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October 9: The Jewish Patriot

Lawrence Bush
October 8, 2016

Benjamin Nones, who emigrated from France to the American colonies in 1772 and fought in the Revolution as aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette, in Count Casimir Pulaski’s legion during the defense of Charleston, and as aide to George Washington, became a naturalized U.S. citizen on this date in 1784. After the Revolution, he lived as a war hero in Philadelphia, but barely scraped together a living for his family of fourteen as a notary public and interpreter. In the summer of 1800, Nones came under anti-Semitic attack by the Federalist newspaper, The Gazette, as “a Jew, a Republican, and poor.” He penned an indignant yet dignified self-defense that has resounded across three centuries. Nones was an active abolitionist and freed his own slaves after the Revolution. He also served as president of Philadelphia’s Sephardic congregation Mikveh Israel.

“I am a Jew. I glory in belonging to that persuasion . . . which has preserved its faith secure and undefiled, for near three thousand years . . .

“I am a Republican!...I have not been so proud or so prejudiced as to renounce the cause for which I have fought, as an American throughout the whole of the revolutionary war.... In republics we have rights, in monarchies we live but to experience wrongs .... How then can a Jew but be a Republican?...

“But I am poor, I am so, my family also is large, but soberly and decently brought up. They have not been taught to revile a Christian because his religion is not so old as theirs....” --Benjamin Nones

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.