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We recommend — Strangers & Natives: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America, 1734-1869

“God forbid that any native country, whose boast is to be free and happy herself, should cease to afford to the sons and daughters of sorrow, fleeing from the wrongs and miseries of European depotism, a hearty welcome and a happy home!” — Enoch S. Wines, 1844

Strangers & Natives: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America, 1734-1869
Ron Rubin
Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2019
E184.352 R83 2019 General Collections, Level 2

Dr. Ronald Rubin, for years a donor of wonderful items to Rare Books, has published Strangers & Natives, focusing on the formation of Jewish congregations and organizations and the involvement of Jews in education, literature, journalism, politics, the marketplace, and the military using newspaper articles, advertisements, announcements, and obituaries from North American British colonial times through the United States Civil War, most culled from his own large collection. Dr. Rubin added contextual descriptions and historical references to 179 newspaper items, fleshing out the people, events, and scenes.

In his Introduction, Rubin writes, “The immediacy and unadulterated quality of newspaper accounts underscore their value as primary sources inherent to the historical process.” (The J. Willard Marriott Library has made the scanning of local and regional newspapers, most of which were collected and saved by Special Collections for decades, a goal of its collection development. For more about this project click here.)

Rubin quotes Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), publisher and printer, “[Newspapers] have become the vehicles of discussion, in which the principles of government, the interests of nations, the spirit and tendency of public measures, and the public and private character of individuals, are all arraigned, tried, and decided.” Thomas continued, “There are few of them…which have not added to their political details, some curious and useful information, on the various subjects of literature, science and art. They have thus become the means of conveying, to every class in society, innumerable scraps of knowledge, which have at once increased the public intelligence, and extended the taste for perusing periodical publications. The advertisements, moreover, which they daily contain, respecting new books, projects, inventions, discoveries and improvements, are well calculated to enlarge and enlighten the public mind.” While extolling their worth, Thomas recognized problems with newspapers, as well,”Too many of our gazettes are in the hands of persons destitute at once of the urbanity of gentlemen, the information of scholars, and the principles of virtue.”

Rubin uses Thomas’ thesis to build an argument regarding the worth of newspapers as a way to understand a minority population in a burgeoning country. “Newspapers reveal that Jews, despite their small numbers and non-Christian heritage, did not feel alienated, actually contributing significantly in the development of the federal republic. This conclusion particularly emerges based on ads, which in most newspapers comprised at least half of the edition’s space. These ads testify to the activity of Jews in many diverse fields in advancing the nation’s welfare such as commerce, finance, crafts, shipping, book sales and journalism…based on press accounts, we learn that Jews traded on the frontier, worked as administrators in schools for the deaf, announced marriages (sometime with non-Jews), paid for ads about returning lost wallets to their owners, sold their used furniture and, to be sure, also owned slaves…Politically, newspapers show that Jews were devoted to the American enterprise. Jewish names were included in published protests against British taxation.”

Newspapers also reveal bigotry, writes Rubin, “…certain newspapers carried insults and smears. Some of these attacks were based on alleged character shortcomings such as greed, dishonesty and uncouthness. Newspapers made possible swift reaction to all sorts of comments found in the same medium. After being attacked in a newspaper, Benjamin Nones (1757-1826) responded in another, ‘I am a Jew, and if for no other reason, for that reason I am a republican…Among the nations of Europe we are inhabitants everywhere but citizens, nowhere unless in republics. In republics we have rights, in monarchies we live but to experience wrongs.'”

Along with many first editions, Dr. Rubin has donated several issues of early North American newspapers to Rare Books, including The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1763; The Pennsylvania Packet, 1781; The Independent Gazetteer, or The Chronicle of Freedom, 1783; Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser, 1791; The Charleston Mercury, 1856; Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, 1776 and 1800; The Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, 1786; United States Gazette for the Country, 1806; Salem Gazette, 1817; Christian Mirror, 1828; and The War, 1812-1813. Most of these issues contain items with connections to the Jewish community.

Dr. Rubin uses several examples from Niles’ Weekly Register (Baltimore), of which Rare Books has a full run, inherited from the Utah Territorial Library.

from December 15, 1816, Niles’ Weekly Register
“‘The Jews’ relays information from a ‘late magazine’ that an expenditure assessed on the public of some fine hundred thousand dollars resulted in the ‘convertion’ of five Jews to Christianity – ‘a pretty round sum for Christendome to make [such a purchase…’ The blurb then asks the question, ‘Whether Jews convert Christians or Christians convert Jews, what is it to us in this land of civil and religious liberty?'” — Strangers and Natives

from May 29, 1819, Niles’ Weekly Register
“Maryland’s first Constitution, written in 1776, required all public servants to take a Christian oath. Such an oath not only applied to government officials, but also jurors, lawyers and militia officers. In 1818, Thomas Kennedy (1776, Scotland-1832, Maryland), a member of the Maryland House of Delegates; Col. William G. D. Worthington (1785-1856), who held several positions in city, state and federal government; and Judge Henry M. Brackenridge (1786-1871), a lawyer, journalist and politician, began an eight-year battle to overturn this undemocratic standard. This legislation, known as the ‘Jew Bill’ was originally defeated in 1819, but became law in 1826.” — Strangers and Natives

from October 21, 1820, Niles’ Weekly Register
“Maryland’s first Constitution, adopted in 1776, retained a colonial provision requiring public officials to uphold the Christian faith. It was not until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 that Jews in every state were accorded full political equality. As early as 1797, Maryland Jews protested this inferior political status. It was not until 1826 that the Maryland legislature removed the political disabilities.” — Strangers and Natives

from January 4, 1823, Niles’ Weekly Register
“Congregation Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia’s oldest synagogue, was always a bastion of nationalism. An example of this leaning was the speech of dedication on September 23, 17882, given by the Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas, who had fled his own New York City synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, after the British captured that city curing the Revolutionary War.” — Strangers & Natives

from March 19, 1825, Niles’ Weekly Register
“This issue of Niles’ Weekly Register included a report that the pope ‘lately issued an edict for the conversion of the Jews…'”

from October 14, 1826, Niles’ Weekly Register
“In the first election following the passage of the Jew Bill in Maryland, allowing Jews to hold public office, two Jews were elected to the Baltimore City Council, Solomon Etting (1764-1847), who was elected president of the first branch of the city council at the time, and Jacob I. Cohen, Jr. (1789-1869), who would serve for several more terms and be elected first branch president from 1849 to 1851, [and] had been instrumental in getting the Jew Bill passed. Cohen would later also serve as secretary-treasurer of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners for eight years after helping get it established.” — Strangers and Natives

from November 28, 1829, Niles’ Weekly Register
Rothschilds Purchase Jerusalem

“A report that the Rothschilds ‘have purchased Jerusalem’ from the Sultan draws a highly positive reaction from this article’s author. Given the great wealth of this banking family, notes the author, it is not surprising that they would engineer such a move.”  — Strangers and Natives

from November 16, 1844, Niles’ Register
“In response to growing demands for restrictions on immigrants, this issue of the Register carries an article by Professor Enoch S. Wines, a Christian theologian, on the naturalization law of Moses. Professor Wines, clearly referring to prospects of future Jewish immigration, argued, ‘God forbid that any native country, whose boast is to be free and happy herself, should cease to afford to the sons and daughters of sorrow, fleeing from the wrongs and miseries of European depotism, a hearty welcome and a happy home!'” — Strangers and Natives

Dr. Rubin devotes an entire chapter to Mordecai M. Noah (1785-1851), editor, politician, and Zionist, “among the most colorful [of] American Jews — and the most important lay leader — of the post-Revolutionary era. His father was a Portuguese Sephardic Jew and Revolutionary War hero.”

from November 25, 1831, Niles’ Weekly Register
“While Mordecai M. Noah’s Jewish commitments were undeniable, the self-promoting aspect in the way he tried to execute those commitments turned off many people. Thus, the dedication ceremony of Grand Island as Ararat, the restored home of the Jews, September 25, 1825, drew much criticism. Cannons boomed and Noah, garbed in crimson judicial robes proclaimed himself as “Governor and Judge of Israel.” In this article, the author wonders sarcastically whether President Andrew Jackson knew of Noah’s pedigree when he appointed him to the post of surveyor of the Port of New York.” — Strangers & Natives

In the Times and Seasons, the official newspaper of the Latter-day Saints, four columns are devoted in the July 15th, 1844 issue to Noah’s views.

from Times and Seasons, July 15, 1844
“Most of the text consists of a letter Noah wrote to the Boston Mercantile Journal on June 18, 1844 dealing with Jewish population figures. But the editor takes issue with Noah in an introductory note: ‘The belief of Mr. Noah, however,…is all wind. God will never ask Christendome to do what he declared in the scripture, he will do himself.” — Strangers & Natives

Rare Books has a full run of the Times and Seasons.

In his introduction to Strangers & Natives, Professor Jonathan D. Sarna (Brandeis University) writes, “Ron Rubin, in this marvelous book…had to select judiciously, for hundreds of other articles about Jews likewise appeared, more than any single book could contain. The urban character of early American Jewry…within an overwhelmingly Christian American society, and the fast-growing American Jewish population that mushroomed from less than a thousand in 1745 to more than 150,000 in 1869 all help to explain this journalistic fascination. News about Jews piqued the nation’s curiosity….Replete with fascinating articles from American Jewry’s early days, one hopes that it will stimulate readers to learn more about the American Jewish community’s beginnings…based…on actual primary sources, early American newspapers.”

We invite you to use the Rare Books collection of early American newspapers to make your own explorations. And we recommend Strangers & Natives as inspiration for what you can discover. Congratulations, Dr. Rubin!


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