Mordecai Manuel Noah, papers
Scope and Content Note
The Papers of Mordecai Manuel Noah encompass Noah’s professional career, his attempt to create a Jewish State on Grand Island in upstate New York called Ararat, and his correspondence with his wife, Rebecca. The collection is mostly comprised of correspondence, records from Noah’s time as Sheriff and Surveyor of the Port of New York, and other information concerning his professional life, including the collection of letters to his wife.
Most items in the collection were produced during Noah’s lifetime, but there are a number of articles about him and about Grand Island that were written long after his death, indicating an interest in Noah and Ararat that extended well into the twentieth century.
This collection is important to researchers interested in Jews in the United States government in its early years, the documentation of nineteenth century New York's Sheriff and Surveyor offices, early attempts at establishing a Jewish homeland, and the New York Jewish community during the early to mid-nineteenth century. It is also useful in studying the degree of acceptance of an influential nineteenth century Jewish personage in the general American society.
This Collection contains correspondence, customs records, legal proceedings, newspaper clippings, photographs, articles, subpoenas, play programs, and portraits. Items of particular note include: a manuscript list of Noah’s credits and debts resulting from his declaration of 1824 insolvency, associated papers, a portion of the debate regarding the Impeachment of the President of the United States from 1827, a copy of an 1818 letter from President Thomas Jefferson to Noah, and an 1816 letter from Secretary of State James Monroe regarding Noah's dismissal as consul to Tunis, and an 1828 poster with anti-Semitic undertones based on an event where Noah's former business partner, E.J. Roberts, flogged Noah with a cow skin on the steps of New York's Park Theater.
Includes former P-371 and P-741.
- undated, 1816-1851
Language of Materials
The collection is in English.
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
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Mordecai Manuel Noah was born in Philadelphia on July 19, 1785. He was the first son of Manuel Noah, an immigrant from Mannheim, Germany who had served in the Revolutionary War, and Zipporah Phillips, whose grandfather served as Hazan of the Shearith Israel Congregation of New York.
When Noah was 7 years old, his father left home. His mother died shortly thereafter, leaving Mordecai and his younger sister Judith in the care of their maternal grandfather, Jonas Phillips. Phillips greatly influenced Noah as both a Jew, and an American. Despite the fact that three of Noah’s four grandparents were Ashkenazi, Jonas Phillips steered young Mordecai towards the Sephardic traditions, which, at the time, had deeper roots in the United States and garnered more respect and status within the Jewish community. Although his grandfather would only live until 1803, many of Noah’s attitudes, such as his ardent patriotism and his dedication to the Jewish and general societies, were cultivated while under Jonas Phillips’ tutelage.
These attitudes made Noah eager to involve himself in public life. The power of the written word, especially in the form of drama, was evident to him from a young age. He engaged in writing in various forms through out his life. As a playwright he wrote Fortress of Sorrento (1808), She Would Be A Soldier (1819), and Siege of Tripoli (1820), which was produced many times under different titles.
Noah was one of the most conspicuous figures in early American journalism, beginning with his editorship of Charleston's City Gazette. He later published and edited New York's National Advocate and several other newspapers.
In the 1820s, Noah broke off his relationship with the powerful New York political machine of the Tammany Society, and used his skill as a writer and editor to oppose them, publishing the New York Enquirer from 1826 to 1829.
Noah felt that his appointment to an important governmental position would be a way to openly face international challanges to American sovereignty. As he wrote to Secretary of State James Monroe in 1811, his appointment to a consulship would "prove to foreign powers that our government is not regulated in the appointment of their officers by religious distinction." At the age of 26, Noah wrote forceful editorials in Charleston's Gazette regarding the war of 1812. The result of these editorials, and his letters to the government requesting a post, was his appointment as the U.S. Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis in 1813. Noah's subsequent recall because his religion was, in Secretary of State James Monroe's words, "an obstacle to the exercise of [his consular] function." This caused outrage among Jews and non-Jews alike. Noah's own protests were based as much on his fears for injury to the nation's founding principles as on anything he personally suffered.
Upon his return to the United States in 1816, Noah settled in New York where he lived for the rest of his life. There, he was heavily involved in community activities: he served as Sheriff, Judge, and Surveyor of the Port in New York, and resumed his journalism career. He served as an Editor of the New York Advocate for seven years (1816-1824), and was active in general philanthropic pursuits. He helped to found what would become New York University.
In 1827, at the age of forty-two, Noah married seventeen-year-old Rebecca Jackson, daughter of Daniel Jackson, a wealthy and influential New York Ashkenazi Jew. The couple had seven children.
Noah played a major role in New York's Jewish community. As a key orator, he delivered major discourses at important communal gatherings, such as the 1818 Consecration of Congregation Shearith Israel's new building. As a representative of Judaism to the non-Jewish community, he used these discourses and his newspapers to publicize various aspects of Jewish religion and history, as well as Jewish concerns and aspirations. He also maintained correspondences with former Presidents Adams and Jefferson on subjects such as religious freedom and Jewish nationhood. He supported educational efforts in the Jewish community, and even proposed formation of a Hebrew College, a strictly Jewish institution where students could get "a thorough scholarship in every branch of study." Noah was also the President of New York's Hebrew Benevolent Society, and, by using his newspapers to publicize the institution, was able to multiply its funding during his tenure.
During his travels to Europe and the Barbary Coast, the sight of Jews' oppressed conditions had left a profound impression on Noah, and he became focused on the need for Jewish emigration to more hospitable shores. In 1825 he helped purchase a 2,500-acre tract of land on Grand Island in the Niagara River near Buffalo. Here, he envisioned a Jewish colony to be called Ararat, a temporary haven where Jews from persecuted countries could safely await restoration to their ancient Holy Land. The project, undertaken in a highly-publicized style, elicited much interest and discussion, but ultimately failed. After the disappointment of Ararat, Noah regarded Palestine as the only possible homeland for Jews, and frequently lectured and wrote on the subject. His 1844 Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews is one of the most well-known works on this topic, in which he expressed ideas that preceded the modern Zionists by more than half a century.
Despite suffering a stroke in February 1851, Noah continued working, even dictating answers for the correspondence column of the Times and Messenger. He died one month later. His funeral was one of the largest in New York at the time, and was attended by key leaders of the Jewish and general community.
Goldberg, Isaac. Major Noah: American-Jewish Pioneer. Jewish Publication Society, (Philadelphia, 1936).
Sarna, Jonathan D. Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds of Mordecai Noah, Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc. (New York, 1981)
Mordecai Manuel Noah: The First American Jew, Yeshiva University Museum (1987)
The Jewish Virtual Library: A division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise
- July 19, 1785
- Born in Philadelphia
- Mother Zipporah dies
- Maternal grandfather Jonas Phillips dies
- Writes Fortress of Sorrento
- Appointed Consul to Kingdom of Tunis
- Returns to the United States and settles in New York
- Becomes editor of the National Advocate
- John Adams writes a letter to Noah about the establishment of a Jewish state in which he says, "I wish your nation may be admitted to all the privileges of citizens in every country of the world."
- Writes She Would Be A Soldier
- Writes Siege of Tripoli
- Serves as foreman of the New York Grand Jury
- Goes before the New York legislature petitioning to buy Grand Island to serve as a colony for the Jews
- Becomes Sheriff of New York City
- Contract at the National Advocate not renewed when paper is sold
- Sets up the New York National Advocate two days later
- Declares Bankruptcy, lists assets and defaults on promissory loans
- Buys Grand Island when New York State decides to sell it
- September 15, 1825
- Proclamation, pageant, and oration declaring Grand Island as Jewish city Ararat
- Publishes the New York Enquirer
- Marries Rebecca Jackson
- Appointed Surveyor and Inspector of the New York Port by President Andrew Jackson
- Grand Island sold as timberland
- Leads the Hebrew Benevolent Society
- Becomes the first Jewish criminal court judge in the United States when appointed to a judgeship in the New York Court of Sessions by Governor William Seward
- Son Daniel Jackson dies at age of nine as the result of an accident
- Unites the fundraising efforts of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and a rival charity, the German Hebrew Benevolent Society
- February 1851
- Has a debilitating stroke
- March 22, 1851
- Dies as the result of stroke
1 Linear Feet (2 manuscript boxes + 1 oversized folder)
Collection contains legal documents pertaining to Noah's official duties as surveyor of the port of New York (1830-1831), and correspondence relating to Noah's political career. Also included are: personal correspondence; a scrapbook; published material on Noah's journalistic career and personal life; articles and correspondence relating to the City of Ararat; and the Isaac Goldberg collection of Mordecai Manuel Noah letters, which consists of 28 letters from Noah to his wife Rebecca.
The collection is organized into a single series.
Gifts from the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Foundation, 1982, Morris and Eleanor Soble, 1989. Isaac Goldberg Collection of Mordecai Manuel Noah Letters gift of Dr. and Mrs. Allan Kliman, 1981. American Jewish Historical Society Rare Manuscript Purchase fund, 2011.
- Guide to the Papers of Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), undated, 1816-1851 *P-75
- Processed by AJHS Staff
- © 2009
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