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Levy, Uriah Phillips

LEVY, URIAH PHILLIPS

LEVY, URIAH PHILLIPS (1792–1862), U.S. naval officer. Levy was born in Philadelphia, into a distinguished family of U.S. patriots. Running away to sea at ten, he became a sailing master in the United States navy at 20 and a midshipman four years later. Commissioned as lieutenant in 1816 and captain in 1844, he saw little active duty in the years 1827–57 because of disciplinary problems. In 1857 he was reinstated by a naval Court of Inquiry and ordered to the Mediterranean, where in 1859 he served for six months as commodore of the U.S. fleet. Most of what is known about Levy is from the record of six court-martials and the proceedings of his fight against an order in 1855 dropping him from the navy lists, together with 200 fellow officers. He was certainly an excellent sailor, a good disciplinarian, a progressive officer, and a brave patriot. He was also extremely sensitive about his Jewishness, exhibited some peculiar mannerisms, and was extremely pugnacious. The proceedings established beyond a doubt that his career had suffered because of antisemitism. On the other hand, any officer with his record of six court-martials and his unorthodox methods of maintaining discipline might have had the same difficulties. Moreover, he had begun his career as a sailing master, unlike the "gentlemen" who received their commission as midshipmen directly. In spite of these handicaps and an array of petty accusations against him, an imposing list of high naval officers testified to his honorable character and his professional ability. Levy's greatest liability, so far as popularity with his fellow officers went, but his greatest claim to lasting fame as well, was his active espousal of a law to prohibit corporal punishment in the navy. Senator John Parker Hale sponsored such a bill (1850), and Levy was one of a small group of naval officers who supported him. Indeed, Levy had long previously advocated such a change, not only in numerous writings, but as captain of the s.s.Vandalia, the first ship to sail with discipline maintained without recourse to the lash. Levy wrote extensively on the problems of naval discipline. He also published A Manual of Informal Rules and Regulations for Men-of-War and several navigation charts. While on active duty, he found time to explore the Rio Grande from Veracruz as far up as Matamores. During his years of inactive service Levy acquired, and at great expense refurbished, Thomas Jefferson's estate at Monticello, which eventually became the summer home of his nephew, J.M. *Levy, until purchased by a public organization and made into a historic monument. His mother is buried along the walk approaching the main house. During the 1855 proceedings, Levy testified that his "parents were Israelites and I was nurtured in the faith of my ancestors." He was a member of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York and a charter member of Washington Hebrew Congregation. He sponsored (1854) the new Seminary of the Bnai Jeshurun Educational Institute in New York. Levy received a traditional Jewish funeral and is buried in the Cypress Hill Cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel in Brooklyn, New York.

bibliography:

A. Kanof, in: ajhsp, 39 (1949/50), 1 66.

[Abram Kanof]

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