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Noah, Mordecai Manuel (1785-1851) politician, playwright, and Jewish communal leader
Autograph Letter Signed, to an unidentified recipient, New York, October 16, 1850

quarto, one page in very good, very clean condition.

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Noah writes a letter of introduction for one Signor Filleponte, who was to give lectures on the Roman Revolution of 1848:

"Dear Sir,

Signor Filleponte who will have the pleasure of handing you this letter proposes delivering a course of Lectures on the Roman Revolution of 1848 he having with Genl Avezzani taking a conspicuous part in the affairs of the Republic. He is also a literary gentleman of distinguished merit & proposes to publish a work on the secret history of the Government of Rome. Will you have the goodness to extend to him the usual courtesies of the Press & to believe me always truly yours

M M Noah

Ny Octo 16 1850"

Mordecai Manuel Noah was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Manuel Mordecai Noah, a failed businessman, and Zipporah Phillips. He was orphaned at the age of seven and was raised by his grandparents Jonas and Rebecca (Machado) Phillips. In his youth in Philadelphia and later in Charleston, South Carolina, he published journalistic pieces, a political pamphlet, a critique of Shakespeare, and two plays.

Thanks in part to recommendation from influential American Jews, he won appointment in 1811 as America's first consul to Riga. War intervened and he never assumed the post; instead, in 1813 he became U. S. consul to Tunis. The government hoped that he would be able to forge special ties with influential Jews in North Africa and entrusted him with an additional secret mission: to devise a "means for the liberation" of eleven captive American seamen in Algiers.

Noah's efforts to free American captives were mostly unsuccessful. Only two seamen were released, the ransom paid was excessive, and the secret agent Noah appointed, Richard R. Keene, turned out to have an unsavory past. Although Noah carried out his other consular duties successfully and also established ties with local Tunis Jews, Secretary of State James Monroe recalled him in 1815, ostensibly on religious grounds. In fact, the failed secret mission really precipitated the recall.

In the wake of the recall, Noah published Correspondence and Documents (1816) in his own defense, followed by Travels in England, France, Spain and the Barbary States in the Years 1813-14 and 15 (1819), his most important book. It describes his experiences abroad and contains valuable information on early nineteenth-century Tunisian Jewry.

Back in New York City, Noah resumed his career in political journalism. He edited the National Advocate and, later, important New York newspapers such as the New York Enquirer, the Evening Star, and the Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger. In return for his editorial support, he also held a variety of appointive political posts, serving as sheriff of New York (1821-1822), grand sachem of the Tammany Society (1824), surveyor and inspector of the New York port (1829-1832), and judge in the New York Court of Sessions (1841-1842). In his spare time he returned to the theater, earning a reputation through his reviews as "the finest theatrical critic of the day in America." He also wrote several plays, notably She Would Be a Soldier (1819).

Noah's prominence propelled him to leadership within the Jewish community. As early as 1818 he delivered the main address at the consecration of the Second Mill Street Synagogue of New York's Congregation Shearith Israel. He used the occasion to instruct Jews concerning their own history and condition, traced Jewish rights in every country, and then concluded, patriotically, that "OUR COUNTRY [is] the bright example of universal tolerance, of liberality, true religion, and good faith." To his mind, America was the Jewish people's "chosen country" - at least until Jews could "recover their ancient rights and dominions, and take their rank among the governments of the earth."

Two years later, on January 16 1820, Noah laid before the New York legislature a petition requesting that it survey, value, and sell him Grand Island in the Niagra River to serve as a colony for the Jews of the world. The petition was tabled. Five years later, however, an investor acting on Noah's behalf purchased 2,555 choice acres on the eastern shore of the island, and on 15 September 1825 Noah staged an elaborate dedication ceremony for a colony to be called Ararat, a refuge for persecuted Jews around the world.

Titling himself Judge of Israel and dressed in a regal costume, Noah issued a proclamation complete with a series of decrees. Among other things, he called on Jews to remain loyal to governments that protected them, to undertake a worldwide census, to abolish polygamy (practiced by Jews in Muslim lands), and to learn how to read and write. He also levied a three shekel head tax "upon each Jew throughout the world." In a lengthy address, he then explained the details of his colonization plan, including its implications for America and for ultimate Jewish restoration to Palestine. Here, as in so many of his other pronouncements on Jewish affairs, he sought to prove that he could be a good citizen as well as a good Jew, helping his people and his country at the same time.

Although Ararat attracted attention throughout much of the Jewish world, it proved a complete failure: it never progressed beyond the original cornerstone. Still, Noah remained active in Jewish affairs, playing a particularly effective role vis-à-vis the non-Jewish community, where he was greatly respected. He explained Jewish practices in his newspapers, defended Jews whenever he saw them attacked, and promoted Jewish charities. He also delivered celebrated addresses on Jewish themes, including one, in 1837, arguing that the Indians were descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel and another, in 1845, seeking Christian help in promoting restoration of the Jews to Palestine.

Noah died in New York from the effects of a paralyzing stroke. His funeral attended by Jews and non-Jews alike, was probably the largest funeral of any Jew in America to that time. - American

National Biography, volume 16, pp., 466-467

See also, Dictionary of American Biography, volume VII, pp., 534-534