14 January 2010

New York: The Murder of Benjamin Nathan, 1870

A 19th-century death in New York City's Sephardic aristocracy is the focus of Josh Nathan-Kazis' excellent article as he uses contemporary newspaper accounts and archives to investigate what happened and whether the blackest sheep in the family was involved.

Read the Tablet Magazine story here.

The author is a descendant of Benjamin Nathan, whose body was discovered at 5:50 a.m. on July 29, 1870:

Benjamin Nathan was 57 when he was murdered. A prominent member of a wealthy Sephardic family, he had lived a life of astounding luxury. His four-story mansion was among the largest and most extravagant private homes in the city. He wore diamond shirt studs and carried a gold Jurgensen stem-winder on a heavy gold chain. The summer of his death, he had rented a 45-acre estate on a hill in Morristown, New Jersey, complete with a private vineyard, gardens, and a commanding view of two lakes. It was a life unimaginable to most New Yorkers of his day, never mind most Jews. Benjamin Nathan, a vice president of the New York Stock Exchange, was a man who lived like the Astors when the Bronfmans were
still in Bessarabia.
Five generations on, writes the author, the bloody event was all but forgotten by his extended family. He first learned about the incident in a book he found in his grandparents' library.

When I began looking through old newspapers and scant family archives, I was the first person to revisit the case in at least 40 years.
Among the newspapers Nathan-Kazis checked out - so many historic papers are accessible online these days although Tracing the Tribe doesn't know whether Nathan-Kazis researched this online or via microfilm - are the Albion, The Times, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday Mercury, Commercial Advertiser, the Evening Post, Jewish Messenger and Chicago Tribune.

Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo was also a descendant of Nathan, and named for him.

A journalist living in Brooklyn, Nathan-Kazis is The Faster Times' politics editor and the former editor-in-chief of New Voices magazine.

Genealogists and family historians will really enjoy the complete article at the link above.

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