounts, insists.

It is at this point, alas, that the story of Haym Salomon dissolves into speculation and controversy. Did he, as his son later claimed, loan "vast sums" to the government, personally pay soldiers' salaries, and pay for the Revolution? There is no proof of it. He did, however, extend personal loans to many prominent individuals of the Revolution and members of the Continental Congress, including James Wilson, General St. Clair, Edmund Randolph, and many Philadelphians, and often charged them no interest. Presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were all aided by him at one time or another when short of ready cash. Poor Madison was perennially in financial difficulties and in 1782wrote to his friend Edmund Randolph: "I cannot in any way make you more sensible of the importance of your kind attention to pecuniary remittances for me than by informing you that I have for some time past been a pensioner on the favor of Haym Salomon, a Jew broker." A few weeks later, Madison was in as bad shape as ever, and Salomon had come to be something more to him than "a Jew broker." He wrote, again to Randolph:

I am almost ashamed to reiterate my wants so incessantly to you, but they begin to be so urgent that it is impossible to suppress them. The kindness of our little friend in Front Street, near the coffee house, is a fund which will preserve me from extremities, but I never resort to it without great mortification, as he so obstinately rejects all recompense. The price of money is so usurious that he thinks it ought to be extorted from none but those who aim at profitable speculations. To a necessitous delegate he gratuitously spares a supply out of his private stock.


Salomon's son claimed that his father also aided the Polish patriots Pulaski and Kosciusko with enormous loans, but there is no proof of this either. He did, however, when the British fleet cut off all communication with Europe, maintain the Spanish ambassador to the Revolutionary government, Don Francesco Randon, out of his own funds. And it can be argued, from this, that a vital service was performed, since, had Salomon not done so, Spain might have damaged American prestige -- such as it was -- abroad. And it is known that he did sell hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of American bonds, which found their way to the bourses of Paris, London, and Frankfurt, and which certainly did much to establish American credit in the world market.

Does the United States government still owe Haym Salomon a huge amount of money? His son, Haym Moses Salomon, always said so, and his many descendents -- he had four children, and a multitude of grandchildren -- who are scattered about the country in such places as New Orleans; Galveston; Houston; Saint Louis; Ardmore, Oklahoma; and Canton, Kansas, would like to think so, and grow wistful dreaming of the fortune they might split if only they could prove that it existed.

His son's story is this: Between the years 1778 and 1782, Haym Salomon loaned the United States government money in the neighborhood of $700,000, more than half of which was never repaid. On January 5, 1785, the government sent Haym Salomon a full and complete accounting of all the money it owed him. But it was a Sabbath day and, pious Jew that he was, Salomon refused -- though a few years earlier he had supposedly been willing to interrupt high holy day services to help George Washington -- to sign the papers until the day of rest and prayer was over. On the next day, Sunday, January 6, before he had a chance to examine the government's statement, he died -- a victim of the heart disease he had contracted while a prisoner of the British in New York.

The figure of $700,000, his son claimed, represented money that had gone through Haym Salomon's bank account, payable to the government of the United States, and this same figure has been given authority in such publications as the Dictionary of American Biography, in its sketch on Salomon, as the amount he "loaned" the government. It would have been an extraordinarily large sum in 1782. Salomon cmit have been that rich. If he had -- and, on top of that, supported his family and all his European relatives -- he would have been by far the richest man in America. In 1778, he had escaped from New York and arrived in Philadelphia without a penny to his name. How, in four short years' time, would he have possibly amassed so staggering a fortune? It is hard to credit, too, that, just a year after his escape, he could personally have come up with $240,000 to loan George Washington. His wife's family, the Frankses, was rich, but Rachel Franks Salomon descended from the poor branch.

How reliable was his son? It was from him, too, that biographers learned that Haym Salomon's parents in Poland were "wealthy." But still Salomon thought it needful to send them a thousand pounds when at last he became successful, and in his letter he spoke of his "poor father and mother." In his will, he provided that his mother be bequeathed a gold chain, and his aged father enough money to purchase a burial plot.

Several years ago, the Federation of Polish Jews of America attempted to have a statue erected in Haym Salomon's memory, citing, among other sources, the Dictionary of American Biography account of his services to the Revolution, and saying: "America failed to repay the money he advanced, and now men seek to rob him of his posthumous fame." What the Federation wanted to demonstrate, of course, with their statue, was that there had been Polish Jews in America long before the Czarist pogroms of 1881, and that they had contributed mightily. The chief "robber" of Salomon's posthumous fame was the late historian Max J. Kohler. Kohler called the Poles' project ridiculous, and there was a great deal of angry talk. Kohler was a German Jew, and the mutual antipathy that has existed between the earlier-arrived Germans and the later -- arriving Poles and Russians was at the heart of most of it. The project sputtered, with much acrimony, to no conclusion.

Haym Salomon was, in his own words, a broker, a trader of government bonds, an agent. The $700,000that may have gone through his account over the four years in question was not his money; it was the government's and represented funds from securities he had sold, deposited, and then turned over to Robert Morris. On these moneys Morris now paid him a tidy commission -- 1/2 of 1 percent. Haym Salomon was also a generous man. Even the remote uncles got their guineas. He was generous, too, to his friends in Philadelphia, offering unsecured loans, loans without interest -- generous to a fault. After his death, merchants to whom he had loaned money could not pay. His estate was found to be insolvent. His chief creditor was the Bank of North America, Robert Morris' bank.

His son claimed that the United States government owed Haym Salomon $354,000 -- which today, with interest, would be worth in the tens of millions of dollars. His son said the government had come with a detailed statement to that effect. True, his son waited decades after his father's death to make this claim, and after all records had inconveniently been destroyed when the British captured Washington during the War of 1812. Mysteriously, the government never came around with that statement again. The money has never been paid. The papers are gone.

But the Polish Americans did get their statue -- not in New York, where they wanted it, but in Chicago. And it is a memorial not to one but to three men. Haym Salomon shares the marble pedestaland perfectly properly, it would seem -- with George Washington and Robert Morris. At the time of the statue's dedication, President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned to an aide and, in full innocence, asked: "I know who the other two are, but who. . . ?"

To those of the Old Guard Sephardim who had questioned the importance of Haym Salomon's Revolutionary role, there was always the point that he was "not really Sephardic," something of an interloper and stealer of Sephardic thunder. Now, however, that his statue stands proudly in Chicago, and in such illustrious company, for all the world to see, most Sephardim prefer to claim him -- it seems too bad to give him to the Poles -- and Sephardic parents tell their children, "And he was one of us!"

______________

Notes:

i. "The Hayses, through the mazelike tracery of Malcolm Stem's book, over  the years became related or "connected" with most of the other old families,  down to the recent publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Hays Sulzberger.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:03 pm

11. FIRST LADIES

IT COMES AS A SURPRISE to many people that there are Jewish Daughters of the American Revolution -- just as there are Sons -- though of course there are. Some of the Old Guard Sephardic families are a little sheepish about being DAR members, to be sure, since that organization has gained a reputation of making members of minority groups feel less than welcome. At the same time, these people keep their little certificates of membership, and show these to their children and grandchildren as well.

While men like Haym Salomon were raising and supplying money for Revolutionary coffers, and while Judah Touro was saving his money in New Orleans, a number of Sephardic women were gaining reputations as Revolutionary heroines. There was Mrs. David Hays, for example. Esther Hays and Judah Touro were second cousins by marriage; that is, Esther's husband, David, was a first cousin of Judah's mother. By the time of the Revolution, branches of the Hays family were well established in Newport, New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond, where they can still be found. Esther Hays was an Etting, of the Philadelphia Ettings -- a Sephardic family that had come to that city as early as 1758,and Ettings can still be found there (including the painter Emlen Etting, a seventh-generation Philadelphian). Esther Etting had met David Hays through Philadelphia connections, and theirs was the first Hays-Etling union (there would, of course, be others). It was considered an event of great social importance, creating as it did an even stronger tie among the Jewish communities of Philadelphia, New York, and Newport.

David Hays took his bride north to an extensive farm he operated in New York's Westchester County, near what is now the town of Bedford, and here the Revolution found them. The Hayses backed the Revolutionary cause and, one night in the winter of 1779, David Hays received word that a company camped not far from his farm had been surrounded by the British. Food and supplies were running low, and unless help reached them soon, the men would be forced to surrender or starve. With one of his young sons as a helper, Hays volunteered to try to drive a herd of seventy-five of his cattle through the enemy lines to the imperiled troops. He chose a moonless night for his mission. The cows were blindfolded, their jaws tied closed with rope so they could make no noise, and their hoofs wrapped in heavy sacking to muffle the sound of their march through the snow. The greatest risk came from the Hayses' own neighbors, many of whom were Tory sympathizers, and the exploit had to be carried out in utmost secrecy.

Nonetheless, somehow word of what David Hays was up to leaked out. He and his son had no sooner left the house than a group of angry and suspicious Tories gathered outside it, shouting for his wife. Esther Hays, still weak from the birth of her sixth child, had been in bed with a fever, but she rose and went to the door. When asked where her husband was, she refused to say. Even when the Tory group threatened to kill her small children, she refused to give the mob any information. She was then forced back inside her house; the windows and doors were barricaded, and the house was set afire. Fortunately, the Hayses' Negro slaves, who lived nearby, were able to rescue Esther and her children, and carry them to safety in the slave quarters. But when David Hays and his son returned the next morning -- after successfully completing their delivery of the cattle -- the farmhouse had burned to the ground.

Esther Hays was a woman not easily daunted. She showed her patriotic zeal on another occasion when she calmly walked through enemy lines in broad daylight. Ostensibly on a routine shopping errand, she was actually purveying a vital commodity to the Revolutionary soldiers. Her plump petticoats were heavily quilted with salt. Before the war was over, both Esther's husband and her eldest son had fought at the front, as had her brother, Reuben, who died as a prisoner of war of the British. A volunteer the moment he learned of the first shot at Lexington, Reuben Etting had left his bank clerk's job to join the American forces. After his capture he refused to eat pork, which, of course, was the chief staple supplied. He must have been as strong-willed as his sister, for his death was attributed to starvation.

A gaudier Revolutionary role, though more social than military, was meanwhile being played by the women of Philadelphia's Franks family, into which the entry -- by marriage -- had been such an important step for Haym Salomon. It had, in fact, by the time of the Revolution begun to seem as though Philadelphia's Sephardim were taking themselves even more seriously than their relatives in New York and Newport, even though the Philadelphia community was newer than -- and in many ways an offshoot of -- the other two. Philadelphians generally had begun to think of themselves as superior to New Yorkers, as, of course, they still do. New York and Newport were looked down on as "commercial" cities; Philadelphia was a city more devoted to culture, the arts and graces. Sephardim in the more northerly cities had already begun to speak with a certain awe of their Philadelphia kin, and on one occasion Mrs. Aaron Lopez wrote one of her daughters a long letter (or memorandum, since the girl was living at home at the time) on how to behave: "Not to forget yr. curtsies, how d'you dos and thank-yous," when meeting "our Philadelphia cousins."

The Franks family had settled in Philadelphia early in the eighteenth century, along with the Levys, to whom they were distantly related. The family, during its passage from fifteenth-century Spain to eighteenth-century Philadelphia, had been prominent elsewhere. Aaron Franks, grandfather of the first American Franks, had been a banker in Hanover, and, under the aegis of George I, who discovered his talent there, was brought to England as the king's personal financial adviser. He was known as "the Jew Broker of London." The Levys, meanwhile, could trace their lineage back to a number of prominent early American Jewish families. The two families became even more tightly entwined with each other when, in what was considered a dynastic union, Abigail Levy married Jacob Franks in 1712,and both families moved with great ease (certainly with more ease than the Jews of New York and Newport, who, socially, still kept to themselves) into the purlieus of Christian Philadelphia society. Both David Franks and his cousin, Samson Levy, were on the original list of the Assembly, Philadelphia's most exclusive social event and one of the oldest balls in America, when it was composed in 1748.

By the 1750's, Philadelphia's Jewish elite had added the Gratz family, along with the Ettings, and of course the Philadelphia branch of the Hayses. The Gratzes, like the Ettings and the Frankses, had come from Inquisitional Spain by way of Germany. In Spain, the name may have been Gracia, or Garcia. It was Philadelphia's large German-speaking population that attracted these Sephardim with German-sounding names, who had taken the German route out of Spain, and knew the language. By the mid-eighteenth century, no good Philadelphia club was without its Gratz, Etling, Franks, Levy, or Hays. They were members of the Philadelphia and the Rittenhouse clubs, the Union League, the Racquet, the Rabbit, and the City Troop, and their names decorated the membership lists -- and the lists of officers and directors and sponsors -- of such august institutions as the Historical Society, the Philosophical Society, the Academy of Art, the Academy of Science, and the Atheneum.

The Frankses and Hayses and Gratzes and Ettings not only married "within the group" but, by the time of the Revolution, had begun making brilliantly social marriages to members of Philadelphia's non-Jewish elite. In the cities to the north, where the Sephardim remained more strait-laced and orthodox, the Philadelphia Jews' behavior was looked on with something close to horror. "The German influence" was blamed for this sort of laxity -- the same Christianizing influence that would lead to the Reform movement in Judaism, in both Germany and in the United States. But these intermarriages of Philadelphia's Christian and Jewish families have meant that "Jewish blood," as they say, flows in the veins of many an old American family, from Philadelphia Morrises and Newbolds and Ingersolls to the New York Verplancks.

Abigail Levy Franks, meanwhile -- she was one half of the first Franks-Levy marriage -- was not at all sure she approved of these developments, as she watched them unfold in Philadelphia. Abigail regarded herself as an eighteenth-century aristocratic lady. But in many ways she was also a prototype Jewish mother, so familiar in fiction of modem times. She was forever wrapping up and sending off to her sons packages of preserved relishes and "smoakt fish," urging them not to forget to bathe regularly and eat three good meals daily. In correspondence to her son Naphtali Franks, covering the years 1733-1748, she repeatedly scolds him for his failure to write, or for spending too much money on gifts and "entertainments." Addressing him always as "Heartsey" (not only a term of endearment, but also a play on her son's middle name, which was Hart), she was fond of delivering Polonius-like pronouncements and advice. "You are now launched out amongst strangers," she told him upon his arrival in England on a business trip. "You must be exceeding circumspect in your conduct, be affable to all men but not credulous, nor too soon be led away by fair speeches. Be likewise a very just observer of your word in all respects, even in ye most trivial matters." She was a woman from whom it was not difficult to obtain an opinion, whether it was on the quality of a certain medicinal water or which was the "best Scotch snuff." She deplored the split between the Sephardic and the Ashkenazic Jewish communities (in New York, she had heard, Sephardic Jews were all in the East Ward, and Ashkenazic Jews were in the less fashionable Dock Ward). She disliked the noise of eighteenth-century horse-drawn traffic in the city, and complained of the gaming and drinking that went on "from Sunday night to Saturday morning." She called the ladies of her synagogue a "stupid set of people." She was literate, and fond of quoting, often inaccurately and in the erratic spelling that was typical of the age, advice from the contemporary novels of Fielding and Smollett, and from the essays of Dryden, Addison, and her favorite, Pope. She directed "Heartsey" that "Two mornings a week should be entirely untill dinner time dedicated to some useful book besides an hour every week to that purpose."

She was preoccupied with finding a suitable mate for each of her seven children, and marital matters take up much of the space in her letters to her son. She quotes Heartsey the little verse, the source of which is unknown:

Man the first happy favourite above,
When heaven endowed him with a power to love.
His God ne'er thought him in a blessed state
Till Woman made his happyness compleat.


And one of her great disappointments seems to have been the failure of her daughter Richa to complete a marriage alliance with David Gomez, and thereby with the illustrious Gomez family, even though David, Daniel's brother, was almost forty years Richa's senior. She adopts a sour-grapes attitude, speaking of David as "such a stupid wretch," and adds to Heartsey that even if David had proposed, she and Richa would not have accepted him anyway, probably, not even "if his fortune were much more and I a beggar." Better no marriage at all than marriage to that scoundrel, she seems to say, and Richa did indeed remain unmarried all her life, a heavy burden to her mother. Heartsey himself married his first cousin, Phila Franks, in a most satisfactory intramural manner.

Another marital calamity involved the marriage of Abigail's eldest daughter, also named Phila, to General Oliver De Lancey -- who not only eloped with Phila but had her baptized. "Good God what a shock it was," she wrote Heartsey, "when they acquainted me she had left the house and had bin married six months, I can hardly hold my pen whilst I am writing. . . ." She wrote that "Oliver has sent many times to beg leave to see me, but I never would.... Now he sent word that he will come here. . . . I dread seeing him and how to avoid I know no way." It would be difficult, since the Frankses and the De Lanceys lived next door to each other. Abigail announced that she had instructed her errant daughter never to darken her door again and said: "I am determined I never will see nor let none of ye family go near her," but she added in almost the next sentence that "Nature is very strong, and it would give me a great concern if she should live unhappy, though it's a concern she does not merit."

Abigail Franks's distress appears to have been entirely over the fact that Oliver De Lancey was a Christian, and to have had nothing to do with what might seem to have been certain deficiencies in the young man's character. Present-day members of the De Lancey family take their pre-Revolutionary ancestry very seriously but, from contemporary reports, Oliver De Lancey emerges as a scapegrace, a bounder, a drunk, and -- if we are to believe the source -- a murderer. It was said, at the time, that he married Phila Franks for her money -- a considerable inheritance left to her by her uncle Isaac. Shortly after the marriage, on November 3, 1742, Oliver was indicted for assaulting one of his wife's relatives, Judah Mears, who was the brother of Abigail Franks's stepmother. He and his friends were accused of attacking "a poor Dutch Jew and his wife," of breaking their windows, and "swearing that they would lie with the woman." Using foul language, they warned the couple not to bring charges since De Lancey and his friends were members of prominent New York families. Later the same year, according to a report from Governor George Clinton, Oliver stabbed and killed a Dr. Colchoun in a drunken brawl. This, however, may be an exaggeration or even an untruth. The De Lanceys and the Clintons were bitterest enemies, the Montagues and Capulets of early New York. It is known that Oliver De Lancey was something of a dandy and spent much of his time, and money, at the barber and at the wigmaker's.

After a while, Oliver seems to have settled down. He brought his wife to the De Lancey "country seat," which was located on what is now West Twelfth Street, west of Hudson Street, in Greenwich Village. [i] Oliver and Phila had seven children, all of whom made socially important marriages, three of them to titled Englishmen. Susannah married Sir William Draper, Phila married the Honorable Stephen Payne-Gallwey, and Charlotte married Sir David Dundas. Stephen De Lancey married Cornelia Barclay, of another old New York family, and their son became Sir William Howe De Lancey. In the next De Lancey generation there appeared, in addition to a flock of Episcopal clergymen, Count Alexander Balmain. [ii]

Meanwhile, intermarriage -- the thing which, despite her certain sophistication and attitude of tolerance, Abigail Levy Franks dreaded the most-occurred to the good Jewish mother a second time, when her son David, barely six months after his sister's marriage to De Lancey, married Margaret Evans of Philadelphia. His mother died convinced that she had been a failure as a parent.

It was the Franks-Evans union that produced the beautiful Franks sisters, Rebecca and Abigail, named after her grandmother. We see them in their portraits -- Rebecca's by Thomas Sully, who later became Philadelphia's most popular society portraitist -- pale, dark-haired, with high cheekbones, long thin noses, and arresting eyes, white and swanlike necks, white bosoms swelling over low-cut dresses. They were unquestionably belles. Rebecca, the younger and probably the more beautiful of the two, was one of the stars, along with Peggy Shippen (who married Benedict Arnold), of one of the most extraordinary affairs in the annals of American entertaining, Philadelphia's "notorious Meschianza."

The Meschianza was an altogether curious event. Just why, in the middle of a great war, British-occupied Philadelphia should have decided to treat itself to a lavish party has never been entirely clear. Perhaps everyone was tired of battles and torn loyalties, and a fancy-dress ball seemed the answer. In any case, appropriate or not, a group of British officers decided in the spring of 1779 to put on the most extravagant social entertainment the new world had ever seen. The party was to honor the British General Sir William Howe, who was returning home to England.

Within the family, to say nothing of within the Jewish community, the situation must have seemed grotesque. Cousins David and Esther Hays in Westchester were risking their lives and losing their home in order to smuggle provisions through to Revolutionary soldiers. Here, right in Philadelphia, Haym Salomon, whose wife was the Franks sisters' first cousin, was working to fill the Revolution's coffers -- and all the while the two giddy girls were planning a party to toast an enemy general. Feelings must have run strong, to say the least.

The men in charge of arrangements for the party were Major John Andre and Captain Oliver De Lancey, Jr. Both were close friends of the Franks girls. De Lancey, of course, was another first cousin, and Major Andre had been a suitor, of sorts, of Rebecca's. After being captured at Saint John's in 1775, Andre had been paroled in Philadelphia. He had been a frequent guest at the Franks mansion, where he spent a long summer of infatuation with Rebecca, then a girl in her middle teens. Dreamily, he passed the warm afternoons reading love poetry to her, and painting a delicate miniature of her face. Rebecca, like her De Lancey cousins, had already become decidedly Tory in her politics. Perhaps her affinity for kings had something to do with her ancestor whom George I had made "the Jew Broker of London." Certainly Major Andre's attentions can only have bolstered her sentiments.

For weeks before the Meschianza was to take place, Philadelphia was caught up in a Hurry of preparations. One London firm reported that it had sold more than £12,000 worth of costly silks and laces for the Philadelphia ladies' dresses. For the British officers, Savile Row shipped red-coated dress uniforms, powdered wigs, cutlasses in bejeweled scabbards.

The party was held at Walnut Grove, the country home of Joseph Wharton, a sedate Quaker, but the party was un-Quakerish in every detail. It turned out that what Major Andre and Captain De Lancey had in mind was a sort of medieval tournament-festival, along the lines of the one held at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The Philadelphia replica may well have outdone the original. There were jousts, duels, contests, and feats of strength among the young officers. There was a water festival, a regatta of brightly decorated sailboats on the river. There were parades and processions under triumphal arches. Blackamoor slaves in Oriental garb served nearly a thousand guests with fifteen varieties of champagnes and other wines, and buffet tables set up throughout the house and gardens offered an "indescribable assortment" of exotic foods, according to one report of the affair. No expense was spared, obviously, for what had been billed as "a medley of extravagance" -- which it most certainly was.

The height of the gala was the moment when fourteen "knights" -- young British officers -- in fancy costumes were divided into two teams of seven men each for a tourney. One team was called "the Knights of the Blended Rose," the other "the Knights of the Burning Mountain." After the tilting and jousting -- which was all in a light-hearted spirit, and in which no one was even slightly bruised -- each side of the tournament selected its "Queen of Beauty." The Knights of the Blended Rose chose a Miss Auchmuty. The Knights of the Burning Mountain chose Rebecca Franks. She was gowned for the occasion in what was described as "a white silk gown, trimmed with black and white sashes, edged with black. It was a polonaise dress which formed a flowing robe and was open in front to the waist. The sash, six inches wide, was filled with spangles, as was the veil, which was edged with silver lace. The headdress was towering, in the fashion of the time, and was filled with a profusion of pearls and jewels." She was nineteen years old.

After the tournament, there was a climactic grand ball with fireworks and a "royal repast." The late spring weather -- the date was May 18 -- was perfect for a party. It had started at four in the afternoon, and lasted all night long. It was midmorning the next day before the last of the revelers turned wearily homeward.

Not many miles away, in Valley Forge, a particularly harried and hard-pressed division of Continental troops was encamped where it had spent a parlous winter with heavy loss of life from disease and starvation.

A month later, the British left Philadelphia, and marched across New Jersey, to be met and defeated at Monmouth. But the memory of the lavish Meschianza rankled for a long time in the minds of the Continental generals, including General Anthony Wayne, who wrote sarcastically:

Tell those Philadelphia ladies who attended Howe's assemblies and levees, that the heavenly, sweet, pretty red-coats, the accomplished gentlemen of the guards and grenadiers, have been humbled on the plains of Monmouth. The Knights of the Blended Roses and the Burning Mount have resigned their laurels to rebel officers, who will lay them at the feet of those virtuous daughters of America who cheerfully gave up ease and affluence in a city for liberty and peace of mind in a cottage.


Rebecca Franks had admirers on both sides of the Revolution, though she did seem to favor those with pro-British leanings or those who, intentionally or not, did things that helped the British cause. One rebel officer who fancied her was General Charles Lee. His conduct at Monmouth had been somewhat less than glorious. He took his orders from General Washington oddly lightly, and failed to do as he was told, which was to lead an attack on the British from the rear. Was this because Lee had originally been on the British side, and his loyalties still lay in that direction? Was he actually in collaboration with the enemy? There was that possibility. In any case, his behavior caused Washington to suspend him for twelve months. During this time, he engaged in a spirited correspondence with Becky Franks. Occasionally, however, General Lee overstepped himself in his letters, and he had a tendency to use double entendres in such a way that it was often possible to infer a vulgar, if not downright off color, meaning from his words.

Once, for instance, Lee wrote Rebecca a long letter about his trousers. In it, he said that she might have accused him of theft, of getting drunk, of treasonable correspondence with the enemy -- had he actually done things of this sort? -- or of "never parting with his shirt until his shirt parted with him," but that it had been unpardonably slanderous of Rebecca to say that he had worn green riding breeches patched with leather instead of green riding breeches reinforced with leather. "You have injured me in the tenderest part," he wrote to her, "and I demand satisfaction." He went on to say: "You cannot be ignorant of the laws of duelling.... I insist on the privilege of the injured party, which is to name his hour and weapons. . . . I intend it to be a very serious affair."

This sort of coarse talk -- "tenderest part" indeed! -- was too much for a properly bred Philadelphia lady like Rebecca Franks. She wrote him tersely to say that she considered his innuendos excessively vulgar, and that she wished to have no further correspondence with General Lee. He, however, quickly apologized and Rebecca eventually took him back into her circle.

Meanwhile, Rebecca's Tory and Tory-oriented friends were not doing her father any good at all, nor does Rebecca's behavior give any evidence that she was aware in the slightest of the trouble she was causing him. The British had left Philadelphia. The extravagant display of the Meschianza had left a poor impression. Public opinion associated David Franks with his party-loving daughter, and his business began to suffer. As one of Philadelphia's most important merchants, David Franks had been a logical choice for commissary to the British prisoners quartered in the city. Now the fact that he had fed and supplied the British -- even though they were prisoners of the United States -- began to be held against him. In September of 1778, for lack of cash, he was unable to deliver the prisoners their monthly rations and, this excuse being all they needed, the federal authorities promptly arrested David Franks and threw him into prison. The charge was treason against the United States of America.

A mysterious letter, which, if it ever existed, never appeared during the trial, and has never been seen since, was the chief piece of evidence against him. Allegedly written to his brother Moses in England, the letter was said to have contained "intentions inimical to the safety and liberty of the United States." David Franks may well have been in an inimical frame of mind about the United States and about England as well. The arrangement for him to be paid for feeding and quartering British prisoners had been a quaint one. He had been given the job by the Continental Congress. But he was to have been paid, his orders stipulated, by the British. The British, however, who had perhaps not been consulted in the matter, showed a certain reluctance when it came down to actually reimbursing Mr. Franks for his expenditures and, by December, 1778, Franks was in the dismaying position of owing his creditors for over 500,000 meals supplied to British prisoners in American hands. He had written to the British about this pressing matter. In a series of anxious letters to the Lords of the Treasury, he had outlined his plight; the Lords simply referred him back to Sir Henry Clinton in America, who did nothing.

With her father languishing in prison, Rebecca Franks went right on going to parties. At one ball, a high-ranking American officer made an entrance wearing a bright scarlet coat, and Rebecca Franks was overheard to comment sarcastically, "I see certain animals will put on the lion's skin." The story was printed in the paper, noting that Rebecca was "a lady well known in the Tory world." Though she might have done well to ignore the report, she instead decided to issue a snappy rejoinder, and in a succeeding issue of the newspaper she commented:

There are many people so unhappy in their dispositions that, like the dog in the manger, they can neither enjoy the innocent pleasures of life themselves nor let others, without grumbling or growling, participate in them. Hence it is we frequently observe hints and anecdotes in your paper respecting the commanding officer, headquarters, and Tory ladies. This mode of attacking characters is really admirable, and equally as polite as conveying slander and defamation by significant nods, winks, and shrugs. Poor beings indeed, who plainly indicate to what species of animals they belong, by the baseness of their conduct.


To have defended her "innocent pleasures" at this particular moment, and in the public press, seems callous indeed. Soon after, however, her father's case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence, and he was released.

David Franks continued to try to collect his money from the British, and begged to be allowed to go personally to British-held New York to see what he could do. His daughter, he wrote, would like to accompany him and "would be very happy in taking a view of the Mall, or having a ramble under the holy old trees in the Broad-way." In October, 1780, he was arrested again for corresponding with the enemy in New York -- which he had most certainly been doing in an attempt to resolve his financial problems -- and this time his punishment was exile to New York, which was exactly what he wanted. He and Rebecca left Philadelphia late that year in high spirits.

Rebecca not only had her ramble on Broadway. She also had more parties with British officers.A captain's barge, she wrote, was ready down at the wharf to carry guests to General Robertson's summer home, up the river, for a gala weekend. Her letters were filled with chatter about her beaux. There was Captain Montague, for instance -- "Such eyes!" -- and she was always most impressed with a suitor who had a title. At one point she was being wooed by no less than three Honorables, one with an income of "£26,000 a year!" Her view of New York was somewhat condescending. She was irked to find that in New York it was impossible for her to step out unchaperoned by an older woman, that this was considered unsafe. "We Philadelphians," she wrote, "knowing no harm, fear'd none." The quality of New York entertaining, she felt, was beneath Philadelphia standards, and she found New York ladies short on conversation and addicted to card playing. In a long letter to her sister Abigail, Rebecca wrote:

Few N. York ladies know how to entertain company in their own houses unless they introduce the card tables. . . . I don't know a woman or girl that can chat above half an hour, and that's on the form of a cap, the color of a ribbon, or the set of a hoop stay or jupon [petticoat]. I will do our ladies, that is Philadelphians, the justice to say they have more cleverness in the turn of an eye than the New York girls have in their whole composition. With what ease I have seen a Chew, a Penn, Oswald, Allen, and a thousand others entertain a large circle of both sexes, and the conversation without the aid of cards not Hag or seem the least strained or stupid.

Here, or more properly speaking in N.Y., you enter the room with a formal set curtsy and after the how do's, 'tis a fine or a bad day, and those trifling nothings are finished, then all's a dead calm till the cards are introduced when you see pleasure dancing in the eye of all the matrons, and they seem to gain new life.


Rebecca also had salty comments to make on the courting habits of young New York ladies and gentlemen:

The misses, if they have a favorite swain, frequently decline playing [cards] for the pleasure of making love, for to all appearances 'tis the ladies and not the gentlemen that show a preference nowadays. 'Tis here, I fancy, always leap year. For my part, that am used to quite another mode of behavior, cannot help showing my surprise, perhaps they call it ignorance, when I see a lady single out her pet to lean almost in his arms at an assembly or play house (which I give my honor I have too often seen both in married and single), and to hear a lady confes a partiality for a man who perhaps she has not seen three times. These women say, "Well, I declare, such a gentleman is a delightful creature, and I could love him for my husband," or "I could marry such and such a person." And scandal says with respect to most who have been married, the advances have first come from the ladies' side. Or she has got a male friend to introduce him and puff her off. 'Tis really the case, and with me they lose half their charms; and I fancy there would be more marriage was another mode adopted. But they've made the men so saucy that I sincerely believe the lowest ensign thinks 'tis but ask and have; a red coat and smart epaulet is sufficient to secure a female heart.


Her appraisals of female contemporaries were frank and gossipy. Of a Miss Cornelia Van Horn, Rebecca wrote:

She is in disposition as fine a girl as ever you saw, a great deal of good humor and good sense. Her person is too large for a beauty, in my opinion (and yet I am not partial to a little woman). Her complexion, eyes, and teeth are very good, and a great quantity of light brown hair (Entre nous, the girls of New York excell us Philadelphians in that particular and in their form), and a sweet countenance and agreeable smile. Her feet, as you desire, I'll say nothing about; they are Van Horns' and what you'd call Willings. [iii] But her sister Kitty is the belle of the family, I think, though some give preference to Betsy.... Kitty's form is much in the style of our admired Mrs. Galloway, but rather taller and larger, her complexion very fine, and the finest hair I ever saw. Her teeth are beginning to decay, which is the case of most New York girls after eighteen -- and a great deal of elegance of manners.


But it was the men and the parties that received most of Becky Franks's attention. "Yesterday," she wrote, "the grenadiers had a race at the Flatlands (Long Island), and in the afternoon this house swarmed with beaus and some very smart ones. How the girls would have envied me could they have peeped and seen how I was surrounded." Six months after the above was written, Rebecca married one of her handsome, titled swains, Sir Henry Johnson. The American Revolution ruined her father. He never succeeded in obtaining a fraction of the money the British owed him and, in later years, David Franks appears to have survived by obtaining a series of small loans from Michael Gratz, one of his fellow Sephardim in Philadelphia.

But his daughter had made a brilliant marriage and, in later years, she also appears to have changed her politics. In 1816, after England had lost both the Revolution and the War of 1812, Rebecca, now Lady Johnson, was visited in London by General Winfield Scott, the dashing hero -- a general at the age of twenty-eight -- of the latter war. She had lost her looks, but not her enthusiasm, and she said to Scott, "I have gloried in my rebel countrymen I Would to God I, too, had been a patriot!"

Rebecca and her sister Abigail were responsible for elevating the Franks family name into the highest society on both sides of the Atlantic. Rebecca's descendants, the Johnsons of Bath, stud Burke's Peerage as well as the officer corps of the British Army. Of her nine grandsons, three were generals, one was a major general, one a lieutenant general, two were colonels, one a captain. The ninth became an Episcopal clergyman.

Abigail, meanwhile, married Andrew Hamilton, the jurist of whom it is said that "All Philadelphia lawyers look on him as their exemplar." In addition to the American Hamiltons, not to be sneezed at, her family tree has become decorated with such imposing names as Sir Thomas Whichcote; the Honorable Henry Campbell Bruce, Lord Aberdare; Orlando Bridgeman, fifth earl of Bradford; Sir Robert Edward Henry Abdy, fifth baronet; Algernon Henry Strutt, third Baron Belper; Albert Edward Harry Mayer Archibald Primrose, sixth earl of Rosebery; and Edward Kenelm Digby, eleventh Baron Digby. The list of descendants of Abigail Franks is topped off by the former Mrs. Randolph Churchill, and by the actual entrance of the blood royal, which occurred when Lady Lavinia Mary, the earl of Rosebery's daughter, married Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan Howard, sixteenth duke of Norfolk.

It seems a respectable enough collection of descendants for an eighteenth-century Philadelphia Jewish mother whose greatest ambition was for her daughter to marry a Gomez.

In retrospect, Becky Franks appears to us as a vain, frivolous, fickle woman, single-mindedly dedicated to her "innocent pleasures" and little else, committed to taking the center of the stage and getting what she wanted. Her contemporary in Philadelphia society, Rebecca Gratz -- also renowned for her beauty -- was a very different sort of person: serious, a do-gooder, a premature Victorian, a little stuffy, something of a bluestocking. The Gratzes were "connected" with the Franks family, via the Hayses and the Ettings. One of Rebecca Gratz's sisters, for example, had married Reuben Etting II (Esther Etting Hays's first cousin, named after Esther's brother who had died as a British prisoner), and another sister was Mrs. Samuel Hays. The Gratzes rather disapproved of the high-living Franks family, particularly the girls, and the Gratzes found it rather comforting to remember that David Franks, whose family had carried on in such a purse-proud manner, had had to turn to a Gratz-Rebecca Gratz's father -- for financial help in his latter years.

The Gratzes also disapproved of intermarriage, and they disapproved of what they heard about the Jewish community of New Orleans, of the loose and backsliding ways that seemed to prevail in that southern city. In 1807, Rebecca Gratz wrote her brother Joseph a cautioning letter before he set out for a trip south:

. . . At New Orleans, there are many who call themselves Jews, or at least whose parentage being known are obliged to acknowledge themselves such, but who neglect those duties which would make that title honorable and then respected -- among such as [you] my dear Jo, I hope you will never make one; be asured the worthy and the thinking part of the community will ever estimate a man, by his attention to the serious, domestic duties which speak more truly his character than the external forms in which he presents himself to the world; who would depend on a man's engagements with his fellow men, if he violates his more important engagements with God?


She may well have had in mind just such men as Judah Touro, about whom it was already being said that he paid little attention to his religion. If Rebecca Franks liked to fill her days with party-going and flirtation, Rebecca Gratz preferred more serious pursuits. She was literary, and enjoyed the company of painters and writers, including William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Tuckerman, and Washington Irving. She was philanthropic. In her Sully portrait, we see a demurely smiling beauty: olive-skinned, with soft dark brown eyes, black hair under a heart-shaped hat from which falls a bit of white lace draping. Her yellow mantle is lined with white fur. John Sartain, in The Reminiscences of a Very Old Man, described a visit to Rebecca Gratz: "Her eyes struck me as piercingly dark, yet mild of expression, in a face tenderly pale. The portrait Sully painted of her must have been a remarkable likeness, that so many years after I should recognize her instantly by remembrance of her." Meanwhile, according to her relative Gratz Van Rensselaer: "The Gratz family mansion was known far and "vide as the home of a refined and elegant hospitality. Gifted and distinguished guests -- illustrious statesmen, and eminent persons from abroad whom choice or vicissitude brought to this country -- found there an appreciative welcome."

A particularly close friend of Rebecca Gratz's was Matilda Hoffman. It was in the office of Matilda's father, Judge Ogden Hoffman, that Washington Irving studied law, and presently Miss Hoffman and Washington Irving became engaged. But before the pair could marry, Miss Hoffman became ill with "wasting disease," a common affliction of the day, and Rebecca went to live at the Hoffmans' to help nurse her friend. Rebecca was there to close Matilda's eyes at the end.

This devotion of one young woman to another impressed Irving. When he went to England to try to forget his sweetheart's death, Rebecca Gratz and her kindness to Matilda became almost an obsession with him. He could talk of little else but the Jewess' services to her Christian friend. One of the people he told the story to was Sir Walter Scott, and from this the legend has descended that Scott -- who never met Rebecca Gratz -- used her as his model for the character Rebecca in Ivanhoe. It is probably true, but the evidence is not as clear-cut as it might be. It has been said, for example, that when Ivanhoe was published, Scott sent Irving a first edition inscribed: "How does my Rebecca compare with yours?" Actually, Scott wrote Irving a letter saying, in somewhat different words: "How do you like your Rebecca? Does the Rebecca I have pictured compare well with the pattern given?" -- a small, possibly insignificant, difference.

Rebecca Gratz, meanwhile, was clearly pleased to think that she and Rebecca in Ivanhoe were the same person. She read the novel in 1820 and immediately wrote to her sister-in-law: "Have you received Ivanhoe? When you read it tell me what you think of my namesake Rebecca." A few weeks later she wrote again:

I am glad you admire Rebecca, for she is just such a representation of a good girl as I think human nature can reach. Ivanhoe's insensibility to her, you must recollect, may be accounted to his previous attachment -- his prejudice was a characteristic of the age he lived in -- he fought for Rebecca, though he despised her race -- the veil that is drawn over his feelings was necessary to the fable, and the beautiful sensibility of hers, so regulated yet so intense, might show the triumph of faith over human affection. I have dwelt on this character as we sometimes do on an exquisite painting until the canvas seems to breathe and we believe it is life.


In later years, when asked -- and she frequently was -- whether she was Rebecca of Scott's romance, she would merely smile primly and change the subject.

One aspect of Rebecca Gratz's story that must have appealed to Scott's sentimental nature -- so much so that he may easily have been tempted to borrow it for his tale -- was that Rebecca, in life, like Rebecca in fiction, had had an unhappy love affair with a Christian. He had been young Samuel Ewing, the son of the Presbyterian provost of the University of Pennsylvania. He had escorted Rebecca to the Assembly ball of 1802. But Rebecca's parents, and Rebecca herself, had always opposed intermarriage with non-Jews. Rebecca's and young Ewing's love was star-crossed from the beginning. Faith, as she put it, had to triumph over affection.

Rebecca Gratz was nearly forty when she read Ivanhoe. She could look back on events of twenty years before with equanimity. In time, Sam Ewing had made a proper Philadelphia wedding, to one of the Redman girls. But it was not a happy union, and he died young. When he was lying in his coffin there was a sudden hush in the church as the heavily veiled figure of Rebecca Gratz appeared in the doorway. She moved swiftly to the coffin, placed a small object on his breast, and just as swiftly departed. The object was a miniature portrait of herself. With it were three white roses, crossed to form a six-pointed star.

She never married. She devoted her life to good deeds. She founded the Philadelphia Orphan Society, in 1815. She became secretary of the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances. She founded the Hebrew Sunday School Society, the first of its kind in America. She helped found the Jewish Foster Home. She began and ended each day with prayer. When her sister, Rachel Gratz Moses, died in 1823, Rebecca helped raise Rachel's nine small children. Her spirit showed in her face. After painting her, Thomas Sully said that he had "never seen a more striking Hebraic face. The easy pose, suggestive of perfect health, the delicately turned neck and shoulders with the firmly poised head and its profusion of dark curling hair, large, clear black eyes, the contour of the face, the fine white skin, the expressive mouth and the firmly chiselled nose, with its strength of character, left no doubt as to the race from which she had sprung. Possessed of an elegant bearing, a melodiously sympathetic voice, a simple and frank and gracious womanliness, there was about Rebecca Gratz all that a princess of the blood Royal might have coveted." What better description of a heroine of fiction?

The religious school she founded still operates, and Rebecca Gratz foundations continue to dispense funds in Philadelphia. In later Gratz generations, family strictures against marrying Christians relaxed considerably. Collateral Gratz descendants mday are named Wallace, Rowland, Taylor, Brewster, Marshall, McClure, and Gillette. Her brother's great-granddaughter is the present Mrs. Godfrey S. Rockefeller of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Helen Gratz Rockefeller is a handsome, cheerful woman in her sixties who recalls, of the Gratz relatives whom she knew: "We were a rather tempestuous, almost violent family. Life was hardly ever placid. My grandfather, Henry Howard Gratz, had a terrible temper and was something of a despot. He used to terrify us. He'd do things like throw his cane at you if he caught you eating an apple. He had three wives. The third one he married when he was seventy, and she was only thirty. She adored him, but when he was cross with her he'd throw all of her flowerpots out the window. But we had a terribly strong sense of family obligation. We stuck together through thick and thin."

Mrs. Rockefeller says: "The Gratz family fortune was pretty well diminished by the time it reached my grandfather's generation. My father, Benjamin Gratz III, left home with two dollars and fifty cents in his pocket when he was in his early twenties. The two dollars was stolen, but with the fifty cents he built up a whole new fortune for himself, and took care of everybody in the family -- aunts, uncles, relatives from miles around. We all lived together in Saint Louis. There was a great deal of singing together and reading aloud." Though Mrs. Rockefeller is proud of her Jewish heritage, the Gratzes she descends from have been Episcopalians from her grandfather's generation on, if not from even before. It strikes her as quaintly ironic that her collateral ancestor Rebecca Gratz should have remained unmarried for life because she loved a Christian, whereas Gratzes in subsequent generations have displayed a tendency to marry several times -- her grandfather three times, and her father twice. As a child, growing up in Saint Louis, she recalls her parents as stalwart churchgoers, and Bishop Tuttle of Saint Louis was a regular guest at the Gratz Sunday dinner table. Mrs. Rockefeller remembers her mother asking the deaf old bishop, "Do you like bananas, Bishop?" and the bishop cupping his ear to inquire, "What was that?" "Do you like bananas, Bishop?" Mrs. Gratz asked in a louder voice. "No," the bishop replied, "I prefer the old-fashioned nightshirt."

There is no question that the social distinction, and the charm, of early American Jewish women, as well as the financial assistance and business probity of the men, all helped George Washington who, after all, was an aristocratic Virginian and something of a snob -- to look with favor on Jews as a whole, as a people, as a valuable part of the new nation. Jewish officers, including two cousins of the Franks sisters, served on his staff. Colonel David Salisbury Franks-Haym Salomon's brother-in-law -- was Washington's emissary to Paris, where he carried dispatches between Washington and Ambassador Benjamin Franklin; he also delivered copies of the 1784 treaty of peace with England to the American embassies in Europe. Colonel Isaac Franks, called "the boy hero of the Revolution" (he was only sixteen when he enlisted), rose in the ranks until he was attached to headquarters as General Washington's aide-de-camp.

But at the war's end, the still relative minority of Jews in the country looked at their new government with a certain apprehensiveness. After all, not all had backed the Revolutionary cause. And for three hundred years, under a variety of monarchs and colonial leaders, under many Bags, these ancient, proud, and highly bred families from Spain and Portugal had received treatment that had been, at best, uneven and, at its worst, calamitous. Which way would the winds blow now?

When George Washington was inaugurated as first President of the United States of America, the heads of the Jewish communities in Philadelphia, New York, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah all wrote cautious letters to the new chief executive. They reminded him, as politely as possible, of the kind of country they hoped the United States would be. Moses Seixas, head of the Newport congregation, put it best. Would the world now see, he asked, :a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generously affording to all liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship, deeming everyone of whatever nation, tongue and language, equal parts of the great government machine?"

Seixas' letter obviously impressed the President, for he actually borrowed some of Seixas' rhetoric in his reply:

GENTLEMEN:

While I receive with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are passed is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural right, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection shall demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the Father of all Mercies scatter light, and not darkness upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way, everlasting happy.

G. WASHINGTON


In his sometimes jawbreaking prose, he was uttering almost dreamily noble sentiments, painting a picture of America's future that was close to utopian. But the heart of "G. Washington" was in the right place.

_______________

Notes:

i. Alexander Hamilton, a frequent traveler, wrote in the summer of 1744: "At  twelve o'clock we passed a little town, starboard, called Greenwitch, consisting  of eight or ten neat houses, and two or three miles above that on the same  shore, a pretty box of a house with an avenue fronting the river belonging to  Oliver De Lancey."
 
ii. Kin, though distantly, of the Paris couturier Pierre Balmain.
 
iii. The Willings, partners of Robert Morris, apparently had big feet.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:20 pm

12. LEGENDS AND LEGACIES

EACH OF THE old families has its favorite legend, and Aunt Elvira Nathan Solis knew them all. Some of the most romantic, to be sure, involved members of the Solis family who, through the vellum pages of Dr. Stern's book, can be seen to have evolved into present-day New York and Philadelphia Solises out of a series of dynastic marriages in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Iberia. It all began when a certain Marquesa Lopes (undoubtedly a distant ancestor of Aaron Lopez) married Fernao Jorge Da Solis and, at roughly the same time, Beatrice Pinto married Duarte Da Silva. The Da Silvas' son married the Da Solises' daughter, bringing the two houses together, and from then on -- making use of the Spanish practice of appending the mother's name to the surnames of the children -- the family fell heir to the double name of Da Silva Solis or, as it was used in certain branches, Da Silva y Solis. This was all in the sixteenth century, and is remarkable in that the practice has been continued to this day. (Emily Nathan's full name, for instance, is Emily Da Silva Solis Nathan.)

Dr. Stern's book reveals such peripheral information about the Solis family as the fact that one Joseph Da Silva Solis, a London gold broker, was so good at his job that he earned the admiring nickname "El Dorado." In one branch of the family, for several generations, the male heirs bore the hereditary title of Marquis de Montfort. Next to another name in the voluminous Solis family tree, Dr. Stern has made the sinister notation: "Murdered at Murney, Friday, October 17, 1817."

The Solises, Aunt Ellie Solis liked to remind the children, were noted for producing strong-minded ladies. A number of Solis women, through history, have let their husbands retire to intellectual pursuits while the women ran the family business -- or the country. A fifteenth-century example of this breed was Isabel de Solis, otherwise romantically known as "Zoraya the Morning Star." Isabel, or Zoraya, was captured as a slave by Suley Hassan, the Moorish sultan of Granada, who made her his concubine. But so strong was her will, and so powerful was her allure, that she was soon running both the sultan and the sultanate. All American Solises also descend from Dona Isabel de Fonseca, a daughter of the Marquis of Turin and the Count of Villa Real and Monterrey, and Solomon da Silva Solis. In a plan masterminded by Dona Isabel, the pair escaped from Portugal disguised as Christians and were married as Jews in Amsterdam in 1670.

By the time Jacob da Silva Solis arrived in New York from London in 1803, the family fortunes were somewhat diminished. Jacob made an auspicious in-the-group marriage to David and Esther Hays's daughter Charity, and took her with him to Wilmington, Delaware, where he opened a store. Jacob's theory was that Wilmingtonians were doing too much of their shopping in nearby Philadelphia, and would save time and money by buying their dry-goods nearer home. Apparently he was wrong, for five years later, when this venture failed, he himself was in Philadelphia, looking for a job. He applied to one of his wife's relatives, Simon Gratz, for the humble position of shohet, or ritual slaughterer, and was rather summarily turned down by Mr. Gratz. Leaving his wife and children behind, he went south to New Orleans, where an earlier Solis, Joseph, had made a fortune developing Louisiana's sugar cane industry. But Jacob, alas, had no such luck. One of the stories Aunt Ellie Solis used to tell was that in the spring of 1827 in New Orleans, Jacob da Silva Solis was so poor that, unable to purchase matzos for his Passover festival -- and horrified that New Orleans Jews seemed to care so little for Passover that they had none to give him -- he sat down and ground the meal and made his own. As other good orthodox Sephardim had before him, Jacob deplored the laxity, when it came to religious matters, of the New Orleans Jews. He determined to establish his own congregation, and at this he was successful. Though Jacob Solis' personal congregation never achieved any sort of dominance in the community, it did get a New Orleans thoroughfare named Solis Street.

Probably Jacob da Silva Solis' greatest moment came when it was discovered that the Converso line of the House of Solis had become extinct in Portugal. The Portuguese ambassador, himself of Marrano descent, journeyed to New Orleans to advise Jacob that he could succeed to the Solis titles and properties in Europe, provided, of course, that he would become a Catholic. Jacob da Silva Solis gazed stonily at the ambassador for a moment, and declined the offer. The ambassador could not believe his ears. "You fool!" he is said to have cried. "It is one of the greatest dignities in Europe!" Mr. Solis, secure in his own dignity, replied: "Not for the whole of Europe would I forsake my faith, and neither would my son Solomon." It was one of Aunt Ellie's favorite tales. How Jacob Solis' poor wife back in Philadelphia -- she had borne him seven children -- felt about this gesture is not recorded.

Two of Jacob Solis' children managed to redeem the family name, and handsomely at that. His son David married Elvira Nathan (Aunt Ellie's mother), and brought the American Solises into the Seixas-Nathan-Mendes family complex. The Nathans, of course, were New York-based. Jacob Solis' daughter Judith married Myer David Cohen, of Philadelphia, and produced nine children. At Judith's insistence -- she was another strong-willed lady -- her children bore the hyphenated name Solis-Cohen, their mother's name placed first. Solis, she explained, was after all a more important name than Cohen; Mr. Cohen, furthermore, had been born in southern Germany. Solis-Cohens are still prominent in Philadelphia, and continue to be loyal to da Silva when it comes to middle names.

Both the da Silvas and the Solises are connected with the Peixottos -- another old Sephardic family -- and the Peixottos are similarly name-proud. The Peixotto family crest depicts two ovals, one containing two fish, the other a hand pouring water from a pitcher into a bowl. The ovals are surmounted by a very regal-looking crown, and the entirety is circled by an elaborate wreath. The word peixotto, in Portuguese, means "little fish," explaining the first oval. The hand pouring water is the symbol of the Levites, or priests of Israel. Though present-day Peixottos are not sure just how, they are convinced that the crown and the wreath cannot stand for anything less than royalty.

In 1634, one Don Diego Peixotto and his two brothers -- Antonio Mendes Peixotto and Joshua Peixotto -- were imprisoned for high treason. They were accused, no less, of "governing an armada which caused the downfall of Pernambuco," and the motive ascribed to them was vengeance against the Inquisition. The Peixottos also were fond of hyphenated names. When, in the eighteenth century, a Miss Cohen Peixotto married Mr. Levy Maduro, their descendants used the name Maduro-Peixotto, the wife's name last.

The Peixottos were noted for their hot tempers and, as happens in any tight-knit family, feuds developed. There are branches of the Peixotto family that have not spoken to each other for generations. At a Peixotto family funeral in the 1830's,hardly any of the mourners were on speaking terms with the others. Peixottos have been quick to cut their heirs out of their wills for the slightest breach of loyalty, but then so have the Seixases. When Abraham Mendes Seixas, patriarch of the American branch of the family (who, to confuse things somewhat, also used the name Miguel Pacheco da Silva), died in London in 1738, he left a will -- written in Portuguese -- in which he left the bulk of his considerable estate to his two daughters. To his only son -- who later emigrated to New York -- he left "only fifty pounds for reasons known to myself." It was possibly because the young man had reached the advanced age of thirty without marrying to produce an heir. (He eventually succeeded in performing both duties.)

(Equally testy in his will was Judah Hays. When he died in New York in 1764, he cut off his daughter Rachel with only five shillings for marrying against his wishes, and another daughter, Caty, received her inheritance in an elaborate trust because, as her father put it in his will, he had little opinion of the business ability of her husband, Abraham Sarzedas, with whom she had gone off to live in Georgia. Later, Sarzedas distinguished himself as a Revolutionary officer of the Light Dragoons -- too late, however, to redeem himself with his father-in-law.)

Peixottos were also determinedly civic-minded. When the Shearith Israel congregation lost its pastor of fifty years, Gershom Mendes Seixas, when he died in 1816, there was difficulty finding a rabbi who could fill his place. Moses Levy Maduro-Peixotto, a prosperous merchant, was a Judaic scholar, though not a rabbi, and he offered to fill the vacancy until a permanent replacement could be found. So well did he fill the post that the congregation voted to keep him. He gave up his mercantile career to devote himself to the parish, and continued to do so until his death in 1828. Because he was rich, furthermore, he turned over his salary throughout these years to Rabbi Seixas' widow.

All these strains -- Seixas, Peixotto, Maduro, Hays, Solis, and a good many others -- and, no doubt, their accompanying characteristics, come together in the Hendricks family. Perhaps the quickest way to see how this happened is to realize that when Uriah Hendricks arrived on American shores in 1755,he married, first, Daniel Gomez' niece Eve Esther Gomez. Widowed a few years later, he married, second, Aaron Lopez' daughter Rebecca. From then on, the pattern of intramural marriages became so bewilderingly complex that even Dr. Stern slips and stumbles now and then as, under the Hendricks family name, all the old names gather, weaving the whole into an ever tightening bundle.

The Hendrickses had a knack for making money. Uriah Hendricks opened a small store in Cliff Street, in lower Manhattan, selling dry goods -- underwear, suspenders, shoelaces, cheap watches, handkerchiefs -- anything that could be stored in a small place, sold quickly and for a little profit. Soon he was prospering, and able to move to a larger store in Mill Street, now South William Street. He embarked upon the creation of a large family. Eventually there were ten children. Uriah may also have been something of a philanderer, if we are to take the implications contained in an early letter to Uriah from his wife's brother Isaac Gomez, who, in a scolding tone, took Uriah to task over an "infatuation." Gomez wrote that "To support my character as a gentleman and for no other reason, I would wish you to enquire of the company [you are keeping] who must displease her ladyship [Mrs. Hendricks] as much as I and my family." The warning may have worked, for subsequent letters contain no mention of the matter.

Uriah Hendricks supplied the Colonies in the French and Indian wars and laid the groundwork for a fortune. But it was his second-eldest son, Harmon Hendricks, born in New York in 1771, who brought the Hendricks business to success on a national and even international scale. Harmon Hendricks took his father's business and began expanding it. From undershirts and watches, he moved into spangles, looking glasses, umbrellas, and tablecloths. He sold snuffboxes, gilt frames, ivory combs, beads, and brass kettles. He traded rice for pianos, and pianos for shipments of German glass, gold leaf, knives, forks, and brooches. He dealt in wire, tinplate, Spanish dollars, and lottery tickets -- even tickets described in his books as "enemy lottery." His business correspondence is filled with notations such as: "Bicycle horns are no use in New England," and "Epaulets too high in price," and "Large kettles not salable in Hartford." He established for himself a variety of buying and selling agents in London and Bristol, England; in Kingston, Jamaica; in Boston, Hartford, Newport, Philadelphia, and Charleston. He was, in short, a trader. He could trade with equal ease in any commodity.

There were, of course, deals that were less profitable than others, as is apparent in a revealing series of letters between Harmon Hendricks and one Abraham Cohen of Philadelphia. Late in 1797, Harmon had sent Mr. Cohen a sizable shipment of cigars, or "segars," as they are referred to in the correspondence that ensued. In March, 1798, Mr. Hendricks wrote Mr. Cohen a carefully worded letter in which he expressed "surprise" at Mr. Cohen's "silence of four months without remittance" in payment for the shipment. Mr. Cohen's reply to this was disturbingly vague. He explained that he had been "every day expecting of making a remittance and thought I would wait [before writing] until then." No remittance was made, and six months of further silence went by. In November, Mr. Cohen wrote to say that he would pay "when Isaac Pesoa goes to N.Y.," the plan apparently being to have Mr. Pesoa deliver the money. Cohen added an encouraging note that he had opened a retail-wholesale grocery store at 44 South Fourth Street in Philadelphia, "An excellent place for smoaking segars -- no less than 4 tavern [sic] in the neighborhood!" Two weeks later, however, Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Hendricks to express his own indignant "surprise" that Hendricks should himself have sent Isaac Pesoa to collect, or try to collect, the owed money. Cohen added that he "cannot sell the segars" -- despite the four taverns.

On December 10, Cohen wrote that he could still not pay for the cigars due to "unforseen circumstances." A month later, on January 16, 1799, obviously feeling under pressure, Mr. Cohen wrote to Hendricks that a certain John Barnes had collected $52.40 in partial payment for the shipment, but a month later this turned out to be untrue. Mr. Barnes swore that he had received no money at all from Mr. Cohen. By summer of 1799, Harmon Hendricks was clearly losing patience with Cohen and wrote to Isaac Pesoa, saying: "this segar article is so very uncertain on acct. of the many various deceptions," and added that he would certainly like to collect from Cohen but "will not protest it." In August, Pesoa replied that there was nothing to be gained, in his opinion, from Hendricks' suing Cohen for the money. "I have no doubt," said Pesoa, "that if any of his creditors sue him he will be oblige [sic] to take the benefit of the Act" -- that is, for indigents and insolvents. And there the matter ended. Harmon Hendricks was never paid for his "segars."

He was, in the meantime, dealing in a more lucrative commodity. Though he continued to trade in combs, snuffboxes, spangles, mirrors, and pianos, he had been steadily focusing more and more of his time and attention on the copper trade. Copper has been called "the poor man's metal," and "the ugly duckling of metals," despised for its very abundance. There are copper deposits in virtually every part of the globe, from Cape Horn to Siberia. Copper is easily mined, cheaply milled. Historically, little value has been attached to it, and it has been used for the cheapest coins, the meanest utensils, kitchen pots and pans. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the booming African slave trade created, indirectly, a new and important need for copper. Copper was needed in New England and in the West Indies for the bottoms of the huge stills that turned out the hundreds of thousands of gallons of rum that occupied such an important point of the three-cornered pattern of the slave trade. In 1812, Harmon Hendricks moved westward into the town of Belleville, New Jersey, and built what was the first copper-rolling mill in the United States. Within a few years, most of the rum produced in the Americas was coming from stills made of Hendricks copper.

Both Harmon and his father had been Tories during the Revolution, but that did not prevent Harmon from doing business with Paul Revere a few years later. In fact, as early as 1805, the two copper titans had reached an informal agreement by which they intended to comer the American copper market and set its price. Let us, Revere proposed, buy "the whole block of copper in our single name" -- or in the names of friends and relatives, depending on how sales went -- and then, as he put it, "equalize between us the quality and the price." Both men were firmly against the imposition of an import duty on foreign copper, particularly from Britain, brought into the United States. As Hendricks expressed it in a letter to Revere: "There will be more honor in beating John Bull out of our market by low price and superior quality than by duties which may tempt new manufacturers to operate more to our prejudice." The two men wanted, in other words, no further domestic competition, and for several years they were able to have the American copper pie fairly evenly divided between them. They were also opposed to the administration of James Madison, whose purchasing agents they frequently accused of supplying fishy figures.

"We have observed Mr. Smith's report," Revere wrote Hendricks early in 1806. "It is all of a piece with the present administration of government. His report has $56,840 worth of sheets, bolts, spikes. . . . Now we know there is in store in Charlestown more than $120,000 worth. . . ." Less than half, in other words, of what had been shipped was being acknowledged as received. But apparently the men got their money, for the Revere-Hendricks accounts show more than half a million dollars received in payment for government orders that year.

In 1803, a young man named Robert Fulton succeeded in demonstrating that a water-going vessel could be propelled by steam. Fulton's steam boilers were made of copper, and Fulton became another important customer of Harmon Hendricks. Hendricks boilers went into the Fulton -- the first steam warship -- the Paragon, the Firefly, the Nassau, and the Clermont, which for years plied up and down the Hudson River between New York and Albany. Soon, selling copper for Fulton's boilers -- Fulton had a monopoly on the manufacture of steamboats for thirty years -- became more lucrative than selling copper for stills. Harmon Hendricks' partner (and brother-in-law), Solomon Isaacs, became so identified with boilers that he was nicknamed "Steamboat" Isaacs. In 1819, when Fulton was fitting out the S.S. Savannah to be the first oceangoing steamship, the craft was labeled a "steam coffin" by various nay-sayers in high places, who insisted it would never work. When the ship completed its triumphant voyage across the Atlantic in record time, Harmon Hendricks modestly announced that his copper was in the Savannah's boilers.

The Savannah, however, was not one of his firm's more profitable undertakings. Harmon Hendricks had cousins in the city of Savannah -- the Henrys and the Minises -- who were important stockholders in the Savannah Steamship Company, and Hendricks had sold them his copper at family prices. One boiler, twenty by eight and a half feet in size, had cost $30,000 for the Fulton five years earlier. For the Savannah's two larger boilers, each twenty-six by six feet, he charged only $1,237.72. Also, for some reason, Hendricks' relatives never paid him in full. He received only $1,115.05-$122.67 short.

Success and riches were, of course, a mixed blessing when, as word of Harmon Hendricks' wealth reached them, distant kin from all over the globe began writing him for what they felt was their proper share of the bounty.

It is clear that a good part of each day was taken up dealing with these demands. There were, for instance, some of his stepmother's Lopez cousins in Newport who continually wrote to declare themselves "destitute," asking for money in sums small and large. To a typically tearful Lopez note, asking for thirty dollars, Harmon Hendricks would append the curt notation of his own: "Sent her $20." A few months later, another relative of his stepmother's, Samuel Lopez, wanted two hundred dollars, promising "with the honor of a Mason" to repay it. To a nephew of Gilbert Stuart, Harmon Hendricks loaned $12,000, and when Stuart heard of this he cautioned Hendricks: "If you have patience, he will repay you, but if, like a hard master, you attempt to cast him into prison you may lose all." At the same time, money was coming into the Hendricks firm at a gratifying rate, from sales of copper as well as from such items as turpentine, pigs, pumpkins, gin, and garden seed. In 1807, Hendricks' brother-in-law Jacob de Leon noted to Hendricks that he had sold "upward of $70,000 in black birds" -- a euphemism for Negro slaves -- and would be paid in November. His good luck continued. On July 22, 1814 Harmon bet one Jack Cohen "a beaver hat" that there would be peace within four months -- and won the bet, for hostilities of the War of 1812 ended before November.

But relatives continued to pester him. From England a widowed aunt, Rachel Waag, wrote to him to explain that her late husband's estate had not yet been settled; until then she needed money. Hendricks appointed one of his London representatives to supply her with cash. A cousin, Benjamin Da Costa, whose wife had died, sent his young son, Moses, to live with the Hendrickses, who already had twelve children of their own, and Da Costa kept Harmon Hendricks busy with instructions as to what sort of an education the boy should receive. Harmon had him studying Spanish and French, but Da Costa preferred that the boy study English, "the Mother Tongue," and even suggested that Hebrew be dropped from his curriculum, "As I daresay he knows his prayers in that language by now, which is as much as I wish."

There was also the painful problem of Harmon Hendricks' sister Sally, one of those whom Malcolm Stern's book adjudges to have been "insane." Insane or not, she was certainly a trial to her family, never content to be where she was, always wanting to be somewhere else. She spent her life being shuttled back and forth among relatives, none of whom was ever particularly overjoyed to see her. She was referred to as "our unfortunate sister," and described as being "of a very unsettled disposition." Her condition must have been particularly unsettling to Harmon Hendricks, three of whose children had already shown signs of being, as it was said, "peculiar." One son, for example, made a fetish of cleanliness, and would eat nothing that had not been scrubbed with hot water and strong soap. He washed his hands as often as a hundred times a day. A daughter was "melancholy," and lapsed into alarming depressions that lasted for days. Sally Hendricks' obsession was with her money, which, she insisted, many enemies were determined to take away from her and put to dark uses. Her father had left her a comfortable inheritance but, since she considered the money to be in such a hazardous position, she refused to spend any of it and filled her time moving her accounts -- no one but she knew how many she had -- from bank to bank. For a while, Sally lived with her brother-in-law Jacob de Leon in Charleston, but she was unhappy there and insisted on returning to New York "to see after her money." She set sail from Charleston on a ship called the Rose-in-Bloom, and it was an agonizing voyage. She was mistreated at sea, she claimed, by the ship's captain, was given short rations and bad food, and, instead of a private stateroom, was placed in a cabin with another woman and a child. The woman, Sally complained, was "of a certain character." In New York, Sally -- and her complaints -- went to live with Harmon Hendricks and his brood, a large and not entirely happy family.

There were difficulties of other sorts. By 1793, yellow fever had become an annual blight in both Philadelphia and New York, and, when it made its summer appearance, Harmon Hendricks was forced to close his copper mill and all business came to a standstill. "It carries off 60 a day," he wrote in 1805. New Yorkers were baffled by the disease, and a variety of theories as to its cause were advanced. Harmon Hendricks wrote that he believed "trade with the French Islands of the West Indies" was indirectly responsible, and that beef stored in warehouses for this trade had putrefied and somehow made the air contagious and unfit to breathe. He pointed out that people in the neighborhoods of the warehouses -- which, of course, were not located in the tidiest parts of town -- fell victims first. He was able to make a convincing argument of this, and, that same year, during the height of the plague, five thousand barrels of beef were dumped into the Hudson River. Those New Yorkers who could afford to fled north to the "Village of Greenwich" each year when the fever began to rage and, of course, those who were already infected by the mosquito that caused it took the disease with them.

But, for all his business and family ups and downs, Harmon Hendricks was able to establish himself as one of the East's most important merchant-manufacturers. By 1812, he was rich enough to make his celebrated offer of a loan to the government to finance its war with the British. By 1825, he had his own bank and was also a director of the Hartford Bank (which would tactfully ask "for a reply by Sunday mail if not trespassing on your Sabbath"). He also acquired considerable real estate. In addition to the New Jersey plant, he owned from Twentieth to Twenty-second streets between Sixth and Seventh avenues in Manhattan, and also thirty acres along Broadway. He continued to sell copper for the bottoms of stills and the boilers of ships, and to the United States mint for coins, while making loans in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also established the Hendricks family socially, and was a member of the elite Union Club. Harmon Hendricks died in 1838. Several years later, Joseph Scoville, in The Old Merchants of New York City, wrote:

Mr. Hendricks was a born New Yorker, of the Jewish persuasion -- honest, upright, prudent, and a very cautious man. . . . He died immensely rich, leaving over three millions of dollars. . . . His heirs are worth at least seven millions. . . . With all the revulsions in trade, the credit of the house for half a century has never been questioned, either in this country or in Europe, and today in Wall Street their obligations would sell quite as readily as government securities bearing the same rates of interest. No man stood higher in this community while he lived, and no man left a memory more revered than Harmon Hendricks.


He also left three strong sons -- Uriah II, Henry, and Montague -- all eager to carry on his scattered enterprises.

And he left a more important heritage in terms of values that would come to be a preoccupation among the Jewish first families as they moved to positions of money and social acceptance. As Harmon Hendricks' little daughter Roselane put it in 1834, when she was fourteen years old, in her copybook of "Daily Compositions," written in a careful schoolgirlish hand: "Education is one of the most important subjects to which our attention can be directed. It is to education alone that we are indebted for the formation of our minds, the improvement of our understandings, and the developing of our faculties. . . . It is education which elevates our mind towards that Great Being from whence every good flows."
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 11:18 pm

13. THE FIREBRAND

WHAT THE AMERICAN JEWISH community required was a man to serve as its conscience. At least this was the contention of young Uriah Phillips Levy of Philadelphia, who seems to have decided at a very early age that he would fill that role. To him it was a question of assimilation -- and loss of all that it meant to be a Sephardic Jew -- or of continuity, and he placed tremendous value on the latter. He thoroughly disapproved of what he had heard was going on in cities such as New Orleans, and of men such as Judah Touro, who were Jews with only half their hearts. He disapproved of fellow Philadelphians such as the Franks girls, who seemed not only to care nothing about their country but to care less about their faith, being bent apparently only on marrying titled Englishmen. He disapproved of his Levy cousins Samson, Benjamin, and Nathan -- the latter had been David Franks's partner -- who danced at the Assembly, joined Christian clubs, and paid only lip service to their noble heritage. Their children were all marrying Christians and converting. Uriah Phillips Levy believed that American Jews needed Great Menthe kind who would stand up foursquarely as Americans, and just as foursquarely as Jews, who would assume positions of leadership in American institutions, but on their own Jewish terms. It was a large order to give to an already seriously fragmented and disunified group of people, but Uriah Levy gave it. He was small in stature, but his ego was more vast than the whole of the new republic. Equally sizable was the chip that Uriah Levy carried, through most of his life, on his diminutive shoulder.

To be a crusader, a setter-to-rights, he regarded as part of his birthright. He was, after all, a Philadelphia Levy. His family, Uriah Levy felt, were in no way to be taken lightly. After all, George Washington had been at his grandparents' wedding. His great-great-grandfather had been the personal physician to King John V of Portugal. The Levy family had made all the proper in-the-group marriages. One of Uriah's sisters had married a Hendricks, another a Lopez -- one of Aaron Lopez' West Indian cousins. Though Uriah's family was sometimes referred to as "the poor branch" (the Samson Levys were considerably richer), the Levys were nothing if not proud.

In 1806, when Uriah Levy announced that he intended to embark upon a naval career, he was barely fourteen years old. He had already learned to identify, from their silhouettes, the names and flags of all the ships that entered and departed Philadelphia harbor. He first signed on as a cabin boy, with duties, among other things, of making up the captain's bunk. By autumn of the following year, pressures were building toward the War of 1812, and President Jefferson declared an embargo on all American trade with Europe. This meant that the shipping industry fell idle, and Uriah used this time to attend a navigation school in Philadelphia, where it was quickly apparent that he was brilliant.

The American Navy, at this time, was closely modeled after the British. Its officer class consisted of men with old-school ties, who all Knew" each other, who regarded themselves as "gentlemen." U.S. naval officers, in other words, constituted a kind of club, with rules and rituals and membership requirements that were inflexible. No Jew had ever been a U.S. naval officer, and it was unthinkable that one should ever wish or try to be. Uriah Levy had chosen for his arena the institution of American life where the Jew's role had always been the weakest, the most capitulating, where Jews had traditionally been given the least power and the meanest jobs.

In 1809, the Embargo Act was lifted, and Uriah Levy -- now a naval school graduate -- was back in service. It wasn't long before he had his first run-in with the power structure.

In the years between the two wars, British impressment gangs prowled the streets of American port cities looking for susceptible young men whom they could literally shanghai into the British Navy. American men who carried the proper documents were usually immune from this sort of danger, however, and Uriah Levy had naturally taken pains to have his "protection certificate" up to date and in order. As a result, when the cry of "Press gang!" rang through a Philadelphia tavern one afternoon -- and most of the young men in the place headed quickly for the back door -- Uriah Levy remained calm, sipping his coffee.

A squad of British marines, in white breeches and blue coats, with tall red plumes sprouting from fat shakos, marched into the room with rifles at port, and demanded to see Uriah's credentials. Uriah withdrew his certificate from his breast pocket. One of the marines took the certificate, scanned it, looked at Uriah, and said, "You don't look like an American to me. You look like a Jew."

Uriah replied coolly, "I am an American and a Jew."

"If the Americans have Jew peddlers manning their ships, it's no wonder they sail so badly," the sergeant said.

The Levy temper took over. Uriah immediately doubled his fist and struck the British sergeant in the jaw. A second member of the press gang promptly raised his rifle butt and felled Uriah with a single blow. When he regained consciousness, Uriah Levy was in the brig of a British cutter named the Vermyra, bound for Jamaica.

Uriah spent several miserable weeks slaving as a deckhand on the British ship. He was repeatedly ordered to be sworn into His Majesty's Navy, and each time refused with the polite and formal statement: "Sir, I cannot take the oath. I am an American and I cannot swear allegiance to your king. And I am a Hebrew, and do not swear on your testament, or with my head uncovered." Obviously, the commander of the Vermyra realized he had a somewhat unusual situation on his hands. Possibly his uncertainty as to what a Jew actually was caused him to treat Uriah Levy with some deference. The young man's stiff and haughty attitude, and carefully phrased responses, hinted that the captain was in the presence of a Personage. At Jamaica, Uriah was permitted an audience with Sir Alexander Cochrane -- the Briton who, a few years later, would order the city of Washington, D.C., put to the torch. Uriah, however, found Sir Alexander sympathetic and disapproving of the practice of impressment. Sir Alexander looked over Uriah's papers, said that they appeared to be authentic, and announced that Uriah could be released provided he made his own way back to the United States. Within a few weeks, he was back in Philadelphia again.

In 1811, Uriah Levy had saved enough money to purchase a one-third interest in a 138-ton schooner named the George Washington -- from the first names of his other partners, George Mesoncort and Washington Garrison. Levy was designated the ship's master. "By this time," he wrote, with unfailingly breezy self-confidence, in his memoirs, "I had passed through every grade of service-cabin boy, ordinary seaman, able-bodied seaman, boatswain, third, second, and first mates, to that of captain. By means of my eight years' experience and instruction afloat and ashore, I had become familiar with every part of my profession -- from the sculling of the compass to the taking of the altitude of the sun; from the splicing of a rope to the fishing of a mainmast; from the holding of a reel to the heaving to of a ship in a gale of wind." He was perhaps the first commander in the history of American shipping to nail a mezuzah outside his cabin door; it was a gift from his proud Jewish mother. When he took command of the George Washington, Uriah Levy was only nineteen years old.

His first command involved a cargo of com, which Uriah carried to the Canary Islands and sold for 2,500 Spanish dollars. He then took on a second cargo of Canary wine and headed for the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Africa.

When he arrived at the Isle of May in the Cape Verde group, Levy anchored and began what turned out to be an extended stay. He remained at anchor offshore nearly three weeks all told, and in his copious memoirs he never satisfactorily explained the reasons for his stay -- nor why, inexplicably, he never attempted to unload his wine. Did he spend these weeks studying the slave trade? Possibly. The Cape Verde Islands lie off Africa's western coastal bulge, along which was strung the chain of slaving "castles." During his stay, Levy became friendly with another American captain, Levi Joy, and the two men spent considerable time together. Captain Joy was definitely involved in the slave trade, and might have been regarded as a certain kind of expert at it. He and Uriah Levy met frequently ashore for meals and exchanged visits on each other's ships. What did they talk about? It is impossible to say, and hard to know what Uriah's feelings about the slave trade might have been, because his visit to the Isle of May was terminated in dramatic fashion.

At dinner one night aboard Captain Joy's ship, Uriah was suddenly interrupted by an excited pair of his crewmen, who clambered on board from the George Washington's dinghy, crying, "Sir, your ship has been stolen!" Uriah rushed to the rail and watched as his ship, under full sail, disappeared over the horizon. It was the last he ever saw of her. A treacherous first mate and a couple of accomplices among the crew had plotted the piracy. With them went all of Uriah Levy's Spanish dollars, and all his casks of Canary Island wine. By the time he made his way home, an impoverished maritime hitchhiker, America was at war with England for a second time.

For his war service, Uriah Levy had two choices. He could sign on a privateer -- an often lucrative occupation, particularly if one was successful at capturing enemy ships and splitting up the booty -- or he could join the United States Navy as a sailing master, at a modest forty dollars a month. Though it afforded '1ittle prospect of promotion and little gain," as he put it, the Navy "furnished the best proof of love to my country." Also, this was clearly where he was aiming. On October 21, 1812, after a visit to a Boston tailor, Uriah Phillips Levy made his first appearance in the full uniform of the United States Navy as it was in the War of 1812: "A dark blue double-breasted coat, with a rolling collar with two loops of gold lace on each side; blue woolen pantaloons and white stockings; black silk cravat with a white shirt, and a black cocked hat."

He cut a dashing figure, for he was slim and well built, with dark hair, curling sideburns, and a perfectly clipped and curled handlebar moustache. His earliest naval assignments took him frequently to Manhattan, where he attended synagogue at Shearith Israel, was entertained at the best teas and dinner dances, and was frequently seen strolling with well-placed young ladies along State Street and Battery Walk. In New York he heard rumors that the brig Argus, which had been anchored in the bay for several months, was preparing to break the British blockade. Uriah borrowed a rowboat, rowed over to the Argus, and presented himself to her commander. "Knowing that the cruise of the Argus could not fail to be a stirring one," he wrote, "and hoping she might meet the enemy in such circumstances as to permit a battle, I sought and obtained permission to join her as a volunteer."

The career of the Argus has become one of the greatest in the annals of U.S. naval history. Her first task, with Uriah aboard, was to carry-through the blockade -- America's new minister to France, William H. Crawford. During the crossing, Levy was able, as he put it, "to gain the confidence and friendship of this eminent and most upright man." This friendship was to stand Levy in good stead later on.

After depositing Crawford on the coast of France, the Argus went on to become "the dreaded ghost ship," the raider that haunted the English and Bristol channels, that cruised the English and Irish coasts, attacking and destroying much larger ships, the ship whose very name was said to strike terror in the hearts of British sailors. At one point, with Uriah Levy at the helm, the Argus found itself -- at dawn, in heavy fog -- in the middle of a British squadron. Ghostlike, it made its way through and was not spotted until it was out of reach of the enemy cannon. In its many gory encounters, the decks of the Argus were spread with wet sand so that the fighting crew of the "phantom raider" would not slither in the blood. When the Argus was finally captured, the ship was held in such respect that its crew was greeted with three cheers by the British. The final battle was "kept up with great spirit on both sides," and when the captain, who lost his leg in the encounter, was captured and taken to Britain, he became a kind of folk hero during the several months before he died of his wounds, uttering to his men, "God bless you, my lads, we shall not meet again."

Unfortunately, Uriah had no part in these final glories. One of the ships that the Argus had overtaken carried a cargo of sugar, which was considered a bit too valuable to be put to the torch at sea. Uriah Levy was assigned to take her and her sugar across the channel to France. A day later, the new ship, heavy with sugar, virtually unarmed, encountered a British merchantman with eight gun carronades on each side and long guns forward and amidships. To defend the little ship was hopeless. Uriah surrendered and was carried off to England, and to Dartmoor Prison.

Charles Andrews, a prisoner at Dartmoor for three years, wrote:

Any man sent to Dartmoor might have exclaimed:
"Hail, horrors! Hail, thou profoundest hell!
Receive thy new possessor."
For any man ordered to this prison counted himself lost.


A Philadelphia gentleman by upbringing, a Jewish aristocrat by instinct, Uriah worked at keeping up his health and his spirits. The winter of 1813-1814, which he spent at Dartmoor, was one of the hardest in British history, and the Thames froze solidly to the bottom. Levy was confined at Dartmoor for sixteen months and, by the time he was released, in an exchange of British and American prisoners, the war was over.

At Dartmoor, he had accomplished a few things. He had taught himself French, with the help of French prisoners. He had learned to fence. He had had a book, the New American Practical Navigator, which he read over and over again. But one thing he had most wanted to do in prison he had been unable to do. He had tried to organize a Jewish congregation. But Jewish law requires that there be a minyan, or quorum, of at least ten Jews before the Sabbath or any public prayer can be celebrated. Uriah could find only four at Dartmoor.

Back home again in Philadelphia, a friend took Uriah Levy aside and counseled him not to continue his Navy career in peacetime. "Nine out of ten of your superiors may not care a fig that you are a Jew," the friend warned him. "But the tenth may make your life a hell." Uriah, however, was by now a man with a mission. He struck a pose and replied, according to his memoirs: "What will be the future of our Navy if others such as I refuse to serve because of the prejudices of a few? There will be other Hebrews, in times to come, of whom America will have need. By serving myself, I will help give them a chance to serve." [i]

He was ready for his next round with the Establishment, and he did not have long to wait. Dancing in full uniform at Philadelphia's Patriots' Ball, he brushed shoulders accidentally with a young naval officer, Lieutenant William Potter. Or was it an accident? A few minutes later, Lieutenant Potter collided with him again, this time with more force. Moments later, the lieutenant crashed into Levy and his partner a third time. Uriah turned and smartly slapped the lieutenant across the face. An enlisted man had struck an officer. "You damned Jew!" Potter cried. A crowd gathered, and several of Potter's fellow officers, murmuring that Potter had had too much to drink, led him off the floor while he continued to shout insults and obscenities. The music resumed, Levy and his partner returned to the floor, and Uriah assumed that the incident was over. The next morning, however, an emissary from Lieutenant Potter appeared on board Uriah's ship, the Franklin, carrying a written challenge to a duel.

Dueling had become extremely fashionable in the United States. Duels were fought for the slightest of excuses, and an elaborate framework of rules and ritual grew up around them. Technically against the law, dueling existed in a kind of limbo within the law, with its own, unwritten set of statutes.

Law cases involving deaths through dueling had also to contend with the mystical duelists' code. And, meanwhile, all the best people dueled. In the fifty years between 1798 and 1848, deaths from dueling were two-thirds the number of those from wars, and 20 percent of those who fought in duels were killed. Perhaps one of the charms of dueling was that when a duel was over, both combatants -- the victor and the loser -- were elevated to the rank of heroes. To have fought a duel -- whether to have won or lost -- was one of a man's surest ways to achieve social success.

Uriah Levy was not at all anxious to fight a duel over the matter of a dance-floor insult from a drunken lieutenant. But when he demurred, offering to shake hands with Potter and forget the whole thing, he was warned that if he did so he would be labeled a coward. And it was true, according to the code duello, that "a man who makes arms his profession cannot with honor decline an invitation from a professional or social equal." Uriah wrote later that he "wanted to be the first Jew to rise to high rank in the Navy, not be the first Jewish officer killed in a duel." But the code left him no way out. A date was selected, seconds were chosen. The weapons were agreed upon: pistols.

When the date and hour arrived, a sizable audience had gathered. There were a number of Uriah's shipmates off the Franklin, an equal number of friends and fellow officers of Potter, the two men's seconds and their friends, the mandatory physician, a judge, and a crowd of Philadelphians who had come out to see the show. Thus what happened is well attested to by witnesses. A distance of twenty paces was chosen. This was somewhat farther apart than most duelists elected to stand. Ten paces was a commoner stand-off distance, and even shorter distances -- of two paces, or even one -- were frequently selected, with the result that both duelists, firing at each other from arm's length, were virtually guaranteed death. But both Levy and Potter were rated as excellent shots, and so the greater stretch of ground between them may have been regarded as a test of marksmanship. The judge asked each man whether he had anything to say. Uriah Levy asked permission to utter a Hebrew prayer, the Shema, and then in a characteristic gesture said: "I also wish to state that, although 1 am a crack shot, 1 shall not fire at my opponent. I suggest it would be wiser if this ridiculous affair be abandoned." "Coward!" Potter shouted in reply. "Gentlemen, no further words," the judge instructed, and began his count.

Both men turned to face each other. Potter fired first, missing Uriah widely. Uriah then raised his arm straight up and fired a bul· let into the air. The duel might have ended there, for Potter could have considered his honor satisfied, but Uriah's gesture clearly had enraged him. He began reloading his pistol for a second round and Uriah, according to the code, was required to do the same. The second volley ended with the same results, Potter missing his mark and Uriah firing skyward. Now, like a man possessed, Lieutenant Potter began reloading a third time and, perhaps because his fury was affecting his aim, the third series of shots was a repetition of the first two. But clearly the affair had gone too far for sanity, and the seconds and a number of Potter's friends rushed in to try to persuade him to abandon the duel "with honor," but he would have none of it. For a fourth time he reloaded and fired at Uriah, missing again. On Uriah's side of the field, his friends shouted to him to kill Potter, but once again Uriah merely reached into the air and fired. He then cried out to Potter's aides, "Gentlemen, stop him or I must!"

But Lieutenant Potter was at this point beyond control. He reloaded for a fifth shot and, screaming, "Stand back! I mean to have his life!" fired again, nicking Uriah's left ear. Blood spurted across his face and shoulder. This time, Uriah held his fire altogether. Then, as Potter reloaded for a sixth shot, Uriah's limits of patience and temper were reached. Shouting, "Very well, I'll spoil his dancing," Uriah for the first time took aim and fired at his opponent. From his remark about dancing, the audience assumed that Uriah Levy intended to shoot the lieutenant in the leg. But the bullet struck him in the chest, Lieutenant Potter fell to the ground without a word, and was immediately pronounced dead by the doctor.

It was, everyone agreed, an extraordinary duel. Potter had behaved extraordinarily badly, and Levy had conducted himself extraordinarily well. There were, however, some unfortunate realities to be faced. In the eyes of the law, Uriah Phillips Levy had committed a murder. In the eyes of the United States Navy, an important bylaw of the club had been breached. An enlisted man -- a mere sailing master -- had not only slapped, but now had killed, an officer. No one, least of all Uriah Levy, was sure how this might affect a man whose ambition was already "to rise to high rank in the Navy," and to set an example for future Jews to follow.

The affair created a stir of major proportions in Philadelphia. The press praised him for the way "Levy fired shots in the air, and then for the first time fired at his antagonist, and with the unerring certainty of a true marksman, made him bite the dust." Uriah was particularly idolized by his fellow crew members on the Franklin. But there was an element, and a strong one, in Philadelphia that was less than happy with the outcome of the duel, and said so. Lieutenant Potter might have been a boor and a drunk, but he had been a popular young man about Philadelphia parties. Levy might have been astonishingly coolheaded and brave, but he was, despite his proper connections, nonetheless -- to some -- an "outsider." It was, after all, a case of a Jew having killed a Christian. The Navy commodore investigating the episode decided that Uriah had been neither the provocator nor the aggressor in the case, and dismissed it without action. But the Philadelphia grand jury felt otherwise, and handed down an indictment for "making a challenge to a duel."

Almost immediately, Uriah was in another difficulty. One Sunday morning shortly after the duel, he walked into the wardroom aboard the Franklin for breakfast. In one comer of the room sat a certain Lieutenant Bond, breakfasting with two other officers. Uriah seated himself at a table on the opposite side of the room. The table was cluttered with used crockery and partly filled coffee cups, and Uriah asked a passing cabin boy to please clear it for him. Instantly, Lieutenant Bond was on his feet shouting that Uriah had no right to give orders to cabin boys. Uriah replied that he had given no orders, but had merely asked that the table be cleared. Bond answered that he had heard Uriah order the cabin boy to bring him breakfast. Uriah replied that he had not, and suddenly, amid shouts of "Liar!" "No gentleman!" and "Dictator!" the fight was on. Both men were on their feet, and it took the other two officers in the room plus two cabin boys to prevent them from coming to blows. And presently Bond was calling Uriah a "damned Jew."

In the lengthy transcript of the court-martial that followed -- a trial which, in Navy history, has been called "the Breakfast Court Martial" and "the Tempest in the CoHee Cups" -- there is endless testimony not only about who accused whom of what, but also about how many dishes were on the table at the time, their degree of dirtiness, whether soiled coHee cups or tea cups were involved, and what the various participants in the fracas were wearing. It is hard to see why all this was taken so seriously, and yet it was. Uriah made a long and impassioned speech in which he added patriotism, honor, manliness, and duty to the other issues in the case. It ended at last in a draw. Both Uriah and Lieutenant Bond were ordered reprimanded by the Secretary of the Navy for un-naval behavior.

But while all this trivial and generally undignified business was going on, things were looking up for Uriah Levy again. In Philadelphia, the dueling case had come to trial in the civilian court and, despite the fact that public sentiment had been running against him, Uriah had been acquitted by the jury. The foreman, in fact, had risen from the jury box to add to its decision that "any man brave enough to fire in the air and let his opponent take deadly aim at him, deserved his life."

And so, despite the fact that naval court-martial proceedings were under way against him, Uriah took the unusual step of applying for a commission in the Navy. He was applying under the rule which stated that "Masters of extraordinary merit, and for extraordinary services, may be promoted to Lieutenant." His friends who saw him as a man involved in two actions -- one civil and one military -- begged him to wait until the fuss had died down. But Uriah, confident of his extraordinary capabilities, plunged ahead. His commission was signed by President Monroe on March 5, 1817. The U.S. Navy had a Jewish officer at last.

The first thing Uriah did when he had donned his gold-fringed lieutenant's epaulets was to have his portrait painted by Thomas Sully. Sully always romanticized his subjects -- which was certainly the key to his great popularity -- and generously overlooked their physical shortcomings. So we must not take the Sully portrait of Uriah Levy entirely at face value. But it portrays a striking figure. Uriah's face in the portrait is the face of a boy -- he was twenty-five that year -- clean-jawed, with a straight nose, wide forehead, large and arresting black eyes, a mop of dark curly hair, and dashing Rhett Butler sideburns. Sully exaggerates Uriah's slight build so that his figure appears almost girl-like, frail and delicate, the slim legs almost spidery. Yet as he stands in the portrait, arms folded across his chest, the picture pulses with haughtiness, arrogance, defiance. The picture has been described as making Uriah Levy look "a little vain, more than a little handsome, and very determined."

The officer corps of the United States Navy was not at all sure how it wished to treat this brash young upstart. The first few months of Uriah's lieutenancy were particularly difficult for him aboard his ship, the Franklin. A former enlisted man was, after all, now an officer. A man who had taken commands was now giving them. The Franklin's other officers, with whom Uriah had once worked cheerfully, as well as the enlisted men, who had once been his equals, all looked at him now with distrust and disdain. The friends who had cheered him in his duel and in the ordeal after it were suddenly chilly and aloof. Uriah had a long voyage to England, and then to Sicily, in this hostile atmosphere, before he was notified that he was to be transferred to the frigate United States.

The United States was one of the Navy's most prestigious addresses. The ship had been the heroine of several important battles in the 1812 war and she had, in the process, become known as a "gentlemen's ship." Nowhere was the clublike nature of the Navy more apparent. The great Stephen Decatur ("our country, right or wrong") had been the United States's commander when the ship had overcome and captured H.M.S. Macedonian, and now she was captained by the equally aristocratic William Crane, a man of whom it was said that he "believed his blood ran bluer than all the rest."

The day before Uriah was to report, Captain Crane dispatched a long letter to Commodore Charles Stewart, in charge of the Navy's Mediterranean Fleet. In it, Captain Crane argued vaguely about Uriah being a "disturbing influence," and suggested that he might create "disharmony" among the ship's other officers. In concluding the letter he said flatly: "Considerations of a personal nature render Lieutenant Levy particularly objectionable, and I trust he will not be forced on me."

It is seldom in the Navy that an officer attempts to tell a superior what to do. But Captain Crane's letter displays a great deal of confidence, and it is likely that he thought he stood a good chance of getting his way. And he may have. Though the commodore is said to have been "boiling mad" at Crane's note, his reply -- signed "Your obedient servant" -- is both a lengthy and a mealy-mouthed affair, when one would have thought that a terse note of repirmand would have been in order. It is clear that Commodore Stewart realized that he was involved in a ticklish situation, and that Lieutenant Levy's Jewishness was what it was all about. In his reply, Commodore Stewart "regrets exceedingly" having to disappoint his captain and, after several conciliatory paragraphs, he adds: "Should you be possessed of a knowledge of any conduct on the part of Lieutenant Levy which would render him unworthy of the commission he holds, I would at the request of any commander represent it to the government. As your letter contains no specific notice of his misconduct, I can find nothing therein whereupon to find a reason for countermanding the order for changing his destination."

The commodore showed both Crane's and his own letter to Uriah, assured him that "everything would be all right," and the next morning Uriah set off to present himself to his new commander. Navy protocol required that an arriving officer pay two visits to his captain -- the first, briefly and formally to present his orders, and the second, a longer social visit to be carried out within forty-eight hours. But when Uriah was admitted to his cabin, Captain Crane, without even looking up from his desk, said, "The United States has as many officers as I need or want." He ordered that Uriah be escorted off his ship and back to the Franklin. Now Crane was not merely advising, but defying, a superior officer.

This, it turned out, was too much for the commodore, who now wrote:

SIR:

Lt. U. P. Levy will report to you for duty on board the frigate United States under your command.

It is not without regret that a second order is found necessary to change the position of one officer in this squadron.

CHARLES STEWART


In humiliating fashion, Uriah was rowed back to the United States to present his orders a second time. Crane kept him waiting outside his cabin for over two hours. Then, ordering him in, Crane glanced at the letter, handed it back to Uriah, and muttered, "So be it." He returned to his paperwork. He did not so much as rise, offer a handshake, or even return Uriah's salute. Uriah carried his gear to the wardroom. There he was told by another officer -- there were only eight others aboard -- that theirs had been "a very pleasant and harmonious officers' mess," until now.

It was aboard the United States that Uriah was required to witness his first flogging. The practice was commonplace. American naval regulations were based on the British Articles of War, which dated back to the earliest days of the Restoration, when they had been formulated by the Duke of York, Lord High Admiral of the British Navy, who later became King James II. Flogging was advocated as the most practical way to maintain discipline and order on shipboard, and its benefits had been touted by commanders for generations. "Low company," Commodore Edward Thompson had written, "is the bane of all young men, but in a man-of-war you have the collected filth of jails. The scenes of horror and infamy on board are many." Thus, the horror of flogging was merely another to be endured. By the nineteenth century, when sailors stripped to the waist to work, it was not remarkable to see that the backs of many of them were solidly ridged and bubbled with scar tissue.

Often a flogging was so severe as to destroy the muscle tissue of a man's back and shoulders, thus making him unable to work and useless to the Navy. A captain was given great latitude in terms of meting out the penalty and, needless to say, the practice was often abused by sadistic commanders. It was prescribed for such misdeeds as "keeping low company" -- a euphemism for drunkenness -- for profanity, and "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge." [ii] Flogging could also be ordered for such relatively minor offenses as "spitting in the deck," or for looking sullen." There were also more severe punishments available. Keel-hauling was still practiced in the Navy and, for the crime of murder, a man might be tied to the mouth of a cannon. Then the cannon was fired.

Uriah had been aboard the United States only a few weeks when Captain Crane issued the order for all hands to appear on deck. A middle-aged gunner's mate had come back from shoreleave drunk, and had been noisy and abusive. Thirty lashes had been ordered, a relatively moderate sentence. Uriah now saw how, over the centuries, flogging had been perfected to the point where it was almost an art form of its own. The first few blows of the lash softened the muscles of the back. The fourth or fifth blow broke the skin. Then an expert with the lash could direct his blows so that they fell in a symmetrical crisscross pattern, so that the flesh of the back was cut in equal diamond-shaped pieces. An alternate stood by in case the first man wielding the lash grew tired. Also, several extra "cats" were provided so that when one of them grew too slippery from blood to be gripped, another could be substituted. Men had been mown to remain standing through as many as sixty strokes of the lash, but the gunner's mate, not young, fainted several times during his ordeal, and was unconscious when it was over. He was at last cut down from the rack where he had been tied, spread-eagled, and pails of salt water were poured over his raw and bleeding flesh.

Uriah, sickened by the hideous spectacle, nonetheless forced himself to watch it, never once diverting his eyes. For weeks after the experience, he could talk of nothing else but the brutality of flogging as a punishment. This did little to further endear him to his fellow officers. Not only was he a Jew, but there was also something subversive about him. It was whispered that Uriah Levy disapproved of Navy discipline, but Uriah had found another crusade.

Uriah had been able to make only one friend on the ship, its executive officer, a young man named Thomas Catesby Jones, who had counseled him: "Do your duty as an officer and a gentleman. Be civil to all, and the first man who pursues a different course to you, call him to a strict and proper account." It was good advice, but advice that was difficult for Uriah to follow. One night, for example, when Uriah was standing watch on deck, he saw two young cabin boys dash up a companionway, pursued, it appeared, by a boatswain's mate named Porter, who held what looked like a whip in his hand. When Uriah halted Porter, and asked him why he was whipping the boys, Porter answered him in what Uriah considered an "insolent and mocking" tone. Uriah slapped Porter across the cheek with the back of his hand. Within an hour, Uriah was called before his superior officers and -- in the presence of Porter -- was asked to explain his actions. Uriah considered this a severe breach of Navy etiquette, and cried out, "Sir, I am not to be called to account in this way in front of a boatswain!" Warned that he was being disrespectful, Uriah replied, "And you, sir, are treating me in an equally disrespectful manner." Uriah was then ordered to his cabin and warned, "You will hear more of this." He did -- his second court-martial, in which he was charged with disobedience of orders, contempt of a superior officer, and unofficerlike conduct. The president of the court-martial was Captain Crane, a circumstance not likely to benefit the defendant. He was found guilty on all three charges and sentenced to be "dismissed from the U.S.S. Frigate United States and not allowed to serve on board."

Actually, such a sentence -- over such a petty matter -- was so unusual as to be considered irregular, and when the case was reviewed by the naval commander in chief, President James Monroe reversed the sentence. But when this news reached Uriah Levy he was already in trouble again over a matter that was, if anything, even more trifling. This time it was a rowboat. Lieutenant Levy had ordered a boat to row him ashore. Told that his boat was ready, he arrived on deck. When he was about to board the boat, another lieutenant, named Williamson, told him the boat was not his. Uriah insisted it was. Williamson repeated that it wasn't. Presently both men were shouting epithets at each other, including "Liar!" "Scoundrel!" "Rascal!" "Coward!" and so on. In a rage, Uriah went back to his cabin and dashed off the following note to Williamson:

SIR:

The attack which you were pleased to make on my feelings this afternoon, in saying I prevaricated, thereby insulting me in the grossest manner without any cause on my part, demands that you should make such concessions as the case requires before these gentlemen in whose presence I was insulted -- or to have a personal interview tomorrow morning at the Navy Yard, at which time, if you please, I expect a direct answer.


Uriah delivered the note to Williamson's cabin in person. The lieutenant Hung the note, unread, in Uriah's face and slammed the door.

Brandishing his letter, Uriah went ashore that night, according to subsequent testimony, into "taverns and divers places," reading the letter to anyone who would listen, giving a high-pitched account of the rowboat incident, and, in the process, he "wickedly and maliciously uttered and published false, slanderous, scandalous, and opprobrious words concerning Lt. Williamson, including poltroon, coward, and scoundrel, as well as rogue and rascal." This was very bad Navy form. Lieutenant Williamson took action the following morning, and court-martial number three was under way. Uriah was charged with "using provoking and reproachful words, treating his superior officer with contempt, and teaching others who chose to learn from his example to make use of falsehood as an easy convenience, with scandalous conduct tending to the destruction of good morals, and attempting to leave the ship without permission from the officer of the deck." These were much more serious charges than any that had been leveled against him before, and to these was added an even graver one. He was accused of ''being addicted to the vice of lying."

For his defense, he turned to the only course that seemed open to him. He accused his fellow officers of anti-Semitism. At the end of his trial, he took the stand and said:

I am of the faith which has never been endured in Christendom 'til the Constitution of the United States raised us to a level with our fellow citizens of every religious denomination. I need not apprise you that I have been designated in the language of idle scorn "the Jew!" Perhaps I have been thus reproached by those who recognize neither the God of Moses nor of Christ. May I not say that I have been marked out to common contempt as a Jew until the slow unmoving finger of scorn has drawn a circle round me that includes all friendships and companions and attachments and all the blandishments of life and leaves me isolated and alone in the very midst of society....

To be a Jew as the world now stands is an act of faith that no Christian martyrdom can exceed -- for in every corner of the earth but one it consists in this, to be excluded from almost every advantage of society. Although the sufferers of my race have had the trust and confidence of all their Christian Revilers as their commercial agents throughout the world, they have been cut off from some of the most substantial benefits of the social company in Europe. They cannot inherit or devise at law, they could not 'til lately sit as jurors or testify as witnesses. They could not educate their children in their own faith. Children were encouraged to abandon their parents and their God, to rob a father of his estate -- a rich Jewess might have been ravished or stolen and the law afforded no remedy -- these heart-rending cruel distinctions have been gradually and imperceptibly worn down by the resistless current of time, but they have in no instance been voluntarily obliterated by an act of Christian charity.

But I beg to make the most solemn appeal to the pure and heavenly spirit of universal toleration that pervades the constitution of the United States in the presence of this court; whether before a court-martial in the American Navy, whoever may be the party arraigned, be he Jew or Gentile, Christian or pagan, shall he not have the justice done him which forms the essential principle of the best maxim of all their code, "Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you."


With its references to "the social company in Europe," and to ravished Jewish maidens, Uriah's speech must have seemed completely beside the point. Though everything he said was true, and though his remarks reveal much of what he was feeling at the time, certainly none of this sank in with the officers of the court-martial. After all, in early-nineteenth-century America, the concept of anti-Semitism, or even of religious prejudice, was such an exotic one -- so removed from what most Americans thought about and talked about and read about -- that, to the judges hearing Uriah's case, a charge of prejudice seemed a non sequitur.

The court reached a quick and unanimous verdict: guilty. Uriah was sentenced "to be cashiered out of the Naval service of the United States."

It was early spring, 1819. He was only twenty-seven years old, and his Navy career appeared ended. He entered a long period of funk, and for many months he disappeared from sight, refusing to go back to Philadelphia, where he would have to face his family, disgraced. For nearly two years he wandered about Europe. At one point, his widow wrote many years later, he lived in Paris, where "he met a lady of title in whom he became very much interested, and they were very much in love with each other. Lieutenant Levy would have married her, only she refused to return with him to America. But as his one ambition in life was to rise in the navy, he returned to his beloved country unmarried."

He returned to America because an astonishing thing happened. It took twenty-three months for the court-martial proceedings to reach the President's desk for review, but when they did, Monroe once more reversed them, noting that: "Although Lieutenant Levy's conduct merited censure, it is considered that his long suspension from the service has been a sufficient punishment for his offense. The sentence of the court is therefore disapproved, and he is returned to duty."

Once again his honor had been satisfied. On the other hand, he found now that wherever he went his reputation as a hothead had preceded him, and that now he was expected to throw tantrums and slap senior officers with gloves. Instead of becoming the conscience of American Jews, the "terrible-tempered Lieutenant Levy" was becoming something of a legendary Navy figure. Uriah found himself good-naturedly teased and goaded about his dueling and multiple courts-martial, and egged into arguments. And so, not surprisingly, it wasn't long before he erupted again.

This time his adversary was a lieutenant named William Weaver. In the presence of one of Uriah's friends, Weaver had called Uriah a "great scoundrel" and a "thoroughgoing rascal." His friend reported these slurs to Uriah, who was typically enraged and who immediately dashed off one of his indignant letters to Weaver. The letter was not answered. A few days later, however, an article, heavy with suggestive italics, appeared in a Washington newspaper:

If convicted of charges proved, the leniency of naval courts-martial has become proverbial -- so that the sitting of a court-martial generally eventuates in a reprimand. If, however, and what is very common, the guilty officer should be cashiered, as in a recent case, he sets himself to work with political friends of his tribe, and loaded with papers, presents himself at Washington, the strong arm of the executive is palsied. He dare not approve the justly merited sentence; the culprit is retained.


The allusion was obviously to Uriah. The article was unsigned, but Uriah was able to discover that its author was Weaver.

Uriah's first assignment on being reinstated was to the Spark, on duty in the Mediterranean. He boarded the Spark in June, 1821, and remained aboard her until the following March, when the ship docked at Charleston, South Carolina. In those intervening months, it seemed, Uriah had done nothing but vilify the character of Lieutenant Weaver, making, to anyone who would listen, such comments as: "Weaver is a coward, a damned rascal, a scoundrel and no gentleman," "Weaver is an errant bastard," and "If I ever run into the damned rascal, I'll tweak his nose." These remarks had made their way to Weaver, now stationed at the Charleston Naval Yard. Uriah, upon debarking, was met with a summons to a court-martial, his fourth, charged with "scandalous conduct -- using provoking reproachful words -- ungentlemanly conduct -- forgery and falsification."

Forgery, of course, was a new charge. It related to the fact that Uriah had carried around a copy of his indignant note to Weaver, with its challenging accusations, had shown the note to many people, whereas Weaver now maintained that he had never received the note, and that it was a forgery. The court found Uriah guilty of scandalous conduct, and noted that "he did suffer others to read a note purporting to be a challenge." The other charges were dropped. The court ordered that Uriah be "publically reprimanded." But the court also scolded Lieutenant Weaver. "The court," the judges wrote, "in passing this sentence, cannot, however, forbear expressing their disapprobation of the behavior of the prosecutor toward the prisoner in so far as the circumstances thereof have come before them in evidence." So Uriah's court-martial number four ended more or less in a draw. But it began to seem as though sooner or later either he or the United States Navy would have to change its ways.

In 1823, Uriah was assigned as second lieutenant on the Cyane, which was being transferred from the Mediterranean to the Brazil Squadron. The ship made a slow crossing of the Atlantic, putting in at various West Indies ports before heading for the northern coast of South America. At Rio de Janeiro, the ship anchored for repairs to its mainmast, and Uriah was put in charge of these. Normally, it seemed, such repairs were handled by the executive officer, but the captain had casually commented that Uriah could supervise the repairs as well as anyone. This angered the Cyane's executive officer, William Spencer, and presently word had reached Uriah that Spencer was "out to bring him to his knees."

One afternoon while the repairs were going on, Uriah came aboard carrying a wide slab of Brazilian mahogany with which he intended to build a bookshelf for his cabin. A certain Lieutenant Ellery, a friend of the wounded Spencer, commented in "a sneering tone" that he thought rather little of officers who stole lumber from ships' stores. Uriah replied that he had bought the wood in town, and had the bill of sale in his pocket. Ellery said that he doubted this, since Uriah was known by everyone to be a liar. In a rage, Uriah challenged Ellery to a duel, to which Ellery answered that he would not fight a duel with a man who was not a gentleman. He would, furthermore, report the challenge to the commanding officer.

For several days, the affair simmered, and seemed about to die down until it bubbled up again in another burst of pettishness. In the officers' mess someone said loudly that "some damned fool" had dismissed the steward. "If you meant that for me ... " Uriah put in quickly, always the first to detect an insult. "Don't speak to me, Levy," said Executive Officer Spencer, "or I'll gag you." Instantly Uriah was on his feet, crying, "If you think you're able, you may try!" And there it was, all over again -- shouts of "No gentleman!" "Coward!" "Jew!" In the morning, court-martial number five had been ordered started, with the drearily familiar set of charges against Uriah: "Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, using provoking and reproachful words, offering to waive rank and fight a duel with Lieutenant Frank Ellery, and, in the presence and hearing of many of the officers of the Cyane, inviting William A. Spencer to fight a duel."

Once more the findings were against Uriah, with the curiously worded verdict that he was "Guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, but not of a gentleman." The sentence was humiliating. He was to be reprimanded "publically on the quarter deck of every vessel of the Navy in commission, and at every Navy Yard in the United States." Uriah retaliated by bringing a counter-suit against William Spencer -- and won, with the result that Spencer was suspended from the Navy for a year for "insulting and unofficer-like and ungentlemanly expressions and gestures against the said Uriah P. Levy."

Uriah may have felt himself vindicated. But this action did nothing to endear him in the eyes of his fellow officers. To bring a superior officer to court was something that was not done. At the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Uriah Levy was put "in Coventry" -- ostracized and ignored by everyone. Restless and bitter, Uriah applied for a six-month leave of absence. The request was quickly granted and, in granting it, his commanding officer said to Uriah with a little smile, 'Vie would be happy to extend your leave indefinitely." When his words had sunk in, Uriah said, "It's because I'm a Jew, isn't it, sir?"

"Yes, Levy," the officer said -- he did not use "Lieutenant," or even "Mr." "It is."

He had been asked to leave the club. In his long battle with the Navy Establishment, he seemed to have lost the final round.

_______________

Notes:

i. Uriah Levy's style of speech, which sounds a little pompous, is, we must  remember, the speaker's recollection -- and reconstruction -- of it years later,  when he could devote himself to his memoirs. He may not have spoken in  precisely these words, but doubtless they express his true sentiments at the  time.
 
ii. The phrase "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" -- abbreviated with the letters  "F.U.C.K." in ships' logbooks, next to records of punishments -- thus contributed a vivid four-letter word to the English language.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Wed Jul 25, 2018 12:14 am

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A delegation of Spanish Jews appears before Ferdinand and Isabella, beseeching the monarchs to repeal their Expulsion Edict. Torquemada, at right, urges otherwise. New York Public Library Picture Collection

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Mr. Aaron Lopez, the affluent Newport merchant. American Jewish Historical Society

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Moses Levy of New York. Courtesy of Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone

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Bilhah Abigail Levy Franks, matron of Philadelphia. American Jewish Historical Society

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Phila Franks who, to her mother's pain, married General Oliver De Lancey. American Jewish Historical Society

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Judah Touro, philanthropist and "a strange man," according to contemporaries. Frick Art Reference Library

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Newport's famed Touro Synagogue. Courtesy of the Society of Friends of Touro Synagogue

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The beautiful and poetic Rebecca Gratz. American Jewish Historical Society

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Rebecca Gratz, still beautiful in her eighties. American Jewish Historical Society.

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The house that Daniel Gomez built, as it stands today, near Newburgh, N.Y. New York Times Studio

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The mansion of Uriah Hendricks II, in Belleville, N.J. A second mansard roof was added to help accommodate the copper magnate's seventeen children. Courtesy of Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone

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The Navy firebrand, Uriah Phillips Levy, as portrayed by Thomas Sully. American Jewish Historical Society

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Uriah Phillipos Levy at the peak of his career. American Jewish Historical Society

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Chicago's monument to Haym Salomon, Revolutionary financier. Ewing Galloway, N.Y.

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Aunt Amelia Barnard Lazarus, whose home was a haven for the artistic and well-placed. Courtesy of Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone

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The tragic Annie Florance Nathan

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Her husband, Robert Weeks Nathan
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Wed Jul 25, 2018 12:22 am

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Harmon Nathan, Washington Nathan, Emanuel B. Hart, Frederick Nathan
New York City -- The Nathan Murder -- The Coroner's Inquest

The murder of kindly Benjamin Nathan created a national sensation. Washington Nathan (seated at center above, holding his hat) was accused of bludgeoning his father with the carpenter's "dog." Culver Pictures, Inc.

THE NATHAN MURDER.

On Thursday, 4th inst., Coroner Rollins reconvened the jury impanneled to inquire into the cause of the death of Benjamin Nathan, in the court-room of the Eighth Judicial District, corner of Seventh avenue and Twenty-second Street. The hall is comparatively small, being about thirty feet in width and forty in length, and running north and south. A low iron railing divides the room nearly in the middle. The half toward the door is furnished with the usual rude benches for spectators. The second part contains the judge's bench, at the far end of the hall, with a table for reporters, and a space of chairs between the dividing railing and the desk. To the right of the judge's desk the jury sat in chairs loosely disposed along the wall. Along the opposite wall, seated also in chairs and near the windows, were the tragically interested members of the Nathan family, together with two well-known detectives in ordinary dress, and two or three family friends. The attendance was remarkably small, when regarded in connection with the degree of public interest which this case has excited, and the space it fills in the papers. Of spectators, strictly so-called, there were in all about one hundred. Among these there was now and then a face which caught the attention from its Hebrew characteristics. There was one young man especially, who sat well up in front, whose facial resemblance to Mr. Washington Nathan was very striking indeed. No general description of either could possibly be made not to include the other.

Of those who were present, the most prominent, of course, were the sons of the deceased, Washington, Frederick, and Herman. Washington and Frederick are seen, in the illustration, seated at the right and left of Mr. Emanuel B. Hart, a well-known citizen, and cousin of deceased. On the right of Mr. Washington Nathan was Mr. Hendricks, a metal merchant, doing business on Pearl street, brother to the gentleman who was with the elder Mr. Nathan when he bought the watch which is now supposed to be the one he lost. This gentleman is very young in appearance. To the right of, and contiguous to this party, Mr. Phil Farley and Mr. Bennett, prominent detectives were seated, in ordinary dress.

The two brothers were attired nearly alike in suits of black broadcloth, with black cravats and no ornaments. Each wore his hair, which is coarse, short and black, parted nearly in the middle. Washington's was, if anything, a little more in the middle than Frederick's. Frederick wore black kid gloves, while his brother's hands were bare. Frederick used a handkerchief freely to free his face from perspiration, tilted his chair back, and seemed to grow dreadfully tired as the investigation proceeded. Washington used a tall felt hat, deeply trimmed with crape, to fan himself -- rather an involuntary bodily expression of impatience than a requisite to bodily comfort. Washington's right hand also wandered continually over his mouth -- a rather ruddy and full, and not at all vicious-looking mouth. It is a white, delicate, gentleman's hand, to which even the rudest sensibility would hate to impute any deed of mercenary of patricidal rage. There is a strong resemblance between them. Washington has the better-shaped head and the least pleasing eye.

His eye is light in color, full almost to protrusion, with drooping lids. His face is entirely beardless, and presents the appearance of having gone unshaven for several days. There is not the most trivial circumstance in either the bearing, or the appearance, or the physiognomy

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The late Mr. Benjamin Nathan

BENJAMIN NATHAN.

Since the Burdell tragedy in 1857, no murder has been committed which has excited so great indignation and horror as the brutal assassination of Mr. Benjamin Nathan in his own house, at No. 12 West Twenty-third Street, on the morning of July 29. The deed was discovered by the sons of the murdered man, who slept in the same house, at six o'clock in the morning. The physician who was immediately summoned pronounced that Mr. Nathan must have been dead for about three hours. It is needless here to enter upon the horrible details of a tragedy which has awakened an excitement so universal that all of our readers are familiar with the circumstances of the case. There was every evidence of a prolonged struggle between Mr. Nathan and his murderer, or murderers. Yet no one in the house was alarmed; and the assassin, who had rifled the safe of his victim, appears to have left behind him no clew likely to lead to his detection. At least, up to the time of this writing the whole affair seems wrapped in a mystery which puzzles our sharpest detectives. It is a curious fact in connection with the murder that Mr. Nathan, a few days only before his death, was heard to congratulate himself upon the perfect security of his place of residence.

Since the commission of the crime the wildest excitement has prevailed, and for days afterward the vicinity of the murder was thronged by thousands of citizens not less indignant than curious. Long before the hour appointed for Mr. Nathan's obsequies, on the 1st, Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue were crowded, about 10,000 persons being present to witness the departure

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The "Dog" -- right end.

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The "Dog" -- left end.

And this is the meaning of the words, "blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass", namely, the two "Crowns of the Left", to which are attached the pagan nations who are called "ox and ass". When the Israelites are worthy, then they dismiss these evil powers, and they have no dominion over them.' Said R. Abba: 'When the two (i.e. the ox and the ass) are united, the inhabitants of the world cannot stand up against them. For this reason it is prohibited to "plough with an ox and an ass together" (Deut. XXII, 10). From them, when united, emanates the power, called "dog", which is more insolent than all of them. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: "Ye said, 'is the Lord in our midst or not?' Behold, I will deliver you to the dog!", and straightway came Amalek.'

R. Judah said: 'It is written, "Amalek is the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever" (Num. XXIV, 20). Was, then, Amalek the first of the nations? Were there not many tribes, nations, and peoples in the world before Amalek came? But the meaning is that Amalek was the first nation who feared not to proclaim war against Israel, as it says, "and he feared not God" (Deut. XXIV, 18); whilst the other nations were filled with fear and trembling before Israel at the time of the Exodus; as it says: "The peoples heard and were afraid; trembling took hold of the inhabitants of Pelesheth" (Ex. XV, 14); in fact, apart from Amalek there was no nation that was not awestruck before the mighty works of the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore "his latter end shall be that he perish for ever".'

Said R. Eleazar: 'Observe that although the "Rock" (i.e. Geburah, Severity) dealt graciously with them in supplying them with water, yet it did not cease to perform its natural function, so that "Amalek came".'

R. Abba discoursed on the verse: There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt" (Eccl. V, 13). '"There is a sore evil." Are there then two kinds of evil, one that is sore, and another that is not sore? Yes, indeed! There is a particularly sore evil, for we have a tradition that from the Side of the Left emanate many emissaries of punishment who go down to the hollow of the great Sea, and then emerge in a body and, cleaving the air, advance upon the sons of men. Each one of them is called "evil", and it is to this that the words "there shall no evil befall thee" (Ps. XC, 10) refer. When a certain one of these "evils" befalls a man, it makes him miserly with his money, so that when a collector for charity or a poor man comes to him it strikes his hand saying, "do not impoverish yourself". It will not even let him buy food for himself. In fact, from the moment that that "evil" comes upon the man, he is "sore" like a sick man who can neither eat nor drink. King Solomon proclaimed in his wisdom: "There is an evil which I have seen under the sun ... A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him no power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it" (Eccl. VI, 1-2). On the surface, the end of this verse would appear to contradict the beginning: if God has given him riches, etc., how can we say that he has no power over it? The meaning, however, is that he has no power over that "evil" to which he clings and entrusts himself, and therefore he is like a sick man who does not eat, nor drink, and he keeps his money tight until he leaves this world and another man comes and takes possession of it, and becomes its master.' We may also explain the verse as follows. When a young man who lives at ease in his father's house begins to make [65b] all sorts of complaints and demands, saying, "I want this, and I do not want that", he attaches himself to that "sore evil", and he will be punished both in this world and in the world to come. Concerning such a case, King Solomon said: "There is a sore evil ... riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt." Such was the case of the Israelites: the Holy One, blessed be He, carried them on eagles' wings, encircled them with the clouds of glory, made the Shekinah go before them, gave them manna to eat, and sweet water to drink, and yet they complained! Hence, "and Amalek came".

R. Simeon said: 'There is a deep allusion in the name "Rephidim". This war emanated from the attribute of Severe Judgement and it was a war above and a war below. The Holy One, as it were, said: "when Israel is worthy below My power prevails in the universe; but when Israel is found to be unworthy she weakens My power above, and the power of severe judgement predominates in the world.' So here, "Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim", because the Israelites were "weak" (raphe) in the study of the Torah, as we have explained on another occasion.'

-- The Zohar, translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon


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Mr. Julian Nathan, elegant young New Yorker, in Central Park with cart and groom. Museum of the City of New York

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Cousin Florian Tobias, who enjoyed leisure, worked at nothing; with George, his chauffeur, and "the first automobile in Saratoga," circa 1900. Courtesy of Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone.

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Barnard College founder Annie Nathan Meyer, as a girl of about fifteen. Barnard College Archives

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Annie Nathan Meyer in later years. Barnard College Archives

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Maude Nathan Nathan (she married a cousin), and her husband, bound for a costume ball

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In 1970, three direct descendants of the Twenty-Three placed a commemorative wreath on the plaque erected in downtown Manhattan to mark the spot where the first Jews entered the New World. From left, the children are Sara Ellen Nathan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar J. Nathan III, Henry Hendricks Schulson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Hyman A. Schulson; and Jean Elson Nathan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Da Silva Solis Nathan. B & G International Photos

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"WE ARE CONNECTED". An Abbreviated Genealogical Chart of AMERICA'S SEPHARDIC ELITE. Capitalized names are treated in the text. Sources: "Americans of Jewish Descent" by Malcolm H. Stern and L.A. Goldstone Manuscript Genealogies

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The "Saint Charles" bringing the first group of Jewish settlers to America in 1654
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:29 am

14. THE NEW JEWS VERSUS THE OLD

THERE MAY HAVE BEEN some in the American Jewish community who approved of Uriah Phillips Levy's well-publicized squabbles with the Navy, and the focus he had managed to bring to bear on the fact of anti-Semitism in the New World. But most did not approve, and felt that Levy's behavior had done the Jews more harm than good. As it is with any problem, it had been easier for Jews to pretend that it did not exist. The Jewish community was still small, and news and opinions within it traveled rapidly. Some of Levy's contemporaries praised him for his insistence on Old Testament justice to the bitter end. To the younger generation, however, he was merely old-fashioned and excessively "stiff-necked." Uriah Phillips Levy had, among his other accomplishments, helped define the split between "old Jews" and "new Jews."

The split was more than generational. The prejudice of the old against the new was also directed at newer immigrants, who were now being looked on as troublemakers. There was nothing new about this particular form of Jewish anti-Semitism. Jews have always resented, and looked askance at, Jewish newcomers. "A few of us," to the world's scattered Jewish communities, has always seemed just about enough. In Philadelphia, for example, as early as the 1760's, the Jewish congregation had swelled to such a size, from eager immigrants, that it was considered in "grave danger." Jews rolled their eyes and muttered dark thoughts about an "infestation of Jews" from other lands. Mathias Bush was a partner of David Franks in the candle business, and both men were immigrants to Philadelphia. Yet when Franks traveled to London on business in 1769, he received a letter from Bush bemoaning that "These New Jews are a plague," and beseeching his partner, "Pray prevent what is in your power to hinder any more of that sort to come." Mr. Bush clearly considered himself an Old Jew. He had come to America exactly twenty-five years earlier. And the scale of his alarm can be judged by noting that, at the time of the "infestation," there were no more than thirty Jewish families in Philadelphia.

Quite naturally the newcomers resented the snobbery of the older group -- and its prosperity -- and so the battle lines were drawn. At one point the squabble in Philadelphia grew to such proportions that families of the refractory new migration held separate services during the high holy days. At the same time, it was charged that the more recent arrivals were not being properly loyal to their faith, and it was certainly true that the newcomers -- hungrier, more eager to get on with the business of earning livelihoods for themselveshad less time to spend on piety.

Older families of Philadelphia looked with disapproval at newer Jewish communities springing up in other cities. New Orleans was getting a particularly bad reputation for religious laxity. Why was it, for example, that New Orleans' Jews were having to come, hat in hand, begging for funds to build a synagogue, to the Jewish communities of Philadelphia, New York, and Newport? Why weren't wealthy New Orleans businessmen such as Jacob Hart and Judah Touro -- both of whom were sons of great Jewish leaders -- willing to contribute money to this cause, and why were they giving instead to Christian philanthropies?

The newer immigrants were poor, they needed baths, they worked as foot peddlers, they spoke with accents. They lacked the social status that the Jewish first families had achieved, the breeding, the education, yet they called themselves brethren. They judged a man by the success of his enterprises rather than by his "engagements with God," as pious people such as Rebecca Gratz would have preferred, yet they called themselves Jews. They were an embarrassment. By the early 1800's, they were threatening to fling the fabric of Jewish society in America apart, threatening the "tribal" feeling that is at the heart of all feelings of Jewishness.

But the real trouble was that most of the "new Jews" were Ashkenazic Jews, from central Europe. They could not trace their ancestry back to Spain and Portugal. The Sephardim pointed out that the Ashkenazim used a different ritual, and they did -- somewhat. The pronunciation of Hebrew was slightly different. The Sephardim spoke with a Mediterranean inflection, the accent often falling on the last syllable. (The Sephardim say Yom Kippur, for example, not Yom Kippur, as the Ashkenazim do.) Sephardic ritual also included some Spanish prayers, and Sephardic music-bearing traces of ancient Spanish folk music, reminiscent of Hamenco -- was distinctive. These differences, which may seem very slight, began to loom as all-important in the 1800's.

The Ashkenazim spoke "heavy, ugly" languages such as German, and an "abominable garble of German and Hebrew" called Yiddish, instead of "musical, lyrical" Spanish and Portuguese. They even looked different, and it was pointed out that German Jews had large, awkward-looking noses, and lacked the elegant refinement of the highly bred, heart-shaped, olive-skinned Spanish face. But the greatest difference of all, of course, was that the Ashkenazim came from countries where to be a Jew was a disgrace. The Sephardim descended from lands where, for a while at least, to be a Jew had been to be a knight in shining armor, a duke or duchess, the king's physician -- the proudest thing a man could be. From the beginning, the two groups were like oil and water.

In 1790, a Savannah gentleman named De Leon Norden, of Sephardic stock, had written in his will that "None of the Sheftalls need be present" at his funeral. The Sheftalls were German. Even before that -- in 1763,across the sea in France -- the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Bordeaux had succeeded in persuading the king to sign an edict expelling all German and Avignonese Jews from Bordeaux. In America, many of the new arrivals had names containing combinations of the word "schine" or "schien," and so the label "sheeny" was attached to them -- an epithet of Sephardic origin. The word was picked up and used generally in the press, and when a fight broke out right in the synagogue in Montreal -- with top-hatted gentlemen having at each other with walking sticks and furniture -- between old and new Jews, a Montreal newspaper headlined an account of the battle with the words "Bad Sheenies!"

Three things were happening, all interconnected, and all at the same time. The Ashkenazim were beginning to outnumber the older Sephardim, and it was only a matter of time before majority rule would mean that Ashkenazic ritual would have to prevail in synagogues in most American cities -- while the Sephardim who insisted on retaining the old would withdraw into their own tight groups, with doors closed to the Germans. Also the first stirrings of the Reform movement were being felt in the land. Reform -- with rebuke for existing forms inherent in the very word -- was by its nature incompatible with traditional Sephardic orthodoxy. Reform, an attempt to bring Judaism "up to date," to make Judaism appear to be at home with existing American religious patterns, was attacked by traditionalists as a subversive attempt to "Christianize" Judaism. Under Reform, women would come down from their secluded balconies in synagogues, and worship side by side with their husbands. Men would take off their tall silk hats. Synagogues would look more like churches. English would replace Hebrew.

And while all this was happening, the oldest Jewish families were watching with dismay as their children and grandchildren seemed to be slipping away from the faith. It is an ironic fact that the heirs and assigns of men and women who had made such an arduous journey to America in order to preserve their faith should have begun to abandon it once they were here. But that was happening. Grandchildren of old Sephardic families had begun, by the early 1800's, to marry into the Ashkenazic group, but some of them were doing something even worse than that. They were marrying Christians, and converting to Christianity.

The granddaughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman was suing to break her grandfather's will, which provided that she could not partake of a large family trust if she married a non-Jew. She wanted her share of her grandfather's money, none of the clumsy entanglements of his religion, and her Christian fiance. It might have happened yesterday in Manhattan. It happened in Charleston in 1820. She won her case.

And was something else happening to the Sephardim? Were the long inbred centuries exacting a quirky genetic toll? Certainly, by the nineteenth century, eccentrics were no rarity among the Old Guard, and few families were without their "strange" members. More and more, moving down the laddered generations in Malcolm Stern's huge book, the notation "Insane" appears next to various names, as does the comment "Unmarried." Spinster aunts and bachelor uncles were becoming the rule now, rather than the exception. The families, once so prolific, seemed on the verge of becoming extinct.


Thus speaks the Pomyéshchick:
"I gave you my promise
To answer your question….
The task is not easy,
For though you are highly
Respectable people,
You're not very learned.
Well, firstly, I'll try
To explain you the meaning
Of Lord, or Pomyéshchick.
Have you, by some chance,
Ever heard the expression
The 'Family Tree'?
Do you know what it means?"
"The woods are not closed to us.
We have seen all kinds
Of trees," say the peasants.
"Your shot has miscarried!
I'll try to speak clearly;
I come of an ancient,
Illustrious family;
One, Oboldoóeff,
My ancestor, is
Amongst those who were mentioned
In old Russian chronicles
Written for certain
Two hundred and fifty
Years back. It is written,
''Twas given the Tartar,
Obólt-Oboldoóeff,
A piece of cloth, value
Two roubles, for having
Amused the Tsaritsa
Upon the Tsar's birthday
By fights of wild beasts,
Wolves and foxes. He also
Permitted his own bear
To fight with a wild one,
Which mauled Oboldoóeff,
And hurt him severely.'
And now, gentle peasants,
Did you understand?"
"Why not? To this day
One can see them—the loafers
Who stroll about leading
A bear!"
"Be it so, then!
But now, please be silent,
And hark to what follows:
From this Oboldoóeff
My family sprang;
And this incident happened
Two hundred and fifty
Years back, as I told you,
But still, on my mother's side,
Even more ancient
The family is:
Says another old writing:
'Prince Schépin, and one
Vaska Goóseff, attempted
To burn down the city
Of Moscow. They wanted
To plunder the Treasury.
They were beheaded.'
And this was, good peasants,
Full three hundred years back!
From these roots it was
That our Family Tree sprang."
"And you are the … as one
Might say … little apple
Which hangs on a branch
Of the tree," say the peasants.
"Well, apple, then, call it,
So long as it please you.
At least you appear
To have got at my meaning.
And now, you yourselves
Understand—the more ancient
A family is
The more noble its members.
Is that so, good peasants?"
"That's so," say the peasants.
"The black bone and white bone
Are different, and they must
Be differently honoured."
"Exactly. I see, friends,
You quite understand me."
The Barin continued:
"In past times we lived,
As they say, 'in the bosom
Of Christ,' and we knew
What it meant to be honoured!
Not only the people
Obeyed and revered us,
But even the earth
And the waters of Russia….
You knew what it was
To be One, in the centre
Of vast, spreading lands,
Like the sun in the heavens:
The clustering villages
Yours, yours the meadows,
And yours the black depths
Of the great virgin forests!
You pass through a village;
The people will meet you,
Will fall at your feet;
Or you stroll in the forest;
The mighty old trees
Bend their branches before you.
Through meadows you saunter;
The slim golden corn-stems
Rejoicing, will curtsey
With winning caresses,
Will hail you as Master.
The little fish sports
In the cool little river;
Get fat, little fish,
At the will of the Master!
The little hare speeds
Through the green little meadow;
Speed, speed, little hare,
Till the coming of autumn,
The season of hunting,
The sport of the Master.
And all things exist
But to gladden the Master.
Each wee blade of grass
Whispers lovingly to him,
'I live but for thee….'
"The joy and the beauty,
The pride of all Russia—
The Lord's holy churches—
Which brighten the hill-sides
And gleam like great jewels
On the slopes of the valleys,
Were rivalled by one thing
In glory, and that
Was the nobleman's manor.
Adjoining the manor
Were glass-houses sparkling,
And bright Chinese arbours,
While parks spread around it.
On each of the buildings
Gay banners displaying
Their radiant colours,
And beckoning softly,
Invited the guest
To partake of the pleasures
Of rich hospitality.
Never did Frenchmen
In dreams even picture
Such sumptuous revels
As we used to hold.
Not only for one-day,
Or two, did they last—
But for whole months together!
We fattened great turkeys,
We brewed our own liquors,
We kept our own actors,
And troupes of musicians,
And legions of servants!
Why, I kept five cooks,
Besides pastry-cooks, working,
Two blacksmiths, three carpenters,
Eighteen musicians,
And twenty-two huntsmen….
My God!"…
The afflicted
Pomyéshchick broke down here,
And hastened to bury
His face in the cushion….
"Hey, Proshka!" he cried,
And then quickly the lackey
Poured out and presented
A glassful of brandy.
The glass was soon empty,
And when the Pomyéshchick
Had rested awhile,
He again began speaking:
"Ah, then, Mother Russia,
How gladly in autumn
Your forests awoke
To the horn of the huntsman!
Their dark, gloomy depths,
Which had saddened and faded,
Were pierced by the clear
Ringing blast, and they listened,
Revived and rejoiced,
To the laugh of the echo.
The hounds and the huntsmen
Are gathered together,
And wait on the skirts
Of the forest; and with them
The Master; and farther
Within the deep forest
The dog-keepers, roaring
And shouting like madmen,
The hounds all a-bubble
Like fast-boiling water.
Hark! There's the horn calling!
You hear the pack yelling?
They're crowding together!
And where's the red beast?
Hoo-loo-loo! Hoo-loo-loo!
And the sly fox is ready;
Fat, furry old Reynard
Is flying before us,
His bushy tail waving!
The knowing hounds crouch,
And each lithe body quivers,
Suppressing the fire
That is blazing within it:
'Dear guests of our hearts,
Do come nearer and greet us,
We're panting to meet you,
We, hale little fellows!
Come nearer to us
And away from the bushes!'
"They're off! Now, my horse,
Let your swiftness not fail me!
My hounds, you are staunch
And you will not betray me!
Hoo-loo! Faster, faster!
Now, at him, my children!"…
Gavríl Afanásich
Springs up, wildly shouting,
His arms waving madly,
He dances around them!
He's certainly after
A fox in the forest!
The peasants observe him
In silent enjoyment,
They smile in their beards….
"Eh … you, mad, merry hunters!
Although he forgets
Many things—the Pomyéshchick—
Those hunts in the autumn
Will not be forgotten.
'Tis not for our own loss
We grieve, Mother Russia,
But you that we pity;
For you, with the hunting
Have lost the last traces
Of days bold and warlike
That made you majestic….
"At times, in the autumn,
A party of fifty
Would start on a hunting tour;
Then each Pomyéshchick
Brought with him a hundred
Fine dogs, and twelve keepers,
And cooks in abundance.
And after the cooks
Came a long line of waggons
Containing provisions.
And as we went forward
With music and singing,
You might have mistaken
Our band for a fine troop
Of cavalry, moving!
The time flew for us
Like a falcon." How lightly
The breast of the nobleman
Rose, while his spirit
Went back to the days
Of Old Russia, and greeted
The gallant Boyárin.[32] …
"No whim was denied us.
To whom I desire
I show mercy and favour;
And whom I dislike
I strike dead on the spot.
The law is my wish,
And my fist is my hangman!
My blow makes the sparks crowd,
My blow smashes jaw-bones,
My blow scatters teeth!"…
Like a string that is broken,
The voice of the nobleman
Suddenly ceases;
He lowers his eyes
To the ground, darkly frowning …
And then, in a low voice,
He says:
"You yourselves know
That strictness is needful;
But I, with love, punished.
The chain has been broken,
The links burst asunder;
And though we do not beat
The peasant, no longer
We look now upon him
With fatherly feelings.
Yes, I was severe too
At times, but more often
I turned hearts towards me
With patience and mildness.
"Upon Easter Sunday
I kissed all the peasants
Within my domain.
A great table, loaded
With 'Paska' and 'Koólich'[33]
And eggs of all colours,
Was spread in the manor.
My wife, my old mother,
My sons, too, and even
My daughters did not scorn
To kiss[34] the last peasant:
'Now Christ has arisen!'
'Indeed He has risen!'
The peasants broke fast then,
Drank vodka and wine.
Before each great holiday,
In my best staterooms
The All-Night Thanksgiving
Was held by the pope.
My serfs were invited
With every inducement:
'Pray hard now, my children,
Make use of the chance,
Though you crack all your foreheads!'[35]
The nose suffered somewhat,
But still at the finish
We brought all the women-folk
Out of a village
To scrub down the floors.
You see 'twas a cleansing
Of souls, and a strengthening
Of spiritual union;
Now, isn't that so?"
"That's so," say the peasants,
But each to himself thinks,
"They needed persuading
With sticks though, I warrant,
To get them to pray
In your Lordship's fine manor!"
"I'll say, without boasting,
They loved me—my peasants.
In my large Surminsky
Estate, where the peasants
Were mostly odd-jobbers,
Or very small tradesmen,
It happened that they
Would get weary of staying
At home, and would ask
My permission to travel,
To visit strange parts
At the coming of spring.
They'd often be absent
Through summer and autumn.
My wife and the children
Would argue while guessing
The gifts that the peasants
Would bring on returning.
And really, besides
Lawful dues of the 'Barin'
In cloth, eggs, and live stock,
The peasants would gladly
Bring gifts to the family:
Jam, say, from Kiev,
From Astrakhan fish,
And the richer among them
Some silk for the lady.
You see!—as he kisses
Her hand he presents her
A neat little packet!
And then for the children
Are sweetmeats and toys;
For me, the old toper,
Is wine from St. Petersburg—
Mark you, the rascal
Won't go to the Russian
For that! He knows better—
He runs to the Frenchman!
And when we have finished
Admiring the presents
I go for a stroll
And a chat with the peasants;
They talk with me freely.
My wife fills their glasses,
My little ones gather
Around us and listen,
While sucking their sweets,
To the tales of the peasants:
Of difficult trading,
Of places far distant,
Of Petersburg, Astrakhan,
Kazan, and Kiev….
On such terms it was
That I lived with my peasants.
Now, wasn't that nice?"
"Yes," answer the peasants;
"Yes, well might one envy
The noble Pomyéshchick!
His life was so sweet
There was no need to leave it."
"And now it is past….
It has vanished for ever!
Hark! There's the bell tolling!"
They listen in silence:
In truth, through the stillness
Which settles around them,
The slow, solemn sound
On the breeze of the morning
Is borne from Kusminsky….
"Sweet peace to the peasant!
God greet him in Heaven!"
The peasants say softly,
And cross themselves thrice;
And the mournful Pomyéshchick
Uncovers his head,
As he piously crosses
Himself, and he answers:
"'Tis not for the peasant
The knell is now tolling,
It tolls the lost life
Of the stricken Pomyéshchick.
Farewell to the past,
And farewell to thee, Russia,
The Russia who cradled
The happy Pomyéshchick,
Thy place has been stolen
And filled by another!…
Heh, Proshka!" (The brandy
Is given, and quickly
He empties the glass.)
"Oh, it isn't consoling
To witness the change
In thy face, oh, my Motherland!
Truly one fancies
The whole race of nobles
Has suddenly vanished!
Wherever one goes, now,
One falls over peasants
Who lie about, tipsy,
One meets not a creature
But excise official,
Or stupid 'Posrédnik,'[36]
Or Poles who've been banished.
One sees the troops passing,
And then one can guess
That a village has somewhere
Revolted, 'in thankful
And dutiful spirit….'
In old days, these roads
Were made gay by the passing
Of carriage, 'dormeuse,'
And of six-in-hand coaches,
And pretty, light troikas;
And in them were sitting
The family troop
Of the jolly Pomyéshchick:
The stout, buxom mother,
The fine, roguish sons,
And the pretty young daughters;
One heard with enjoyment
The chiming of large bells,
The tinkling of small bells,
Which hung from the harness.
And now?… What distraction
Has life? And what joy
Does it bring the Pomyéshchick?
At each step, you meet
Something new to revolt you;
And when in the air
You can smell a rank graveyard,
You know you are passing
A nobleman's manor!
My Lord!… They have pillaged
The beautiful dwelling!
They've pulled it all down,
Brick by brick, and have fashioned
The bricks into hideously
Accurate columns!
The broad shady park
Of the outraged Pomyéshchick,
The fruit of a hundred years'
Careful attention,
Is falling away
'Neath the axe of a peasant!
The peasant works gladly,
And greedily reckons
The number of logs
Which his labour will bring him.
His dark soul is closed
To refinement of feeling,
And what would it matter
To him, if you told him
That this stately oak
Which his hatchet is felling
My grandfather's hand
Had once planted and tended;
That under this ash-tree
My dear little children,
My Vera and Gánushka,
Echoed my voice
As they played by my side;
That under this linden
My young wife confessed me
That little Gavrióushka,
Our best-beloved first-born,
Lay under her heart,
As she nestled against me
And bashfully hid
Her sweet face in my bosom
As red as a cherry….
It is to his profit
To ravish the park,
And his mission delights him.
It makes one ashamed now
To pass through a village;
The peasant sits still
And he dreams not of bowing.
One feels in one's breast
Not the pride of a noble
But wrath and resentment.
The axe of the robber
Resounds in the forest,
It maddens your heart,
But you cannot prevent it,
For who can you summon
To rescue your forest?
The fields are half-laboured,
The seeds are half-wasted,
No trace left of order….
O Mother, my country,
We do not complain
For ourselves—of our sorrows,
Our hearts bleed for thee:
Like a widow thou standest
In helpless affliction
With tresses dishevelled
And grief-stricken face….
They have blighted the forest,
The noisy low taverns
Have risen and flourished.
They've picked the most worthless
And loose of the people,
And given them power
In the posts of the Zemstvos;
They've seized on the peasant
And taught him his letters—
Much good may it do him!
Your brow they have branded,
As felons are branded,
As cattle are branded,
With these words they've stamped it:
'To take away with you
Or drink on the premises.'
Was it worth while, pray,
To weary the peasant
With learning his letters
In order to read them?
The land that we keep
Is our mother no longer,
Our stepmother rather.
And then to improve things,
These pert good-for-nothings,
These impudent writers
Must needs shout in chorus:
'But whose fault, then, is it,
That you thus exhausted
And wasted your country?'
But I say—you duffers!
Who could foresee this?
They babble, 'Enough
Of your lordly pretensions!
It's time that you learnt something,
Lazy Pomyéshchicks!
Get up, now, and work!'
"Work! To whom, in God's name,
Do you think you are speaking?
I am not a peasant
In 'laputs,' good madman!
I am—by God's mercy—
A Noble of Russia.
You take us for Germans!
We nobles have tender
And delicate feelings,
Our pride is inborn,
And in Russia our classes
Are not taught to work.
Why, the meanest official
Will not raise a finger
To clear his own table,
Or light his own stove!
I can say, without boasting,
That though I have lived
Forty years in the country,
And scarcely have left it,
I could not distinguish
Between rye and barley.
And they sing of 'work' to me!
"If we Pomyéshchicks
Have really mistaken
Our duty and calling,
If really our mission
Is not, as in old days,
To keep up the hunting,
To revel in luxury,
Live on forced labour,
Why did they not tell us
Before? Could I learn it?
For what do I see?
I've worn the Tsar's livery,
'Sullied the Heavens,'
And 'squandered the treasury
Gained by the people,'
And fully imagined
To do so for ever,
And now … God in Heaven!"…
The Barin is sobbing!…
The kind-hearted peasants
Can hardly help crying
Themselves, and they think:
"Yes, the chain has been broken,
The strong links have snapped,
And the one end recoiling
Has struck the Pomyéshchick,
The other—the peasant."

-- Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?, by Nicholas Nekrasov
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Wed Jul 25, 2018 6:48 pm

15. THE U.S. NAVY SURRENDERS AT LAST!

URIAH P. LEVY, in the meantime, had been continuing with his crusade to have Jews treated as the equals of Christians. He had gone on with his lecturing and scolding of fellow Jews who took insults lying down, who responded to slurs by turning the other cheek. He was a frequent writer of peppery letters to the editor, and was otherwise securing his reputation as a firebrand. He had also decided -- since he no longer had Navy duties to occupy him -- that it was time for him to make some money.

New York in the early nineteenth century had become a more important seaport than either Newport or Philadelphia. The completion of the Erie Canal, linking East to West," in 1825, secured New York's position as the maritime -- hence commercial, and hence money -- capital of the United States. In that year alone, five hundred new businesses were started in the city, and twelve banks and thirteen marine insurance companies opened their doors. The population topped 150,000, and -- an unheard-of thing in America -- one of the city newspapers announced that it would publish on Sundays. The Park Theatre declared that it would present grand opera, and number 7 Cherry Street became the first private house in America to be lit by gas.

Maiden Lane, four blocks north of Wall Street, had been the division between the commercial and residential sections of the city. South of Maiden Lane, the city was abustle with business; to the north lay houses with gardens, estates, and farms. Greenwich Village had been a separate village, approached by crossing a stone bridge at Canal Street, but, by 1825, the commercial part of the city had encroached so far north that it was pointed out that no more than "the width of one block" separated the city from the suburban Village, and the most daring of the speculators prophesied that Broadway would one day extend as far north as Tenth Street. Today, of course, it continues on through the length of Manhattan, through the Bronx, Yonkers, and into Tarrytown. Washington Square, at the northern edge of Greenwich Village, had been the city's potter's field until 1823, when its development into a park was begun and the tall red-brick mansions were built on its perimeter. This helped establish Fifth Avenue -- which sprouted from the northern side of the park -- as the fashionable residential address it was to become. When Washington Square Park was completed in 1827, it was felt that the city would never reasonably be expected to grow north of Fourteenth Street. Within a year or so, even a Fourteenth Street boundary seemed too constricting. It did not take especial real estate shrewdness to see that Manhatten island, shaped like an elongated footprint and growing upward from the toe, had no way to expand except to the north. It was in this northern real estate that Uriah Levy decided to invest his Navy savings. He bought, in 1828, three rooming houses, two on Duane Street and one on Greenwich Street.

It was quickly clear that his unofficial discharge from Navy duty had put him in the right place at the right time. Within a few months, he was able to sell one of his Duane Street houses for nearly twice what he had paid for it. He bought more real estate, sold it, and bought more, parlaying each deal into something bigger than the last. Such was the booming state of Manhattan real estate that, within just four years, Uriah Levy was a rich man. He began to cut a considerable figure in New York's fledgling society -- which had never been the "set thing" it had been in Philadelphia -- and was able to afford to turn his affairs over to a staff of assistants and to take off for Europe, where he acquired, among other things, a Savile Row tailor and "a broadcloth frock coat with velvet collar; white satin stock shaped with whalebone; pantaloons of wool and silk jersey; two linen suits; white pleated shirts with gold buttons; light colored fawn gloves, a walking stick with ivory knob," according to his tailor's bill.

Rich almost overnight, still a bachelor -- and, it began to seem, a confirmed one -- Uriah was now able to indulge himself in personal whims and fancies, and, after his rejection from the Navy, this must have given him a certain amount of personal satisfaction. One of his enthusiasms was Thomas Jefferson, whom he regarded as "one of the greatest men in history. . . . He did much to mold our Republic in a form in which a man's religion does not make him ineligible for political or governmental life." In the summer of 1833, he conceived the idea of personally commissioning a statue of Jefferson and presenting it to the United States government. It was a totally new concept. Individuals had never before given statues of American heroes to the public. Perhaps Uriah felt that by celebrating Jefferson -- the champion of tolerance -- in this public way he could get back at the United States Navy for its snubs. In any case, in Paris Uriah gave the assignment to Pierre Jean David d'Angers, considered one of the greatest sculptors of his day, who used a Sully portrait of Jefferson, which Uriah borrowed from General Lafayette, as a likeness. It took d'Angers nearly a year to complete the sculpture, a massive bronze which depicts Jefferson standing astride two books, a quill pen poised in his right hand and, in his left, a scroll on which the Declaration of Independence is inscribed in its entirety. Uriah arranged for the statue's shipment to Washington, and wrote a formal letter of presentation to Congress.

In its customary fashion, Congress did a certain amount of hemming and hawing over the unusual gift, and there was a good deal of debate over whether it should be accepted or not. What sort of "precedent" would be set by accepting a gift like this? Congress wondered. And from an expected quarter -- the Navy Department -- came disgruntled noises to the effect that it was "presumptuous" for a "mere lieutenant" to present a statue of a great President. Once more, Uriah was being called pushy and overassertive. But at last, when Representative Amos Lane of Indiana said bluntly that he saw no reason why the statue should be turned down simply ''because it had been presented by a lieutenant instead of a commander," the Congress seemed to recognize the silliness of its behavior, and the Jefferson statue was accepted by a substantial majority. It was placed in the Capitol Rotunda. Several years later, it was moved to the north front lawn of the White House, where it stood for thirty years. Then it was returned to the Capitol, where it presently stands, to the right of Washington's statue, the only statue in the Rotunda ever donated by a private citizen. [ i]

Uriah Levy may, in a way, have begun to identify himself with his hero at this point in his life. Like Jefferson, Uriah possessed a certain genius and had experienced command. But now the great moments of his life must have seemed past. Like Uriah, Jefferson had been rich, but, Uriah may have remembered, he died penniless and heavily in debt. Uriah's thoughts turned next to Monticello, the extraordinary manor house Jefferson had designed and built for himself on a mountaintop near Charlottesville, Virginia.

When Jefferson died, Monticello went to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, along with 409 acres, all that remained of what had been a 10,000-acre estate. By 1828, she could no longer afford to run the great house, and she advertised it for sale at $71,000.But Monticello proved itself something of a white elephant. In design, it was revolutionary for its day, built like a temple and topped with a huge octagonal tower and dome. Guests had complained that for all the aesthetic pleasure the place provided, it was not really comfortable. Inside, it contained innovative oddities. There were no bedrooms in the conventional sense. Sleepers used platforms in curtained-off cubicles. In 1830, Mrs. Randolph's asking price had dropped to $11,000. A year later, she announced she would accept $7,000. At that price, Monticello was bought by a Charlottesville-man named James Barclay, an eccentric who cared nothing about Thomas Jefferson's house; the house did not figure in his plans at all. Barclay had a grandiose scheme to plant the mountaintop with mulberry trees and grow silkworms, in order to comer the world's silk market. By the time Uriah Levy made what he described as a "pilgrimage" to Monticello in 1836, the silkworm program had been abandoned. The house, left empty, had been attacked by vandals and the weather. Uriah rode on horseback up a rutted roadway that had once been a gracious drive and found the house almost in a state of ruin. He bought the house and land for $2,700, from a grateful Barclay.

Because he did indeed get Monticello at a bargain price, and because he was regarded somewhat coolly by his new neighbors -- who resented him more for being a Yankee than a Jew -- rumors began, in Charlottesville, about Uriah's obtaining Monticello through some sort of chicanery, and these stories persisted and have been perpetuated in history texts. In one tale, Uriah, having learned that a wealthy Bostonian had decided to buy Monticello for a considerably higher figure, hurried to Charlottesville and put in his low bid before the Bostonian's bid arrived by mail. Another story, even more unlikely, is that Uriah -- who never drank -- engaged a prospective buyer (from Philadelphia) in "a drinking bout," and then bought Monticello while the Philadelphian was recovering from a hangover. None of these stories is remotely true, and the purchase was carried out in a perfectly straightforward and orderly manner. Uriah immediately began a long and costly program of renovation and restoration, paying particular attention to the cherry and walnut parquet floors, the room that Jefferson had used for his study, the area he had used as a sleeping room, and the place where President Madison had slept. He tried to recover, wherever he could, Monticello's original furnishings, most of which had been sold and scattered about the country, and he hired gardeners to restore the grounds in accordance with the elaborate plans drawn up by Jefferson. In 1837, Uriah bought 960 adjoining acres to protect the property, and a few months later he added 1,542 acres more. In the middle of this happy -- if at times lonely -- activity, a surprising thing happened. Suddenly, in a commission signed by President Andrew Jackson, Uriah learned that he had been promoted -- after twenty years as a lieutenant -- to the rank of commander. All at once things were looking up again.

Though Uriah certainly didn't need the Navy pay, he immediately applied for sea duty and -- again -- was delighted and surprised to receive orders assigning him to proceed "with as little delay as possible" to Pensacola, Florida, where he was to report to the war sloop Vandalia as its commanding officer. When he arrived in Pensacola, however, and went aboard the Vandalia, he must have wondered whether his old enemies in the Navy Establishment weren't after him again and giving him this assignment as a cruel joke. The Vandalia was barely afloat. Her hull was rotting, her decks were collapsing, and her guns and metalwork were thick with rust. Her rats had not yet left her, though, and were in evidence everywhere. The Vandalia's crew was, if anything, in even sorrier shape. It seemed to be composed of the ragtag and bobtail of the Navydrunkards, thieves, and misfits of every variety. The incorrigibles of every command seemed to have filtered, at last, down to the Vandalia. When Uriah came aboard, only one junior officer bothered to salute him. A number of the crew were missing and, after a tour of Pensacola taverns had rounded up most of them -- protesting that they saw no reason why they should not be permitted to drink during duty hours -- many were in such an alcoholic state that they had to be lashed into hammocks on the deck. But Uriah was unfazed. With his customary self-assurance, he wrote to his mother that: "1 am certainly one of the most capable of putting the corvette in seaworthy condition." On September 7, 1838, he set about refurbishing his ship. By February the following year she was ready to sail.

As the Vandalia moved out of the harbor into the Gulf of Mexico, there was a certain amount of comment on shore as a decorative detail of Uriah was noticed. He had whimsically ordered the Vandalia's guns painted a bright blue. It was his way of giving the ship his personal stamp. It was also very un-Navy. It was, again, his insistence on being his own man, stating his own terms.

The Vandalia's mission was to call on various Mexican ports along the Gulf Coast and to offer support -- moral or, if needed, physical -- to American consuls who were the butts of waves of anti-American feeling during a period of revolutionary upheaval. In one port after another, the appearance of the now snappy Vandalia with her sparkling bright blue guns was enough to quell Mexican tempers and reassure United States consulates. And Uriah, in full-dress uniform, clearly relished being rowed ashore to be escorted to consular dinner parties, where he inevitably was first to raise a toast "To the flag!"

On board his ship, too, he was held in a curious kind of awe. The first day out he announced that he was making a few innovations in regard to disciplinary measures. There would, for example, be no floggings carried out on his ship while he was in command of it. To his junior officers, this was an astounding announcement. How could discipline possibly be carried out, they wanted to know, without the threat of the cat, particularly with a crew that contained the dregs of the naval service? One officer, Lieutenant Hooe, asked Uriah whether he had lost his reason. Flogging was a Navy tradition. To promise that there would be no flogging was an open invitation to mutiny. But Uriah was firm.

On the third night out, one of the most regular offenders in the crew, who had smuggled whiskey aboard, fell over the railing in a drunken stupor and was lost, which left the Vandalia in slightly better shape. But the men who remained were better behaved only in a matter of degree. Drunkenness and petty thievery were diseases endemic to the Navy, and Uriah devised unique punishments for these offenses. A man found guilty of stealing would have hung from his neck a wooden sign painted with the word THIEF. A sailor found drunk on duty would wear a sign, cut in the shape of a bottle, marked A DRUNKARD'S PUNISHMENT. Lieutenant Hooe pronounced these measures not only futile but ridiculous. But after a few weeks at sea, an odd fact had to be admitted: they seemed to be working.

Uriah's theory was that to make a man look absurd in the eyes of his companions had a much more lasting effect on his behavior than to torture him physically. And he was an early endorser of the notion that a punishment ought to fit the crime. Sometimes this required him to exercise an unusual amount of imagination. One day, for example, a young sailor named John Thompson was brought to Uriah and accused of mocking -- by imitating his voice -- an officer. Uriah considered the charge, and then, to a mystified crew member, ordered that a few handfuls of seagulls' feathers be collected. When the feathers arrived, Uriah ordered Thompson to drop his trousers. A small dab of tar was applied to each buttock, and the feathers were then affixed to the tar. The young man was told to stand on deck in this condition for five minutes, to the great amusement of the crew. "If you are going to act like a parrot, you should look like one," Uriah said.

When he returned to Pensacola, Uriah fully expected to be sent out on another assignment with the Vandalia. But, without warning, he was ordered relieved of his command and to "await orders." Another long period in professional limbo began. He wrote to Washington asking for assignments, but the Navy remained mute. At last, discouraged, he returned to Monticello and the real estate business.

The Panic of 1837 had left the real estate market severely depressed, and Uriah, whose fortune had not been affected by the Panic, took this opportunity to invest heavily in more Manhattan properties. Soon he owned at least twenty buildings. Three of his rooming houses earned him an income of nearly $3,500 a month, at a time when the average American working man earned $600 a year. Still, he continued half hopefully to think of the sea, and another command. And so it can be imagined with what kind of shock he received, nearly two years after leaving the Vandalia, a tersely worded notice from Washington ordering him to appear before a court-martial for "forgery, cowardice, and cruel and scandalous conduct." His sixth.

His accuser, it seemed, was his former fellow officer Lieutenant Hooe, who, in the months since Uriah had left the Vandalia, had been conducting a private vendetta to bring Uriah to his knees. The specific details of the charges were almost quaint. "Forgery" referred to the fact that a report submitted by Uriah had omitted two words, through a clerical error. "Cowardice," the charges stated, meant that Uriah Levy had once allowed a man "to wring his nose severely without making any resistance." The "cruel and scandalous conduct" referred to the punishment of John Thompson, and, for good measure, Uriah was also accused of having "failed to set an example of decency and propriety in his own personal conduct," which was a long way of saying that he had had the temerity to paint his ship's guns blue. On the surface, the charges appeared to be by far the most serious Uriah had ever faced. Examined closely, on the other hand, they seemed ridiculous -- and Uriah may have made a tactical error at the outset of his trial by telling the court that he considered them so.

Seldom in American history have a sailor's buttocks received so much and such intensive scrutiny from men in the highest ranks of government, including the man with the highest rank of all, the President. The prosecution accused the Vandalia's master of having ordered a full-scale tarring and feathering. The defense insisted that a dab of tar "no larger than a silver dollar" had been applied to each member in question. The youth, the prosecution claimed, had been permanently traumatized from the humiliating treatment he had received before the eyes of his mates. Nonsense, replied the defense; the incident had been treated as a good joke and the morale of his ship had improved considerably as a result of it. Page after page of testimony went into the court transcript over the condition of the posterior of a young man who -- because he was off on the high seas somewhere -- could not be called to testify. As the case dragged on, Uriah became increasingly confident that he would be exonerated. It was a blow of stunning proportions when he heard the court pronounce him guilty, and then heard the sentence -- that he was to be dismissed from the United States Navy. It was his second dismissal. He returned to New York in a state of shock.

President John Tyler had been a lawyer before assuming the Presidency, and he looked over courts-martial, when they were sent to him for the customary review, with particular care. It must have seemed to him quite clear that something other than his mode of punishment was "wrong" with Captain Levy where the Navy higher-ups were concerned. Though he did not touch on this in his opinion -- anti-Semitism was still such an elusive, vague, ill-defined quantity in the United States -- Tyler did say that he considered the punishment excessive, and asked the court to reconsider its sentence.

In its reconsideration, the court became very excited and wrote a shrilly worded reply to Tyler, saying: 'We cannot imagine any punishment more degrading and more calculated to produce such feelings than that which was inflicted [on Seaman Thompson]. It involved not only the indecent exposure of the person of the boy at the gangway of the ship, but the ignominy which are attached to only the most disgraceful of offenses. In this view the punishment was not only unusual but unlawful and exceedingly cruel." Even flogging would have been more merciful. Please, the court begged the President, let Uriah's sentence stand, for the sake of "Navy tradition" if for nothing else.

The President's reply was firm. "A small quantity of tar," he wrote, "was placed on the back" -- "back" was a suitably Presidential euphemism -- " of the boy and a half dozen parrot's feathers put on it was substituted in place of twelve stripes of the cat. And for this Capt. Levy is sentenced to be dismissed from the Service. . . . He meant to affix temporarily to the boy a badge of disgrace, in order to correct a bad habit, and to teach him and others that the habit of mimicry is that of the parrot whose feathers he wore. The badge was worn only for a few minutes. No harm was done to the person, no blood made to flow, as from the application of the cat. And no cruelty was exercised, unless the reasoning of the court be that this badge of disgrace was more cruel than corporal punishment. . . . I therefore mitigate the sentence of Capt. Levy from dismissal from the Service to suspension without pay for the period of 12 months." Once again, Uriah had been saved by having the right man in the White House.

And President Tyler, a just and kindly man, further mitigated Uriah's twelve-month suspension a few months later by promoting him from commander to captain.

But the twelve months passed, and Uriah's official status continued to be "unassigned." Apparently the Navy did not want his services, despite his new rank. Uriah, growing still richer, busied himself in real estate, bustling back and forth between his house in New York and Monticello, and whenever he had a moment, he dashed off a polite note to the Navy Department, asking for an assignment. His requests were always "noted." The Navy would let him know if anything came up. Uriah also, in this period, took up another form of writing -- letters to editors of newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, on the United States Navy's "antiquated," "barbarous," and "medieval" use of flogging as punishment. Uriah Levy loved to indulge in bombast, and these letters show him at his grandiloquent best. "America shall not be scourged!" he cried. Soon he was taking to the lecture platform with his crusade, and his vivid descriptions of men being lashed held audiences in shocked fascination.

He was, of course, alternately beseeching the Navy for assignments and attacking one of the Navy's most sacred institutions in the press and on the dais. His editorial letters, which were presently being published in pamphlet form, were drawing reactions from the Congress. Speeches, quoting Uriah, were being delivered on the floor of the House, and both pro- and anti-flogging factions were developing. Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire took up Uriah's cause with particular enthusiasm, and soon he had become Congress' chief opponent of the lash. The Navy, becoming even more deeply entrenched in its position, announced that "it would be utterly impracticable to have an efficient Navy without this form of punishment." Meanwhile, Uriah's replies from the Navy brass grew chillier and chillier in tone. The months stretched into years, the years to a decade. In September, 1850, Senator Hale succeeded in attaching an anti-flogging rider to the Naval Appropriations Bill. Two years later, further laws were passed, and Uriah was being called "the father of the abolition of flogging," though he shares this honor with Senator Hale. It was now twelve years since he had left the Vandalia. Now, when he wrote to the Navy, his letters were sometimes not even acknowledged. He was growing old, but he had not in any way tired of the fight.

In the autumn of 1853, Uriah Levy did a thing that startled his friends and neighbors. He married a young woman named Virginia Lopez. Uriah was sixty-one. She was eighteen. She wasn't just young. She was his niece, the daughter of his sister Fanny, who had married a West Indian banker named Abraham Lopez -- a cousin, in turn, of the Lopezes of Newport, the Gomezes, and a number of other Levys. Uriah and his new wife were related, it was once figured out by the family, at least fourteen different ways. Later in the nineteenth century laws were passed -- and have since been abolished -- banning such consanguineous marriages, but in 1853 it was all quite legal. And Uriah pointed out that he was really marrying Virginia to "protect" her. Her father, who had at one point been quite rich in Jamaica, had made some unwise loans and investments, and had died leaving his wife and daughter almost penniless. It is part of Jewish tradition for the closest unmarried male relative to marry and care for a widowed or orphaned female member of the family. Nonetheless, eyebrows were raised.

In 1855, Congress approved an "Act to Promote the Efficiency of the Navy." Among other provisions, the act set up a board of officers to examine Navy personnel "who, in the judgment of the board, shall be incapable of performing promptly and efficiently all their duty both ashore and afloat." Uriah had no reason to suppose that the act was aimed specifically at him and a few other jostlers of the official Navy applecart -- but it was. Within a few months of the passage of the act, Uriah was notified that he was among those adjudged incapable of further service, and that he was therefore "stricken from the rolls" of the United States Navy. The implications of this terse note were even more insulting. The act specified that officers who had achieved their incapacity because of ill health or old age should merely be placed on the reserve list. Those "stricken from the rolls" were those who were "themselves to blame for their incompetency." The final, most cutting touch of all was that the letter was addressed "Mr. Uriah P. Levy, Late Captain, U.S. Navy."

Uriah was outraged. Sixteen years had passed since he had left the Vandalia, and he was now sixty-three, with a young and beautiful wife, a fortune, and two splendid houses -- at Saint Mark's Place in New York, and Monticello. His chances of reversing the board's decision looked almost hopeless, and would involve virtually another act of Congress. But Uriah, ever the warrior, girded himself for the grandest and mightiest battle of his career.

He rode to New York and hired Benjamin Butler as his attorney. Butler was one of the most distinguished lawyers in the country. He had been Martin Van Buren's law partner and, when Van Buren became President, had been named secretary of war. He had also served as attorney general under Andrew Jackson. Together, the two men sat down to prepare a petition to Congress which declared that the Navy's action was "outrageous, unauthorized, illegal, and without precedent," and that Uriah had been "unjustly dealt with, and was entitled to reinstatement in the Navy and compensated for the illegal and cruel treatment he had received."

In many ways the naval review board that had dismissed Uriah was reminiscent of the Inquisitional courts of Spain centuries earlier, which had sent Uriah's ancestors from the country. The board had conducted its proceedings in total secrecy. No witnesses had been heard, no evidence had been presented. The accused had not been permitted to say anything in his own defense, nor had he had anyone to represent him. Butler reminded the Congress of this in his petition.

He pointed out that the board had vastly overstepped the authority given it. It had been authorized to conduct "a careful examination into the efficiency" of officers, and to submit "the names and rank of all officers who, in their judgment, shall be incapable of performing promptly and efficiently all their duty . . . and when they believe that such inefficiency has arisen from any cause implying sufficient blame on the part of any officer to justify it, they are to recommend that he be stricken from the rolls." This meant, Butler argued, that unless an officer could be proved "incapable of performing" duties, the Navy board had no business reaching a judgment about him. And how had Uriah's capabilities been tested? Not at all. Despite repeated attempts to return to service, where he might have been tested, he had been repeatedly turned down. The petition was also boldly critical of President Pierce for approving the board's action, and said: "In so far as the President may have been led to a general acceptance of the report . . . by the unsound and fallacious arguments of his cabinet adviser, he has been misguided." The objections to Uriah Levy on the Navy's part, Butler's petition stated flatly, were three: he had not risen through the ranks in the traditional way; he was outspokenly opposed to the tradition of corporal punishment; and he was a Jew. It was the first time in American history that anti-Semitism had been publicly identified as a force in American life and government. The Butler-drafted petition for Levy ran to more than nine thousand words.

Congress was no less slow-footed in 1855 than it is today, and not until a year after the petition was formally submitted did Congress pass a bill which provided that officers, such as Uriah, who had been cashiered could have their cases presented before a board of inquiry. It was an initial victory for Uriah, and now began the long and tedious process of scheduling the hearing -- for the following fall -- and of gathering evidence and witnesses to a career which, after all, had been cut off seventeen years before. Uriah was sixty-four now, and must have wondered at moments whether it was worth it. But the fire was still in him, and he was determined to end his life proudly, as a Jew and as a United States naval officer. He was driven by a kind of stubborn patriotism, an unwavering faith in the guarantees and freedoms stated in the Constitution, and he seems to have felt that his fight was not for his vindication but that America and all Americans somehow needed to be exonerated, acquitted, declared guiltless of what had happened within its armed services.

He, and his attorney, Mr. Butler, also had a high sense of showmanship, and were determined, in the process of seeking justice and redress, to give Washington, the press, and the public a performance they would not soon forget. When the Levy party arrived in Washington for the hearing in November, 1857, it installed itself in a series of suites in Gadsby's Hotel, and when ready to depart for the Navy building, the party chose a route that took them down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, where Uriah could dramatically point out his monumental statue of Thomas Jefferson as it stood, snow-covered, on the White House lawn. The party -- including Uriah, Butler, his aides, and Mrs. Levy -- entered the hearing room processionally, and took their seats.

As Butler had warned Uriah, the prosecution opened with an attempt to introduce Uriah's six courts-martial into the record. Butler quickly objected, saying that these courts-martial had been held concerning certain specific actions in the past which were not relevant to the hearing, since those acts were not being questioned. He was overruled. Butler then moved that, if the courts-martial were entered as evidence, the fairness and merit of each decision should be taken up, and evidence heard -- a process that would have taken months. Once more he was overruled.

When the findings of all the courts-martial had been read into the record -- which took several days -- the Navy then unleashed its major attack against Uriah. One after another the prosecution brought forth a long string of officers to testify as to Uriah Levy's incompetence, his unreliability, and his general undesirability. One officer said that Uriah was "generally disliked." Another testified that "His reputation is low." Commodore Matthew Perry commented that there was "nothing particularly remarkable about him except that he was rather impulsive and eccentric in his manners, fond of speaking of himself and his professional requirements." Commodore Silas Stringham said: "He is very vain, and his manner of interfering when two or three persons were talking together was disagreeable." The charges were vague and ill-defined, and since so much time had passed since Uriah's last command the witnesses had a good deal of trouble with dates, one officer insisting he had worked with Uriah for four years, though the two had known each other only during his service on the Vandalia, a period of two years. One officer, who admitted he did not know Uriah at all, said that he felt instinctively that Uriah was a poor sort. "I feel he is unfit for the proper performance of the duties of a Captain," he said.

Now it was the defense's turn. Benjamin Butler had lined up no less than thirteen officers on active duty in the Navy to testify in Uriah's behalf, plus six ex-Navy officers. Three others sent in written depositions. These witnesses were led by Uriah's old friend Senior Commodore Charles Stewart, chief of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, who testified that "When Captain Levy served under me, he performed his professional duties to my perfect satisfaction. I thought he was competent in 1818 and I think he is competent now. I'd be glad to have him on my ship under my command," The others were similarly laudatory, and witness after witness made the point that at the heart of all Uriah's troubles lay anti-Semitism.

When the nineteen witnesses had testified, and the depositions had been read, the court clearly expected the defense to rest its case. But Mr. Butler had saved a special surprise for the end. What happened next was a spectacle on an epic scale such as those devised, a century later, by Cecil B. De Mille. The courtroom doors opened, and in filed a stream of character witnesses composed of some of the most distinguished men in America, from every field and profession, all prepared to testify to the probity and uprightness and courage of Uriah Levy. They included bank presidents, merchants, doctors, commissioners, the editor of the New York Globe and the governor of New Jersey. Uriah's distant cousin, Henry Hendricks, was there, and Senator Dix and Congressman Aaron Vanderpoel and Nathan Ely, president of the Peter Cooper Fire Insurance Company, and James H. Blake, the former mayor of Washington. Jews and Christians, heads of companies and famous lawyers, one after another they mounted the witness stand to speak out for Uriah Levy. In all, fifty-three more witnesses gave testimony, bringing the grand total of defense witnesses to seventy-five. It was an overwhelming performance that might have begun to seem comic if it had not been for the distinction and the obvious sincerity of the men involved. And it was of course a grandstand play, for as each new day in court began, with new witnesses called, the American press and public attention became increasingly riveted on what was going on in a tiny Washington courtroom before a relatively unnewsworthy Navy court of inquiry. Americans who had never heard of Uriah Levy, or of such a thing as anti-Semitism, now were aroused, and sides were taken. For weeks, as the trial marched on, it seemed as though the newspapers could write, and Americans could talk, of nothing else.

Seventy-five witnesses were a difficult act to follow, but of course one voice remained to be heard to close the show: Uriah's. He had reached his finest hour. On December 19, 1857, at ten in the morning -- the trial had now gone on for more than a month -- Uriah rose to his feet and began: "My parents were Israelites, and I was nurtured in the faith of my ancestors. . .. " Three days later, on December 22, he concluded with the words: "What is my case today, if you yield to this injustice, may tomorrow be that of the Roman Catholic or the Unitarian, the Episcopalian or the Methodist, the Presbyterian or the Baptist. There is but one safeguard, and this is to be found in an honest, wholehearted, inflexible support of the wise, the just, the impartial guarantee of the Constitution. I have the fullest confidence that you will faithfully adhere to this guarantee, and, therefore, with like confidence, I leave my destiny in your hands." The members of the board looked stunned and glassy-eyed. Uriah sat down to what a reporter called "a spontaneous outburst of heartfelt applause."

"It was," commented a Washington newspaper, "one of the most glorious, if not brilliant, pleas ever made in the history of the United States Navy: a plea that 'right should be done!' This became the crowning triumph in Uriah Levy's career: it was a half-century of experience speaking, experience as a seaman, but most important of all, experience as an American Jew."

The court's verdict was unanimous: "Levy is morally, mentally, physically and professionally fit for the Naval Service and ... ought to be restored to the active list of the Navy."

Now that the secret was out, that anti-Semitism afflicted America, too, as it had done for centuries in reactionary Europe, and lay there for all to see -- live, quivering, and unpleasant, a fact that had to be dealt with in the armed services as in civilian life -- the immediate reaction was one of extreme embarrassment. Now the Navy set about, very late in the game, to atone for the way it had treated Uriah. After years of ignoring his requests to be assigned sea duty, he was, barely four months after the court of inquiry had reached its verdict, respectfully asked by the Secretary of the Navy if he would care to take command of the sloop Macedonian, being outfitted in Boston, and sail it to join the Mediterranean Fleet. Uriah replied gracefully that he would be honored, and then -- perhaps in a spirit of wicked humor -- added an outrageous request. He would like to take his wife along. She was, he explained, "an orphan, and not a native of this country, without any protection during my absence."

It was an unheard-of request. Never before in American naval history -- nor since, for that matter -- had a captain been permitted to carry his wife aboard. But the Secretary of the Navy, in his new mood of trying to placate Uriah Levy, replied promptly that this would certainly be possible.

Virginia Lopez Levy often seemed in need of some sort of "protection: A curious woman, with an enormous interest in herself, she wrote extensive memoirs in later years, in which she speculated at length about the secret of her immense charm and attractiveness to men. She once asked one of her many men friends, a poet named Nathaniel Parker Willis, whether he could put his finger on what made her so desirable. "I said," she wrote, "'I think you know me well enough to realize that I am not a vain woman -- but it would be idle and ungrateful for me to pretend that I was unaware of the kindness and attention showered on me. Will you tell me the truth, to what do you attribute this popularity 1 am fortunate to enjoy?'"

The poet replied -- according to Virginia -- as follows:

You have indeed set me a hard task. You ask a mere man, an admirer and a poet, to be absolutely truthful to a young and interesting woman, but as your wish is my command, I will do my best. The beauty of a vain woman may command the adoration of men, but it rarely inspires their love. Your power is potent because you use it so little. The infinite variety of your charm is as elusive as yourself and therefore difficult to define, but the brilliant bubbling effervescence of your youth is like a sparkling glass of champagne that you give us enough of to exhilarate without intoxicating. Do you wonder that we quaff it to the last drop?


A sculptor in Florence once asked her to pose for him and again, according to Virginia -- "He wanted me to sit for his Allegro. I asked how she was depicted. He said 'buxom, blithe and debonair.' I positively refused to pose for anyone described in this manner, as I was short and plump and possessed of la beaute de diable."


She appears to have been an inveterate flirt, and there was a curious episode at Monticello, one day when Uriah was out of town, in which Virginia became involved with a number of spirited college boys who, for some reason, happened to be passing through. She girlishly ordered them off the property, but they refused to go. And after a romping chase over stone walls, through gardens, and in and out of arbors and bowers and gazebos, Virginia wrote that "We all parted friends."

Virginia accepted full credit for the fact that her husband's request to bring her along was granted. "The popularity I was fortunate enough to enjoy with the men in power," she wrote, "won for me the unusual distinction of being allowed to accompany my husband. This privilege, which has never been granted since, was passed by both houses and granted without protest."

Her "infinite variety" made her quite a handful for her aging husband. He tried to keep pace with her youthful energy, and dyed his graying hair and moustache jet black. But he also found her an expensive commodity, and whenever they quarreled it was over the extravagant amounts she spent on clothes and trimmings. And she was very nearly too much for the Macedonian, where the presence of a solitary female among an all-male crew was, not surprisingly, disruptive. In his diary, a junior officer wrote: "She seemed determined to show off her dresses for every time she came on deck she had a different one." On another occasion, this same officer was disturbed to enter the captain's cabin on an errand and to find "the tables and chairs covered with ladies' apparel, hoops and skirts, bonnets and shoes, etc. etc."

Virginia, on the other hand, found life on shipboard most agreeable, and seemed, at times, to be going out of her way to be kind to the younger officers -- particularly at times when the captain was on duty on the bridge and she was alone with time to kill in her cabin. And she enjoyed the stops at Mediterranean ports, where she mingled, as she put it, among "the exalted circles of European society." Everywhere, she wrote, she was admired. From her memoirs: "My sojourn in Italy was as enjoyable as my stay in Egypt. Particularly so in Naples, where I occupied an apartment for some time. Captain Levy was compelled to leave, but everyone was very kind to me, including our Ambassador & his wife, Mrs. Chandler. . . . Spent Yom Kippur with Baron and Baroness Rothschild, who had a synagogue in their home. I have always admired the Rothschild family, and in whatever country I met them was impressed with their nobility of character. They understood perfectly noblesse oblige." She dashed off to Paris, where "I went to a fashionable modiste. . . and told her I wanted a white tulle gown, as simple as she could make it, and told her I must have it in time for the ball. She was horrified. Madame must have brocade and point lace, but I insisted on the tulle, and she reluctantly agreed to make it. The night of the ball when these old duchesses adjusted their lorgnettes to look me over and pronounce me charmante, I thought I had made a wise selection. But neither the gown nor I had anything to recommend us but our freshness. I have never seen such a collection of jewels and ugly women in my life!"

Her favorite ball that season was the "wonderful costume ball given by the Emperor Napoleon III and where the Empress Eugenie was masked . . . the splendor of its costumes, the scintillation of its lights, the rhythm and intoxication of its music, I think, went a little to my head and I felt that in order to enter into the spirit of the evening I must indulge in a violent flirtation. . . . I learned later that my partner was Prince Metternich. . . ."

Virginia must have been a trial to Uriah, but there were other compensations. In February, 1860, Uriah Levy learned that he had been placed in command of the entire Mediterranean Fleet, and had been elevated to the rank of commodore, which was then the Navy's highest rank. The Beet celebrated this event by presenting him with a thirteen-gun salute. And so Uriah Levy, scorned and beleaguered most of his life in the service, had all the luck at last.

It was all he wanted. The board of inquiry trial had taken its toll on him. He had begun to complain of "stomach distress," and there were other signs that he was getting old. In 1861, he and Virginia came home to the big house in Saint Mark's Place in New York. In April of that year Fort Sumter surrendered, and suddenly the Navy officer corps was split along North-South lines. War seemed inevitable, and many officers returned to the South to count themselves with the Confederacy. Uriah, though he owned property south of the Mason-Dixon Line, announced his allegiance to the Union, and even talked excitedly of Navy service in the Civil War. But early in the spring of 1862, he came down with a severe cold. It developed into pneumonia. On March 22 of that year he died in his sleep, with Virginia at his side.

Uriah's last will and testament managed to say a good deal about his zeal as a patriot, as well as the size of his ego. One of his bequests was for the erection of a statue of himself, "of the size of life at least" and "to cost at least six thousand dollars," above his grave, on which he wished inscribed: "Uriah P. Levy, Captain of the United States Navy, Father of the law for the abolition of the barbarous practise of corporal punishment in the Navy of the United States." He then directed that Monticello -- the house and acreage -- be left "to the people of the United States," but he attached an odd proviso. He asked that the estate be turned into "an Agricultural School for the purpose of educating as practical farmers children of the warrant office of the United States Navy whose Fathers are dead." Was this Uriah's idea of a joke, or a serious gesture aimed at turning swords into plowshares? Why should the children of dead warrant officers be taught farming? Perhaps Uriah, who considered himself a gentleman farmer as well as a Navy officer, felt that the two occupations complemented each other. In any case, his will left the condition unexplained. There were a number of charitable bequests, and gifts to relatives. Virginia was directed to receive the minimum that the law allowed.

Needless to say, Virginia was not happy with this state of affairs, nor were members of Uriah's family, who had looked forward to splitting up the vast and valuable acreage at Monticello, and who might have been willing to spend less on a monument to the deceased. After Uriah died, his will was contested and his estate went into litigation for several years. Finally the will was broken, and Monticello went to one of Uriah's nephews -- appropriately named Jefferson Levy -- who, with his family, maintained the big place until 1923, when a Jefferson Memorial Foundation purchased it from him for half a million dollars, a respectable gain on the $2,700 Uriah Levy had paid for it. Virginia Levy remarried rather soon after her husband's death, thus disqualifying herself from much more than the share of the estate she already had received. She survived Uriah by an astonishing sixty-three years, and died in 1925. So it was that the widow of an officer of the War of 1812 lived well into the flapper era. She did not, however, live to see the launching of the destroyer U.S.S. Levy during World War II. At the height of the war, the Levy was described by the New York Herald Tribune as one of "the swift and deadly sub-killers." It was an appropriate monument to Uriah -- more appropriate than the life-size statue, which never came to be.

_______________

Notes:

i. A copy of the Jefferson statue stands in the council chamber of City Hall in  New York City.
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