Levy, Moses Elias

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LEVY, MOSES ELIAS (c. 1782–1854), pioneer Jewish settler in Florida, visionary exponent of Jewish colonization and educational schemes, and father of the first congressman and senator of Jewish birth, David L. *Yulee. Levy led a life which was fascinating in its variety. Born in Mogador, Morocco, and brought up in Gibraltar, Levy settled in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, about 1800, achieving some success in business. He left St. Thomas and moved to Havana, Cuba, where he established himself as a government contractor and invested heavily in real estate which was located in Florida (then still under Spanish rule). After the cession of Florida to the United States in 1821, Levy took up residence in the new American territory and registered for American citizenship. Levy developed a number of plantations in Florida but never succeeded in attracting the settlers, including Jews, he had envisaged. In 1821 he also undertook a campaign for the establishment of a Jewish boarding school, which, however, aroused little interest. It is ironic that this champion of Jewish education so alienated his two sons that the one, David, eagerly adopted Christianity, not merely for convenience prior to his marriage as some have thought, and the other, Elias, was at one time a missionary minister of the Swedenborgian sect. Levy spent a number of years in London during the late 1820s and engaged in public debate over Jewish theological questions; several pamphlets on various themes of Jewish interest were published in his name at this time. Hard luck pursued Levy's agricultural and mercantile ventures: fire, war, and litigation devoured his assets. The wealth that Florida had seemed to promise always eluded him. Levy had close contacts with a number of important Jewish merchants and communal leaders of his day, including Moses Myers of Norfolk and Mordecai M. Noah and the Rev. M.L.M. Peixotto of New York City.


L. Huhner, in: Florida Historical Quarterly, 19 (1941), 319–45; B.W. Korn, Eventful Years and Experiences (1954), 152–3, 199–200; S. Proctor, in: Proceedings of the Conference on the Writing of Regional History in the South (1956), 81–115.

[Bertram Wallace Korn]

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