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February 16, 1962 - Image 18

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Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1962-02-16

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS — Fr iday, Febru ary 16, 1962 -- 18

Bicentenary of First Jew in Detroit

By IRVING I. KATZ

Executive Secretary, Temple Beth
El; President, Jewish Historical
Society of Michigan.

This spring marks the 200th
Anniversary of the coming of
the first Jew to Detroit. He was
Chapman Abraham, a tough,
hardy pioneer who battled the
wilderness, the treacherous wa-
ter routes and the Indians, with
all the stamina of Daniel. Boone,
and all in search of the beaver
pelt.
The British conquest of Can-
ada in 1759-1760 included the
forts along the Western Great
Lakes and on November 29,
1760, Major Robert Rogers and
a British garrison occupied De-
troit and within a few months
Fort Detroit (the name Pont-
chartrain was dropped) was rec-
ognized as the center of the
Indian trade in the Northwest.
Early in the spring of 1761, En-
glish traders began to arrive;
and a year later, the name of
Chapman Abraham, a Jewish
trader, appears in the Detroit
records, doing business with
James Sterling, a well-known
early merchant of Detroit, and
in subsequent years with the
other early merchants of De-
troit.
Chapman Abraham was born
in Germany about 1723 and
moved with his family to En-
gland. He came to Canada with
the British troops, probably in
1759 or 1760. Originally he and
his four business associates
(Gershon Levi, Benjamin Lyon,
Ezekiel Solomon and Levi Solo-
mons) were army supply men,
and we may assume that the
firm had contracts to provision
the troops during the French
and Indian • war' (17544763).
After the war, the partners re-
mained in the country and turn-
ed to the fur trade. Between
1762 and 1783, the scene of
Abraham's activities was the
outpost of Detroit.
Abraham went through the
horrors of the . general Indian
Uprising of 1763, known as Pon-
tia('s Conspiracy, and 'shared
the common experience of an
Indian captivity with its immi-
nent threat of death by torture.
In May, 1763, Chapman Abra-
ham sought to bring up five
boats of merchandise from Ni-
agara, apparently totally unaware
of the Indian uprising. Accord-
ing to the trader, John Porte-
ous, in his narrative of the siege
of Detroit, Abraham was cap-
tured with his cargo on the De-
troit River on May 12 and made
a prisoner of the Indians. After
a harrowing experience of two
months, he was exchanged by

the • Indians for a Potawatomi
Chief.
Abraham's capture by the In-
dians appears in his own affi-
_davit of Aug. 9, 1763, taken be-
fore a Military Court of Inquiry
held by Major Henry Gladwin
in Detroit. The Rev. John Hec-
kewelder of Bethlehem, Pa., the
missionary of the United Breth-
ren, preserved for us the fol-
lowing account of Abraham's
capture (Heckewelder refers to
Chapman Abraham as "Chap-
man" and "Mr. Chapman" but it
has been . established beyond
doubt that it is the same per-
son).

"About the commencement of the
Indian War in 1763, a trading Jew,
named Chapman, who was going up
the Detroit River with a batteau-load
of goods'which he had brought from
Albany, was taken by some Indians
of the Chippewa nation, and destined
to be put to death. A Frenchman
impelled by motives of friendship
and humanity, found means to steal
the prisoner, and kept him so con-
cealed for some time, that although
the most diligent search was made,
the place of his confinement could
not be discovered. At last, however,
the unfortunate man was betrayed
by some false friend, and again fell
into the power of the Indians who
took him across the river to be burn-
ed and tortured. Tied to the stake
and the fire burning by his side, his
thirst from the great heat became
intolerable, and he begged that some
drink might be given to him. It is
a custom with the Indians, previous
to a prisoner being put to death, to
give him what they call his last
meal; a bowl of pottage or broth
was therefore brought to him for
that purpose. Eager to quench his
thirst, he put the bowl. immediately
to his lips, and the liquor being very
hot, he was dreadfully scalded. Being
a man of very quick temper, the
moment he felt his mouth burned,
he threw the bowl with its contents
full in the face of the man who
handed it to him. "He is mad! He
is mad!" resounded from all quar-
ters. The bystanders considered his
conduct as an act of insanity and
immediately untied the cords with
which he was bound, and let him
go where he pleased. This fact was
well known to all the inhabitants of
Detroit from whom I first heard it,
and it was afterwards confirmed to
me by Mr. Chapman himself, who
was established as a merchant at
that place."

Stephen Vincent Benet, the
well-known American poet and
novelist,' used this incident in
"Tales Before Midnight", in a
story of a Jewish fur • trader,
"Jacob and the Indians."
Abraham's capture in 1763
may have been his second cap-
tivity by the Indians. In Novem-
ber, 1759, General Jeffery Am-
herst, Commander - in - Chief of
the English forces in North
America, sent a scouting party
from Crown Point, New York,
into Canada to establish com-
munications with General James
Wolfe, then closing in on Que-
bec. It was expected that brib-
ery would allay the enmity of
encountered Indians who would
lead them to Wolfe. Indians did
appear, but their hostility made
them immune to persuasion, and
the entire party was taken pris-

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oner. Among the captives was
a man named Abraham, who
may possibly have been Chap-
man Abraham.
Abraham was a professing
Jew and a member of the Span-
ish - Portuguese Congregation
Shearith Israel of Montreal,
Canada's first synagogue estab-
lished in 1768. The reference
to Abraham as a baptized Jew
in a 1763 letter of the trader
James Sterling of Detroit need
not be taken literally. In this
letter Abraham was addressed
facetiously as "damned Jew"
and told to start acting like a
Christian, now that he was bap-
tized. Frontier wit was anything
but delicate. One suspects that
the reference was to some
carousal, and that the baptism
was a secular one of immersion
in liquor, rather than a priestly
ceremony in water.
Until 1769, Montreal and Que-
bec merchants were particularly
hard-pressed. Abraham and his
partners were no exceptions,
and in 1768 they confessed they
were unable to meet their finan-
cial obligations. They offered to
make a settlement, surrender-
ing all their property, and most
of the creditors were willing
even though the assets would
not have yielded more than
seven shillings in the pound.
However, when other creditors
would entertain no thought of
such an arrengement, the debt:
ors, on the advice of Attorney
General Francis Maseres, pre-
sented a joint petition to Gov-
ernor Guy Carleton asking for
some sort of financial arrange-
ment, or the appointment of a
commission of bankruptcy which
would be authorized to divide
the remaining assets equally_
among the creditors.
Evidently their petition was
not without effect; there is no
record that they were confined
for debt. On the contrary, we
meet them again as active, if
not successful merchants.
Clarence M. Burton, the noted
historian of Detroit, lists Chap-
man Abraham among the early
merchants of Detroit and states
that following his release by
the Indians in 1763, Abraham
carried on a successful business
in the village.
Of Abraham's residence and
activities in Detroit we find
many evidences. In 1765, he
was selling rum in partnership
with a man by the name of
Lyons (possibly Benjamin
Lyon). Iii 1767, he owned a lot
and house within the fort of
Detroit and purchased a piece
of additional land adjoining his
property. In the same year he
did business under the firm
name of Chapman Abraham and
Company, and in 1768, when
Detroit had 678 white inhabi-
tants, exclusive of the garrison,
he purchased an additional
"tract of land with house and
appurtenances." In 1769, he was
granted a license by Governor
Guy Carleton at Montreal to
trade at "Michilimackinac and
beyond," and his one canoe of
merchandise consisted of "rum
and brandy, wine, gunpowder,
ball and shot, and fusils." In
1776, he sold a tract of land in
Detroit, and the following year
he purchased a 'parcel with a
house and appurtenances within
the fort of Detroit.
In 1778, 1780, and 1781, Abra-
ham was granted licenses to
trade at Detroit. In 1779, he was
a witness at a sale of land in
Detroit. His name is listed on
a petition dated Jan. 5, 1780,
of the merchants of Detroit to
Governor Haldimand, which re-
fers to "the heavy losses which
they have sustained since the
commencement of the present
disturbances, in the transporta-
tion of merchandize, liquors,
and peltries, on the communica-
tion and over the Lakes." He is
also listed among the merchants
of Detroit who shipped rum on
Dec. 25, 1780.
In 1781, Abraham was still

Cleveland Pitcher Barry Latman
Gives Credit to Ty Cobb for Success

BY HAROLD U. RIBALOW

(Copyright, 1962,
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Inc.)

A recent issue of Sport maga-
zine included a feature which'
has helped to shatter an image
of the immortal Ty Cobb which
too many people have held for
too many years,
The story has been that Cobb
was a hater, a passionate hater.
But a young Jewish baseball
player, trying hard to make the
big leagUe grade, found Cobb
a friendly, thoughtful man. The
pitcher is Barry Latman and
here is the story.
Latman is a left-handed pit-
cher with the Cleveland Indians
and he had his best year in
1961. As a . high school hurler,
Barry was a brilliant success
and he also managed to develop
a swell head. Barry's father,
who had closely followed his
son's career, arranged for a
meeting with Cobb, who was
then 66 years of age.
Although the Jewish boy and
the Georgia Peach had never
met before, Cobb talked for
hours, offering advice and
drawing on his own vast experi-
ence and genius at the game.
Latman says, 'When I left,
Ty and I agreed to write to
each other from time to time.
He told me to feel free to ask
him for any advice and I took
him up. For more than five
years we wrote to each other
and the help he gave me was
infinately valuable in what
small success I've had in the
major le a g u e s. His letters
helped me meet in three cate-
gories: 1. Conditioning; 2. Con-
centration; 3. Overall mental
attitude."
The letters themselves, which
are reprinted in the magazine,
are detailed, full of technical
advice and information and,
now and again, a personal word
of encouragement. And in
spite of the fact that Cobb was
known to be a tough, arrogant
player, he was soft and modest
so far as Latman was con-
cerned.
In 1959, Cobb watched Barry
pitch and Ty found a flaw in

doing business as a member of
the firm of Chapman Abraham
and Company. He is mentioned
in the manuscripts of John
Askin. On March 28, 1781, he
appears on a list of merchants
of Detroit who petitioned Major
Arent Schuyler De' Peyster, then
the commanding officer of De-
troit, to grant relief from mer-
chants who are able but are un-
willing to pay their lawful
debts. In the same year, he pur-
chased a "tenement" (dwelling)
on St. Louis Street from Wil-
liam Edgar, the well-known
trader.
Under a contract dated Oct.
23, 1781, Abraham sold to Paw-
ling & Burrell all his goods,
which included "snuff tobacco,
mustard and silver works," and
rented them his "house, shop,
eellar and room" for a period of
six months. In 1782, when the
number of inhabitants in the
entire Detroit settlement was
2,191, Abraham sold a "tene-
ment" and lot to James May.
In 1782 and 1783, he did busi-
ness with Thomas Williams.
Abraham died in 1783 and
was buried in the cemetery of
Congregation Shearith Israel in
Montreal.
His last Will and Testament
throws light on his religion and
social loyalties, as well as on
his relation to his family in
Plymouth, England. It states in
part:

"First and principally, I commit
and recommend my soul to God, and
my body to the earth, to be decently
interred in the burial ground of the
Jewish congregation near to the city
of Montreal; and I request of my
executors hereinafter to be named,
that they would invite the brethren
of the Free Mason Lodge of which
I am a member, to accompany my
body to the grave."
"Whereas my wife is now enceint
(`pregnant') by me, I do will, give
and bequeath all the residue of my

Barry's work. "It affects your
control," he wrote, "and also
takes away from the breaks or
effectiveness of your football."
Then Cobb added these nice
lines, "Do not bring my name
into this. Just say a friend of
yours, an ex-ballplayer, saw you
work and mentioned it to you."
This ex-ballplayer was per-
haps the greatest in history!
And he did help Latman who,
in 1961, lost only five games
and won 13. He gave up only
54 bases on balls and fanned
109. Latman may now be on the
road to the top in baseball,
thanks to Ty Cobb.

Charming Doubleday
Children's Stories
Parents who are . constantly
in search of good reading
material .for their very young
children will be especially de-
lighted with "A Nonsense Al-
phabet" by Edward Lear, with
illustrations by Richard Scarry.
Offered as "a sense and non-
sense" book, this alphabet
rhymes collection will be found
amusing and instructive for the
little one who either can al-
ready read or to whom the
story is to be read.
The book was published as
one of the new series of Double-
day children's stories.
Also by Edward Lear is
another Doubleday children's
book, "The Owl and the Pussy-
Cat," with illustrations by Wil-
liam Pene DuBois. It is another
charming booklet with a good
plot for youngsters.

Canadian Counterpart
of U.S. BIT Organized
Toronto - Creation of the
Canadian Council of YM-
WHA and Jewish Community
Centers was announced here at
a meeting of volunteer and pro-
fessional leaders of eight 'Cen-
ters and YM-YWHA in Canada.
Samuel. Granatstein, of To-
ronto, was elected president of
the new Council, whose head-
quarters will be maintained in
the Toronto YM & YWHA.

estate so above described unto Rich-
ard Macniel and Samuel Judah, of
Montreal, merchants, in trust, to be
by them employed for the best use
and behoof of the child whereof my
said wife is now enceint, if it should
be born with life; and my will is
that the interest of the said residue
should be added to the principal and
be paid to the said child on the day
it shall attain the age of twenty one
years; and in the event that the said
child shall not be born with life, or
shall not attain the age of twenty
one years, then I give the said resi-
due and interest thereof to my said
trustees, to be by them possessed on
this farther trust; that is to say, to
pay the same in equal portions to
my dear brothers, Solomon Abraham
and Hart Abraham, of Plimouth, in
Great Britain, their executors, ad-
ministrators, or assigns.
"(Signed in Hebrew script)
"Kaufman Abram."

Elizabeth Judah, the wife of
Chapman Abraham, was born in
1763. She was a member of the
well-known Judah clan, early
pioneers of the Jewish commu-
nity of Montreal, and was re-
lated to Aaron Hart, the fore-
most Jewish settler in Canada
at the time of the English occu-
pation.
Elizabeth married Chapman
Abraham when she was a young
girl, Abraham being 40 years
her senior. When Abraham died
in 1783, she was only 20 years
of age, and for the next few
years she . is referred to in the
records as a "wealthy widow."
In 1787, she married, in New
York,. the well-known merchant-
shipper, Moses Myers. Shortly
after their marriage Mr. and
Mrs. Myers moved to Norfolk,
Va.; where Myers became one
of the most prominent citizens
in that community. In 1791, My-
ers built a mansion in Norfolk
which is still standing and is
now a city museum. The portraits
of Mr. and Mrs. Moses Myers,
done by the famous artist, Gil-
bert Stuart, are still hanging in
this mansion. Mrs. Myers died in
1823.

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