Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May 2016

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIII, Number 5                                                                     May 1, 2016

‘BY DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT’:  That’s the name of an exhibit, subtitled “Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War,” on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through June 14.
The exhibit, which opened in February, contains more than 170 objects—novels, poems, books, maps, religious works, paintings, photographs, newspapers, and scientific treatises—produced by, or relating to, Jews in the Early Republic.
The items are on loan from museums, synagogues, and private collections, including many objects from the collection of Princeton alum Leonard L. Milberg. That includes this 1831 portrait of strikingly beautiful Rebecca Gratz (above) by the famed, Philadelphia-based portrait painter Thomas Sully (1783-1872).
Several of the items in the exhibit are connected to Phillips/Levy family. That includes the famous June 27, 1787, letter written by the noted Philadelphia physician (and signer of the Declaration of Independence) Dr. Benjamin Rush to his wife, in which he described the June 1787 wedding of Uriah Levy’s mother and father, Rachel Phillips and Michael Levy in Philadelphia. Rush’s description of their wedding is thought to be the first written record of a Jewish wedding ceremony in the New World.

Family tradition holds, by the way (as I wrote in Saving Monticello), that George Washington, then president of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, attended the wedding. Other family stories claim that Washington had danced at the wedding of Uriah Levy’s grandparents, Jonas Phillips and Rebecca Machado back in 1762.

Also in the Princeton exhibit is another important letter in the annals of Jewish-American history. It was written on May 28, 1818, by Thomas Jefferson to Uriah Levy’s second cousin Mordecai Manuel Noah—a diplomat and journalist, and the first American-born Jewish person to become nationally prominent. Earlier that year Noah had given a speech at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, a copy of which made its way to Monticello.

Jefferson wrote to Noah on May 28, 1818, expressing his views on freedom of religion and his condemnation of anti-Semitism. Jefferson wrote that he had read Noah’s speech “with pleasure and instruction, having learnt from it some valuable facts in Jewish history which I did not know before.”

Judiasm, Jefferson said, “by its sufferings has furnished a remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance inherent in every sect, disclaimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power.Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our religious, as they do our civil rights, by putting all on an equal footing. But more remains to be done, for although we are free by the law, we are not so in practice.... I salute you with great respect and esteem.”

The letter is in the collection of the Yeshiva University Museum.

The exhibit’s lavishly illustrated catalog, with thirteen scholarly essays, is being sold at the Art Museum Store. For more info, go to

EVENTS:  I just sent in my manuscript for my next book, a biography of Barry Sadler, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” guy, which will come out in March of next year. I soon will be doing more speaking on my books, including Saving Monticello.

Just one event this month, on Sunday, May 15, at the Manassas Museum in Manassas, Virginia, a talk on Lafayette at 1:30 p.m. It’s free and open to the public. For info, go to


Please email me if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including my Francis Scott Key, biography, What So Proudly We Hailed, and Lafayette: Idealist General, my concise bio of the Marquis de Lafayette—at  For more details on other upcoming events, go to  That’s the “Author Events” page on my website,

Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Or go to this page of my website: to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.