The Influence of Sephardic Jews and Moors on Southeastern Indian Cultures
Keynote address given to Institute for the Study of American Cultures, and Epigraphic Society, Columbus, Georgia, October 24, 2002
When he died in 1986, the Jewish-American writer Bernard Malamud left an unfinished, truly genius-laden novel called The People that some say is his most bizarre and comical work. It tells the story of a Yiddish peddler who is kidnapped by a tribe of Indians and who becomes Chief Yozip, winning the love of the old chiefâ€™s daughter, One Blossom, after passing a series of initiation tests and fighting off the U.S. Cavalry. In the unwritten conclusion, Yozip apparently joins Buffalo Billâ€™s Wild West Show â€œas a White Indianâ€¦becomes a U.S. citizen, and enrolls in night school to study law in order to help the Indians fight persecution and injustice.â€
Since the 1980s, I have often felt that my own life rather continued and completed Chief Yozipâ€™s adventures as I found out I was descended from Choctaw and Cherokee chiefs (after being raised to believe that I was Scots-Irish and English), became the band chief of the New York and New Jersey Cherokees, taught at the Native College in Chicago, ran a public relations agency for indigenous rights work in Nashville, became an elder of the Thunderbird Clan of the Teehahnahmah People in Tennessee, and most recentlyâ€”and perhaps most surprisingly â€“ discovered through genealogy and DNA testing I am Sephardic Jewish. My 4th-great-grandfather Isaac Cooper married Nancy Black Fox, a daughter of the last great Cherokee chief, Black Fox, or Enola, participated in the founding of an important Jewish colony in Daniel Booneâ€™s Kentucky, and died remembered as the first rabbi and endower of the Jewish cemetery in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Coopers trace themselves back to medieval France and the duchy of Toulouse where like the royal Stuart family they were retainers in the court of William the Conqueror, Knights Templar and Levites. A famous member of the family was Anthony Ashley-Cooper, chief of the exchequer, lord-proprietor of the Carolinas under Charles II, Freemason and suspected crypto-Jew. I canâ€™t say the Cooper line was an isolated case either. Y-chromosome testing along the same design as the â€œCohen geneâ€ through Family Tree DNA, a leading genetics lab under the direction of Bennett Greenspan in Houston, proved that most of the surnames in my family tree were Sephardic Jewish. It was all of a piece. I was, quite simply, a Jewish Indian, approximately an eighth to tenth-generation one, to boot!
Iâ€™m going to speak to you today about the influence of Sephardic Jews â€“ one of the two divisions of world Jewry, the Western division -- on Indian cultures in the Southeast U.S. in a time frame of approximately 1600 to 1800, when the area was predominantly Spanish and the first contact took place between the tribes of the interior and traders from the coastal settlements of St. Augustine, Savannah, Jamestown and Pensacola. My work seeks to establish the thesis thatâ€”funny as it may soundâ€”the five so-called â€œCivilized Tribesâ€ of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole owe their high degree of assimilation, long history of treaty-making, trade and legal rights, and in fact their very survival to Sephardic Jews like my forefather Isaac Cooper. It is not true that the Indians of North America are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, but it is true that the earliest Jewish travelers and the indigenous people they visited and chose to settle among had many, many things in common. Relations between the two races were probably promoted by the mistaken belief on both sides that they were historically related. Whatever the implications of this wrong notion might have been, the Jewish descent of Indians was generally accepted on a popular level and also on a scientific level until quite recently. In the interests of condensing a large amount of material into the short span of thirty minutes here at the ISAC conference, I will concentrate on three arguments to show the degree of inter-influence between Jews and Indiansâ€”the identity and importance of the Melungeons, the ancient history of North American reflected in what is called Indian seer tradition, and certain chiefsâ€™ genealogies.
My first argument has to do with Melungeons, a â€œtriracial Appalachian isolate,â€ whose origins have, until recently, been one of the long-standing mysteries of American history. Nearly every surname in my family tree â€“ also in my wifeâ€™s â€“ is a Melungeon name, though there are only about 200 identified as such. Several substantive research works have been written about this ethnic group, each building upon the others to identify their origins. Among the most popular and well-documented theories are (1) that the Melungeons are survivors of Sir Walter Raleighâ€™s â€œLost Colonyâ€ of Roanoke, (2) that the Melungeons are descendents of early Spanish and Portuguese sailors marooned or â€œdumpedâ€ in the Carolinas, and (3) that the Melugeons are the descendents of converso Moors and Jews who fled the Inquisition. In 2003, the Mercer University Press in nearby Macon will publish Dr. Elizabeth Hirschmanâ€™s breakthrough study, Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America. I was fortunate enough to read the work in manuscript and become a collaborator with Hirschman, who is a marketing professor at Rutgers University and a well-known marketing consultant specializing in the impact of ethnicity on consumer behavior. Using a combination of y-chromosome testing, genealogy and local history, Hirschman has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the forebears of the Melungeons were Sephardic Jews. Among her quite brilliant discoveries are that Daniel Boone, David Crockett, Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Sam Houston and James Robertson, the founder of the Cumberland settlements were Jewish, if not in practice, at least in genetics and by association.
It is indeed a stunning revision of American history to think that the earliest settlers in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee were not stalwart, white-skinned Anglo-Saxons and Celts from the British Isles, but rather dusky, dark-eyed, dark haired, exotic, non-Christian Semites and Berbers from North Africa and Spain. It was Moors who occupied Black-a-moorâ€™s fort on the Clinch River; it was a Semitic Daniel Boone who cleared the path through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. This knowledge challenges not only our view of American history, but also the modern image of Jews and Muslims.
How ironic to think that these two peoples, whom we usually hear about shooting each other on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or exporting oil, or working on Wall Street, were â€“ 450 years ago â€“ trudging together inland toward the Appalachian Mountains. Intermarrying, reproducing, becoming Primitive and Old Regular Baptists, going to Freemason meetings, riding horses, shooting rifles, salting hogs, growing corn and tobacco, fighting the British at Kingâ€™s Mountain, and fighting both the Yankees and the Rebels during the Civil War.
Last June at the biennial 4th Melungeon Union in Kingsport, Tenn., the results were released of a long-awaited two-year study by Kevin Jones of the genetic diversity of a core group of self-identifying Melungeons, most of whom came from Newmans Ridge or Wise, Virginia. The findings confirmed there were haplotypes with matches in Syria, Turkey, Arabia and other Mediterranean lands, and there were some rare genes with no matches anywhere. One surprise was a female line that came from the Siddhis, the descendants of Africans brought to India as slaves and thought to be related to the Untouchables and Gypsies. In general, 5% of the gene pool was Native American, 5% was African American and 90% was Eurasian. These results were not very different from the surrounding population. A conclusion not emphasized in the publicity, however, was that the founder figures of the Melungeons must have included both males and females, or family units. In other words, the ethnic group could not be accounted for as the progeny of shipwrecked sailors, runaway slaves and renegade soldiers taking up with Indian women (one of the prevailing views). I believe we can trace here the deliberate migration of Jewish couples, who provided the firm foundation of a persistent and secretive Marrano culture in the Appalachians, one that has only begun to be completely suppressed in our grandparentsâ€™ generation. In addition what we might call the Melungeon Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers, there was evidently also a certain amount of intermarriage with American Indians. The unusual case of the Sizemore tribe of Indians â€“ another big Melungeon name -- proves that it was not always a lonely Sephardic or Moorish sailor or soldier taking an Indian bride: since the Sizemore Y-STR haplotype has proved to match American Indians of Panama, Alaska and the American Southwest we must concede that sometimes a Eurasian woman picked an Indian man for her mate. In this connection, it is interesting that Jewish responsa (juridical decisions of rabbis) seem to have considered marriage between Jewish and New World indigenous partners, whether male or female, legitimate and within the faithâ€”perhaps ultimately because of Manasseh ben Israel, the influential head rabbi of Amsterdam. In other words, Indians were not regarded as gentiles but rather as â€œlost Jews.â€ Perhaps the oddest get-rich-quick scheme of the time, or â€œbubble,â€ was that of Sir Alexander Cummings, a quixotic Scotsman from Culver who in 1729 proposed resettling 300,000 Jewish families among the Cherokee of Georgia and starting a bank there, calculating that the national debt or 80 million pounds would be paid off in a decade or two. He later brought seven Cherokee to London and laid the â€œcrown of Tennesseeâ€ at the feet of George II. The Melungeon argument shows us that the most important influence Jews and Moors had on southeastern Indians was in selecting them for trade, marriage and worship partners.
But why did Sephardic Jews landing in Baltimore or marooned in the Carolinas automatically head for Kentucky and Tennessee? What thought processes naturally put Cherokee and Jew together? My second argument comes from Indian seer tradition, a body of oral teachings propagated by the members of medicine societies such as the Midewewin Lodge. Many of its stories were passed to me by Paul Russell, a Potawatomi-Shawnee-Yuchi-Cherokee elder in Tennessee also known as Two White Feathers. Before sharing with you some of this lore, I want to say a few words about the value and social function of oral tradition, as opposed to the written and printed word. Much of this may seem obvious, especially to the members of ISAC, and I apologize if I am telling you something you already know.
Though displaced from the land they celebrated, Southeastern indigenous people had stories, songs and forms of oratory that were once incredibly rich and advanced. This diversity reflected the vast number and density of populations interacting with one another, as well as the regionâ€™s thriving towns, trading paths, unique waterways and ancient agricultural base. Nowhere else except possibly in California did so varied a pattern of intermingling cultures, did such a mÃ©lange emerge, with Creek, Choctaw and other so-called Civilized Tribes, roving Siouan bands, Algonquians from the north, proud neutral states like the Yuchi, and remains of ancient empires (e.g., Calusa, Natchez Indians). Not all of these tribes were â€˜Indianâ€™. Very ancient European contributions to New World DNA are reflected in the X-gene recently discovered by population geneticists. C. S. Rafinesque in his Ancient History long ago proposed Kentucky and Tennessee as the center of an antediluvian Western-style civilization, as evidenced by their numerous mounds, circular stone temples and other monuments. Curtisâ€™ The Indiansâ€™ Book (1907) first popularized American Indian oral traditions, creating the earliest anthology of â€˜oral literatureâ€™. But inclusions from Southeastern native people were few and they have continued to be underrepresented.
It is hard for modern-day readers to imagine the world of native speakers. Word of mouth enjoyed the same primacy as a medium of knowledge, and as a means of religious practice, as do literacy and scripture in Old World religions. Storytelling, chant, song, ceremony, â€˜talksâ€™ and visions were originated and perpetuated by the common people rather than reserved to a privileged few. Religion permeated everything. Orality ensured the communal, continual and egalitarian nature of tribal religions--better termed â€˜spiritualitiesâ€™. For Indians, oral tradition is sacrosanct, like the transmission of texts and writings in the West and Orient. If Christianity is book-based, the religions of the Southeast are oral-based. Paper, books and laws were quickly recognized as inimical to indigenous ways. Language itself was taught to people by God (Creek â€˜Master of Breathâ€™). The second highest rank in any community was the politico-religious dignitary called â€˜speakerâ€™ (Cherokee skalilosken), and all towns had criers and greeters, usually wise old men skilled in tribally specific markings and intertribal protocols. The equivalent term for priest or scribe is â€˜keeperâ€™. Even laws (Adairâ€™s â€˜beloved speechâ€™ ) were oral. There is no theology in Indian society because nothing is written (Deloria). By the same token, there are no lawyers: forensic oratory, so prized in the West, did not develop (Kennedy). History is the story of the people as a wholeâ€”men, women and children. It rarely follows the Latin model of deeds of famous men (res gestae). Only occasionally is it a Herodotean collection of times and travels. Never does it approach the Augustinian City of God model of philosophical reflection and psychological drama. The past is seen as a place rather than a time. Indeed, most stories are about placesâ€”mountains, caves, streams, pools, lakes, cliffs, islandsâ€”often as a way of explaining their sacredness.
Among the more unusual productions are autobiographies of a people, oral histories in the first person plural that speak for all Indians. Some modern-day â€˜speakersâ€™ or â€˜seersâ€™ such as Archie Sam (Cherokee-Creek-Natchez Indian, 1914-1986) have been placed on videotape and even broadcast. The intertribal body of knowledge passed to themâ€”seer traditionâ€”can concern past, present or future and pertain to any of three worlds, or dimensionsâ€”upper, middle or lower. A prophet (e.g. Josiah Francis, or Hillis Harjo) is thus someone who sees the future, correctly interprets the past or discerns the meaning of current events. Often he is helped by medicine beings such as the Tie-Snakes that appeared from a pool of water to the Tuckabatchee Creeks during Tecumsehâ€™s pressuring of them to go to war.
Indian seer tradition tells of the white manâ€™s â€œgold ships,â€ a mercantile empire based in Spain, Canaan and the British Isles that long held sway over the Atlantic coast of North America. The person called Jesus is remembered in some of these traditions as an astute businessman who offended his powerful Davidic family by neglecting his duties and was turned over to Roman authorities. Seer tradition is even so explicit as to say the Vatican possesses records of the historical Jesus in its archives, but they are all rather insignificant commercial accounts and they are now almost destroyed by having been attacked by a fungus. Some of the rules of trade were that no Easterner could remain on Turtle Island (the Americas) over the winter. The traders were content, in turn, if Indians killed chance trespassers. They kept the secret of the Blessed Isles very wellâ€”so well, in fact, that the flat earth theory was official until the end of the Middle Ages and most people thought they would fall off the end of the earth if they ventured too far on the surrounding Ocean. The Gold Ships can possibly explain some of the riddles of southeastern epigraphy like the Metcalf stone, Bat Cave and Carthaginian coin hordes in Georgia. These Easterners seem to correspond to Rafinesqueâ€™s Atalans, white, bearded strangers who had â€œbuilt above one thousand towns on the waters of the Ohio, of which nearly two hundred were in Kentucky, and the remains of above one hundred are seen to this day. The population must have been as great as the actual one, and Kentucky must have had half a million of inhabitants at leastâ€¦. The last remainsâ€¦still existing towards 1500, were the following:--The Wocons in Carolina [Waccamaws], the Homoloas [Timucuas?], Malicas, Apalachians and others in Georgia and Florida, the Conoys of Virginia, the Nanticoes of Maryland, the Catabas of Carolina, the Cahuitas [Koasiti] and Calusas of Alabama, the Tunicas of Louisiana, the Corans, Coras or Escoros of Missouri, Arkanzas, Carolina, California and Mexico; besides many nations of Anahuac [South America].â€ Both Indian seer tradition and Rafinesque agree that some settlers of the Americas were white and came from the East, a theory which is supported by the newly discovered â€œx-gene.â€ Significantly, James Adair regarded the Conoys and others in this list as Canaanite tribes.
The area that is now southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, southern West Virginia and southeastern Kentucky was once the Appalachian wilderness known only to Native American tribes such as the Cherokee and Shawnee and to certain crypto-Jewish remnants of Hernando de Sotoâ€™s explorations in 1540 and Juan Pardoâ€™s expeditions in 1567. There is, however, a continuity between the Atalans, the Spanish conquistadors, the Melungeons and the English colony at Jamestown. The link is the so-called Meherrin Indians. Seer tradition remembers it as follows.
The Moundbuilders were a great civilization from the South and East. They had kings and nobility. Tuscaloosa, who was seven feet tall, was one of them. He fought De Soto at a place called Mobile. The tall Indian queen De Soto captured at Cofitachique was the daughter of a Moundbuilder king who ruled a large part of middle Georgia. She managed to slip away with one of the Spaniardsâ€™ black slaves (a Moor). It was a requirement of Moundbuilder society that a noble had to marry a commoner. They went all over the country on their honeymoon. It was a famous love affair. She was called Pirl. Indians still today name their eldest daughter Pirl. That is because she is seen as the familyâ€™s treasure, its chest of pearls. Itâ€™s always spelled P-I-R-L. Thatâ€™s the Indian word for â€œpearl.â€ Pirl and the black man settled down in North Carolina. Their descendants are the Meherrin Indians.
When the first â€œEnglishâ€ explorers did arrive, they were an interesting and multiethnic lot. In 1654, Abram Wood, a Sephardic Jew from a large family that settled first in the Carolinas, ventured across the Allegheny Mountains toward the Blue Ridge and discovered a gap into Cherokee territory, also a river (New River). In 1671, a group of five Virginians revisited this same area and claimed it for Britain. No further explorations were made until August 1716 when Governor Alexander Spotswood, a Moroccan Jew, and â€œseveral members of his staff left Williamsburg by coach and proceeded to Germania [a fort]â€¦ At Germania this party was supplemented by a number of gentlemen [dubbed the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe], their retainers, a company of rangers and four Meherrin Indiansâ€¦.â€ Their intent was not merely to claim the area for England but to search for silver mines reputed to be have been abandoned by the early Spanish-Portuguese colonists from Santa Elena. Furthermore, Germanna was not settled by ethnic Germans, but rather by Sephardic Jews from Holland and Bohemia specifically recruited by Spotswood for their mining and metallurgical expertise. So our second argument from Indian traditions proves the influence of Jews, Moors and other Mediterranean peoples on the indigenous people of the Southeast had a very long past and was nothing new. Perhaps even some dim collective memory animated Jews to return to what was once a rich and thickly populated inland empire in the Appalachians. At any rate, the shock of recognition that sparked between Jew and Indian resulted from long contact and acquaintance.
My third argument comes from the genealogies of chiefs among the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. I would love to talk about James Adair, who wrote his famous history of the American Indians â€œby the side of a Chikkasah female, as great a princess as ever lived (p. 447)â€ and who I think was himself Jewish â€¦or James McQueen, who jumped ship as a lad in Pensacola harbor in 1719, married a succession of Creek princesses, lived to be 128 years old and was the grandfather of Tecumseh, Osceola and Josiah Francis (Hillis Harjo)â€¦ or Sequoyah who was from a Jewish family from Baltimore that married with the Gratz family of Philadelphia and Lancaster. But time constraints force me to pass them over. Nevertheless, I will mention that Montgomery, Ala. was founded by a Jewish trader from Charleston who married a Creek Indian â€œprincess.â€ Benjamin Hawkins, the Indian agent, mentions him: â€œAbraham M. Mordecai, a Jew of bad characterâ€ (Letters of Benjamin Hawkins 1796-1806, page 168). Pickens interviewed Mordecai for his history of early Alabama and wrote: â€œAbram Mordecai, an intelligent Jew, who dwelt fifty years in the Creek Nation, confidently believed that the Indians were originally of his people.â€ Many Indian traders in the Southeast not labeled as such appear to have Sephardic names. Most of them not of the itinerant or â€œfly-by-nightâ€ kind married a daughter or niece of the relevant Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw or Creek headman. It was common for anyone remaining within the nation over one winter to take a wife and become an adoptive citizen.
Let us content ourselves with establishing when intermarriage between Jews and Indians became frequent. That first generation would have been exactly half Indian. Apparently, the answer is among the Chickasaws. From the earliest English contact with them, this powerful tribe of Muskogean-speaking Indians that dominated the bluffs on the Mississippi around Memphis was called the Halfbreeds. This name was used by the Board of Commissioners of Indian Trade in Charleston and the Lord High Commissioners in London. Among present-day Indians the Chickasaw are rumored to be the most highly mixed, â€œvirtually white,â€ as one Indian put it to me. About 1735 the tribe was invited to settle in the hinterland of the new colony of Savannah where they owned thousands of acres on both sides of the Savannah River around Augusta complete with plantations until after the American Revolution. About the same time, James Adair, who lived among them at the town of Piomingo in what is now northern Mississippi, noted that there were octoroons among them, meaning mixed breeds of one-eighth degree Indian blood. The Chickasaw were resolutely anti-Spanish and anti-French, and it is likely that the first white people among them were Jews. The French finance minister, the Sephardic Scotsman William Law (whose name is Hebrew, â€œleviteâ€) introduced paper money and government bonds to that country during the regency of Louis XV. One of his schemes was the Mississippi Bubble of 1718. It involved rounding up the poor of Paris and Jews of Alsace and sending several shiploads of colonists up the Mississippi. The land agent was Elias Stultheus, a Jew. These were essentially â€œdumpedâ€ among the Indians, and they later disappeared. By 1800, after the area had returned to the Spanish, there was just one town of Halfbreeds left. It is mentioned in the memoirs of a steamboat captain below the fourth bluffs on the Mississippi:
â€œFort Pickeringâ€¦stands on the left side of the river, in the Mississippi Territory. The United States have a factor here, but the settlement is very then; it generally consists of what is called the half breed, which is a mixture of Indians and whitesâ€ (The Navigator, by Zadok Cramer, 1811).
As for white surnames among the Chickasaw, the Colberts had tremendous influence and practically ruled them for many years. They owned land, had plantations, slaves, ferry operations, credit in Pensacola, Cadiz, Amsterdam and London, their women wore the latest fashions from Paris, and they maintained libraries and wine cellars. The first was William Colbert, a British Indian trader from the Carolinas who visited the Chickasaw as early as 1722. His son was Chief James Lachlan Colbert, one of whose three wives was a halfbreed woman. Chief George Colbert operated Colberts Ferry, where the Natchez Trace crosses the Tennessee River. He became very wealthy. --I leave it to you to decide whether the Colberts were Jewish, and if so, how much. If we look at the names of the operators of the first stands on the Natchez Trace â€“ in other words the first white men in that part of the country â€“ the majority of them can be suspected of being Jewish by background, including Stephen Minor, Louis LeFleur, John Gordon, Robert Griner, Levi Kemp and Noah Wall. Significantly, perhaps, the earliest name given to this region by the Cumberland settlers in Nashville was Moro District â€“ the â€œMoorish District.â€
Another of the first white traders among the Choctaws (as early as 1767) was Hardy Perry, father of Chief Isaac Perry. Hardy Perry operated a trading post near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi after coming into the territory, so it is said, from Georgia. Reportedly he was the first to introduce oxen into the Choctaw Nation, bringing the animals north from Mobile. He had a Choctaw wife named Anolah (meaning â€œBlack Foxâ€), who lived near present-day Grenada, Mississippi, and also a wife in the neighboring Chickasaw Nation. Here we are obviously dealing with crypto-Jews. The Perrys were a Sephardic family whose name (Perez) originally paid tribute to the pear tree of the land of Israel. Probably they are the namesake for Parris Island, where the last of Juan Pardoâ€™s settlers were found. Anolah, we can be sure, was not a fullblood. Perry is the same name as Perryman. The Sephardic features are, I think, very striking in the portrait of Benjamin Perryman, a Creek warrior, by Catlin. The most important founder of Jewish-Indian trading families was William Dixon Moniac (orig. Jacob Monaque), a French Jew who joined the last of the Natchez Indians and married Polly Colbert.
In conclusion, Sephardic-Indian trading and land-owning families were responsible for forming the overall pattern of white-Indian relations in the U.S., emphasizing a legal relationship founded on peace, trade and mutual self-interest, unlike Latin America where Indians have no rights even to this day, since Judaism was banned in Spanish countries and trade was discouraged. The story of white-Indian relations in North America has normally been told as one giant unfolding systematic theft. Angie Debo, Vine Deloria and A. Alvarez are some of its better-known chroniclers. Guilt, anger, deception and misunderstanding dominate among its themes. According to both the apologists and the revolutionists, European colonists took the red manâ€™s lives, land, livelihood, language and culture; they are even trying today to rob the Indian of his spirituality and identity. But the Sephardic Jewish colonists consistently went against this pattern. Where their English, French and Spanish counterparts did little more than take, the Jews and Moors gave. They gave large families of children, leadership abilities, trading relationships, writing and computational skills, building and construction know-how, legal advice, spinning wheels, looms, forges, smithies, ferries, cows, horses, peach orchards, beautiful arts and crafts. In the case of Will Thomas, the Carolina colonel who safeguarded the Eastern Cherokeesâ€™ existence, they even gave land and preserved a sovereignty that endures to this day.
According to the U.S. Census, the Cherokee constitute the countryâ€™s largest Indian group, with nearly 500,000 official and unofficial members. Through genocide, military conquest, plague, starvation, captivity, dispossession, betrayal and endless government maneuvers, they and the other major Southeastern tribes fought back with cunning and conviction. These were the first Indian nations to have constitutions, courts of law, a press, police forces and schools. Euchella v. Welsh (1824) and the Cherokee case before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1830s marked their arrival in the circle of nations. The ensuing public sympathy stirred up by converted Jews like John Howard Payne, author of â€œHome Sweet Home,â€ secured a place in legend for them similar to the Founding Fathers of America and Davy Crockett. Families like the McDonalds, Adairs, Rosses, Coopers, Keyses, Browns, Rogerses and Vanns mingled their bloodlines with the strength of the natives in the eighteenth century and before. Were it not for that mixture the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Choctaw could never have survived as political entities. Were it not for those intermarriages, most Southeastern Indians would not have acquired immunities to disease and survived at all! Southern Sephardic Jews were the secret ingredient in an amazing melting pot formed on the Old Frontier. Flexible, down-to-earth, inconspicuous, they infiltrated, impressed and inspired the indigenous hierarchies. Godâ€™s Chosen People met the Great Spiritâ€™s favorite people. Seemingly all traces of them have eroded with time, but DNA is uncovering their amazing story.
The meeting of minds of Indian and Jew that has been my topic today is described in one scene from Malamudâ€™s The People, which I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation. I would like to close by sharing with you a funny, but telling skit from that book.
â€œAs the moons change so does the world changeâ€¦â€
The chief nodded and Yozip nodded. They were sitting cross-legged on the ground.
â€œWe are an ancient tribe,â€ said the chief. â€œSome call us the first of this land. Our ancestors said they were the children of Quodish. We live in his word. We speak his name in our hearts. We touch our heads when we think of him. I say my words to him. Do you understand what I mean?â€
â€œOf cuss,â€ said Yozip, though he did not say what the words might mean.
â€œWe are descended from the first tribe.â€
â€œThis I understand. From the first comes the second.â€
â€œWhere do you come from?â€ asked the chief.
â€œI come from Russia. I am a socialist.â€
â€œWhat is socialist?â€
â€œWe believe in a better world. Not to hurt but to help people.â€
â€œThese are our words too,â€ said the old chief. â€œWe are the people.â€
â€œAmen,â€ said Yozip.
Thank you for asking me to be with you today. Now Iâ€™ll try to take a few questions.