Saving Monticello: The Newsletter
The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson
Volume XIV, Number 1 January 1, 2017
JONAS PHILLIPS: The website Jewoftheweek.com devoted its mid-December page to Jonas Phillips, Uriah Phillips Levy’s beloved grandfather, and a remarkable man. Phillips is best known for his Revolutionary War patriotism and his dedication to securing full religious freedom for Jews in the new nation he fought to create.
As I wrote in Saving Monticello, he was born Jonah Phaibush in 1735 in Busek, a village in Prussia. He left Prussia in 1756 at age twenty-one to seek his fortune in the American colonies, stopping in England, and then arriving in Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way he Anglicized his names to Jonas Phillips.
A few years later Jonas Phillips moved to Albany, New York, where he became a Freemason and opened a store in which he sold food and spirits. Jonas Phillips left Albany in 1761, married Rebecca Machado a year later, and settled in New York City where he again owned and operated a retail store. He also was an auctioneer and served the Jewish community as a shohet (ritual slaughterer) and bodek (meat examiner). Jonas Phillips became a naturalized citizen in April 1771. Around 1774 he moved his growing family to Philadelphia where he opened a “vendue store” at the upper end of Third Street.
Swept up in the revolutionary fervor in New York and Philadelphia in the 1770s, Jonas Phillips spoke out publicly on British abuses of colonists’ rights. He signed a letter published in the January 23, 1770, New York Gazette supporting the strongly anti-British Non Importation Resolutions of 1765. He also participated in running the British blockade of
On October 31, 1778, at age 43, Jonas Phillips became a private in Capt. John
Linton’s Company of Col. William Bradford’s Battalion, a Philadelphia militia
unit in the Continental Army.
His most famous public religious act was the September 7, 1787, letter Jonas Phillips wrote to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Identifying himself as “one of the people called Jews of the City of Philadelphia,” he called on the body to include provisions in the Constitution they were writing to provide “all men” the “natural and unalienable Right to worship almighty God according to their own Conscience and understanding.”
He also was instrumental in raising funds to purchase a new building for the Mikveh Israel synagogue in Philadelphia in 1782. Jonas Phillips later was elected the president of that historic Spanish and Portuguese Congregation, which had been established in 1740. As the head of the congregation, he invited George Washington to attend the dedication ceremonies of its new building.
Jonas Phillips died in Philadelphia on January 29, 1803.
He and Rebecca Phillips had 21 children, and many more grandchildren, including Uriah Phillips Levy. Uriah inherited his grandfather’s patriotism and love of the sea, running away from home at age ten to be a cabin boy on a ship. He joined the Navy when he was twenty years old, and served heroically in the War of 1812. He went on to a fifty-year Navy career (the first Jewish-American to do so), and achieved the rank of Commodore, then the highest in the Navy.
Uriah Levy also purchased Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in 1834, and repaired, restored and preserved that American architectural treasure.
THE FIRST JEWISH AMERICANS: I was delighted to get an email from Harley Lewis, a grandniece of Uriah Levy’s nephew Jefferson Levy, who owed Monticello from 1879-1923. Mrs. Lewis was extremely helpful to me when I was doing the research for Saving Monticello, and has been one of the book’s most enthusiastic supporters.
She told me she had read the item in the December newsletter about the First Jewish Americans exhibit at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library. Mrs. Lewis, who just turned 91, went on to say that she took in the exhibit with her sons and one of her grandchildren and found it “very interesting.” Uriah Levy’s “full-length portrait [above] was very exciting to see,” she said, noting that she had seen the painting at its previous homes, the Jewish Chapel at the Norfolk Naval Station, and the museum at the U.S. Naval Academy.
For more info on the exhibit, go to http://bit.ly/2NYHistSoc
EVENTS: My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
One event in January:
- Sunday, January 29, 1:30 p.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life , and book signing at the Manassas Museum, 9101 Prince Street in Manassas, Virginia. The talk is free and open to the public. For more info, go to http://bit.ly/ManassasMusee
Please email if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and the Barry Sadler bio (starting in May)—please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the “Author Events” page on my website, www.marcleepson.com
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 Ideas: If you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag,
What So Proudly We Hailed. Lafayette