Date of this Version
Kylie McCormick, Father and Servant, Son and Slave: Judaism and Labor in Georgia, 1732-1809, (University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Master's Thesis, 2016).
In 1732 a philanthropic trusteeship was granted the charter to Georgia with the lofty goals of bringing aid to the impoverished in the British Empire and the persecuted Protestants of Europe. Within these goals was an emphasis on using the labor of indentured white servants, an unofficial ban on slavery, and a reluctance to allow Jewish colonists. To understand how both slavery and Judaism took hold in Georgia, this two part study explores the changing labor institutions through the lives of Benjamin Sheftall and his youngest son Levi—the two men who maintained the first Vital Records for Savanah’s Jewry. Benjamin’s story dominates part one with a focus on indentured servants by highlighting Benjamin’s advocacy for the German speaking colonists; cultural and religious interaction; as well as the ways in which slavery in the Atlantic world shaped attitudes and practices in Georgia. Part two follows Levi’s life as the ban on slavery is lifted through the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, focusing on moments of cultural and religious interaction within the grander scheme of socioeconomics.
This study places Georgia’s history of Judaism in the context of its geopolitical time. Often the narratives of Judaism in Georgia fail to address the labor institutions that dominated and shaped the everyday lived experience in the region. This study challenges the dominate theory held since 1961 that there were no appreciable differences between the slaveholding of Jewish and non-Jewish people by highlighting moments when the practice of Judaism impacted the lives of the enslaved. Among the significant differences, I highlight Levi’s observance of Jewish law and city Sabbatarian ordinances, which afforded some enslaved peoples two days to labor for themselves. This study contextualizes the lives of Benjamin and Levi while examining the uniquely Jewish aspects of their interactions with the labor institutions of servitude and slavery in colonial and post-Revolutionary War Georgia.