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Jews and Slavery: Raphael Moses and London Moses

Monday, July 28, 2014| Permalink

Sabra Waldfogel grew up in Minneapolis and received her Ph.D. in American History from the University of Minnesota. Her short fiction has appeared in Sixfold Literary Magazine. She has recently published Slave and Sister, a novel about Jews and slavery in antebellum Georgia. She will be blogging here for the Jewish Book Council all week.

We know a great deal about Raphael Jacob Moses, one of the most eminent Jews in Georgia in the nineteenth century. He was born in Charleston in 1812 into a Sephardic family connected with Jews all over the settled United States. He was educated and trained as a lawyer, a profession he practiced throughout his life. After a few peripatetic early years, he married his cousin, Eliza Moses, and settled in Tallahassee, where he practiced law.

In 1850, he moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he bought a plantation in Muscogee County, which he named “Esquiline” after the hills of Rome. When the census was taken that year he owned sixteen slaves. In addition to his law practice, he cultivated peaches. He developed a method of shipping peaches that helped to commercialize the cultivation of peaches in Georgia. He prospered, and on the eve of the Civil War the number of his slaves had increased to forty-seven.

He was a passionate supporter of secession, and when the Civil War broke out, he volunteered, despite his advanced age. He became Chief Supply Officer to General Longstreet, and he was present at several of the war’s biggest battles, including the battle of Gettysburg. By a quirk of fate, he was issued the last order of the Confederacy. He was ordered to pay $10,000 in gold bullion for unused rations. He accompanied the bullion himself from Washington, Georgia, where the Confederate government sat for the month after Lee’s surrender, to Augusta.

After the war, Raphael Moses represented Georgia in the state legislature, as a Democrat and an opponent of Reconstruction. He remained “unreconstructed” for the rest of his life. He was buried in the cemetery near Esquiline, and his gravestone read, “Raphael J. Moses, C.S.A.”

We know very little about London Moses, Raphael Moses’ former slave. London was the only slave mentioned by name in his former master’s memoirs. He was also the only servant who remained with the family after Emancipation. Raphael Moses wrote that he “stayed with me until he died.”

London Moses was born in 1815, a native Georgian. His parents, born in the eighteenth century, were also native Georgians. We don’t know when he was married, but in 1870, when the census granted him the dignity of a name, he lived with his wife Margaret, born in 1816, also a native to Georgia. They had at least one child, Susan, who had been born into slavery in 1850; she and her family—her husband Harry Williams, and her daughters Peggy, 8, and Sarah, 2, and son, London, three months old, named after his grandfather—lived with him. There may have been other children, lost to death, sold away, gone to test their freedom after Emancipation, or moved away as they grew up.

Raphael Moses may have felt gratitude for London’s loyalty, but he did not give him money or property to start a life as a free man. In 1870, London Moses was working as a farm hand, meaning that he did not own a farm, but worked for wages on someone else’s. At fifty-four, he needed the help of his son-in-law, who was also a farm hand. London Moses was still a farm hand ten years later.

On July 12, 1867, London Moses, the faithful servant, went to the Muscogee County Courthouse in Columbus. As a free man, he was eligible to vote. Before he registered he pledged his allegiance in a way that his former master, the unrepentant Confederate, would have despised. As every Southerner who wanted to vote must do, London Moses signed the Reconstruction oath, and swore his loyalty to the United States of America.

Sources:

The best source for Raphael Moses’ life is his memoir, The Last Order of the Lost Cause: the Civil War Memoirs of a Jewish Family of the “Old South,” edited by Mel Young. The only sources for London Moses’ life are the Federal censuses of 1870 and 1880, and the 1867 Georgia List of Registered Voters.

Read more about Sabra Waldfogel and her work here.

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