Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

American Jews Helped Develop West, Jewish Historical Society Hears

October 26, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

(Jewish Daily Bulletin)

American Jews, the early Jewish settlers in Philadelphia, were the principle backers of the development of the West. This fact of American history was brought out by Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, president, in his address before the thirty-fourth annual meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society here.

“It is not generally known,” he stated, “that the early Jewish settlers of Philadelphia were the prime movers in the settlement of the early West and were the employers of Colonel George Groghan and Daniel Boone and owned the sites of Chicago and St. Louis. They were partners in land projects with Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Robert Morris.”

The present participation of Jews in real estate endeavors and land developments, is, in the opinion of Dr. Rosenbach, a reversion to type, an inheritance from their early ancestors in America.

One hundred and fifty scholars, members of the society, attended the meeting.

The Jewish contribution to the history of American independence was the striking keynote of the fourteen papers read before the three sessions.

Dr. Rosenbach, referred to the exhibit of imprints relating to Jewish contributions since the founding of America up to 1850 which formed one of the most interesting features of the sessions. Dr. Rosenbach’s address covered a period of two hundred and fifteen years, beginning with 1640 and concluding with 1850.

Of curious interest is the fact, he stated, that the Bay Psalm Book published in Cambridge, Mass., in 1640, should contain Hebrew type, and that the first book printed in New York, “Keith’s New England Spirit of Persecution Transmitted to Pennsylvania,” published by William Bradford, New York’s first printer, in 1693, also contained Hebrew characters.

He pointed to the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue possessed by early New England leaders, such as Increase Mather and Cotton Mather.

He referred to the early Hebrew Grammars and Lexicons printed in New England and then went on to speak of the first Jewish prayer book which was printed in New York in 1761. The first alphabet of the Hebrew language came from the press of Benjamin Franklin’s printing master, Samuel Keimer, who issued an Ephemeris, containing a Hebrew alphabet in 1726.

Dr. Rosenbach spoke also about the pamphlets relating to the participation of the Jews in the Revolutionary War, and stated that the first Fourth of July oration was by William Gordon, issued on July 4, 1777, the first anniversary of the signing, who chose for his subject the separation of the Jewish tribes.

He referred also to the proclamation of Benedict Arnold to the people of Philadelphia, asking them to keep supplies on hand for the use of the American army. This proclamation, he stated, was really the work of his Jewish secretary, Colonel David S. Franks, and was issued in 1776.

One of the most interesting developments of his address was the announcement that William Makepeace Thackeray, the distinguished English author owed the first appearance of his literary endeavors to a Jew. His name was Abraham Hart and he lived in Philadelphia. The book in question was Thackeray’s first volume and was entitled “The Yellow Plush Papers.” Its publication in 1863, by Hart, was Thackeray’s first volume to be published anywhere, anticipating by many years, the appearance of the same book in England.

Dr. Rosenbach also discussed the early synagogues in America, religious schools and educational projects, as well as early Jewish dramatists and literary people, and gave an account of the establishment in America of the Jewish periodical press.

Recommended from JTA