Vol. I, No. 5
Jews in Savannah.
Savannah, Georgia, July 16th, 1843.
To the Rev. Isaac Leeser.
My dear Sir,—The establishment of public journals and periodicals by the Jews in Europe and this country must be productive of much good, not only in advocating and elucidating our holy faith, but in collecting and disseminating information of "the dispersed of Israel."
Under this impression I have been induced to prepare and forward for publication in your valuable journal, what I regret to say is but an imperfect historical sketch of the Jews, and the Hebrew congregation in this city. The Colony of Georgia was settled in 1732, under the auspices of General Oglethorpe, whose "strong benevolence of soul" was sung by Pope, and commented upon by all the good and great men of his day. The end and aim of those who settled Georgia was charity in its widest and most extended sense, and the motto on the seal of the Trustees spoke but the language of truth: Non sibi sed aliis—Not for ourselves, but for others. A colony springing into existence under such auspices, with a fertile soil, and a genial climate, soon became an asylum for the oppressed of every land, and every faith. The door was opened wide to all—land was granted to each emigrant, and toleration, raising its broad and ample banner, proclaimed to all entire freedom of conscience. Under these circumstances it was to be expected that the Jew, with no country "but the grave," would speedily seek that land where, "under his own vine and his own fig tree," he might worship the God of his fathers, "with none to molest or make him afraid." Accordingly, we find that as early as 1733 about forty Jews sailed from London, or, in the language of the original memorandum (kept in Hebrew, and still preserved in this city), "voluntarily embarked from London, and paid their passages thence to this country, and arrived in Savannah, in the State of Georgia, on the eleventh day of July, 1733."
The following are the names of those Jews who, thus early, found a home in the new Colony of Georgia, to wit, Benjamin Sheftall and wife, Dr. Nunes and his mother, Moses Nunes, Daniel Nunes, and Shem Noah, their servant, Isaac Nunes Henriques and wife and son, Raphael Bernal and wife, David Olivera, Jacob Olivera and wife, and three children, Aaron Depevia, Benjamin Gideon, Jacob Crosta, David L. Depass and wife, Mr. Veneral, Mr. Molera, David Miranda, Jacob Miranda, David Cohen and wife, son, and three daughters, Abraham Minis and wife, and two daughters, Simeon Minis, Jacob Yowell, and Abraham D'Lyon.
Of these emigrants, the Sheftalls, Minis, and D'Lyons remained in Georgia, and their numerous descendants are still inhabitants of our city, many of whom have and still do occupy offices of honour, profit, and trust. I have no means of ascertaining what has become of the others. We have every reason to know that even in this land of strangers Israel's God was not forgotten, but that here, amidst savage Indians, and in Georgia's dark forests, the great I AM was worshipped, and in the same language in which Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob prayed, which was heard on Sinai, and in the gorgeous temple of Solomon, and in which the inspired men of God poured forth their prophecies. We have, however, no earlier record than the 29th of August, 1790, on which day we find a resolution "that application be made to His Excellency, the Governor, to incorporate this Congregation as a body politic, by the name of Mickva Israel," and accordingly a charter of incorporation was granted on the 30th of November, 1790. The Jews, however, as a Congregation, had, prior to their incorporation, assembled regularly in a private house, on the Sabbaths and holy days, and there worshipped God according to the forms and faith of their ancestors, and subsequently a room was rented for that purpose. But on the 19th day of April, 1820, the corner stone of a place for public worship was laid, with appropriate ceremonies, on a lot which had been previously granted to the Jewish Congregation by the Corporation of the City. This building was completed and consecrated, and used for public worship according to the forms of the Portuguese Jews, until December, 1827, when it was consumed by fire. This calamity left the Jews without a place of worship, and they had recourse again to a rented room. In 1837 they opened a subscription among their fellow-citizens, by which they raised the sum of eleven hundred dollars, which, with the money received from the insurance on the Synagogue destroyed by fire, and private contributions, they were enabled in 1838 to erect the neat brick temple, which you consecrated to the service of Almighty God on the 24th of February, 1841.
The Jews in this city have never had the means of employing a regular Hazan, or rather such a one as would suit them, and whenever service has been performed, it has always been done gratuitously by some member of the Congregation. But they are not unmindful of the all-important subject, and with commendable zeal are now taking steps to insure (at no distant day) to themselves and their posterity the blessing and the comfort of a spiritual teacher. Foremost in this work of love and faith have been Israel's daughters, upon whose efforts the blessings of a beneficent God have rested.
To aid in the object of obtaining a permanent fund from which the Hazan may be supported, the Jewish ladies determined on giving a Fair, and in March last put their plan in execution. They were nobly sustained by every Christian sect in this city, and realized more than sixteen hundred dollars, which has already been profitably and safely invested. That spirit of charity which presided at the birth of our Colony, still reigns and sheds its benign influence over the hearts of our Christian friends; and on this occasion charity was seen in all its loveliness, and felt in all its heavenly force—prejudice and sectarian intolerance stood rebuked and abashed, and the heart of the Jew was gladdened by the tender sympathy and open-handed charity of the Christian. Although not strictly within the scope of this communication, yet I cannot suffer this occasion to pass by without acknowledging with heartfelt gratitude, the kindness and liberality of our Jewish brethren abroad. We received contributions from Canada, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Georgetown, and Charleston. Nor must we fail to remember that we were also aided by some of our people in Bordeaux (in France), and in Liverpool, and Hackney, England.
Such, sir, is (as I have already said) an imperfect sketch of the history of the Jews in this city, and I may add with pride and thankfulness to God, that they have always been a respected and useful body of citizens. They defended their country and its liberties in the way of the Revolution, and their names may be seen among the founders of every charitable and literary society in this city, and in return they have received the most marked and undeviating kindness and liberality from their fellow-citizens. At this very time the City Judge and Sheriff are Jews—the Collector of the Port is a Jew, and a Jew occupies a seat in the Legislature of the State from this city, and is a member of the Board of Aldermen, besides other offices of minor importance, which are filled by Jews.
In conclusion, I would invoke the blessings of Heaven on that city whose characteristic virtues are charity and liberality.
A SOUTHERN JEW.