Mordecai Manuel Noah

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Mordecai Manuel Noah
Born(1785-07-14)July 14, 1785
DiedMarch 22, 1851(1851-03-22) (aged 65)
OccupationDiplomat, journalist, playwright
Known forJewish toleration

Mordecai Manuel Noah (July 14, 1785, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – May 22, 1851, New York) was an American sheriff, playwright, diplomat, journalist, and utopian. He was born in a family of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry.[1] He was the most important Jewish lay leader in New York in the early 19th century,[2] and the first Jew born in the United States to reach national prominence.[3] His politically motivated reviews blasting plays and performers "of colour" at William Brown's African Grove Theatre led to his identification as the originator of the stereotypical black portrayed in American minstrel shows and as "the father of Negro minstrelsy".[4]


Noah engaged in trade and law. After moving to Charleston, South Carolina, he dedicated himself to politics.

Racial politics[edit]

Noah was a vocal proponent of slavery in the United States in the mid-1800s. Noah wrote that "To emancipate the slaves would be to jeopardize the safety of the whole country." The Freedom's Journal called Noah "the black man's bitterest enemy"[5]

Noah wrote a play called Fortress of Sorrento which was poorly reviewed and never staged by a white theater. However, the African Grove Theater staged and performed it. Being associated with the African-Americans whom he had dubbed eternal slaves made Noah very angry. He raided the theater, declared it illegal, and denounced black Americans as unfit to vote or hold office.[4] Even 20th century Jewish publications refused to acknowledge that the African Grove Theater had staged Fortress of Sorrento.[6]


In 1811, he was appointed by President James Madison as consul at Riga, then part of Imperial Russia, but declined, and, in 1813, was nominated Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis, where he rescued American citizens kept as slaves by Moroccan slave owners. In 1815, Noah was removed from his position;[7] in the words of U.S. Secretary of State James Monroe, his religion was "an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function." The incident caused outrage among Jews and non-Jews alike.[8]

Noah sent many letters to the White House trying to get an answer as to why they felt his religion should be a justifiable reason for taking the office of Consul away. He had done well as consul and had even been able to accommodate the United States request to secure the release of some hostages being held in Algiers. Noah never received a legitimate answer as to why they took the office of Consul away from him. This worried Noah, since he was afraid that this would set a precedent for the United States. He worried that this would block future Jews from holding publicly elected or officially granted offices within the United States.[citation needed]

Noah protested and gained letters from John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison supporting church-state separation and tolerance for Jews.[9] Prominent Jewish leader Isaac Harby, a forerunner of Reform Judaism, was moved to write, in a letter to Monroe,

[Jews] are by no means to be considered as a religious sect, tolerated by the government. They constitute a portion of the People. They are, in every respect, woven in and compacted with the citizens of the Republic.[10]

Later career[edit]

Noah moved to New York, where he founded and edited The National Advocate, The New York Enquirer (later merged into the New York Courier and Enquirer), The Evening Star, and The Sunday Times newspapers. Noah was known to use his power as an editor of The National Advocate and law enforcement powers as a sheriff to personally shut down rival plays produced by black theater groups that drew attention and revenue away from his own productions, with some reports that the performers continued to recite their lines as they were dragged from the stage to their cells.[11]

In 1819, Noah's most successful play, She Would Be a Soldier, was produced. That play has since established Noah as America's first important Jewish writer. She Would Be a Soldier is now included in college level anthologies.[which?]

1844 Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews by M.M. Noah, page 1. The page 2 shows the map of the Land of Israel

In 1825, with virtually no support from anyone — not even his fellow Jews — in a precursor to modern Zionism, he tried to found a Jewish "refuge" at Grand Island in the Niagara River, to be called "Ararat," after Mount Ararat, the Biblical resting place of Noah's Ark.[12] He purchased land on Grand Island for $4.38 per acre to build a refuge for Jews of all nations.[13] He had brought with him a cornerstone which read "Ararat, a City of Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai M. Noah in the Month of Tizri, 5586 (Sept. 1825) & in the 50th Year of American Independence."[14]

Noah also shared the belief, among various others, that some Native American "Indians" were from the Lost Tribes of Israel,[12] on which he wrote the Discourse on the Evidences of the American Indians being the Descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.[15] [16] In his Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews,[17] Noah proclaimed his faith that the Jews would return and rebuild their ancient homeland and called on America to take the lead in this endeavor.

On September 2, 1825, soon after Noah's arrival in Buffalo from New York, thousands of Christians and a smattering of Jews assembled for a historic event. Noah led a large procession headed by Masons, a New York militia company, and municipal leaders to St. Paul's Episcopal Church.[18] Here, there was a brief ceremony — including a singing of the psalms in Hebrew — the cornerstone was laid on the communion table, and the new proclamation establishing the refuge was read. "Proclamation – day ended with music, cannonade and libation. 24 guns, recessional, masons retired to the Eagle Tavern, all with no one ever having set foot on Grand Isle."[19] This was the beginning and the end of Noah's venture: he lost heart and returned to New York two days later without once having set foot on the island. The cornerstone was taken out of the audience chamber of the church and laid against the back of the building.[20] It is now on permanent display at the Buffalo Historical Society in Buffalo, New York. Afterwards, despite the failure of his project, he developed the idea of settling the Jews in Palestine and, as such, he can be considered a forerunner of modern Zionism.[12]

From 1827 to 1828, Noah led New York City's Tammany Hall political machine.

In his writings he alternately abhorred and supported southern slavery. He worried that emancipation would irreparably divide the country.

MacArthur Award-winning cartoonist Ben Katchor fictionalized Noah's scheme for Grand Island in his The Jew of New York. Noah is also a minor character in Gore Vidal's 1973 novel Burr.

The modern edition of Noah's writings is The Selected Writings of Mordecai Noah edited by Michael Schuldiner and Daniel Kleinfeld, and published by Greenwood Press.


Noah's book Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States, in the Years 1813-14 and 15
  • 1813 – 1814: Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States
  • 1837 : Discourse of the Evidence of the American Indians being the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israël
  • 1844: Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews


  1. ^ "Jewish Virtual Library, Mordecai Manuel Noah". Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  2. ^ New York Jewish History Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine, New York State Archives, Jewish History Resources
  3. ^ "Antisemitism, Mordecai Manuel/Cart Catalogue". January 2010.
  4. ^ a b Hay, Samuel A. (1994). African American theatre : a historical and critical analysis. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. pp. 6, 13. ISBN 0521445221. OCLC 28256141.
  5. ^ Sarna, J. D., Jacksonian Jew: The two worlds of Mordecai Noah, 1981: p. 110-111
  6. ^ The Selected Writings of Mordecai Noah, p.6
  7. ^ Hasia R. Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, p.59
  8. ^ Noah, Mordecai (1819). Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States, in the Years 1813-14 and 15. Kirk and Mercein. pp. 376. Retrieved 2011-05-28. Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States, in the Years 1813-14 and 15.
  9. ^ Richard H. Popkin, "Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Mordecai Noah," American Book Collector 1987 8(6): 9-11
  10. ^ "A "portion of the People"", Nell Porter Brown, Harvard Magazine, January–February, 2003
  11. ^ A., Hay, Samuel (1994). African American theatre : an historical and critical analysis. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521445221. OCLC 28256141.
  12. ^ a b c René Guénon The origins of Mormonism in Miscellanea.
  13. ^ Image of the City of Ararat (Grand Island, NY) Archived 2012-07-20 at Image in 1825, a Pivotal Year on the Niagara Frontier on New York Heritage
  14. ^ "Ararat". History of Buffalo. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
  15. ^ Noah, Mordecai (1837). Discourse on the Evidences of the American Indians being the Descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. J. Van Norden. ISBN 978-0-665-45453-0. Retrieved 2008-10-02. DISCOURSE ON THE EVIDENCES OF THE AMERICAN INDIANS BEING THE DESCENDANTS OF THE LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL.
  17. ^ Noah, Mordecai (1845). Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews. Harper & Brothers. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  18. ^ Major Noah: an American Patriot, American Zionist -- Mordecai Manuel Noah and the Jewish State of Ararat, Jerry Klinger
  19. ^ Major Noah, American-Jewish Pioneer, by Isaac Goldberg, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1936, pg. 196
  20. ^ Publications, Volume 1, Buffalo Historical Society (Buffalo, N.Y.), ed. Bigelow Brothers, 1879


  • Selig Adler & Thomas E. Connolly. From Ararat to Suburbia: the History of the Jewish Community of Buffalo (Philadelphia: the Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960, Library of Congress Number 60-15834).
  • Mordecai Manuel Noah: Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States: In the Years 1813-14 and 15
  • Isaac Goldberg, Major Noah: American-Jewish Pioneer, The Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia, 1936.
  • Michael Schuldiner and Daniel J. Kleinfeld, The Selected Writings of Mordecai Noah, Greenwood Press, 1999.
  • IsraIsland. Nava Semel, 2005.

External links[edit]