People A-Z / Mordecai Manuel Noah
Judge, Writer, Utopian and Proto-Zionist.
Mordecai Manuel Noah was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 19, 1785 to Manuel Noah, a Revolutionary war hero and Zipporah Phillips a descendent of Dr. Samuel Nunez, who had fled the Inquisition and settled in Georgia in 1732. He grew up in his grandfather’s house in Philadelphia immersed in American culture and education. After the death of his mother, he was sent to a relative in South Carolina and eventually became involved in journalism, law and politics. He subsequently served as Surveyor of the Port of New York and as a judge. In 1813, he was nominated by President James Madison, as the Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis. With this appointment he was the first Jew to reach national prominence in America. Within two years he was removed, because, in the words of Secretary of State James Monroe, his religion was “an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function.” This exposed the thin line between acceptance and discrimination. Several years later he proposed the Ararat Refuge for Jews living outside of America. It was ridiculed by some and disapproved of by others and failed to materialize, yet more recently commentators and academics have begun to reassess his ideas. Fascination with his proposal continues in novel, graphic cartoons and academic interest, particularly in the area of “Alternative Zions” research. The idea of Ararat continues to echo in Grand Island and Buffalo today. A second historic marker was unveiled in 2013 and the first Mordecai Manuel Noah Day was held in 2016.
Sarna, Jonathan D. Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds of Mordecai Noah, Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc. (New York, 1981