Monday, November 26, 2012

December 1: Mordecai Sheftall

On December 1, 1780, on a motion from the Delegates from the State of Georgia, the Continental Congress resolved on to pay $20,000 to Mordecai Sheftall.  The Congressional committee that investigated Sheftall's claims determined "there is a considerable sum due him," but because he had "long been a prisoner," Sheftall "cannot...produce the necessary vouchers" to establish his claims.

Historian Michael Feldberg wrote that the British captured Mordecai Sheftall and his fifteen-year-old son Sheftall Sheftall in December 1778, as the father and son fought to defend Savannah from invading British forces.

Feldberg wrote, "The British interrogated the Sheftalls under great duress, depriving them of food for two days....  Refusing to provide information...father and son were transferred to a dank prison ship, the Nancy, where the British deliberately offered Mordecai no meat other than pork, which he rejected."  As an observant Jew, Mordecai abstained from eating pork.  

Gaillard Hunt, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Volume 18: September 7-December 29, 1780 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), pages 1112-1113; Michael Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History (Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., for The American Jewish Historical Society, 2002), page 37.  For the Patriotic activism of many Jewish-Americans in Savannah, Georgia, please consult Eli Faber, A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1820, vol. 1 of The Jewish People in America, Henry L. Feingold, general editor (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pages 102-103; and William Pencak, Jews & Gentile in Early America, 1654-1800 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008 [2005]), pages 162-169.

For the dangers of raw pork and an account of British captors giving raw pork to American military prisoners, causing the death of one prisoner, please check the post here.   For prison ships in Savannah as well as occupied New York City, please consult Philip Ranlet, "In the Hands of the British: The Treatment of American POWs during the War of Independence," Historian vol. 62 (Summer 2000): 731-757.
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