GEORGIA’S JEWISH PLANTATIONS

GEORGIA’S JEWISH PLANTATIONS

GEORGIA'S JEWISH PLANTATIONS

In 1733, a group of Jewish immigrants arrived in Georgia from London as the land grants were being awarded. It was the first colony that absolutely prohibited slavery from the very start and it was this feature that most severely affected the settlement.

In all other colonies slavery was an established institution and in neighboring South Carolina most of the manual labor was performed by Black slaves.

Jews from other regions of Europe came to Georgia, possibly induced by wine and silk
manufacturing in the colony, and found more discrimination among themselves than with the Gentile neighbors.

Leon Hühner says that in 1737 deep South red-neck Georgia there was “no discrimination against Jews in the matters of trade.” In fact, he reports, that in that state, “both sets of [Jewish] settlers kept very much apart. The prejudice existing in that day between the Portuguese and German Jews was too great to allow close relations.”

The second wave of Jews to Georgia, writes Max I. Dimont, “was a sad lot of down-and-out Ashkenazi Jews who had emigrated from Germany to England… The British Jews were embarrassed by their distant cousins from Germany and looked for ways to be rid of them.”

Soon, as was the case in the Caribbean, the inhabitants felt that they could not function
without Black slaves, and they petitioned the English trustees for “the right to use Negro
labor.”

The Jews, by now more than a third of the total population, applied to the Gentile colonists for the “liberty to sign” the petition, but the Gentiles “did not think it proper” for Jews to participate with them “in any of our measures.”

The trustees refused the petition triggering a general exodus from the colony, by both Christians and Jews.

By 1740, only three Jewish families were left in Georgia due to the slave prohibition. They left, according to Marcus, “for the same reasons the others did: Negro slavery was prohibited, the liquor traffic was forbidden.”

The Earl of Egmont reported in his diary of 1741, that every one of the Jews were gone [from Savannah, Georgia] and that a Jewish wine maker named Abraham De Lyon, said he left for “the want of Negroes-whereas his white servants cost him more than he was able to afford.”

One Jew named Saltzburger stood up to those that demanded that Africans be enslaved
in the colony, but he, according to author Leon Hiihner, “did not object to the principles of
negro slavery, but opposed rather because they did not care to live in the same place with negroes .”

Finally, in October of 1741, the Trustees’ Journal reported that “there are various reports that negroes had at last been allowed in the Colony, upon which the Jews and… others
were preparing to return to the Colony.”

It wasn’t until 1749, however, with the “model colony… falling apart,” that the trustees permitted slavery as well as the use of hard
liquor and economic life began to flourish.

By 1771, half of Georgia’s 30,000 population
were Black slaves. As the Black population grew, Jews were at the forefront in their slave
training.

A JEW TEACHES SLAVES RELIGION

Once slavery was introduced into the colony it became essential to condition the Africans to the requirements of being slaves.

The case of Joseph Ottolenghe, a Jewish resident of Georgia, provides explicit evidence of the use of Christianity to pacify and subdue the Black African.

Upon hearing “that a number of Negroes to the amount of 300 and upwards were fix’d in that colony,” Joseph Ottolenghe applied to the Georgia trustees and to two English religious organizations who hired him in February of 1750, to train the slaves.

They saw the opportunity, as Jacob Marcus wrote, to “thriftily use one stone – one missionary – to kill three birds ….

Ottolenghe was not only to work at the [silk factory], but he was also to train Negroes in the industry and at the same time to covert them to Christianity.”

He assumed the position in July of 1751, and five months later wrote to one of his sponsors, The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge of London, whose devotion was
“the furtherance of the Christian religion among Indians and Negroes”:

I would instruct their Negros three days in the week… [and] that I might make it easie to the masters of these unhappy creatures, I have appointed the time of their coming to me to be at night when their daily labour is done.

And in order to get their love, I use them with all the kindness and endearing words that am capable of, which makes them willing to come to me and ready to follow my advice.

And as rewards are springs that sets less selfish minds than these unhappy creatures possess, on motion, I have therefore promised to reward the industrious and the diligent, and I hope thro’ Xt’s grace that ’twill have its due effect…

He went on to say how he would travel to the plantations to “spur them on” and to give them “a little more sense of religion than they have at present.” In November of 1753, he lamented that,

… It is true that [the] number [of slaves I teach] is not so great as I could wish, by reason of their penurious masters who think that they should be great looser should they permit their slaves to learn what they must do to be saved, not considering that he would be a greater gainer if his servant should become a true follower of the blessed Jesus, for in such a case he would have, instead of an immoral dishonest domestic, a faithful servant.

One year later he added,

…Again slavery is certainly a great depressor of the mind which retards thus their learning a new religion, proposed to them in a new unknown language, besides the old superstition of a false [African] religion to be combated with. And nothing harder to be remov’d (you know) than prejudices of
education, riveted by time and entrench’d in deep ignorance, which must be overcom’d by slow advances, with all the patience and engaging means that can be studied to make them fall in love with the best of all religions, and so to captivate their minds as to give all their very little leisure to the study of it.

In 1755, the colonial legislature had decreed that Blacks were not to be taught to write,
so Ottolenghe probably only taught the reading and reciting of Bible passages. In another letter of October of 1759, he details the hardships he has encountered exhorting Black people to
“forsake paganism and embrace X’ty.” Later that year he ceased employment over a salary
dispute.

Ottolenghe had other interests in Georgia. As a land owner he started with 50 acres and gradually built up a series of farms and plantations totalling over 2,000 acres. By 1754, he reportedly owned two slaves and later twelve.

In 1757, as a justice of the Peace, he tried a
Black man for theft and ordered his execution.

While Georgia’s Jews took care, as German Jew Eben Ezer saw it, “to keep down negro slaves and the Roman Catholics,” there was “no discrimination against Jews in matters
of trade,” and “no obstacle to Jews holding office in the colony.”

Blacks had no such freedoms in Georgia’s early years due in part to the efforts of the Jewish community.

Despite this distressing report of the condition of Georgia’s slave population, much of it from his own pen, Jewish historian Leon Hühner concludes:

“In the record of the Jews of the Colony of Georgia there is no stain.”

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