Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Despite the small Jewish population at the time of the American Revolutionary War (historians put the number at roughly 2,000), a few Jews played an active role in the war effort. One extremely rare volume I recently acquired sheds light on some of these activities. The title of the work is The Journals Of The Proceedings of Congress: Held at Philadelphia, from January to May, 1776.

Given that only 80 copies of it survived, it is possibly the rarest of all early volumes covering the proceedings of Congress. Needless to say, the journals of the first four months of 1776 cover some of the most critical early moments of the Revolution. Included are communications with George Washington at Boston, provisions for raising troops and supplies to fight the war, and discussion of Indian relations.


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Of Jewish Interest: the section covering Wednesday, April 10, 1776 discusses business done with Bernard and Michael Gratz, two Jewish merchants and land speculators. Another likely Jewish name in this volume is Isaac Cozneau; he was elected captain of a frigate. In the entry for February 7, 1776, we find mention of David Franks, a prominent Jewish businessman of Philadelphia and a noted Tory who did business with the British during the Revolutionary War period.

I acquired this item as part of a very fine collection of early printed books and fine bindings of a New York Orthodox Jew, whose library ended up in the hands of his granddaughter, who recently passed away.