- The Transreagional Mobility of Jews from Macon, Ga., 1860–1880
In 1880, at least one Jewish General Lee lived in the North, and one Jewish Lincoln in the South. Both were the children of German immigrants. North Carolina-born General Lee Reichman, the son of a Confederate veteran, now lived in New York City; New York-born Lincoln Eichberg, the son of a Union veteran, in Atlanta. Their parents had presumably named their sons for their respective wartime heroes.1 They were not alone in carrying illustrious names, but must have seemed somewhat out of place as adults.2 Beyond revealing their parents’ patriotism, their names testify to the high degree of mobility by Jews immediately after the Civil War.3
A close analysis of a single mid-sized town—Macon, Georgia—helps us to understand Jewish settlement and movement during the period immediately before and after the Civil War.4 Macon thrived between 1860 and 1880 and the Jewish community prospered with it, growing [End Page 21] from about 120 individuals to some 350 two decades later.5 This Jewish population, however, did not remain stable. Reconstruction (1863–77) was a period of a small-scale population exchange between the Jewish communities of North and South—and not only in Macon. Regional identity apparently posed little obstacle to Jews who wished to relocate from one region to the other. Economic opportunity pulled these transregional migrants—many of whom were newcomers to the United States—to new locations.6 Chain migration often eased their way. Many relocated for motives similar to those that had first spurred them to come to America.
Historian Lee Shai Weissbach notes that in small town America, “Jewish immigrants [often] roamed around [the United States] before finding permanent homes.” Newcomers arrived and older settlers moved on.7 Jewish settlers often pulled up stakes if they believed “that the economic climate was better elsewhere.”8 So it was with Macon. Many Jews came to the town in order to manage Southern branches of Northern business concerns. In doing so they acted like many other American migrants. As historian Elliott Ashkenazi emphasizes, “[T]he regional economies of nineteenth-century America had numerous interconnections . . . Jews created ties among the various regions of the country during an era that we are accustomed to regard as one of sectional strife, war, and a divisive postwar period known as Reconstruction.”9 Indeed, despite the notion that the South was a distinct and separate region, every community—whether in North, South or West—was one knot in the net of the American economy. Prior to the Civil War, for example, stores in tiny Butler, Ga., functioned as branches of larger New York businesses. Companies that operated in Atlanta during Reconstruction had [End Page 22] similar ties to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Mississippi. Sometimes these businesses crossed national borders.10 As participants in the dynamic American business scene, Jews moved for a variety of commercial reasons between regions. These interconnected patterns were clearly evident in Macon from the late antebellum period until well after Reconstruction despite considerable political, civil, and racial upheaval during these years.
The Mobility of the Jews of Macon, 1860–1880
In 1880, Macon’s 350 Jews comprised Georgia’s third largest Jewish community. Only Savannah, with some 600 Jewish residents, and Atlanta, with about 525 Jews, had larger populations.11 Macon’s first Jewish settler arrived in 1840, but the Jewish community grew steadily; and within twenty years it established its first congregation, named Beth Israel.12 Immigrants dominated the congregation and in 1869 it still counted only one American-born member. Most of the congregation’s eleven founding members arrived sometime in the mid-1850s, although some had previously lived in Northern states, especially Pennsylvania.13 In 1859 and again ten years later, Beth Israel had just a little more than thirty members—yet only five of them had been affiliated with the congregation in both years. Another three had been members in 1869 but not ten years prior, although they had been in the city then. Those [End Page 23] numbers document the high rate of Jewish mobility in Macon between...