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January 08, 1971 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1971-01-08

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The Colonial American Jew-1492-1776'

Early American Jewish History Viewed as Part of World
Aspect in Prof. Marcus' Three-Volume WSU-Published Epic

spoke English by preference,
With an already long estab- centers, formed synagogues, as-
had regard for Anglo-Saxon cul-
sured burial for their dead in
lished record as the leading his-
ture, and enjoyed the same civil
torian devoting himself to the their own cemeteries. Vague ac-
rights as did his Christian neigh-
early history of American Jewry, counts generally are given of
bors. Socially he was a cut above
and as the outstanding authority such communities as Curacao,
the masses, the farmer and the
Guadeloupe, Martinique, Bar-
on the Colonial American period,
mechanics, for he was a shop-
the three-volume epic, "The Co- bados. Dr. Marcus fills a great
keeper or merchant. As such
lonial, American Jew, 1492-1776,"
need In the new three volume
he expected — and he received
history by outlining the histori-
just issued by Wayne State Uni-
— a measure of deference."
versity Preis, emerges as one of cal record and presenting the
In covering the entire scene,
the most enportant historical details regarding Jewish settle-
Dr. Marcus went to many areas,
records made available about
ments, the persecutions that
• dealing with them in a localized
early American Jewry.
confronted them, the eventual
Dr. Marcus' three-volume work
freedoms they attained, the in-
fashion. There are many refer-
: ences to Detroit and Michili-
is encyclopedic. In all its dimen-
stitutions they established, their
sions • it is a monumental result economic progress which placed
mackinac. Therefore he deals with
of decades of learning, research
, some of the early Jewish pioneers
them in important roles among
and gathering of facts that keep their neighbors.
in this area, with the prominent
the record factual about the
The first of these three volumes
Canadian pioneer Aaron Hart, with
early history of American Jews. must be viewed as a great contri-
Ezekiel Solomons whose sister
Whether he deals with indus- bution to Jewish knowledge about
married Moses Hart, Aaron's
try, the fur trade, religious de- the Caribbean Jewries. As an
brother. There is an account of
votions, Dr. Marcus is the au- early history of these settlements
the Mackinac Jewish fur traders:
thority on an important era in Prof. Marcus' story is superb. It
"They traveled down Lake Michi-
Jewish history.
gan and the Illinois River to the
becomes apparent that it is in- country was not the establish.
ment of synagogues but the French settlements opposite pres-
He gives us the best view of separable from the larger theme,
the Jewries in the Caribbean, and yet in itself it affords an under- acquisition of a plot for a ceme-
ent-day St. Louis. Michilimackinac
tery. Then came the task of was Ezekiel Solomons' very spe-
the perfect source for knowledge standing of a presently frequently
establishing the synagogue.
about the Colonial period in visited area that needs the knowl-
cial stamping ground, and the
There is the established fact of year 1761 found him risking his
American history. Wayne State edge about the various islands
Jews having taken care of their life there, even before the English
University Press has rendered a provided by Dr. Marcus.
great service by being his pub-
The roads toward North Am- own and in earliest times there took formal possession of the re-
lisher, and Dr. Marcus places erica began to be paved after the already were Palestinian emis- gion from the French. He was to
the Jewish comrnimity in his debt Caribbean experiences had com- saries who were treated gener- remain there on and off for the
for having created this informa- menced. They were almost simul- ously. While the education of the rest of his life, the first Jewish
tive history.
taneous, and the tercentenary of poor was provided for, Jewish settler in what is today the, state
Dr. Marcus approaches his sub- American Jewry, that was ob- parents assumed the duty of se- of Michigan."
ject from a worldly point of view, served in 1954, was the occasion curing teachers for Jewish studies
At this point, Prof. Marcus de-
recognizing the unity of the Jew- for major review of Jewish his- of their children.
votes this section to Detroit:
There were the early all-day
ish people and the inseparability tory on this continent on public
"Michilimackinac was not
of one group from another in platform and in ceremonials schools in which general as well the only place in Michigan to
Jewish devotional interests. That marking the 300-year event. Dr. as Jewish subjects were taught. be frequented by Jews in Co-
is why his masterful three volumes Marcus gives the full account of In early times there was not the lonial times. In 1760-1761, bent
start with a thorough account of Jewish experience which included general urge among young Jews on dispossessing France of her
the Jewries in the Caribbean be- every aspect of early American to attend the existing colleges.
North American empire, the
Ang a fact emphasized by Dr.
fore commencing the story of the life, while retaining in many
English had taken over the
Marcus is that there were ab-
New Netherlands settlement and areas Jewish religious loyalties.
chain of trading posts extend-
solutely no literary achievements
the treks to North America.
European Jews had to turn
ing
westward from Fort Ni-
by Colonial Jews. He also makes
He begins by establishing the West, and America was the chief
agara through Presque Isle
the point: "The typical Colonial
basic fact of Jewish peoplehood,
choice, although many could
(present-day
Erie, Pennsyl-
synagogue goer, an immigrant,
and his approach is essential to have settled elsewhere, in the
vania), Fort Sandoski, (San-
was too busy learning the lan-
an appreciation of the great work
view of Dr. Marcus. The early
dusky,
Ohio),
and Fort Pont-
guage and making a living to
he has produced, all of it result- American Jews, who originated
chartrain (Detroit), to Fort
achieve any facility or distinc-
ing from many years of study and
in Europe, felt they would be
Michilimackinac. Jews had busi-
tion in Fnglish letters; he could
accumulation of data on the sub-
allowed to practice their faith
ness interests in all those posts %
make no contribution even to
ject that has become one of his
on these shores. "The immi-
and lived in them for longer
the
Jewish,
let
alone
American
major specialties. He states at the
grants took it for granted they
or shorter periods. Indeed, dur-
literary arts."
very outset:
would
be
permitted
to
establish
ing
P011113ed uprising in 1763
There
was
the
use
of
the
term
"The basic premise, the es-
a community of their own," we
"Jew" as an opprobrium and as two or three Jews were cap-
sential fact to which I am. com-
are told, as the author of this a dirty word, yet: "Christians in tured in the vicinity of Detroit.
mitted in my work, is that the
immense work gives an account the villages and the towns of the
"Among Ezekiel Solomons'
Jews c onstitute a 'people.'
of the various areas that were country discovered, sometimes to
colleagues in the consortium of
Since their earliest days on
settled

New
Amsterdam

their
dismay,
that
the
Jews
did
army
commissaries was Chap-
these shores, they have been an
New York, Rhode Isisuid, New- not wear horns, and that if they man Abra(ha) in(s). Like his as-
organized group, united by com-
port, Boston, Charleston.
had devil's tails and cloven feet, sociates and other Jewish fur
mon institutions, traditions, be-
The economic life of these they certainly were not visible."
traders, Abram did not limit his
liefs, an inspiring past, and an
The economic opportunities ac- efforts to one trading post, but
unusually strong sense of kin- people was varied. It was an am-
quired
here
were
of
paramount
bitious
effort
which
integrated
did business on occasion at Macki-
ship. Wherever possible, they
nac and also at Fort Niagara.
have tendid to live in close them into their communities and importance.
Religious
controls
"were
inevit-
which
distinguished
them
among
It was, however, at Detroit that
proximity to one another. As a
tightly-knit fellowship, they have the major factors in a variety of ably relaxed here." Dr. Marcus Abram concentrated his activi-
ties. That settlement was a great
shared common experiences, and commercial and industrial efforts. makes the interesting observation:
'The new American Jew be-
He was the fur dealer and the
depot — some think the great-
the totality of these makes up
ginning to emerge on the co-
peddler, and the description of the
est — for the fur trade, and it
American Jewish history."
lonial
scene
much
preferred
to
had been home for Abram ever
Dr. Marcus, realist as much as latter provides an especially in-
be a successful merchant than
historian, proceeds to ask "Why teresting historic fact about Am-
since the summer of 1761. He
a talmudic scholar. Yet this very
lived there for many years, ran
should we study this history?", erican Jewry.
Jew
was
not
estranged
from
his
a
store, and was a property
and he provides the answers from
There were discriminations
faith, and the communities
owner. As far as is known
both the American and Jewish which were overcome in the pro-
which
studded
the
North
Ameri-
Abram was the only perman-
viewpoints — because "Any study cess of time, and there were
can coast from Montreal to
ent Jewish settler in town be-
of American Jewish life is bound causes which did not distinguish
to throw, light on the larger his- the Jew from the Christian. Jews, Savannah are eloquent testimony
fore the outbreak of the Revo-
to
his
determination
not
to
lution.
When the war came,
tory of the American people." for example, were slaveholders
He shows this to be more true of in the natural course of events of abandon his heritage."
Abram bad no wish to abandon
The style of life was free and his loyalty to the crown, fought
Jews than of Huguenots or that time, and there were Jews
Quakers because "Jews are who were first to offer slaves "a new ethnic type — an 'Ameri- by the side of the British troops
can Jew" emerged.
and militia against the American
unique" in the activities they manumission.
There is a summary in which Invaders of Quebec Province
pursued, in the functions they
While Prof. Marcus' work is
which at the time included
performed, in their economic as history, the author gains recogni- Dr. Marcus points to the "com-
well as religious life.
tion here for his review of the , munity" that was transferred here, Michigan. By 1783, he had re-
For a full understanding of the economic and social conditions 'firm and viable and visible turned to Montreal where he died
Colonial Jew it is necessary to that affected Jews in the nearly e nough to attract hundreds and in the spring of that year."
(Note the various spellings of
know his background, whence he 300 years under review in "The thousands of others who never
stemmed, the migrations of his Colonial American Jew" and for i would have come to a 'waste howl- Chapman Abram's name).
ng
wilderness'
where
there
were
kinsmen before he landed on all practical purposes he is, here
Incidentally, just as the approach
North American shores. That is also the sociologist and the no Jewish institutions.
to Detroit and Michilimackinac is
The new Jew is defined thus close to Canada, so the entire story
why the thorough review of Jews economist
and their activities in Caribbean It is not only when he deals with b y Dr. Marcus:
is linked to our Canadian neigh-
islands is so vital to the story.
furriers but also when he touches
"By 1776 the typical Jew in bors, and Dr. Marcus adds impres-
There is much travel today upon real estate transactions that this land was an urban shop- sively to an understanding of early
to those islands where Jews he adds to the reader's knowledge keeper of German provenance Canadian settlers in many of the
first settled more than 300 years of what had transpired in the
in the process of blotting out incidents recorded in this great
his German ethnic past. Yet he work.
age, where they established early years of this Republic.
It is interesting to note from
was firmly, proudly, and nos-
Among the Montreal traders
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS the Marcus study that the first
talgically rooted in his Euro- who did business in Detroit and
4S--fridtri, Jewry S, 1971
act of Jewish settlers in this
pean religious traditions. He the West, Dr. Marcus lists the

name of Samuel Judah. Numer-
ous other references are made to
Detroit and Detroiters as traders
in the early years when this
community was a fur trading cen-
ter.
In his description of anti-Jewish
incidents, Dr. Marcus makes ref-
erence to the labeling of "rich as
a Jew" upon Robert Morris, the
use of anti-Jewish verses and
other occurrences. In the course
of his descriptions, he relates in
describing the use of the word
Jew as an opprobrium:
"Perhaps no one ever em-
ployed the word to more curious
effect than the Tory David Fan-
ning, who designated the Whig
planter Richard A. Rapley a
Jew, because the Christian Rap-
ley was an intimate friend and
political collaborator of the
Whig Jew Salvador. Fanning
may not have intended it so,
but this was a salient instance
of guilt by association. The word
was not always employed
pejoratively, however. Solomon
Meyers, a constable, is referred
to descriptively in the 'records
of New York City as a Jew.
Still, this mention is not to be
construed as an attack, ft was
centainly no compliment, but
represented a continuance of
the medieval Christian custom
of carefully identifying Jews in
legal documents. Of course even
Jews might at times identify
themselves as such in legal
documents, and on occasions an
apparently malicious use of the
term might turn out to be the
reverse. In 1763, James Sterling
addressed Chapman Abram as
'damned Jew,' but he and
Abram were boon companions
and business associate' in the
rude frontier settlement of De-
troit. They had gotten drunk to-
gether. There was no venom in
Sterling's epithet. Nor is there
likely to have been venom in
the poet John Ma ylem's char-
acterization of the Newport syn-
agogue as a 'synagogue of
Satan.' Maylem, who had a very
close Jewish friend, was not a
religious man and had bor-
rowed the phrase from Reve-
lation 2:9, simply because it
suited the scheme of a poem he
was writing."
And we have the additional
comment by Marcus: "When was
a Jew not a 'Jew'? When he was
not one's competition, and money
was to be made through him"
Dr. Marcus is the eminent Jew-
ish archivist under whose direc-
tion American Jewish Archives in
Cincinnati preserves the historic
records of the history of Ameri-
can Jewry.
His writings are voluminous. He
has incorporated the results of his
labors as a researcher into Jewish
history into a score of volumes.
The current three-volume epic
highlights his literary career and
his contributions as an historian,
and world Jewry now again is in,
debted to him for his immense
creative labors. —P. S.

11 111111P"

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IN ;Lir "Y1Tl ;11, 1

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