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May 03, 2007 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-05-03

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Special Report




in Michian
Ezekiel Solomon's g
ega n: 7
l'ort ktichilimackina `n arri val

Michigan's Pioneers from page 13

Above: Speakers and committee mem-
bers rally around the historic marker.
From left, Karen Alpiner, Judith Levin
Cantor, Sen. Carl Levin, Judge Avern
Cohn, Samuel Logan Jr., David Page,
Hannan Lis and Ellen Cole.

Left: Tamarack Camps and Fresh Air
Society representatives re-enact the
landing of fur trader Chapman Abraham,
who was the first Jew to arrive in

Chapman Abraham on page 13

early fall, he commuted back to
Montreal with the canoes laden high
with beaver furs to be shipped to
Abraham commanded a group of five
canoes – bateaux – each 36-40 feet
long and 4-5 feet wide. Coming west,
each would be loaded with 40 pounds
of supplies for each French voyageur
(crewman) for the half year and 150
pounds of personal supplies for the
British commander of Fort Detroit.
The additional cargo included rum and
brandy, guns, shot and powder, dry
goods, needles, pots, pans and food to
supply the locals in the fort.
Each canoe would have a total
weight of from 7,000 to 8,000 pounds,
which had to be portaged when
encountering fierce rapids or water-
On the return east, in order to pack
the canoes as high as possible with
beaver, it is said that Abraham pre-


May 3 2007

ferred hiring the voyageurs with the
shortest legs to paddle the canoes.
Once back in Montreal, the archives
reveal that Abraham attended the
Sephardic High Holiday services and
that he was given an aliyah at his
synagogue, Shearith Israel, the oldest
in North America.
In addition to braving storms, rapids,
falls and portages, Abraham was cap-
tured by hostile Native Americans and
threatened with death. Chief Pontiac,
fearing the takeover of the native
lands by the British, led an insurrec-
tion against the British all along the
Great Lakes. Head of the Ottawa tribe,
Pontiac's headquarters are said to
have been on Apple Island, clearly vis-
ible from Long Lake and Orchard Lake
Allying with neighboring tribes,
Chief Pontiac organized attacks on the
British-held forts all the way from Fort
Detroit to Fort Niagara.
As Abraham was coming up the
Detroit River, Pontiac's men captured

Photo courtesy American Jewish Archives

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Chapman Abraham's will from 1783
— note the signature in Hebrew.

him and tied him to the stake to be
burned alive. Miraculously, Abraham's
life was eventually spared by his cap-
tors in exchange for a chief of the
Potawatomi tribe. The poet Stephen
Vincent Benet tells this tale in the


(RCD), nearby at 1300 Lafayette.
"We celebrate a past presence and a
current presence in Detroit, which is an
important part of who we are he said
at the marker dedication. "So many Jews
and Jewish philanthropists have left their
stamp on Detroit. Our community has
made a difference in so many ways.
"The marker is a wonderful reminder
of what we as Jews found in this city that
has treated us so well."
Harriet Saperstein of Detroit, also an
RCD member, observed an engraved
tribute to the black presence in Detroit
— just a few feet from the Jewish marker.
"It's good to have our marker along
with the history of blacks in Detroit:' she
said. "It reminds us of the diversity and
heritage of Detroit and the many dif-
ferent ethnic groups that contribute to
making this city great. It also reminds us
of the ties between the Jewish and black
Cantor hopes other ethnic groups will
consider erecting testaments to their con-
tributions to Detroit and Michigan along
the park's walkway.
Following the dedication, participants
enjoyed music by the Detroit Symphony
Orchesta Civic Jazz Ensemble, refresh-
ments provided by Matt Prentice
Catering and leisurely strolls in the sun
around this new riverfront park, with its
lighthouse, picnic tables, boat slips and
plenty of spots to fish for walleye. ❑

famous epic, "Jacob and the Indians."
When the plucky fur trader first
arrived at Fort Detroit in pre-
Revolutionary times, there were about
750 English here. Under the name
Chapman Abraham and Company, he
established a successful business and
built a home in the fort, commuting
between Montreal and Detroit for two
By the time of Abraham's death in
1783, Detroit's population had grown
to 2,191. As requested in Abraham's
will, which he signed in Hebrew, he was
buried back in Montreal, in Shearith
Israel's cemetery.
His story has been recognized as
an important part of our Detroit River
history and a fascinating part of our
Michigan Jewish history.

Sources: The Beth El Story, Irving Katz,

Wayne State University Press, 1955; Jews in

Michigan, Judith Levin Cantor, Michigan State

University Press, 2001; Arnold Collens, confer-


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