Michigan's First Jewish Settler

Ezekiel Solomon (sometimes spelled Solomons) was the first Jewish settler in what is now the state of Michigan.

Solomon arrived at Michilimackinac, now Mackinaw City, in 1761, shortly after the area was ceded to Britain as part of the capitulation of New France at the end of the French and Indian War. Ezekiel, along with his cousin Levi Solomons, Chapman Abraham, Benjamin Lyon and Gershon Levi, all Jews who had immigrated to Montreal from Germany, had come as suppliers to the British Army. After the war, members of this German-Jewish consortium preceded the army west to stake a claim in the lucrative fur trade. Ezekiel Solomon and Gershon Levi established themselves at Fort Michilimackinac and were highly successful.

In 1763, Fort Michilimackinac was attacked, part of a series of assaults on British forts across the upper Great Lakes by Native Americans, who were not party to the negotiations that ended the French and Indian War and resented being treated as a conquered people by the British. In the attacks, the British suffered great loss of life and property throughout the trans-Appalachian West. Ezekiel Solomon and the German-Jewish consortium lost goods worth a combined 18,000 pounds in the attacks.

The British returned to the fort in September 1764, and the following year, Ezekiel Solomon and Gershon Levy purchased a log cabin and stable. An excavation of the home has shed new light on the life Solomon and Levy would have led at the time. It is believed that in the late 1760s and 1770s, Solomon was in residence at the fort during the brief summer season, wintering in Montreal, as he rebuilt his business and expanded into what is now northwestern Ontario. Solomon was a member of Montreal’s Shearith Israel congregation during its active period in the 1770s.

No specifically Jewish artifacts were uncovered in the excavation, but that is not surprising. Personal religious items would have been carefully moved from home to home, not casually abandoned. In studying food remains, archaeologists have concluded that Solomon’s diet in the late 1760s was that of other poor traders, consisting of domestic animals such as cow, pig and sheep, as well as wild animals and fish. As his economic situation improved in the 1770s, Solomon increased his consumption of domestic animals while conforming to kosher guidelines, seen in the decline of pork remains.

Following another financial reversal in 1781, Solomon, his wife, Louise Dubois, and his children moved to Mackinac Island. On his death in 1805, Solomon was buried in the cemetery of the Shearith Israel congregation in Montreal.

For more information:

Cantor, Judith Levin. Jews in Michigan. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2001.

Evans, Dr. Lynn L.M. “Ezekiel Solomon at Michilimackinac: Another Look.” Michigan Jewish History (Fall 2012): 32-36, http://michjewishhistory.org/assets/docs/Journals/Michigan_Jewish_History_2012_09.pdf

 

Learn More: Chapman Abraham



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