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The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Volume 2) online

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legiate courses imparted in the magnificent Gothic structure known as the
Bishop Harkins Hall.

Two auxiliaries and a co-ad jutor Bishop were appointed by the Holy
See to assist Bishop Harkins in his extensive episcopal labors. The first
of these was the Rt. Rev. Thomas F. Doran. Vicar-General of the diocese
for twenty-three years, and named as Auxiliary by Pope Pius X in 191 5.
He filled the office for about a year, and his death occurred on January 3,
1916. On July 13 of the following year, the Rt. Rev. D. M. Lowney suc-
ceeded to the important office of Auxiliary, and was consecrated October
2^, 191 7. Bishop Lowney was called to his reward in August, 1918, and in
January, 1919, the Rt. Rev. Augustin Hickey, of Qinton, Massachusetts,
was named by Pope Benedict XV as a Co-ad jutor to the See of Provi-
dence. Bishop Hickey was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Beaven in
the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on April 25, 1919, and succeeded to


the spiritual leadership of the 275,000 Catholics who are now to be found
within the borders of this State.

Tliere are 238 priests attached to the ninety-four churches and mis-
sions and the sixty chapels which are scattered over Rhode Island. There
are three academies for young men, five for young ladies, and forty-one
parochial schools, in which institutions there are upwards of 25,000 chil-
dren. Four Orphan Asylums are caring for an average of 600 children,
and an Infant Asylum assumes the burdens of protecting two hundred
more. There are two hospitals conducted under Catholic auspices, St.
Joseph's here in Providence, and the Hills Grove Sanitarium, both in
charge of the Sisters of St. Francis. Two Homes for Working Girls
furnish accommodations for two hundred, and the Home for Working
Boys provides for sixty. The Little Sisters of the Poor maintain a Home
for the Aged in Pawtucket, and the average number of inmates is about
three hundred. There are five Day Nurseries for Children, two Industrial
Schools and two Summer Homes, and all of these are performing a social
service that is a notable contribution to the welfare of the community. In
its organization, its church property, its educational system, its charitable
institutions, and in its exceptional facilities for accomplishing effective
religious work, the Catholic Church in Rhode Island can scarcely be sur-
passed in any diocese in the whole range of the United States.

Concerning the Jews.

Rhode Island is prominent in the early history of the Jews of Amer-
ica. Until the Revolution, Newport was far more important than New
York, and its extensive trade facilities attracted many Jewish merchants.
It was only one of the inexplicable occurrences of history which' later
gave to New York its supremacy, to Newport its decline.

Life was a constant struggle for the early white settlers in Rhode
Island. Game and fish were plentiful, but other food was scarce, and as
these settlers were unaccustomed to agriculture or cattle raising, they
would have starved but for the assistance of the Indians, whose friendly
aid they gained through Roger Williams, who had early won the esteem
of the red man.

If this pioneer life was difficult for the average settler, what must it
have meant of hardship for the observant Jewess. When meat could be
obtained only from the Indians, how was she to give her family the kosher
meat her religion demanded? How, in this new, strange land, far from
the niceties of civilization, was she to maintain any of the ceremonies
of her religion? Hers must have been a repetition of the trials which
beset the Jewish housewife during the forty years in the wilderness.
And yet, despite all difficulties, she conquered. She gladly endured tem-
poral discomforts for the joy of worshipping her God unmolested. Re-
member, many of these women came from Spain and Portugal where the
Inquisition had forced them to become Marranos ; where persecution was



so strong that their children had two sets of names, Cathohc names for
the outside world, Jewish names for the home circle. Remember that
these women, to disarm suspicion and to save their lives and the lives of
their children, seemingly told their beads in public, though their hearts
formed, not the Ave Maria and the Pater Noster, but the Shemang.
Remember that these women were so much slaves of habit and fear that
even here, far from their bloodthirsty oppressors, they still fingered
their beads as they repeated their Hebrew prayers, though their one desire
was to throw off all memory of their days of persecution. To this end,
their first act in the new country was to return publicly to their faith,
forever abjuring the Catholic names forced upon them in Spain, and even
though they had grown-up children, being re-married according to Jewish
rites. Such were Moses Lopez, whose name in Portugal was Jose, Ed-
ward Lopez, who re-married his wife, changing the name of his daughters
from Anna and Catherine to Abigail and Sarah, and Michael Lopez, who
changed his name to Abraham, and who re-married his wife, changing her
name from Joana to Abigail.

The fifteen Jewish families that came to Newport from Holland in
1658 immediately formed a Congregation, Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of
Israel.) They worshipped at the houses of the members until their de-
scendants in 1759 laid the foundations of the present Synagogue which
was completed in 1763. There also came in 1658 two Spanish Jews,
Moses Pacheco and Mordecai Campanal who brought with them the three
Masonic degrees, and who organized the first Masonic Lodge in America.
The meetings were held in the members' homes until St. John's Lodge
was organized in 1750.

All of these families were of high moral and financial standing, and
their money and marked ability added much to the development of the
country. Their women endured many discomforts until at the end of the
seventeenth century Newport commenced to build a comfortable type of
house, Providence at the same period having only log houses with a ladder
leading to the second story.

In 1684 a public officer, William Dyre, seized the estates of some
Jews on the ground that they were aliens, but their good conduct during
their twenty odd years of residence stood them in good stead, the General
Assembly ruling in their favor, and saying that they "might expect as
good protection here as any stranger not of our nation ought to have, being
obedient to the laws." But they were obliged to remain strangers and
were not permitted to become part of the nation, for when Aaron Lopez
and Isaac Eleazar applied in 1762 for naturalization, the Newport Super-
ior Court denied it on religious grounds, and this discrimination (which
did not then exist in New York) was not removed in Newport until 1783.

In 1694 Jews from Curacao came to Newport, and after the earth-
quake in Lisbon in 1755 sixty Spanish families joined them, all wealthy,
well-educated merchants. This education made their women prominent in
a community where but few English women could even sign their own
names. They brought not only education, but personal refinement, rumor
having it that they introduced into Newport the use of the tooth-brush.

They came into a country where for more than thirty years every
family in comfortable circumstances owned at least one slave. The freely


given labor of the Indians was a thing of the past. There were a very-
few white laborers, but the first settlers were practically on a social equal-
' ity, and slavery became perforce a national institution.

The housewives of that day had to struggle with prices beside which
even our war prices of to-day seem ridiculously low when we consider
the greater purchasing power of money in general at that time. The Eng-
Hsh shilling then in use was the equivalent of 16% cents. In the middle
of the eighteenth century Newport housewives were paying for beef 4s.
6d., that is, 75 cents a pound ; for milk, 16^ cents a quart ; butter, $1.16^
a pound; cheese, 50 cents a pound. A seamstress received $12 a week
for dressmaking, but quilting was more important, so for overseeing a
quilting bee she was paid $3 a day.

The names of these early settlers survive in our well-known Jewish
families of to-day. Solomon, Mendes. Moses, Meyers, Lyon, Jacobs,
Eleazar — these were among the earliest settlers, and in 1755 came the
Lopez, Rivera, Polack, Hart and Hays families.

At that time if aliens traded in English colonies, their vessels and
goods were forfeit. We have seen that Newport was unwilling to grant
naturalization to Jews, so before going to the English colony of Newport,
Moses Lopez, Abram de Rivera and Solomon Hart were naturalized in
the Dutch colony of New York.

These families became closely connected by marriage, Moses Lopez
marrying Rebecca, the daughter of Abram de Rivera, and Moses Seixas
marrying Jochebed Levy. Moses Seixas was one of the founders of the
Bank of Rhode Island and was its cashier until his death. He was the
first Master of St. John's Masonic Lodge of Newport and Grand Master
of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island. He had a patriarchal quiverful
of daughters, Bilhah, Abigail, Grace, Esther, Rachel, Hannah and Judith.
Bilhah, Abigail and Esther died unmarried. Rachel was married July
5, 1797, to Naphthali Phillips in what is now the Ferry Mansion on the
Parade, Newport. At that time it was the family residence of Moses
Seixas who later sold it to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Grace re-
mained a spinster until the mellow age of seventy-two, when she married
Dr. Benjamin I. Cohen. Truly, romance springs eternal in the feminine

It was not for lack of suitors that she remained single until prac-
tically the end of her days, for she was a beautiful, talented woman who
shone in the community. In her youth, Governor Wanton of Rhode
Island was deeply in love with her, but she could not persuade herself to
consider intermarriage. She was well and favorably known as a writer
of prose and poetry, though her one book, "Rose-Marie" is all that we
have left to-day. Only two copies are known to exist, one in the Red-
wood Library at Newport, and one in the New York Public Library.

There is not much trace in the old cemetery at Newport of the early
Jewish women. When the cemetery was repaired according to the pro-
visions of Judah Touro's will, many stones were found to be broken and
crumbled. These remnants were reverently gathered and buried, and
records which would have been of inestimable value were forever lost.
Tlie earliest stones left are to the memory of women who lived and died
in Boston, but who were buried in Newport, as, for instance, Reyna, wife



of Isaac Touro, Rachel Hays and Mrs. Fegla Elkan. Other valuable
records which we would have prized to-day, were destroyed by the
British when they occupied Newport.

In 1763 the Newport Synagogue, the oldest in America, was com-
pleted at a cost of 2000 pounds sterling, although there were only twenty
Jewish families in Newport at the time. It was dedicated on December
2, its first chasan being Isaac Touro, a refugee from Portugal. Three
copies of the Torah (one from Amsterdam, 200 years old) were carried
in solemn procession and deposited in the Ark. The ceremony was im-
pressive and the Synagogue beautiful in its simplicity. It is a building
40x30, with a deep gallery supported on Ionic columns, these topped by
Corinthian pillars, which hold the roof. Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of
Yale University, who was present says. "The order and decorum, the
harmony and solemnity of the musick, together with a handsome assembly
of people in an edifice the most perfect of the Temple kind perhaps in
America, and splendidly illuminated, could not but raise in the mind a
faint idea of the majesty and grandeur of the ancient [ewish worship."
Perhaps the most interesting of all the Newport "families was the
Touro family, descendants of the first chasan. Abraham Touro in 1822
left $10,000 to the State of Rhode Island for the preservation of the Syna-
gogue, and his brother Judah, in 1854, left $10,000 similarly in trust for
the preservation of the cemetery and for the salary of a Rabbi. In their
honor the street on which the Synagogue stands is called Touro street.
Judah Touro was much opposed to slavery and owned but one slave.
He gave this slave a business education, and then emancipated him and set
him up in business for himself. He urged all his friends to free their
slaves and helped in that wherever possible. He was public spirited, as
is evidenced by his donation of $10,000 which made possible the building
of Bunker Hill monument. He was so universally beloved that on June
6, 1854, delegations came from all over the country to attend his funeral,
these delegations being the guests of the city of Newport. He never mar-
ried. He and his cousin, Catherine Hays, one of the prominent Newport
women, loved each other, but their close relationship prevented their mar-
riage and both remained single. But she felt she could not remain in
Newport and moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she died the same
month, almost the same day that he died. In memory of their unhappy
love, he left her $5,000 in his will.

After his death there was a project to erect a monument to him. but
this was abandoned as being a violation of Jewish law. He remembered
all existing charitable organizations liberally in his will, not only those of
Rhode Island, but also many in various parts of the country. The best
proof that there was no Jewish woman's organization in Rhode Island at
that time is the fact that none was mentioned in this generous document.
No history of the Jews of Rhode Island, men or women, would be
complete without a mention of Brown University which, in its women's
annex, Pembroke, has so many of our Jewish girls of to-day. This
University, a Baptist institution, was opened to Jews by a subscription
in 1770 of 20 pounds sterling (about $100) by Moses Lindo, a Jewish
merchant of Charleston, South Carolina. The University Corporation
thereupon voted "That the children of Jews may be admitted into this


institution and entirely enjoy the freedom of their rehgion without any
restraint or imposition whatever, and that the Qiancellor and President
do write Mr. Moses Lindo of Charleston, South Carolina, and give him
intimation of this resolution."

The personnel of the Jewish population of Newport changed with
the Revolution. The Jews were loyal to the States, and when the British
occupied Newport, they left for Leicester, Massachusetts, Charleston,
Savannah, Richmond and Philadelphia. For years the Jewish population
was negligible. In 1883 a few German Jews found their way there, the
most prominent family being that of Eugene Schrej. Later Jews came
from southeastern Europe and the Synagogue was re-opened. The Span-
ish element survived in its Rabbi, Rev. Dr. Abraham Mendes, who was
greatly beloved and to whose memory a beautiful carved olive wood tablet
has been placed in the Synagogue.

The first activity among the Jewish women of Newport was in 1892
when a charitable association was organized by Mrs. Rosen. In 1905 a
Section of the C. J. W. was organized by Mrs. Misch with Miss Sara
Schreier as president.

Providence had a few Jewish settlers in 1769, but there was no com-
munal activity until 1840, when Solomon Pereira of Amsterdam settled
there, followed shortly by enough others to make Minyan. A Congrega-
tion was thereupon formed which met in Pereira's home. An alcove in
his parlor was used for the Sefer Torah which was borrowed from New
York for the Holy Days. He later donated ground for a cemetery and
built round it the fence which the law demanded. The members of this
early Congregation were Wormser, Stern, Pereira, Rashkover, Stein-
berger, Frank, Nathan, Solomon, Halberstadt and Kalter. There were
itemized charges against Kalter's estate for ten men for minyan, for the
seven days' shiva, and for a bolt of linen for a shroud. In 1854 the Con-
gregation was formed which is today the Reform Temple Beth El.

The first communal activity of the Jewish women of Providence was
the organization in 1872 by the then Rabbi, Rev. Dr. Voorsanger of the
Ladies' Montefiore Hebrew Benevolent Association, still in existence as
a benevolent and charitable organization. The first officers were : Presi-
dent, Mrs. David Frank ; vice-president, Mrs. Charles Green ; treasurer,
Mrs. Julius Shuman. In 1894 a Section of the C. J. W. was organized by
Rev. Dr. David Blaustein with Mrs. David C. Fink as president.

The Jewish settlements in the other cities and towns of the State are
the organization in 1872 by the then Rabbi, Rev. Dr. Voorsanger, of the
years old. In 19 16 a Section of the C. J. W. was organized in Pawtucket
by Mrs. William Loeb and Mrs. Misch with Mrs. Jules Levy as president.
The two Rhode Island Sections of the Council, Pawtucket and Providence,
are valued members of the Rhode Island State Federation of Women's
Clubs, and lead in all afifairs of import to the women in general of the

We may have seemed to say too much about the men of the pioneer
days, but records of the women are scanty, while the records of the men
show what position they, and through them their women held and through
what conditions they built their fives. It is a picture of a happy life
almost patriarchal in its simplicity, a life which despite the hardships en-


countered in the new, undeveloped country, was but a pleasant, dreamless
rest after the horrible nightmare of the Spanish Inquisition from which
so many of the pioneer Rhode Island Jews were refugees.

In Providence there are one Reform Jewish Temple (progressive),
seven synogogues (orthodox), and three Hevras (which are smaller con-
gregations without a building for religious activities). Newport has two
synogogues; Pawtucket, one; Woonsocket, one; Bristol, one; Westerly,
one ; making a total of seventeen in the State of Rhode Island.

The Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island is located at 1213 North
Mam street. Providence. The first Jewish Orphanage in Providence was
established on Willard avenue. A second one was opened on Orms street,
which met with more encouragement, because of the earnest endeavors of
the Jewish women. It was not until the two were combined in 1909, the
date of incorporation of the present institution, that the Orphanage was
placed upon a substantial financial basis by the leading Jewish business
men who were elected to the directorship of the home. On June 24, 1910,
its present location was acquired and occupied. Since that time until the
present, under the presidency of William Schloss, one of its organizers,
this institution has become the most popular Jewish agency in the State
of Rhode Island, both with respect to its large membership, which approxi-
mates 1 100 persons, and to its financial support. Early in the year 1913
the directors decided that a more salutary development of the work of the
home and better training of the children would be efifected by securing a
superintendent who had experience in such work and who was expert in
child training. On April i of that year Henry Woolf, A. M., former
superintendent of the Leopold Morse Home of Boston, was elected to
this position, and under his administration the Orphanage has ranked
among the first progressive Jewish orphan asylums in the country. The
Ladies' x\uxiliary to the Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island was organ-
ized in 1912 as an auxiliary to the Orphanage corporation.

The Hebrew Ladies' Union Aid Association was organized in 1881,
m Providence. It functions as a relief agency for the Jewish poor of this
city. It has the largest membership of any Jewish relief organization in
the State, its subscribers numbering approximately 700. This association
also supports entirely the Jewish Old Folks' Home, located at 161 Orms
street. This home was established by the Ladies' Union Aid Association,
m the year 191 5, for the purpose of caring for indigent and infirm aged
Hebrews of both sexes.

The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Providence was organized
February 4, 1903. The purpose of this association is to loan to persons
of the Jewish community certain amounts of money without interest
which will help them to tide over financial difficulties or which will aid in
setting them up in a small business way, so that the recipient may not have
to become even a temporary dependent upon charity. The notes of the
recipients are endorsed by substantial business men, so that rarely have
any of the funds been lost to the association. At the time of the creation
of this agency, loans amounting to $25 could be advanced. At present
loans are made as high as $500.

The Hebrew Educational Institute, located at 65 Benefit street. Provi-
dence, was incorporated April 16, 1914. The organizer was Dr. Albert 1.


Pobirs, of Providence. The objects of the institute are "to acquire a
building to be properly equipped with the facilities for maintaining depart-
ments of Jewish learning where the young people of the Jewish faith may
be instructed in Jewish thought and hfe; where concerted action shall
have for its aim, regeneration in the field of mental, moral and physical
development, in order that they may not be carried away from their faith
for which our fathers have paid so dearly; to maintain a place where
local Jewish activities may be centralized under competent Jewish authori-
ties, able to expound the axioms of the spiritual elements of religion har-
mony and brotherly love, as the governing principles of uniting the Jewish
community into one indestructible body of noble, intelligent American

Early Opinions as to State of Religion in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island. — This island is about fifouerteen miles Long, in some
places 3 or 4 miles Broad, in other lesse. It is full of people haveing
been a receptacle for people of severall sorts and opinions. There was a
Patent granted to one Coddington for the Government of this Island, and
Warwick and Providence, two Townes which lye on the Maine, and I
think they still keepe a seeming forme of Government but to little pur-
pose, none submitting to Supream Authority but as they please. — Samuel
Maverick, Boston, 1624- 1664, from "Account of New England,"_ 1660.

They allow liberty of conscience and worship to all who live civilly.

In this Colony is the greatest number of Indians, yet they never had
anything allowed towards the civilizing and converting the Indians. * *

In this Province only, they have not any place set apart for the wor-
ship of God, there being so many subdivided sects, they cannot agree to
meet togeather in one place, but according to their severall judgments,
they sometimes associate in one house, sometimes in another. — Col. Rich-
ard Nichols, first English Governor of New York, 1665.

Those people that goe under the denomination of Baptists and Quak-
ers are the most that publicly congregate together, but there are others of
divers persuasions and principles all which together with them injoy
their liberties * * * wherein all people in our Colloney are to enjoy
their liberty of conscience provided their liberty extend not to licentious-
ness but as for Papists, wee know of none amongst us.

We leave every man to walke as God shall persuade their hartes, and
doe actively and passively yield obedience to the Civill Magistrate and
doe not actively disturb the Civill peace and live peaceably in the Corpora-
tion as our Charter requires, and have liberty to frequent any meetings of
worship for their better instruction and information, but as for beggars
and vagabonds wee have none amongst us. — Peleg Sanford, Governor,

Road Island. — Here is a medley of most Persuasions, but neither
church nor Meeting House, except one built for the use of the Quakers,
who are here very numerous, and have annually a General Meeting from
all Quarters.

Many of the others regard neither Time, nor Place, nor Worship;
and even some very sober men have lived so long without it, that they
think all instituted Religion useless.


The Narragansett Countrey. Churches here are none, and but a
few Houses ; I cannot say there is one EngHsh town in the whole Prov-
ince. What is most considerable * * * is the settlement of the
French Protestants, who, on the violence of the Persecution, left their
country, came over to New England, and took up their habitation in this

Online LibraryThomas Williams BicknellThe history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Volume 2) → online text (page 22 of 43)