Savannah, Georgia is home to Congregation Mickve Israel, the third-oldest U.S. congregation, formed in 1735.
The first Jews arrived on July 11, 1733 on the William & Sarah, only five months after General James Edward Oglethorpe established the Georgia colony: 34 were Portuguese Jews; eight were members of two German families. The group met in London; the Spanish & Portuguese Bevis Marks Synagogue helped raise money to send them to Savannah.
From this small Jewish beginning came several prominent Americans. Among them was Dr. Samuel Nunes Ribiero, an infectious diseases physician imprisoned during the Inquisition for his successful efforts to return New Christians to the Jewish faith. He is considered the first hero of the Georgia colony for ending a 1733 epidemic. One of his descendants, Raphael Moses, planted peach orchards and developed technology for shipping fruit to distant markets.
A descendant of original colonist Shem Noah was New York sheriff Mordecai Manuel Noah, a founder of Tammany Hall's political machine and early Zionist. In 1825, he tried to establish a Jewish homeland called Ararat at Grand Island in the Niagara River. Another descendant of the original colonists was Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy, who rescued Monticello (President Thomas Jefferson’s home) from destruction and abolished flogging in the U.S. Navy. The new Jewish chapel at Annapolis is named in his honor.
Descendants of the Ashkenazi families of Abraham Minis and Benjamin Sheftall are still active in Mickve Israel.
On the weekend of July 11, 2008, the community will celebrate its 275th anniversary and host a reception for descendants of the first Jewish settlers. The community is actively searching for descendants and has asked the genealogical community for assistance.
For more information, see the Savannah Jewish Archives, whose collections include religion, education, culture, history and genealogy from the 1750s to today, and offer manuscripts, photographs, artifacts, books, pamphlets, audio-visuals, oral histories, and the Savannah Jewish News from 1945 through the present.
The following list of the original 42 Jewish settlers was compiled from various sources by the late Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern. The list is in his article, "New Light on the Jewish Settlement of Savannah" (American Jewish Historical Quarterly, LII, March 1963, #3, pp 169-199).
Are you a descendant of these individuals or do you know someone whose ancestor is on this list?
Dr. Samuel Nunes Ribeiro (in America, NUNES or NUNEZ). Converso, arrived in London about 1726, and remarried his wife Rebecca, who did not come to Savannah, in a Jewish ceremony; mother Zipporah, sons Daniel and Moses; daughter Sipra; servant, Shem Noah.
Isaac Nunes Henriques, wife Abigail (nee Sequeira); son Shem (or possibly Samuel, Abigail's brother); a son who died at sea.
Raphael Nunes Bernal, wife Rachel Bernal.
David [Lopez D'] Olivera; Jacob Lopez d'Olivera, married Amsterdam, 15 July 15 1717, to Judith (nee Velha); sons David and Isaac; daughter Leah.
Aaron De Pivia [De Paiba?].
Benjamin Gideon [Abudiente].
Jacob Lopez De Crasto (Castro?).
David Lopez De Pass, remarried London, wife Zipporah De Pass.
Isaac Da Costa Villareal.
Abraham De Molina.
David Rodrigues De Miranda, remarried London 11 Nisan, 1730, Rahel Nunes Miranda who stayed in London. He came to Savannah, died December 1733. She remarried 17 Kislev 1736 to Abraham Nunes Miranda; Jacob [Rodrigues De] Miranda.
David Cohen Delmonte; wife Rachel, son Isaac, daughters Abigail, Hannah, Grace.
Abraham Minis; wife Abigail; daughters Leah and Esther; Simon, Abraham's brother; Jacob Yowel.
Benjamin Sheftall; wife Perla.
Abraham De Lyon.