- Historians Respond
“Items relating to the Rebellion of the Southerners”
Among the material in the collection gathered by Rabbi Jacques Judah Lyons are two items that reveal the loyalties of the Jews of New York’s Shearith Israel Congregation. The items are undated but because of their content and order of events, April and May of 1861 seem the most plausible date for both. The Items relating to the Rebellion of the Southerners (five pages) lists examples of conspicuous demonstrations of loyalty by Jewish New Yorkers. The first two pages note the names of Jews enlisting in the Union army, followed by individual and institutional Jewish contributions like “The Jewish Hospital [which] tendered a ward for the wounded and sick of the arms.” Rabbi Lyons’ notes include early wartime curiosities like “Hendricks Brothers: after selling $1,200 worth of lead and receiving a check in pay discovered it was to be sent to Georgia they returned the check and reclaimed their lead” (p. 3). The example of the ‘Hendricks Brothers’ refusing to sell lead to Confederate customers presents Southerners attempting to purchase warmaterial legally after the outbreak of the war. Further research might show if the brothers refused to sell only because a check from Georgia would likely bounce if paid in Confederate States of America dollars or because of their loyalty. Also, Lyons records a Southern Jew, a Mr. Lazarus from South Carolina, who had been a broker at Wall Street. Mr. Lazarus “realized some money . . . [and] gave $500 to the Southern Confederacy.” Upon his return to New York he contracted a fever and was “advised by his friends and others to leave the city which he did one day last week.” Lyons equally notes briefly the expulsion of Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore who “preached in favor of the Union.”
These notes present the disentanglement of two U.S. regions during the first days of war. Lyons’ list should be the starting point for further research. The incidents and episodes listed—of which David Einhorns’s plight is the best-known1—are the treasures for the historian. They demonstrate the challenges for those Jews who were caught in the wrong half of the now divided country and whose allegiance belonged to the enemy region. [End Page 83]
The Jewish Ladies Assisting the Defenders of the Union (April 1861), on the other hand, describes the transition of public demonstrations of Jewish loyalty to the cause from those done by individuals to the those initiated by the community. The document records the minutes of a meeting of the ‘ladies of the Shearith Israel Congregation” in New York. Rabbi Lyons personally appeared before them “call[ing] the attention of the ladies to the condition of their country recently so prosperous and tranquel [sic] now distracted by the cry of war and menaced with disunion.” He appreciated that “many are the sacrifices they have already made and much sympathy has been evinced.” Lyons complained that the ladies’ efforts had been disorganized, driven by individuals rather than institutions. Why, he asked, must it appear to others that “the daughters of Israel remain silent whilst all other are publicly engaged in the good & noble works.” Being the “descendents of those . . . who participated in the struggles of the revolution of 1776,” Lyons urged the ladies to “organize their efforts more effectively.” The author of the document recorded that, after long debates and repeated meetings, the ladies answered the reverend’s call: “A flag is hoisted out of the window of the Synagogue [Shearith Israel] and prayers are said every Sabboth.”
In his preroration to the Jewish ladies of his congregation, Lyons connected the Civil War neatly to the American Revolution. He described the War as a conflict to ensure the survival of the American republic in the form that the ancestors of his audience had fought and died for some eighty years before. Interestingly, the descendants of older Jewish families in the South argued much the same. The secession of the Confederacy was seen by them as standing in the tradition of America severing its ties from Britain. Thus, they believed, the survival of the Confederacy would ensure the survival of...