Joseph Solomon Ottolenghe

Joseph Solomon Ottolenghe

Giuseppe Salomone Ottolenghi 1711 – 1775

When one sets out to uncover previously unknown family history, it is rather like a treasure hunt. There is always a kind of half hope, though not really a serious expectation, to discover that amongst one’s long, or not so long departed ancestors there will be someone who left his mark on history. Little did I know on that early summer’s night in May 1999 when I set out on my own research into the history, geography and genealogy of my Ottolangui family that I would come to discover that the Italian Ottolenghis had produced so many important and influential people from the sixteenth century until today, some of whom have their own biographies elsewhere on this site. Great rabbis like, Joseph ben Nathan who established a rabbinical seminary and publishing house in Cremona, Samuel David ben Yechiel, the 17th century kabbalist, Chief Rabbi of Venice and Padua, Abraham Azaria (Bonajut) 18th century rabbi of Acqui Terme, Lazzaro, 19th century rabbi of Turin, Moncalvi and Acqui. Nineteenth century philanthropists like Leonetto Ottolenghi of Asti who rebuilt the Asti synagogue in 1889 and organised the great expositions at Asti, and Emilio Ottolenghi, director of Bank of Italy and president of the Italian Jewish Community, who established refuges and asylums and in 1883 was made Count of Vallepiana. Doctors and scientists like Salvatore Ottolenghi, the father of modern forensic science who founded the Italian Police Academy’s School of Forensic Investigation. Soldiers like General Vittorio Ottolenghi and General Giuseppe Ottolenghi, who had enlisted in the army as a volunteer in 1859 after studying at the Turin Military Academy and was later a senator and the Italian Minister of War from 1902-1903. Even today one finds the name Ottolenghi prominent in academic and political life, law, journalism, radio, television, politics and business in Italy, Israel, England, Argentina and the USA.

Another surprising factor is the “skeletons in the closet”. No family is without its “black sheep” and we are no exception. There are at least one or two of our ancestors who were embroiled, if not implicated in petty crimes in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Their stories form a different significant chapter. One, a 3 times great uncle at the age of 18 was convicted of stealing a cheese was transported for life to the penal colonies in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania in Australia, however the most interesting character that my research has uncovered is, without doubt, Joseph Solomon Ottolenghe.

It was in one of my early Internet searches that I found a paper called The Ottolenghi Affair which was in act, a poorly photocopied document that had been faxed too many times. I spent most of the night reading the document which claimed to be a facsimile of two pamphlets published by the young Joseph Solomon Ottolenghi in London around 1735.

Born Giuseppe Salomone Ottolenghi around 1711in the town of “Casal” (Casale Monferatto, Piedmont, Italy) an area steeped in viniculture and silk weaving in which he was educated as a young child. He was the son of Rabbi Ephraim Ottolenghi and Dolce Eleonora née Treves.  By his own account, the young Joseph was a Hebrew scholar who had studied ritual slaughter (שחיטה shechita) under Rabbi Meir Baki.  In 1732, aged about 21 Joseph was about to take up a position as a Hebrew teacher and shochet in the nearby town of Mondevi. However his uncle Gabriel, the recently widowed brother of his mother, who lived in London and was a successful snuff merchant, suggested that the young Joseph Solomon come to London where Gabriel would teach him the snuff trade and he would marry Gabriel’s daughter Deborah.  Joseph Solomon travelled to London by ship from Livorno via Gibraltar and joined his uncle Gabriel. About six months thereafter, Gabriel Treves transferred his business from London to Exeter where there was already a thriving Jewish community, the fourth in Britain, and Joseph moved there.  It there transpired that his, cousin was already married and despite concerted efforts, his uncle was unable to secure annulment of the marriage.  The young Joseph, although a devout Jew, had long been interested in Christianity, since he believed from his study of the scriptures that Christ was the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.  His revulsion of the Catholic church in Italy was replaced by a fascination with Anglican Protestantism and he became friendly with Anglican clergymen in his new environment, probably to augment his meagre income whilst he was lodging with a local family, even taught them Hebrew which they were eager to learn in order to read the Hebrew bible, and Italian. He also made a little money from the slaughter of chickens for the local Jewish community.

Before long, a scandalous public argument had developed between his uncle and Joseph regarding monies that Gabriel Treves claimed were owed him for Joseph’s passage to England. Treves discounted to a London businessman the promissory note which Joseph had signed, at his uncle’s demand to prove to Joseph’s father that his uncle had kept his promise to clothe, feed and house him during his apprenticeship. Upon maturity of the note Joseph could not redeem the guarantee and that lead to his imprisonment for debt in Exeter’s Southgate prison. Whilst there he continued his contacts with his friends in the Anglican clergy, finally being baptized, christened and accepted into the Church of England in 1734 shortly after his release from prison had been secured by them.

Knowing that the original publications were kept among historic papers at the Exeter synagogue I was able to contact a historian and genealogist in the Exeter Jewish community and together we set about transcribing the two pamphlets of Joseph’s account.  The first had been published as an answer to a pamphlet published by Gabriel Treves which itself has been lost in the annals of time, in which the uncle told of the conflict between him and his nephew, and in the second he relates the story of his arrival in England, the ensuing troubles with uncle Gabriel Treves and Joseph’s unhappy relationship with his new aunt after his uncle had remarried. Joseph alleges that all his papers, letters and his certification as a shochet (ritual slaughterer) were confiscated by his new aunt.

A copy of the facsimile and our transcription is appended to this chapter.

It is now thought that these pamphlets were not actually written by Joseph himself, whose command of English in those early days was probably not so good, despite Joseph’s claim that within six months of reaching Exeter, i.e., about a year after arriving in England his English was good enough for him to read and understand the New Testament. It is likely that they were actually written or at least edited by Joseph’s friends in the clergy of Exeter, who may have also had an interest in discrediting the local Jewish community and Joseph’s uncle, Gabriel Treves.

Learning about “The Ottlenghi Affair”,  I became very interested in the life and times of JSO as I began to call him, or Joseph Solomon Ottolenghe as he was known,  but it was quite some time before I was able to pick up his trail and follow his later life……………………..

After Joseph’s release from prison and his conversion to Christianity, little or nothing is known of his life until 1751 when he emigrated to the new British Atlantic Colony of Georgia in America on the good ship “Charming Martha”, arriving there he settled in the town of Savannah. There are conflicting versions of how Joseph came to emigrate; it is known that the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of London at the Bevis Marks synagogue sponsored a group of 40 Jewish settlers to the New World and it has been suggested that Joseph may have been one of those although there is no documentation to support this suggestion, nor is it likely that he had much if any contact with the Bevis Marks congregation since he was no longer a practising Jew. Other sources state that Joseph was sent to Georgia as a catechist, a lay preacher and teacher, by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and/or the Associates of Dr Bray. The records of the USPG (reference B Series, B18 no. 78) hold a letter from one James Vernon, Clerk of the Council, Commissioner of the Excise and a Bray associate, to the Archbishop of Canterbury dated 9th January 1751.  In this letter Mr Vernon asked if the SPG was willing to contribute 25 pounds per year towards supporting Joseph’s work as a catechist in Georgia. The Bray Associates were contributing a similar amount. Joseph is described by Mr Vernon as a “convert from Judaism”. There is also a letter from Joseph dated 9th September 1751 (reference B Series B19 no. 149) in which Joseph reported his arrival in Savannah and gave an account of his work among the slaves.

However, according to the following extract from the Jewish Encyclopaedia, Joseph was sent by the Trustees of the colony as a superintendent of the fledgling silk industry there. This extract gives some background on the Jews in pre-revolutionary Georgia and mentions Joseph’s appointment by the Trustees to oversee the new silk industry. – UNITED STATES.txt

 The Jewish settlement in Georgia dates almost from the very foundation of the colony; and the early history of Georgia is practically the history of the growth and development of Savannah, Jewish life centering in that city.

It would appear that a movement was set on foot in London to settle some Jews in the colony even before Oglethorpe, in June, 1733, led his first band of followers to the point which soon after became the city of Savannah.

The second vessel which reached the colony from England (on July 11, 1733) had among its passengers no less than forty Jewish emigrants.  Though their arrival was unexpected, the liberal-minded governor welcomed them gladly, notwithstanding that he was aware that the trustees of the colony in England had expressed some opposition to permitting Jews to settle there.  These first settlers were all of Spanish and Portuguese extraction, though within a year of their arrival others, who were apparently German Jews, also took up their residence there.

These two bands of settlers received equally liberal treatment from Oglethorpe, and were the progenitors of one of the most important communities of Jews in the United States.  Many of their descendants are still living in various parts of the country.  The first male white child born in the colony was a Jew, Isaac Minis.

Among the first immigrants was Dr. Nuñez, who was made welcome because of his medical knowledge, and because he, with a number of others, brought sufficient wealth to the colony to enable the immigrants to take up large tracts of land.  A congregation was organized as early as 1734.

Three years later Abraham de Lyon, who had been a “vineron” in Portugal, introduced the culture of grapes.  The cultivation and manufacture of silk and the pursuit of agriculture and of commerce were the chief occupations of these early settlers.

A dispute with the trustees of the colony respecting the introduction of slaves caused an extensive emigration to South Carolina in 1741, and resulted in the dissolution of the congregation.  But in 1751 a number of Jews returned to Georgia, and in the same year the trustees sent over Joseph Ottolenghi to superintend the somewhat extensive silk-industry in the colony.  Ottolenghi soon attained prominence in the political life of his associates, and was elected a member of the Assembly in 1761 and in succeeding years.

 There seems to have been little if any distinction made socially between the Jews and the other settlers, and educational and philanthropic institutions seem to have been supported by all alike.

However, it seems that Joseph’s early involvement in Georgia was largely connected with his Christian missionary activities. According to one of my correspondents in my search for JSO,  Dr. Holly Snyder in her work “A Tree with Two Different Fruits: The Jewish Encounter with German Peitists in the Eighteenth Century American World” published in the William & Mary Quarterly (March 2003) in his early days in “British Atlantic” he acted for the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts) and the Associates of Dr Bray, as a catechist, mainly amongst the negro slaves. He was befriended by the Reverend Boltzius a minister in the German immigrant community who was so impressed by Joseph that he declared that although Ottolenghe had been born a Jew,”he is an upright, skilled, well read and well spoken man, who could well fill the minister’s position in Savannah….although he is not ordained, nor does he have the theological studies demanded for the ministerial office, he has enough talent to serve as a catechist among the black and ignorant people…he speaks good English, has a good library, is a zealous member of the Anglican Church, and is well versed in Oriental languages”.  (The reference is probably to the Hebrew language in which he was fluent and Chinese which he may have learned from silk traders in his Piedmonte home town.

Though he was unable from their initial conversation to determine whether Ottolenghe was of Jewish or Catholic origin, Boltzius was clearly encouraged by Ottolenghe’s apparent sincerity. When he mentioned Callenberg’s Institutum Judaicum at Halle, he was pleased to note that Ottolenghe “knew of the splendid Institute . . . for bringing the blind Jews to a recognition of the Messiah.” A few months later, having spent some time in getting to know Ottolenghe, he added that,”he has a fine gift of convincing the Jews of their errors and absurdities in religious matters.” Though Ottolenghe, in the eyes of Boltzius, remained a Jew, because of his conversion and his evident commitment to Christianity, he could be named in his diary, and Boltzius might even “number him among my good friends in Georgia.”  Holly Snyder also quotes B. H. Levy’s “Joseph Solomon Ottolenghi: Kosher Butcher in Italy – Christian Missionary in Georgia” (Ga. Hist. Q., 66 (1982) 128-33 and John C. Van Horne, “Joseph Solomon Ottolenghi (ca. 1711-1775), Catechist to the Negroes, Superintendent of the Silk Culture and Public Servant in Colonial Georgia” “Ottolenghe apparently qualified as “a proper Person” to serve “as an Itinerant Teacher in the Principles of Christianity” despite his status as a convert..Van Horne notes that Joseph was about forty years old at the time of his arrival in Georgia in July 1751 had been a Christian catechist for some 17 years While Boltzius clearly hoped that Ottolenghe would succeed where he himself had failed, Ottolenghe elected to focus his religious work on catechizing the colony’s slave population. Although Joseph evidently maintained friendly contact with Savannah’s practicing Jews, there is no evidence of any description to suggest that he attempted to spread Christianity among the Jews in Savannah.

Joseph had apparently gained his expertise in silk manufacture of which Piedmont in Italy and in particular his home town of Casale Monferatto was an established centre, for he was later nominated by Pickering Robinson to succeed him as superintendent of the colony’s important silk industry. The trustees of the colony accepted Robinson’s suggestion and when Robinson retired to England in ill health in 1753, Joseph was appointed under a three-year contract. He was granted a tract of land along the river where he established a farm, calling it “Exon” or “Exonia” after the Latin name of Exeter. Joseph received a stipend of eight pence a day and his wife six pence a day on condition that they commit their “utmost efforts” to the promotion of the silk industry. The trustees of the colony were interested in promoting the silk industry and bounties, or subsidies were paid to the farmers as a productivity incentive. Joseph was to control the payment of the subsidies according to this notice in the LONDON MAGAZINE dated April 1758, copied in the PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE in August of that year:

August 10, 1758 The Pennsylvania Gazette From the LONDON MAGAZINE for April, 1758.

ITEM #22131

August 10, 1758

The Pennsylvania Gazette

For the Advantage of the BRITISH COLONIES, the following Premiums are given by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Silk in Georgia. The production of Silk, in the American colonies, being undoubtedly a proper object of encouragement, as it must tend greatly to the advantage of those colonies, and prove highly beneficial to the mother country, by promoting a very valuable branch of its manufactures:  In order to forward the same, by such bounties as may operate in equal proportion to the benefit of the poorest, as well as the richest planter, the society propose to give,

For every pound weight of cocoons produced in the province of Georgia, in the year 1758, of a hard, weighty, and good substance, wherein one worm only has spun, 3d.

For Every pound of cocoons produced in the same year, of a weaker, lighter, spotted, or bruised quality, tho’one worm has only spun in them, 2d.

For every pound of cocoons produced in the same year, wherein two worms have interwoven themselves, 1d.

N.B. The premiums will be paid under the direction of Mr. Ottolenghe, superintendent of the Silk Culture in Georgia, to every person who shall bring his balls or cocoons to the public silature at Savannah, according to notice already sent to Georgia.

He was said to have been a severe superintendent, rejecting cocoons with even the slightest defect and according to Van Horne was accused of cheating in the weight if the farmer was not present.  One Edward Caiger, referred to Joseph as “a Jew” in a letter complaining of his cheating “in the Weight” dated 15 September 1766. Edward Caiger of South Carolina complained to the Society for Encouraging of Arts and Commerce that Savannah’s silk filature was directed by “one Joseph Ottolenghe a Jew”; Letter of Edward Caiger, Sept. 15, 1766, quoted in Van Horne, “Joseph Solomon Ottolenghe,” p.405. Ottolenghe had been a committed Christian for nearly 30 years at the time Caiger made this statement. Conceivably, Caiger’s reference to Ottolenghe as a “Jew” (which Ottolenghe was not, in terms of religious practice) had something to do with Caiger’s claim that Ottolenghe “not only throws by a Cocoon that has the least Spot but cheats in the Weight if the [silk farmer] is not present.” Allegations of cheating were frequently levelled at Jews in British Atlantic America as a means of impugning their credibility.

Joseph published treatise on the breeding of silk worms, wrote extensively on the education of the colony’s negro slaves which had been a major part of his early life in Georgia, and entered public life as a Justice of the Peace for the Savannah district, later he was also a member of the colony’s governing Commons House from 1761-1765. A number of books and papers about life in the pre-revolutionary colony of Georgia contain mentions of the public life of Joseph Ottolenghe

The Fledgling Province, Social & Culural Life in Colonial Georgia, 1733-1776, Harld E. Davis -University of North Carolina for the Institute of Early American History & Cutlure

Everyday Life Part I – Page 50: “A more comfortable way to travel was in a riding chair, a buggy that usually carried one person but sometimes carried two. Chairs were common all over the colony and we have an account of two meeting on a road outside Savannah in the 1760’s.  In one was [William] Gibbons, who was going into town.  In the other was Joseph Ottolenghe, formerly a caechist but at this time a member of the Assembly. They paused to greet each other, but Ottolenghe had to move along quickly because he had a ‘young horse in the Chair that would not Stop'” from “A Memorandum of Agreement between Joseph Ottolenghe Esq., and Willm Gibbons as near as Willm Gibbons could Recollect” (ca 1760’s) William Gibbons, Jr., Papers.

Everyday Life Part II – Page 78:

“In the midst of a business dispute over the exchange of some lands, [Joseph] Ottolenghe wrote to William Gibbons Jr.,:

‘I want none of your Favors, nor shall you have any note of Hand from me. If I owe you anything arrest me. I want none of your dear purchased Indulgencies, but Justice.’ ” from Ottolenghe to William Gibbons, Jr., Jan. 23, 1765, William Gibbons, Jr., Papers, Perkins Lib., Duke Univ., Durham, N.C.

(Joseph obviously is wary of signing a “note of Hand” after the experience with his uncle, Gabriel Treves, in Exeter, England in the 1730’s – see transcription below – BL)

Occupations – footnote to Page 90:

“Ottolenghe wrote [concerning Governor Henry Ellis and his apparent concern for the slaves] ‘How often the present humane Governor and I have commiserate their [the slaves’] hard and forlorn Fate, and propose to find out some Relief for them, which would not be difficult, but who must give the Consent to such Regulations?  Why the Legislative Body compos’d mostly of owners of Negroes, who would as soon to it as an Assembly of Lawyers would pass a Bill to curtail their Fees.'” from Joseph Ottolenghe to the Rev. Mr. Waring, July 12 1758, MSS of Dr. Bray’s Associates, Pt. H L.C. reel 11, 335/208-209).

Slavery, Class Structure and the Family – Page 131:

“A sensitive Georgian of the period wrote that slaves ‘never hear no other Discourses but what passes amongst themselves and no white People will have anything to say to them but to abuse them with bitter Execrations and cruel Blows.'”  from Joseph Ottolenghe to the Rev. Mr. Waring, July 12 1758, MSS of Dr. Bray’s Associates, Pt. H,(L.C. reel 11, 335/209; Ottolenghe to Waring October 4 1759, ibid. (L.C. reel 11, 335/218-219) Ottolenghe stated that “as for the Negroes of these Parts they are mostly African born.”  Henry Ellis attached a statement certifying the truth of the contents of the letter.

Slavery, Class Structure and the Family – Page 142-143:

“In 1751 the trustees appointed Josephe Ottolenghe to be catechist for the blacks in Georgia(1).  A Jew who converted to Anglicanism, Ottolenghe had been born and educated in Italy and had journeyed to London to be married, but was disappointed in his suit. After a dispute with an uncle who lived in England, he was cast into a British jail for debt. Attracted to Christianity through reading the New Testament, he was baptized a Christian according to the rites of the Church of England. During his imprisonment, he was befriended by members of the Anglican church in Exeter. For the rest of his life he maintained a firm attachment to the established church.

In Georgia, Ottolenghe was paid to teach the slaves reading, writing and the principles of Christianity(2)  (He was to promote the silk industry at the same time.) The important thing about Ottolenghe’s appointment was its officiality.  His ministrations to the slaves were sanctioned by the trustees. Under royal government the official attitude changed substantially. After the passage of the 1755 slave act, it was a crime to teach a slave to write. The provision was continued in the 1770 act and was law when the Revolution began. Some masters disregarded it, for prominent men conspicuously educated some of their slaves, and no one was ever prosecuted for doing so.  Ottolenghe himself carried on his teaching until at least 1760, long after it was illegal.

To Ottolenghe and to others, the purpose of teaching slaves to read and write was to foster religion-specifically, to get them to use the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  When he arrived in Georgia in 1751, he asked the rector of the church in Savannah to announce from the pulpit that slaves of consenting masters would be taught three times a week.(3) He disregarded advice that he become an itinerant catechist going from plantation to plantation and, instead built a house in Savannah with a large room where his students assembled, usually at night when their work was done and their owners could spare them.  Many masters refused to have their slaves taught at all.  For those who came – sometimes there were fifty and at other times fewer than ten – Ottolenghe opened with prayer, then taught reading and instruction in the Lord’s Prayer.  Next came the catechism, followed by a homily.  He taught some slaves to read, but poorly, for ‘Slavery is certainly a great Depresser of the Mind (4).

The resistance of many masters to Ottolenghe’s efforts was dogged, and the life of the catechist was difficult. Some masters thought they would be losers if their slaves were either converted or educated, asserting that Christian slaves were ten times worse than pagans.  Some masters were as great heathens as their slaves, said Ottolenghe, and he was surprised that they even bothered to use ‘so many sophistical Arguments to block the Instruction.'(5) In the face of these discouragements, Ottolenghe found himself busier and busier with silk culture. By the early 1760’s he had abandoned the slaves altogether.

From (1) Colonial Records of Georgia II, 510

(2) Ibid, 556

(3) Ottolenghe to the Rev. Mr. Smith, 4 December 1751, MSS of Dr Bray’s Associates, Pt. H (L.C. reel 11,335/201-203)
(4) Ibid, also Ottolenghe to Waring, 12 July 1758 ibid, (L.C. reel 11,335/206-211); and Ottolenghe to Associates of Dr. Bray, 18 November 1754, ibid, (L.C. reel 11,335/223)

(5) Ottolenghe to Associates of Dr. Bray, 19 November 1753, ibid, (L.C. reel 11,335/230)

Slavery, Class Structure and the Family Page – 146-147:

“Nevertheless, social mobility characterized royal as well as colonial Georgia, for power and status were open to those who could certify themselves through wealth or remarkable abilities. One could not otherwise explain the rise to prominence of Habersham, a former Savannah schoolmaster; of Ottolenghe, the catechist who had been imprisoned in a British jail; of William Ewen and William Russell, who came as servants; of Francis Harris, who had started as a clerk in the trustee store; of John Adam Treutlen, who first came to notice as a schoolmaster among the Salzburgers; or of Edward Barnard, a former baker’s apprentice”.

Slavery, Class Structure and the Family – Page 154:

“In 1769 the upper class apparently rallied, for five of their own were chosen [as Commissioners of the workhouse], if one includes the again victorious [Robert] Bolton.  Habersham himself was elected in that year, along with Ottolenghe, Edward Telfair and William Young, all members of the upper class.”

Religion – Page 197-198:

“When Josephe Ottolenghe arrived in Georgia, a false report spread that he was a minister, and he found himself pressed to visit the back-country. Unqualified to go, he sent them books instead.” from Joseph Ottolengh to the Rev. Mr. Smith 4 December 1751 MSS of Dr Bray’s Associates, Pt. H (L.C. reel 11,335/201-202).

 Religion – Page 197-198:

“The story of the establishment of the church in Georgia is a remarkable one without exact parallel in any other province.  Usually, if establishment had not already occurred by 1758, it did not occur at all. Establishment was no easy thing to bring about in Georgia, although it was finally done voluntarily and without external pressure.  A move to establish the Anglican religion was begun in 1755 in the first session of the assembly under royal rule.  A bill passed the lower house but did not survive in the upper.  A similar thing happened in 1757.  In 1758, however, an act of establishment was finally passed and became law.  Ottolenghe, then a member of the Commons House, seems to have been its principal mover, assisted by Edward Barnes of Augusta and Henry Yonge.  Ottolenghe wrote an account of what happened, and not unnaturally made himself the “hero” of the story.

According to him, there were three alignments in the Commons House-Anglican churchmen, dissenters and men who had no feeling for any church. Spotting a division amongst the dissenters, he strove to turn their disagreements to the advantage of Anglicanism. The Germans and the Congregationalists “differ’d so much from each other as both differ’d from the Church of England”, Ottolenghe said, and he set about keeping them from uniting.  He succeeded.  After fourteen days he and his allies passed the establishment measure through the lower house and sent it on to the upper, where all the members except two were dissenters.

The upper house cut the bill to shreds and sent it back to the lower chamber with the words “Church of England” struck out, which convinced Ottolenghe that the measure, if passed in that form, would establish “every whimsical Sectary in Georgia”.  But again fortune favoured him.  The altered bill arrived back in the Commons when that body was already angry with the upper house over another matter.  Ottolenghe made it appear that changing the church bill was yet another affront.  The Speaker of the lower house appointed him to represent that chamber’s interest in a conference committee with the upper house, and he shrewdly arranged for the appointment of two dissenters to his committee, knowing that they would be required to advance the opinions of the lower house rather than their personal convictions.  Thus he expected them to influence the dissenters in the other chamber. If his account of what happened is correct, he was right, for the strategy worked.

Details and quotations concerning the establishment are taken from an unsigned letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, read in committee, 15 January 1759. SPG papers, Series C, Pkg. I Pt. Ii (L.C. reel2, 17-25).

Religion and the State in Georgia in the Eighteenth Century

Reba Carolyn Strickland, Ph. D. Columbia University Press, New York, 1939

Policy of the Trustees and Their Agents – Page 97-98:

“Joseph Ottolenghe was a Jewish native of Casale [Monferrato] in Italy, who had been converted to Anglican Christianity. He wanted to go to Georgia because the climate was similar to that of his birthplace. He was familiar with silk culture, which the Trustees were trying to promote, and offered to teach the Negroes Christianity (1). The Associates of Dr. Bray allowed him 25 pounds a year as a catechist for instructing the Negroes in Georgia, who were said to number over 300(2). Supported by James Vernon, he petitioned the SPG and received a grant of 15 pounds a year (3). The Georgia Trustees agreed to pay his passage and that of his wife on the “Charming Martha” and gave them 30 pounds to aid the promotion of silk culture(4).

Ottolenghe arrived in July, and [Rev.] Zouberbuhler welcomed him heartily, suggesting methods which he thought would be effective in teaching the Negroes (5). At Ottolenghe’s request, Zouberbuhler announced in the church that Negroes would be instructed on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, in order not to interfere with their work.  The sessions were opened with a prayer after which came a reading lesson “that they may be able in Time to come to comfort themselves in reading the Book of God.” Then they were taught to repeat the catechism, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. Ottolenghe usually gave them a brief talk, illustrated with a story from the Bible, couched in simple terms and in such a loving manner as to attach them to himself, so they would follow his advice. He also offered rewards to the diligent (6). After a year’s effort he seemed to think that his work was reasonably successful, and the Associates of Dr. Bray were pleased with his methods (7). The co-operation of the Trustees in this venture seems liberal in view of the fact that the later government of Georgia forbade the teaching of slaves to write.

(1) Minutes of the Associates of Dr. Bray, I, 73 14 January 1750/1

(2) Ibid., same date; S.P.G. Correspondence, Series B, XVIII, 78-9

(3) S.P.G. Correspondence, Series B, XVIII, 78-80, S.P.G. Journal XI, 311 15 February 1750/1; Minutes of the Associates of Dr. Bray, I, 75, 21 March 1750/1; C.O..5/671 page 181.

(4) C.O..5/671 page 181: C.R. Ga., I, 552, 556: II, 510; C.R. Ga., ms. XXXI, 74

(5) S.P.G., Journal XII 87-8

(6) S.P.G. Correspondence, Series B, XIX, 149 ; Dr. Bray’s Records, Original Letters, J. Ottolenghe to Rev. Mr. Smith 4 December 1751.

(7) Dr. Bray’s Records, Original Letters, Ottolenghe to Associates 8 June 1752; Minutes of the Associates of Dr. Bray, 10 July 1752, I, 78-9.

From the preceding passages it is apparent that Joseph Ottolenghe had played a prominent role in the social, political and religious life of pre-revolutionary Georgia and left his indelible mark on the province’s history. What a different world from that of the historic Jewish communities he had left years earlier in Casale Monferrato and Livorno. One cannot help but wonder how different modern Georgia would be if the young Giuseppe had declined his uncle’s invitation to London and had taken up the living as shochet and teacher in Mondevi, or had he been able to marry his uncle’s daughter Deborah in Exeter.

There is still much we do not know about Joseph and his life between his release from prison in Exeter until his arrival in Georgia – where he spent those 17 years and how he made his living, whether those years were as troubled as his years in London and Exeter and how they prepared him for those years of colonial life – in the words of Greg Johnson of the David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania PA, USA, who helped me by providing some of the source material for this mini-biography of Joseph Solomon Ottolenghi, from Hebrew scholar and teacher to kosher butcher, apprentice tobacco merchant, prisoner, convert, catechist, educator, silk farmer, magistrate and legislator until his death in Georgia in 1775, “Joseph Ottolenghe certainly appears to have been an individual of strong convictions combined with the courage to carry them out”.


I had written the preceding history before I was able to track down and study “Kosher butcher in Italy – Christian Missionary in Georgia” the excellent biography by B.H. Levy which was published by the Georgia Historical Society in the Georgia Historical Quarterly, Volume 66, Number 2 (Summer 1982). If I had known of its existence, I might not have had the enjoyable adventure of researching and compiling my own version.

By bryanell2020

Occasional genealogist and full-time Ottolangui family historian. 8th generation descendant of the 17th century Ottolenghi family of Livorno, born in London, graduated in Birmingham, lived around the United Kingdom, Israel, and in Rome, Italy. For a short while in Buenos Aires, and currently residing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I have been since 2005.

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