COHEN , prominent U.S. family in the 18th–19th centuries, mostly in Baltimore. jacob i. (1744–1823) was the first of the family to go from Oberdorf, Germany, to the U.S. (1773). He served in the Revolutionary Army, and in 1780 settled in Richmond. A successful banker and merchant, he was much honored by the citizens of his city. Like other leading Jews of that period, Jacob I. Cohen was active in Masonic affairs. He was also active in Jewish affairs and was a founder of the first Richmond synagogue, Beth Shalom. The last 17 years of his life were spent in Philadelphia. He was the pillar of the city's Mikveh Israel Congregation and served as its president during 1810–11. In his will he provided that upon his death his black slaves were to be freed and each one given $25.00. The progenitor of the Baltimore branch of the family was Jacob's brother, israel i. (1751–1803), who arrived in the U.S. from Germany around 1784. He too settled in Richmond, where he became a leading citizen and was very active in Jewish affairs. In 1808 his widow Judith (Salomon) moved with her seven children to Baltimore, where Israel's descendants became prominent as financiers, scientists, physicians, and public servants.
jacob i. (1789–1869) eldest of Israel's sons, started out in the lottery business in Baltimore and branched out into banking, establishing J.I. Cohen, Jr. and Bros. The bank had a considerable reputation, with a branch in Philadelphia. It was also a fiscal agent of the Rothschilds. In addition to banking, Jacob I. Cohen's other enterprises included a directorship of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the presidency of the Baltimore-Philadelphia Railroad. Although U.S.-born, Cohen was active in the affairs of the German Society of Maryland. He held a minyan for services in his palatial home. He is best remembered for his participation with Solomon *Etting in the protracted struggle for Jewish equality in Maryland. In a memorial presented by him to the legislature he stressed that Jews were not asking for privileges, but rights, and that "to disqualify any class of citizen is for the people to disqualify themselves." After the passing of the so-called "Jew Bill," Cohen was elected a councilman of the city (1826), later serving as president of the city council during 1845–51. He never joined any Baltimore synagogue, but did participate in the organization of a short-lived Sephardi congregation (1856–58). mendes i. (1796–1879), brother of Jacob I., was born in Richmond and spent a few years in the banking business. He then traveled abroad during 1829–35, visiting practically every country in Europe and the Near East, including Palestine. He was a prolific writer and his letters and diaries are a rich source of information about Jewish life in the countries he visited. Cohen was the first American to explore the Nile, and presented his important collection of Egyptian relics to Johns Hopkins University. Cohen also served in the Maryland State Assembly during 1847–48. benjamin i. (c. 1798–1845) and david i. (1800–1847), brothers of Jacob and Mendes, were noted bankers who helped establish the Baltimore Stock Exchange in 1837. As Orthodox Jews, they neither attended meetings on the board of the Stock Exchange nor transacted business on the Sabbath. Benjamin was an officer of the German Society. He served in the Maryland militia and was active in passing the Maryland "Jew Bill." joshua i. (1801–1870), another brother, was born in Richmond, and became a physician and one of the early American otologists. A recognized authority in this field, he was elected president of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the University of Maryland, where he was also professor of mineralogy and geology. Cohen's valuable Judaica collection, cataloged by Cyrus Adler (1887), is housed in Dropsie College. Like his elder brother Jacob, Joshua was actively engaged in securing Jewish rights in Maryland. Even after passage of the "Jew Bill", discriminatory laws remained on the books. The doctor attended the state constitutional conventions of 1851, 1864, and 1867 and struggled with limited success for equal rights. Cohen was active in Jewish communal affairs, and like his brothers was Orthodox but never joined any local synagogue. His voluminous correspondence in Isaac Leeser's Occident in Philadelphia contributes much on the history of the Baltimore Jewish community.
mendes (1831–1915) son of David. Mendes was born in Baltimore. An accomplished engineer, he was president of a number of railroad companies, and served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Cohen was interested in many communal affairs, especially the Maryland Historical Society, of which he was secretary (1875–1904) and president (1904–14). He purchased rare collections of documents for the society and bequeathed it $5,000. A founder of the American Jewish Historical Society, Cohen was a member of its executive council. He contributed to Jewish causes in Baltimore.
Rosenbloom, Biog Dict, s.v.; Baroway, in: Maryland Historical Magazine, 18 (1923), 355–75; 19 (1924), 54–77; H.T. Ezekiel and G. Lichtenstein, History of the Jews of Richmond (1917), 352; H. Simonhoff, Jewish Notables in America 1776–1865 (1956), 394; S.R. Kagan, Jewish Contributions to Medicine in America (1934), 26–27; dab; Adler, in: ajhsp, 25 (1917), 145–7.
[Isaac M. Fein]