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Cresson, Warder


CRESSON, WARDER (1798–1860), U.S. religious zealot, convert to Judaism, and visionary Zionist. Cresson, born into an old Philadelphia Quaker family, became successively a Shaker, a Mormon, a Millerite, and a Campbellite, while earning a living as a farmer outside Philadelphia. After associating with Isaac *Leeser for several years, Cresson determined in 1844 to visit the Holy Land. He received an honorary appointment as American consul at Jerusalem, but a protest by Samuel D. Ingham, a former secretary of treasury, who believed that Cresson had been "laboring under an aberration of the mind for many years," and that "his mania is of the religious species," resulted in the appointment being withdrawn. By then, however, Cresson had left for Palestine, and for a time believed that he was representing the American government. Four years of residence in Jerusalem persuaded him that he could find spiritual truth in Judaism; despite the discouragement of the chief rabbi of Jerusalem and of the bet din, he was circumcised and converted in 1848. Returning to Philadelphia to settle his affairs, Cresson was declared insane by a jury at the instigation of his wife and son, who felt that his conversion was an indication of mental imbalance. He appealed the decision and received a new trial, and in 1851 was found by the jury to be sane. They ruled that Judaism was a legitimate religion and that Cresson was not insane in converting. The Philadelphia Public Ledger commented that the case "settled forever … the principle that a man's religious opinions never can be made a test of his sanity." While in Philadelphia, he lived as an observant Jew and prayed at Mikveh Israel. Before returning to Palestine in 1852 as Michael Boaz, Israel ben-Abraham, he published a polemical volume entitled Key of David, David the True Messiah (1851). Back in Jerusalem, Cresson undertook propaganda campaigns against Christian missionary groups and on behalf of agricultural colonization of Jews in Palestine. He remained in contact with Leeser, who published many of his communications in his journal The Occident. Cresson lived in Jerusalem as a Sephardi and married a Sephardi wife, Rachel Moledano.


Friedewald, in: Jewish Comment (Baltimore), 12 (Nov. 30, 1900), 1–2; Karp, in: American Jewish Historical Society, Early History of Zionism in America (1958), 1–20. add. bibliography : H. Obenzinger, American Palestine: Melville, Twain and the Holy Land Mania (1999).

[Bertram Wallace Korn /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

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