“For most Americans, the story of their nation’s origins seems safe, reliable and comforting. We were taught from elementary school that the United States was created by a group of brave, white Christians drawn largely from England who ventured to these shores in search of religious freedom and the opportunity to fulfill their own destiny. Recent revisions to this idealized and idyllic narrative have never seriously questioned its basic tenets. So although we now recognize some of the contributions made by Africans to America’s success and feel perhaps a heightened sense of regret, remorse and even guilt over the destruction of American native cultures, we never have had much reason to doubt the basic premise of the story. Our founding mothers and fathers were white, Christian and British.”
So begins Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman’s Preface to her new collaboration with Donald N. Yates. Their book Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America (ISBN 978-0-7864-6462-3) will appear in late February from McFarland & Co. Subtitled A Genealogical History, it presents an iconoclastic new narrative of American history beginning with an examination of the shipping companies organized in England to bring settlers to North America and concluding with a chapter on Georgia, the last “and most Jewish” colony.
A Shot Across the Bow of Mayflower Genealogies
Perhaps nothing better epitomizes the sea-change that many genealogies underwent in the American experience than the case of Sir Francis Drake. The original family name was Sephardic Jewish and the family crest featured six-pointed stars. As the story of America evolved, these were converted to more innocuous, less-revealing eight-pointed stars in engraved book plates and other illustrations. To disguise their Spanish roots (Campo Verde), the Grenville family (related to both the Drakes and Raleighs) changed its name to Granville.
As well as firing a definite shot across the bow to traditional American genealogies, the study also gives us some delicious smoking guns. In the Massachusetts chapter, for instance, consider these facts:
–The Rev. John Wise, a minister and shipping magnate in Gloucester, Mass., had a son bearing the Muslim appellation of Ammi Ruhammah.
–The Plymouth Colony functioned entirely without the services of a Christian minister through 1635. The shepherd finally procured for the flock was named José Glover.
–Roger Williams, as minister of the Salem Church, “advocated the veiling of women at worship service.”
–Caleb Cushman, a member of the prominent Leavitt family born and raised in the Colonies, departed for Hebron, Israel, in 1780, apparently making an aliyah on behalf of his family.
The Massachusetts chapter discusses the whitewashing of Boston Brahmin families like the Lowells (a name that comes from French Low + the Jewish suffix –el). Boston, the authors remark at the end of this chapter,
ranks as sixth-largest Jewish community, a standing far out of proportion to its impact on American Jewry and America as a whole. Elie Wiesel, Louis Brandeis, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Horowitz, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Molly Picon, Theodore H. White, Arnold Auerbach, Arthur Fiedler, Leonard Bernstein, Justin Kaplan, Edward Bernays, Oscar Handlin, Barbara Walters, Mike Wallace, Leonard Nimoy, Ellen Goodman, Alan Dershowitz … one has only to drop the names of some new founding fathers (and mothers) who set the tone in contemporary culture to realize Massachusetts’ pioneering qualities and socio-political prominence in American history are unchanged.
Over 5,000 names are evaluated and capsule etymologies given for them. Appendices include the following:
A: Jewish Naming Practices and Most Common Surnames 191
B: Rituals and Practices of the Secret Jews of Portugal 201
C: Muslim Rituals and Beliefs 202
D: Customs and Beliefs of the Roma and Sinti 203
E: Lists of Immigrants to Virginia 1585–1700 204
F: Lists of Settlers in Massachusetts 212
G: Names from The Town & Country Social Directory, 1846–1996 216
H: Pennsylvania Names 217
I: Maryland Names 223
J: South Carolina Materials 224
K: Lists of Settlers in Early Georgia 236
There are illustrations, references, notes and an extensive index. The latter will be available separately as a handybook for genealogists. Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America is the second in a series of historical studies that began with the authors’ When Scotland Was Jewish.
Jews and Muslims can be pre-ordered for $45.00 from McFarland and Co. or Amazon. It is also appearing in an electronic edition. Call 1-800-253-2187 to secure your copy today!
Sir Francis Drake after an
engraving attributed to
Jodocus Hondius, circa 1583.
A Drake descendant was found
to belong to lineage R1a,
a common Ashkenazi Jewish
type of male DNA.
New York Public Library.