the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
One of the thirteen original States of the American Union. The history of the Jews in Maryland may be divided into three periods: the first extends from shortly after the establishment of the provincial government at St. Mary's, in 1634, to the expansion of trade and commerce in the middle of the eighteenth century; the second begins a decade before the Revolution and ends with the practical removal of political disabilities in 1826; the third covers the following seventy years of German immigration, congregational development, and communal growth.
The characteristic of the first, or provincial, period is the apparent absence of any single influx of Jews corresponding to those which occurred in New York, Newport, Savannah, and Charleston. Record is found of one Mathias de Sousa as early as 1639, fifteen years before the arrival of "David Israel and the other Jews" at New Amsterdam. If, indeed, credence is to be given to the distinctiveness of such names as Matthias de Costa, Isaac de Barrette, Hester Cordea, David Fereira, and Jacob Leah, it seems probable that Jews were resident in Maryland in appreciable numbers from the earliest days of the palatinate. Yet percolation rather than influx, and quiet exercise rather than open profession of faith, seem to distinguish the period.
From among the hazy forms which thus constitute the history of the Jews in provincial Maryland the figure of Jacob or John Lumbrozo stands forth in bold prominence. He is the first, indeed the only, Jew of whose faith there is documentary evidence. Subsequent data gather about him as a nucleus, and it is largely in his experience that the difficulties of the period must be solved. He is one of the earliest medical practitioners in Maryland; his arrival forms a distinct event in the life of the province, and for nearly a decade he continues an important figure in its economic activity. Names of a distinctively Jewish character appear at intervals in the accessible records from 1660 to the overthrow of the proprietary government in 1692, always without mention of any communal organization, without even a bare indication of the bearers' faith. Among these are the names of David Fereira, Francis Hyems, Abraham Hart, Daniel Mathena, Jacob Leah, Solimon Barbarah, Sarah Hayes, Philip Salomon, Joseph Lazear, Matthias de Costa, Isaac de Barrette, Hester Cordea, and Isaack Bedlo. Whatever such evidence may suggest, the positive conclusion to which it leads is that while the Jew in proprietary Maryland was, de jure, without civil rights, was denied freedom of residence, and was liable to punishment by death for the bare profession of his faith, he was, de facto, permitted undisturbed domicil and was gradually allowed the exercise of certain undefined rights.
Excluded from Office.
The reduction of the palatinate to a crown colony in 1692 led naturally to a Protestant church establishment, and ecclesiastical organization, it seems, tended to identify citizenship with church membership and to disfranchise the professed Jew in the province at large. The broader organization of the cities, whither the Jew would naturally gravitate, permitted some political recognition. Thus the charter of Annapolis, granted in 1708, conferred the suffrage upon any person possessing a freehold or a visible estate of twenty pounds sterling, and those of other cities and towns gradually followed with similar privileges. But even there the Jew could hold no office. The act of 1715 reorganizing the Protestant Church establishment provided that the oath of abjuration, terminating with the words, "upon the true faith of a Christian," should be administered to "all persons that already have, or shall hereafter be admitted to have or enjoy, any office or place of trust within this province." The exclusion was perfected in the following year by the addition of the oaths of allegiance and abhorrency, and the test; to the last two no conscientious Jew could subscribe. No essential modification was made in this requirement until sixty years later, when it was embodied in the fundamental law of the state.
Whatever recognition the Jew could obtain, it is necessary to remember, was accorded entirely upon sufferance. Legally, profession of Judaism still remained punishable by death. In 1723 the spirit of the Toleration Act of 1649 was revived by an act (repealing an apparently similar measure of 1715) "to punish blasphemers, swearers, drunkards." It did much more than this, however, in the opening enactment, which declared that "if any person shall hereafter within this province . . . deny our Savior Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, or shall deny the Holy Trinity" he shall, for the first offense, be fined and have his tongue bored; for the second, fined and have his head burned; for the third, put to death.This act also remained unrepealed until after the adoption of the state constitution.
From the restoration of the "lord proprietor" in 1715 until the outbreak of the Revolution, Jewish names are rarely mentioned. The Jewish settlements at Schaefersville and Lancaster seem to have contributed little to the stream of German immigration which flowed steadily from southeastern Pennsylvania into Frederick county, Md. Similarly, the Jewish communities of Philadelphia and New York do not appear to have yielded to the commercial inducements offered by the more southerly colony. The absence of such contact suggests either a deliberate avoidance of the province or the absence of public avowal of Jewish faith during residence therein. Church establishment terminated with the fall of proprietary rule and with the emergence of Maryland into statehood. With it fell, too, the force of the legislation which for a century and a half had declared profession of the Jewish faith a capital offense. The practical identification in men's minds of citizenship and church membership and the subscription to doctrinal oaths as a necessary preliminary to political office could not, however, be swept away so easily.
The Constitution of 1776.
In Sept., 1776, a declaration of rights and a formal constitution were submitted to the Provisional Convention by a committee of five members appointed a month before. As adopted, the thirty-fifth article of the declaration of rights provided: "That no other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to this state, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this convention or the legislature of this state, and a declaration of belief in the Christian religion." The text of the oath of fidelity was given in the fifty-fifth article of the constitution, and the requirement that the person so appointed "shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion" was repeated. Henceforth the Jew in Maryland was secure in his religious profession and vested with certain political privileges. But the largest civic recognition was still withheld, and not until half a century later, after a persistent struggle extending over more than half this interval, was the fullest equality in the eye of the law accorded him.
The gradual influx of Jews into Maryland during and immediately after the Revolutionary war must undoubtedly be attributed to the commercial and industrial advantages of Baltimore. There is hardly any detailed information concerning the number, time of arrival, or personal history of these early settlers; a considerable part of them seems to have come from Philadelphia, and almost all appear to have been persons in moderate circumstances.
Beginnings of Civic Emancipation.
The first formal legislative effort to effect the removal of the existing disability was made in 1797. On Dec. 13 in that year a petition signed by Solomon Etting, Bernard Gratz, and others was presented to the General Assembly at Annapolis; the petitioners averred "that they are a sect of people called Jews, and thereby deprived of many of the valuable rights of citizenship, and pray to be placed upon the same footing with other good citizens." The petition was read and referred to a committee of three persons, who upon the same day reported that they "have taken the same into consideration and conceive the prayer of the petition is reasonable, but as it involves a constitutional question of considerable importance they submit to the House the propriety of taking the same into consideration at this advanced stage of the session." This summary disposition of the petition put a quietus upon further agitation for the next five years. On Nov. 26, 1802, a petition "from the sect of people called Jews" specifically stating their grievance, namely, "that they are deprived of holding any office of profit and trust under the constitution and laws of this state," was referred to the General Assembly, which read it and referred it to a special committee of five delegates, including the two Baltimore representatives, with instructions to consider and report upon the prayer of the petitioners for relief. A month later the petition was refused by a vote of thirty-eight to seventeen. The attempt to secure the desired relief was repeated at the legislative session of 1803; again proving unsuccessful, it was renewed in the following year.
There is much similarity in these successive attempts as disclosed in the bare outline of formal records. In 1803 and in 1804, as in 1802, petitions for legislative relief were presented to the House of Delegates, read, and referred to special committees. As in 1802, bills to the desired effect were reported back from these committees and shelved at the second reading; in 1803 the further consideration of the bill at this stage was postponed till the following session of the assembly; in 1804 the bill was defeated by a decisive vote of thirty-nine to twenty-four. Four successive attempts had now been made to secure full civic recognition, and four successive defeats had been suffered. Some favorable advance in public sentiment becomes evident upon a comparison of the votes of 1804 and 1802, but general opinion still continued so pronouncedly hostile to the grant of relief that to the few determined spirits upon whom the brunt of the struggle had thus far fallen any further agitation seemed absolutely hopeless if not actually unwise. Accordingly with the legislative defeat of 1804 further formal agitation ceased until fourteen years later.
Within this period (1804-18) occurred three circumstances of prime importance with respect to further efforts to secure legislative relief: (1) the rise in material importance and communal influence of the Jews of Baltimore; (2) the actual hardship, as distinct from merely possible inconvenience, suffered from the operation of civil disabilities; (3) the enlistment of the keen sympathy and persistent efforts of certain distinguished men active in public affairs in Maryland in behalf of the struggle for the removal of civil disabilities of the Jews.
The Cohen Family.
The first circumstance is largely connected with the arrival in Baltimore from Richmond, Va., in the year 1803, of the Cohen family, consisting of the widow and six sons of Israel J. Cohen. The eldest son, Jacob I. Cohen, Jr., became at an early age a successful business man, and the founder of the banking-house of Jacob I. Cohen, Jr., & Brothers,widely and honorably known in commercial circles. With Solomon Etting he was early recognized as a leader and representative figure in the local Jewish community. His interest in public affairs was keen and sustained, his intercourse and friendship with persons engaged in public life large and intimate, and his concern for the full emancipation of Jews in Maryland intense. He was the author of the successive petitions for relief and the proposed constitutional amendments that besieged every session of the General Assembly from 1816 to 1826. He was the moving spirit of the sharp legislative struggle that followed each effort, and it was his personal friends, largely out of regard for him, who led in the successive contests.
Struggle in Legislature.
The second circumstance, the actual as distinct from the possible inconvenience entailed by civil disabilities, is closely associated with the rise in material importance of members of the Jewish community. The elder Cohen had in Richmond been "conspicuous in all municipal movements, being chosen a magistrate and a member of the city council"; his sons found that so humble an office as that of wood-corder in Baltimore required a preliminary declaration of belief in the Christian religion. Reuben Etting was deemed by Thomas Jefferson worthy of appointment as United States marshal for Maryland, but for the office of constable or justice of the peace his religious persuasion was an absolute disqualification. Others who had served with distinction in the defense of Baltimore in 1812 and in subsequent military engagements were disqualified from rising from the ranks, and while personal bravery and the esteem and admiration of associates caused the letter of the law to be ignored, the officer's commission was held nevertheless by tacit consent and upon bare sufferance. These two conditions, the larger influence and wider intercourse of leading Jewish families of Baltimore and the actual hardship suffered by the operation of civil disabilities, combined to enlist the sympathy and aid of a group of men active in public life in Maryland, and these conducted the legislative struggle for full emancipation in the General Assembly in the years from 1816 to 1826. The most prominent figure in this group, which included Thomas Brackenridge, E. S. Thomas, General Winder, Col. W. G. D. Worthington, and John V. L. MacMahon, was Thomas Kennedy of Washington county.
The history of the legislative struggle for the removal of the obnoxious restriction can be indicated here only in the barest outline. Beginning with the legislative session of 1818, and continuing until the desired end was attained in 1826, a deliberate and sustained attempt was made at each successive session of the General Assembly to secure legislation relieving the Jewish appointee to political or civil office in Maryland of the necessity of subscribing to a declaration of belief in the Christian religion. The legislative struggle attracted wide-spread attention throughout the United States. The important newspapers of the country characterized the test as a disgraceful survival of religious intolerance and urged its prompt repeal. The Jew Bill became a clearly defined issue in Maryland politics. In the debate in the legislative session of 1819-20, a detailed account of which has been preserved in notes taken by Thomas Kennedy and communicated to Jacob I. Cohen, it was openly charged that certain members had failed of reelection because they had voted for the repeal of Jewish disabilities. On the other hand, a disposition favorable to Jewish emancipation became at an early date a sine qua non of election from Baltimore. In 1822 a bill to the desired effect passed both houses of the General Assembly; but the constitution of Maryland required that any act amendatory thereto must be passed at one session of the General Assembly and published and confirmed at the succeeding session of the legislature. Accordingly recourse was necessary to the legislative session of 1823-24, in which a confirmatory bill was introduced, accompanied by a petition, marked by singular loftiness of sentiment and dignity of tone, from the Jews in Maryland. The bill was confirmed by the Senate, but in the House of Delegates, after a stirring debate, the important speeches in which have been preserved, it was defeated, and all formal legislation hitherto enacted was rendered nugatory.
Act of 1825.
But the end was nearer, perhaps, than even the friends of emancipation dared hope. On the very last day of the following session of the legislature (Feb. 26, 1825) an act "for the relief of the Jews in Maryland," which had already received the sanction of the Senate, was passed by the House of Delegates by a vote of twenty-six to twenty-five, only fifty-one out of eighty members being present. The bill provided that "every citizen of this state professing the Jewish religion" who shall be appointed to any office of profit or trust shall, in addition to the required oaths, make and subscribe a declaration of his belief in a future state of rewards and punishments instead of the declaration now required by the government of the state. A year later the brief but effective statute was enacted "that an act passed at December session, 1824, entitled an 'act for the relief of the Jews in Maryland,' shall be, and the same is hereby, confirmed."
An epilogue to the history of the struggle thus sketched were the repeal in 1847, at the instance of Dr. Joshua I. Cohen and through the efforts of John P. Kennedy, of a curious surviving discrimination against the Jews in the existing laws of evidence, and the efforts made, also at the instance of Dr. Joshua I. Cohen, in the constitutional conventions of 1850 and 1867 to eliminate entirely the religious test. The removal of the civil disabilities of the Jews in Maryland was gracefully signalized by the prompt election in Baltimore (Oct., 1826), as members of the city council, of Solomon Etting and Jacob I. Cohen, both of whom had been throughout the moving spirits of the legislative struggle. Cohen was made president of the "First Branch," and subsequently was elected for a long series of years as a municipal representative of his ward.
Since 1825 the Jew in Maryland has suffered no formal disability with respect to political office, and he has been frequently appointed to positions oftrust and influence. The later history of the Jews in Maryland has been in the main the history of the Jewish community of BALTIMORE. Small bodies of Jews are to be found in Cumberland (165 in 1901), Hagerstown (209 in 1902), and in many localities throughout the state. The Jewish population of Baltimore in 1902 was estimated at 25,000, and that of the twenty-three counties (including towns) outside of Baltimore, at 1,500, making the total Jewish population of the state 26,500.
- Hollander, Some Unpublished Material Relating to Dr. Jacob Lumbrozo of Maryland, in Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. 1893, No. 1, pp. 25-39;
- idem, Civil Status of the Jews in Maryland, 1634-1776, ib. 1894, No. 2, pp. 33-44 (see also references therein cited);
- Sketch of Proceedings in the Legislature of Maryland, December Session, 1818, on What Is Commonly Called the Jew Bill, Baltimore, 1819;
- Address to the Children of Israel in Maryland, ib. 1820;
- Speech of Thomas Kennedy, Esq., in the Legislature of Maryland on the Bill Respecting Civil Rights and Religious Privileges, Annapolis, 1823;
- Memorial of Jewish Inhabitants of Maryland to the General Assembly, 1824 (n.p.);
- Governor Worthington's Speech on the Maryland Test Act, 1824, Baltimore, 1824;
- Speeches on the Jew Bill in the House of Delegates in Maryland, by H. M. Brackenridge, Col. W. G. D. Worthington, and John S. Tyson, Esquire, Philadelphia, 1829;
- Winning the Battle;
- or One Girl in Ten Thousand, ib. 1882;
- G. E. Barnett, in American Jewish Year Book, 1902-3, pp. 46-62;
- correspondence and records in the possession of Mr. Mendes Cohen, Baltimore, Md.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Maryland'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​m/maryland.html. 1901.