- [NOTE: Parts of “A Citizen’s” pamphlet, which was scattered about the streets of Savannah, Georgia, late in 1784, reeked of anti-Semitism. Thus, it was no surprise that, early in 1785, the Sheftalls, one of Savannah’s leading Jewish families, responded. Thanks to the work of dedicated archivists, we can compare two versions of this Jewish response to Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, which might have been produced by different members of the Sheftall family.]
1. “Mr. Printer,” from “A Real [Whig] Citizen”–a manuscript in the Sheftall Papers, Keith Read Collection, University of Georgia, attributed by the organizer of the collection to Levi Sheftall. Yet, M.J. Kohler, at the American Jewish Historical Society, also had seen the original draft of this letter and believed the manuscript “is in the handwriting, and was composed by Levi’s brother, Mr. Mordecai Sheftall, of Georgia, in 1785.” (Papers of the American Jewish Historical Society, XVI) So, I guess you pays your money and you takes your choice. . . .
Version number 1 is the letter found in the Keith Read Collection, and appears, based on the grammatical problems found therein, to have been written hastily and in anger (the published version, whether by Levi or Mordecai Sheftall, number 2 below, is a much more effective argument):
A Pamphlet, Having been last week circulated about this Town, Under Cover of the Night, Intitled [sic] Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, Evinces me that the Hart [sic] of the Author, is as Base, as his performance is false and Scandilous [sic]. He subscribes himself a Citizen, this Leads me to make an Inquiry, what Intitles [sic] him to so worthy a name, And from the best Information I can gather, I cannot help thinking but that he merrits [sic] more a Halter, from his Country, than the sacred name of Citizen[.] Let us on this supposition then take a review, of this Heroes [sic] Conduct, during, the late Revolution and we shall finde [sic] that this pretended Citizen, This destroyer of the rights and Prevelidges [sic], of a whole sett [sic] of people, is no other than a Base deserter of his Countrys [sic] Cause, He attributes, to the Jews, the love of lucer [sic], let me ask him was it his abhorence [sic], to property, that caused him after the fall of Charles Town in may [sic] 1780, when his negroes, and other moveable property, was far removed from the Enemy, to cause it, to be brot [sic] back, within the Enemys [sic] Lines, or was it abhorence [sic] to property that caused him (as it is said) to Implore Sir Henry Clinton, for his Majestys [sic] most Gracious pardon, or is it his abhorence [sic] to property that has now made him step forth, the champion of the poor Creekite, or is he afraid [sic] that an Inquiry, should be made into the Character, of his Indian freind [sic], least by such Inquiry, it may appear that, the Creek, and he have been copartners, for it’s Evident that he is too, well acquainted with publick [sic] matters not to know that some time [sic] last summer, a half Breed Indian named Johnny Carnard, and then Citizen in the Creek Nation, sent a Talk to the Governor and Councill [sic] intimating that as it was now peace, he supposed that every body [sic] would be looking for their own [property], and that he had to Inform them, that he had in his possession, nine or ten negroes, belonging to the Inhabitants of this and the Neighbouring [sic] State, which had been stole [sic] from the said Inhabitants—and which he, the said Carnard, had bot [sic—bought] and paid our heroes [sic] Creek freinds [sic] for, No wonder then that he should be so great an advocate for him for if he has not allready [sic] benefitted [sic] by him, no doubt he has it in view but that, at some future day he will be able to prove red is white and then add some of those Gotten negroes to his plantation as the Reward of freindship [sic].
He says he has traveld [sic] with the Jews through a wilderness of History it had been much better for him, had he traveld [sic] as far as the northward, as some of them had done, and partook his share of the sufferings which they and many other good Whigs sufferd [sic], Rather than basely submit, themselves to becom [sic] tools to the Enemy and Traitors to theire [sic] Country.
A Real [Whig] Citizen
2. “A Real Citizen,” Georgia Gazette, Jan. 13, 1785:
A Pamphlet having lately with much industry circulated about this town [Savannah], under cover of the Night, entitled Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, shows that the author has been at a great deal of trouble to collect and put together the sufferings and persecutions of the Jews in those days of ignorance and superstition; this has given him an opportunity to show his hatred to those people in nine pages of this masterly piece of learning and wit. The little countenance it has met with from the public in general must long ere this have convinced him that he might have employed his time to some better purposes. He subscribes himself a Citizen, this leads me to inquire what the Jew particularly alluded to in that masterly piece has done that he should not also be entitled to the rights of citizenship. Did he get his property removed from the reach of the enemy, and then cause it to be brought back within the enemy’s lines? Or did he ever implore Sir Henry Clinton, or any other of the enemy’s Generals, although near two years their prisoner, to obtain for him his Britannick [sic] Majesty’s most gracious pardon? Or was he even, during the war, ordered by American officers to be put into irons, and sent to headquarters for treasonable practices against the States? Or did he not, as became a faithful citizen, discharge the several trusts reposed in him? If he did, why so much spleen, and so much pains taken to put him, and the rest of his profession in this State, on the same footing of an African that deserts his Master’s services? But, should there be any such characters as described above in Georgia, I leave to the Whigs to judge what they merit from their injured country.
A Real Citizen
And, from Jacob Rader Marcus, The Colonial American Jew, 1492-1776, III (1969), 1301-1302, we learn that, in an era of confiscation and banishment acts,
What could have motivated the Georgians to proceed against Levi Sheftall remains a mystery. In his autobiography, which he did not write for publication, Sheftall claimed he had taken an active part in the [Revolutionary] war—indeed there had been times when “several guns” were “laded and cocked ready to fire [at] my breast.” “Every body had there hands and herts full.” He had worked closely with John Wereat, an agent for a continental “secret committee,” in December 1776, and had later cooperated with [the Comte] d’Estaing and [General Benjamin] Lincoln. In a personal letter to his brother Mordecai on May 29, 1783, [Levi] wrote he hoped to be rehabilitated; he told Mordecai he had the support of some notable Georgia patriots and had been the victim of delation [i.e., he had been informed against, denounced, accused]. Certainly it is a fact that he had seen service with the Continental forces, been imprisoned by the British as a rebel, and as he stated, lost a substantial fortune because of his devotion to the Whig cause. By 1785, in any event, the punishments of Levi Sheftall and [Isaac] De Lyon were modified. Some of their rights were restored, and the financial fines imposed on them were reduced to an amercement [i.e., a fine] of twelve percent, though neither was to vote or hold office for fourteen years. Two years later all of Levi Sheftall’s rights were restored to him.
In other words, whatever Levi Sheftall”s hopes for redemption despite the charges of disloyalty lodged against him, the Georgia legislature initially classed him with other Georgians believed guilty of collaborating with the British enemy during the Revolution. It was this legislative punishment that underlay “A Citizen’s” sneering prose in Cursory Remarks.
And yet, within two years of the end of the war, Levi Sheftall’s punishments were reduced, and, two years after that, his full rights of a citizen of Georgia were restored. So, was the controversy over “A Citizen’s” pamphlet now over? Not hardly. . . .
[End of Part 5]
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For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)