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December 26, 1975 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1975-12-26

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48 December 26, 1975


A Bicentennial Feature

The Jewish Dilemna and Jewish Patriots of the 1770s


American Jewish Archives

Because most Jews were
in commerce during the
1700s in America, support-
ing themselves as petty
shopkeepers, they were
rather conservative. The
thought of revolution and
secession frightened them.
They had a great deal to
The humble Jewish busi-
nessman Philip Moses was
typical of this group. He sol-
diered with the Charleston
militia, but when the city
was taken by the British he,
like most of his Christian
and Jewish neighbors,
swore allegiance to the En-
glish; his only other choice
would have been to leave
town — which later, indeed,
he did, quitting Charleston
for Whiggish Philadelphia.
Whether successful or
not, the American Jews
were primarily business-
men, literate and intelli-
gent. In agrarian America
they were nearly all part of
a respected middle class,
though politically they were
second-class citizens denied
the vote in some colonies
and forbidden office in all
the colonies.

A growing number were
native Americans, chil-
dren of the 1760's, the dec-
ade of protest. Young Ja-
cob Mordecai typified the
new generation. In 1774, at
the age of 12, this young
patriot, armed and clad in
a hunting shirt, joined a
boys' military company
which escorted the dele-
gates to the Continental
Congress as they rode into

Many of the Jewish
Whigs were ardent patriots;
they left their shops, homes,
businesses, and warehouses
in New York, Newport, Sa-
vannah, and Charleston,
preferring exile to life under
British rule. Gershom
Seixas, the minister of New
York's Remnant of Israel
(Shearith Israel), packed up
the Torahs and moved with
many of his elite to Con-
The Jews in colonial
America never constituted
more than one-tenth of 1
percent of the population;
yet- in Georgia it was a Jew
who took the lead in estab-
lishing the first "American"
government in that prov-
ince.'Mordecai Sheftall was
a native whose father had
come to Savannah shortly
after the arrival of Ogle-

thorpe himself. In the late
summer of 1774, Sheftall
became the head of the Par-
ochial Committee of Christ
Church Parish; he assumed
the leadership of the new de
facto county government
implementing the anti-Bri-
tish boycott-resolutions of
the Continental Congress.

When the war moved
into an active phase, he
became the commissary
general for Georgia's mili-
tia and Continental troops.
Knowing the part he had
played, the British, when
they took Savannah in
December, 1778, impris-
oned him for about a year
and a half before allowing
him to return to his family.

Sir James Wright, the
British governor, was well
aware that Sheftall was one
of the "liberty" leaders. Re-
porting back home to his su-
perior in London, the gover-
nor suggested that the
Georgia Jews not be allowed
to return to the province and
that Jewish newcomers be
entirely excluded:
"For these people, my
lord, were found to a man to
have been violent rebels and
persecutors of the king's
loyal subjects. And however
this law may appear at first
sight, be assured, my lord,
that the times require these
exertions, and without
which the loyal subjects can
have no peace in the prov-
ince or security in this prov-
Mordecai Sheftall's career
during the Revolution was
hardly typical. He was the
highest ranking Jew in the
Revolutionary forces, for his
office carried the titular
grade of colonel.
Two other . Continentals
became lieutenant colonels
— quite an achievement
when it is borne in mind
that no one could hold a mil-
itary office in the British-
American colonies unless he
took a Christian oath.
David Salisbury Franks
was an American who har'
moved to Canada, the 14th
colony. When General Rich-
ard Montgomery took Mon-
treal from the English, the
civilian Franks lent the
troops money, sold them
supplies, and advanced
them. funds when there was
not a farthing in the mili-
tary chest.

Looked upon by the Bri-
tish as one of the principal
leaders of sedition, Franks
had to flee with the Ameri-
can forces when they were

Haym Salomon, considered to be the Jewish finan-
cier of the American revolution, is immortalized in a
Chicago sculpture by Lorado Taft. The sculpture shows
Salomon, at right, with Robert Morris, left, and George

but that was after the war.
In 1776, at the age of 17 he
enlisted in a regiment of vol-
unteers, arming and equip-
ping himself at his own ex-
An even more enthusias-
After athe Battle of Long
tic patriot was Franks's fel-
low Pennsylvanian Solomon Island, when his company
Bush, who became a kins- retreated to New York City,
men of Mordecai Sheftall he was captured by the Bri-
when Sheftall's son Moses tish and thrown into prison.
married Bush's sister Nelly. Three months later this dar-
ing youngster escaped in the
Young Solomon Bush dead of winter, crossing the
joined the army in the early Hudson in a leaky skiff with
days because he wanted to only one paddle.
"revenge the wrongs of my
Arriving on the Jersey
injured country."
shore, he rejoined the
He soon rose to the rank American forces and re-
of deputy adjutant general mained in the service until
of the state militia. Severely 1782. For most of these
wounded in a battle near years he was a forage mas-
Philadelphia, he was carried ter and a noncommissioned
to his father's home till be- quartermaster in and about
trayed to the British by a West Point.
The highest rank he

driven out. He joined them
as a volunteer, remained
in the service throughout
the war, and rose to the
rank of lieutenant colonel.

The English were kind
enough to parole the
wounded officer, but while
receiving medical treat-
ment from them, he dis-
covered that a spy had in-
filtrated Washington's
headquarters. Bush lost as
little time as he could in
alerting the Whigs.

Isaac Franks, a Whig
member of this widespread
Anglo-American clan, be-
came a lieutenant colonel in
the Pennsylvania militia,

reached during the Revo-
lution was that of ensign
in a Massachusetts regi-
ment. After six years of
practically continuous
service with the Continen-
tals, this veteran retired at
the ripe age of 23 and went
into business in Philadel-

Achieving a modest de-
gree of success, he bought
the Deshler House in Ger-
mantown. During the war
this attractive home had

American Patriot Mordecai Sheftall

served the British briefly as
army headquarters; in 1793,
during the yellow fever epi-
demic, Franks rented the
place furnished to President
After the scourge had
abated and the President

had vacated the mansion,
Washington could not. fail to
notice as he scrutinized his
bill that Ensign Franks had
charged him for six missing
items: one flat-iron, one
large fork, and four plat-

Insight into the Life of Alfred Dreyfus

"You are perhaps more
Jewish than you think," the
French author Bernard La-
zare wrote on May 17, 1901,
to Alfred Dreyfus who did
not ascribe much import-
ance to his Jewish descent.

In 1894, Captain Dreyfus,
the only Jewish member of
the French General Staff,
was sentenced to life im-
prisonment for having
passed on secret informa-
tion to the German Military
Attache in Paris, and was
deported to French Guyana.

presented by Mme. Levy
shed light on prison regula-
tions on Devil's Island.
A letter to Mme. Dreyfus
from the Colonial Ministry
gives her permission to or-
der for her husband, from a
firm in Cayenne, the capital
of French Guyana, 50 bot-
tles of Vichy water, "kola,"
quinine and woollen under-

Though in 1898 a certain
Colonel Henry admitted
having forged the document
which was the sole material
evidence against Dreyfus,
this only resulted in a re-
duction of the sentence to 10
years' imprisonment, fol-
lowed by a pardon "because
of extenuating circumst-

Lazare's letter was an
acknowledgment of a copy
of Dreyfus' book "Five
Years of My Life" — an
account of his terrible ex-
periences on Devil's Is-
land, originally a home for
lepers off the coast of

It formed part of the me-
morabilia presented to the
National Library recently
by Alfred Dreyfus' 82-year-
old daughter, Mme. Jeanne
According to the Jerusa-
lem Post, she and her son,
Dr. Jean Louis Levy, a phy-
sician at the Pasteur Insti-
tute, came to Israel to hand
over the documents person-

Some of the documents

lection is Bernard Lazare's
letter. The socialist author
was one of the few French-
Jewish writers who had
given much thought to the
problem of anti-Semitism,
and became one of Dreyfus'
first and staunchest cham-
". . . You are perhaps
more Jewish than you
think," he wrote, "through
your indefatigable hope,
your belief in the power of
the good, accompanied,
however, by your power of
fatalistic resignation. Being
a Jew, you have fought for
your life yourself and also
for the victory of justice,
which, I hope, will not keep
us waiting too long and for
which we will work together

In fact, Lazare died in
1903, two years after this
letter, but Dreyfus did not
learn the lesson his friend
had tried to teach him. He
never learned to live with
his Jewishness with dignity.


Another allows her to
send him certain specified
books, including Pierre
Loti's newly published
travelogue on the Holy

A third informs her that
three books have been with-
held from another parcel be-
cause the pages have not
been cut in accordance with
The other "Jewish docu-
ment" in Mme. Levy's col-

The Dreyfusiana col-
lected earlier by the Jeru-
salem Library include a
number of contemporary
newspapers and other
publications indicating the
depth of anti-Semitic feel-
ings among certain sec-
tions of the French ruling
It is interesting to note

that after the first verdict of
"guilty" by the Paris Mili-
tary Court in 1894; Edouard
Drummond's anti-Semitic
weekly, "La Libre Parole,"
demanded, in a style made
familiar later by the Nazis:
"Out with the Jews from
France! France for the

There is a valuable item in
Hebrew in the Jerusalem
Library's Dreyfus collec-
It is connected with the
second trial, the proceedings
of 1899 in Rennes at the end
of which, no doubt under
the pressure of world public
opinion, Dreyfus was par-
doned and released.
This so excited Eliezer
Ben_-Yehuda, that he de-
cided to put out a special ed-
ition of his Hebrew weekly
"Hats'vi." In his excitement,
however, he forgot to insert
the date-line of the cable or
the place of its dispatch —
probably Paris.
Affixed to the one-sheet
special edition of "Hats'vi"
is a Turkish tax stamp with-
out which, it seems, Ben-
Yehuda would not have
been allowed to distribute
the happy tidings or to affix
the sheet outside his house
and newspaper office. It
may be assumed that his
Dreyfus extra edition was
the first of its kind in the
history of the Hebrew press
* * *

Capt. Dreyfus' Kin
Fights for Stern

The grandson of Capt.
Alfred Dreyfus, Dr. Jean-
Louis Levy of France, has
asked the Soviet Union to
follow France's example in
his grandfather's case and
release Dr. Mikhail Stern. .
Dr. Levy contends that
Dr. Stern was convicted on
charges of swindling and
accepting bribes on trumped
up charges, much like his
. grandfather's treason con-
viction in 1894.

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