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August 15, 2003 - Image 54

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-15

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Pioneer fur trader's descendants gather
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BILL GLADSTONE
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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at Greenfield Rd.

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15131 Sheldon Rd.
(Sheldon at 5 Mile Rd.)

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he Solomons family
reunion was no ordinary
gathering with a tasty bar-
becue and annoying rela-
tives: This unusual get-together cele-
brated an American Jewish pioneer.
Upon discovering their distin-
guished pedigree, 60 descendants of
Ezekiel Solomons, an 18th-century
Jewish fur trader known as Michigan's
first Jewish settler, recently gathered at
Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw
City, Mich., at the tip of the Lower
Peninsula.
Thom Smith, a Franciscan friar in
Indian River, Mich., organized the
event. He discovered four years ago
that Solomons was his fifth great-
grandfather.
Over the last few years, Smith has
made contact with hundreds of
Solomons' descendants living in the
Great Lakes region of both the United
States and Canada. Because many of
the six Solomons children had families
of 10 to 12 children, he estimates that
thousands more remain to be discov-
ered.
"Ezekiel is really an inspiration to us
because of his love of faith and his
love of family," Smith said.
Sheldon and Judith Godfrey, a hus-
band-and-wife team of historians from
Toronto, were honored guests at the
two-day event because of the extensive
original research on Solomons that
they conducted for their 1995 book,
Search Out the Land: The Jews and the
Growth of Equality in British Colonial
America, 1740-1867 (McGill-Queen's
University Press; $60).
The Godfreys carried the additional
distinction of being the only Jews at
the reunion. Although Solomons
remained loyal to his Jewish faith
throughout his life, he married a
Roman Catholic, Louise Dubois, and
all of their six children were baptized
and raised as Catholics.
The gathering included a few
Catholic clergy and nuns, as well as
some people with French Canadian
ancestry and members of the Metis,
Ojibwa and other native groups.
Descendants of several area lighthouse
keepers were also in attendance.

Many came from towns in
Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario,
while a few traveled from more distant
cities like Toronto, Vancouver and
Miami.
"All were very positive about their
Jewish ancestry and wanted to know
as much as they could about their
Jewish heritage," Sheldon Godfrey
said.
Family members believe Solomons
was born about 1735, but because of
the research done by the Godfreys,
they are no longer certain of his birth-
place. An elderly great-grandson said
in 1900 that the illustrious fur trader
was born in Berlin, but Sheldon
Godfrey has a different theory.
. "I believe he was one of the many
Bohemian Jews who were expelled by
the Empress Maria Theresa about
1746," he said. "The Jewish refugees
of the 18th century came from
Bohemia," a region that is today part
of the Czech Republic.

"All were very
positive about their
Jewish ancestry."

— Sheldon Godfrey

Before the Godfreys, few scholars
had managed to penetrate deeply into
Ezekiel Solomons' colorful career. He
is regarded as a somewhat elusive his-
torical figure because, unlike other
Jewish pioneers of the period, he was
illiterate in English and left no papers
to posterity.
He was part of a consortium of five
Jewish traders who received permission
from the British to establish a trading
post at Fort Michilimackinac in 1761.
The venture was considered poten-
tially lucrative, but enormously risky.
It ended abruptly on June 2, 1763, the
date of a native attack on the British
stronghold known as the Pontiac
uprising.
As one of the lucky few to escape
with their lives, Solomons was cap-
tured and ransomed to British forces
in Montreal.
In 1963, with assistance from the

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