|Vol. I, No. 8
Heshvan 5604, November 1843
The Jews in Savannah
by Mordecai Sheftall.
In giving place to the subjoined article of Mr. Sheftall, we cannot avoid saying a few words in relation to the names of the first settlers in Savannah. Our correspondent, in No. 5, had spelled the names differently from what we printed them; as we thought that there was a slight inaccuracy in some of them, such as Nunis, Moranda, from the fact that among the names of Portuguese families with which we are familiar, there are those of Nunes and Miranda only. Since, however, Mr. Sheftall attaches some importance to the accuracy of the spelling of the pioneers of his native place, it affords us pleasure to be able to correct them.
We also think that Mr. Sheftall has omitted to do justice in his history of the Synagogue of Savannah to Dr. Jacob De la Motha, now of Charleston, who was mainly instrumental in erecting the first house of God in that city, and officiated without compensation as Hazan during his residence there. Perhaps it is owing to the fact that the Doctor is yet among the living, that Mr. S. omitted making mention of him; still we deem it a matter of sheer justice not to avoid giving credit where it is deserved, although the subject is a personal friend of ours.
We will cheerfully find room for any future corrections; and hope that the labours of our correspondents in Charleston and Savannah relative to the history of their congregations will soon be imitated by the residents of other cities, as we are very anxious to present a history of all our congregations in America; since so very little is known concerning them in Europe, or even in this country. Shall our wishes be gratified? We trust that our friends will answer in the affirmative, and do whatever is in their power to carry our plan into execution.—Ed. Oc.
Early Settlement of the Israelites in Savannah—Their Religious History—That of their Successors, &c.
Mr. Leeser—The "Occident," a periodical under your editorial auspices, I had the pleasure of reading,—a pleasure sincerely felt, not only from the dignified calmness with which its subject-matter is clothed, but the integrity and fearlessness of detail, in relation to the oppression of the Israelites in some portions of the "Old World." How long the fury of a blind fanaticism will be permitted to prevail, appears to be a problem of difficult solution. The ruling powers are enslaved by their malignant prejudices, which place them in open hostility with the hallowed principles of free toleration. The moral sense of all enlightened nations must turn with feelings of deep disgust from a benighted bigotry, which seeks to fetter the human mind, and bow down man's conscience,—that arbitrarily institutes a system of supervision, in which cruelty and intolerance compose its cardinal points. Can we trust for an amelioration of the condition of the Israelites to the onward march of science? Must we conclude that from "the clouds that lowered on our house," persecution, like some absolute monarch, who dispenses life and death, is still for time to come, to superadd to the great mass of iniquity which so unrelentingly afflicts the humble worshippers of one God? In these United States, as you well know, citizens professing different religions or different religious sects, are constitutionally placed on the same political footing. The federal compact recognises no ecclesiastical establishment, no union of church and state, and "FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OF THE PRESS," are deeply inscribed in capitals on its enduring pillars.
I propose, Mr. Editor, to furnish you for the "Occident," with the names of the Israelite emigrants who embarked at London for Savannah, their arrival and landing, also some portion of the religious history of these early settlers, and of others of like religious faith, who succeeded them. And I am the more induced to do this, from the very "imperfect historical sketch of the Jews, and the Hebrew congregation of this city," furnished by your correspondent over the signature of "A Southern Jew." The author's omissions are so manifest, that one, feeling no ordinary interest in the history of the Israelites of 1733, and the "Hebrew Congregation," is constrained to step forward to supply his omissions, and correct, as early as practicable, his mistakes. I entertain not a vestige of doubt, that they have arisen from the scanty materials the author possessed, and the injudicious haste which signally marks his communication. The highly interesting facts which I am about to narrate, are derived from two authentic sources. First, from the writings of my grandfather, Mr. Benjamin Sheftall, who recorded in the Hebrew language, and translated them into English at the request of his son. Second, from the writings of his son, Levi Sheftall, Esq., who, after his father's decease, recorded every important event connected with the condition of the Israelites; arrivals, departures, marriages, births, deaths, &c., to the first of July in the year 1808. The manuscripts are in my possession and have been since 1809, (the year my father departed this life.) I transcribe verbatim et literatim. You have the facts in the phraseology in which they are stated. On the first page of one of the manuscripts, my father, who was one of the number who arrived at Savannah 11th July, 1733, kept a book, of which this is a copy, of ALL the Jews that came here, were born here, and went away. I was anxious to have it, and my father, translated it into English for me from the Hebrew."
Manuscript pages 1 and 2. "The names of the Jews who arrived in Savannah, Georgia, on the 11th day of July, 1733. Doctor Nunis, Mrs. Nunis his mother, Daniel Nunis, Moses Nunis, Sipra Nunis, Shem Noah their servant, Isaac Nunis Henriques, his wife Mrs. Henriques, Shem their son, Raphael Bornal, his wife Mrs. Bornal, David Olivera, Jacob Olivera, his wife Mrs. Olivera, David their son, Isaac their son, Leah Olivera their daughter, Aaron Depivea, Benjamin Gideon, Jacob Costa, David Lopass Depass and his wife, Vene Real, Molena, David Moranda, Jacob Moranda, David Cohen and his wife, Isaac Cohen their son, Abigail their daughter, Hannah their daughter, Grace their daughter, Abraham Minis and his wife, Leah their daughter, Esther their daughter, Simeon Minis, brother to Mr. Minis, Jacob Yowall, Benjamin Sheftall and his wife, Abraham Delyon. Isaac Nunis Henriques had a child who died on board the ship*. These persons were the first of our nation who came to this country. They brought with them a Safer Tora, with two cloaks, and a Circumcision Box, which were given to them by Mr. Lindo, a merchant in London, for the use of the congregation they intended to establish."
*Of the first settlers, I find very few of their deaths recorded, which strongly confirms the information I received and have stated elsewhere, that many of them emigrated to Charleston in 1740 and 1741.
The following are the names of the males who dies in Savannah, viz.:
Abraham Minis died 13th January, 1757, aged 63 years. Benjamin Sheftall died 3rd October, 1767, aged 73 years. Daniel Nunis died 20th September, 1789, aged 85 years. Moses Nunis died 6th September, 1787, aged 82 years.
Philip Minis, son of Abraham Minis, born in the city of Savannah, on the 11th day of July, 1734, died 6th March, 1789, aged 54 years, 7 months, 23 days.
Mordecai Sheftall, son of Benjamin Sheftall, born in the city of Savannah, on the 2nd of December, 1735, died 6th July, 1797, aged 61 years, 6 months, 23 days.
Levi Sheftall, son of Benjamin Sheftall, born in the city of Savannah, on the 12th of December, 1739, died 26th January, 1809, aged 69 years, 1 month, 14 days.
The manuscript being silent as to the Hechal, I applied to my venerable kinsman, Sheftall Sheftall, Esq., anticipating from his advanced age, unblemished integrity, and unworn memory, that he could probably furnish some information as to the time it was received here, and from whence it came. He stated to me, that he was told by his father, the late Mordecai Sheftall, Esq., (eldest son of Benjamin Sheftall,) that the Hechal was brought from London by the Israelites who arrived in Savannah 11th July, 1733. It is the same which is now used in the Synagogue. The manuscript does not contain the name of the ship in which the embarkation of the Israelites took place, nor the day of the month that she left London for her port of destination. The Sheftalls, Mordecai and Levi, had it from their father, Benjamin Sheftall, and which they frequently related with sensations of honest pride, that all the Israelites who came to Savannah paid their passage, laid in all necessary supplies for their intended voyage, and were in nowise dependent on the favour or charity of the British crown for one dollar to facilitate their emigration. The captain of the ship which brought them to Savannah was named Beverly Robinson. It is strange, that neither M'Call, in his History of Georgia, the biographer of General Oglethorpe, nor Doctor Stephens, in his "Historical Notices of Savannah," mentions one word of the early arrival and location of the Israelites here, particularly, as in July 1733, they actually composed ONE-THIRD (rather more) of the population of Savannah. How facts so intimately associated with the settlement of Georgia, should have escaped the scrutiny, vigilance, and acute research of these writers, I cannot reasonably conjecture; but this much I feel no hesitation in asserting, that the arrival and settlement of the Israelites in Savannah on the 11th July, 1733, is part of and inseparably interwoven with, the rise and progress of the then colony of Georgia, and will not be disregarded by any future accurate historian.
The Israelites sailed from London in the second ship which left that port for Savannah. When the ship first started, she sustained some serious injury in the river Thames, and was compelled to land her passengers and undergo repairs. After this was accomplished, a re-embarkation of the passengers took place, and the ship set sail for the "New World." The passage was a disagreeable and boisterous one; gale succeeded gale, and the ship came near being wrecked off the coast of North Carolina, and was forced to seek safety in "New Inlet," where she was necessarily detained for some weeks. She again set sail, and arrived and landed her passengers in Savannah on the 11th day of July, 1733, four days after "the wards and tithings were named," and the assigning of the lots. The first vessel which left England for Savannah was the "Ann, galley, of 200 tons burthen;" she "set sail from Gravesend, 17th November, 1732, with about 130 persons," (116 persons, none of them Israelites.) "All the people arrived in Savannah 1st February, 1733." The next embarkation of colonists, (after the Israelites,) numbering about 220 persons, sailed from England on the 13th October, 1735, more than two years after the arrival of the Israelites in Savannah. Of the first Israelite settlers, there live here the descendants of only three, viz., Sheftalls, Minises, and Delyons.
Now for the religious history, manuscript page 4. "Month of July, 1733. The Jews met, and agreed to open a Synagogue, name K. K. Mickva Israel." A house was rented in Market Square, on a lot now the property of Mr. Aaron Champion, and put in proper order, where divine service was regularly performed for years.—Manuscript page 7. "1737, July 12. Mr. Benjamin Mendez, of London, sent to this congregation a Safer Tora, also a lamp for the Feast of Hannucca, and a quantity of books: they were consigned to the particular care of Mr. Isaac De Cunica, who delivered them." The Safers which we now have are those given by Messrs. Lindo and Mendez, and are the same that were used in the consecration of the present Synagogue. The congregation must have been dissolved by removals in the year 1740 and 1741; as I have been credibly informed that in those years many of the Israelites emigrated to Charleston, in the State of South Carolina.