No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

Ararat: City of Refuge.

July 3, 2012
...
...

Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
More...
Strange Company - 2/28/2024
`
HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
More...
Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
More...
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Female Tobacco Chewers. | Torturing a Lover.

Ararat: City of Refuge.

Noah

“Hear, O' Israel, The Lord is our God-The Lord is One.  ARARAT, a City of Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai Manuel Noah, in the Month of Tizri, September 1825, and in the 50th year of American Independence"
[more]
 
Extra Mordecai Manuel Noah
Mordecai Manuel Noah had been a major in the Pennsylvania Militia, U. S. Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis, Sheriff of New York, a playwright, a publisher, and a high-ranking Tammany Hall politician. In the 1820s Noah was easily the most well-known and politically powerful Jewish man in America.  He was also the kind of flamboyant eccentric that has always been popular in New York City.
 
Noah’s most audacious move was his attempt to establish a homeland, or at least a “City of Refuge” for Jews in America. The idea was at least five years in the planning, with the first practical steps taken in 1825 when Samuel Leggett, acting on Noah’s behalf, purchased 2,555 acres on Grand Island, in the Niagara River. Noah then published his intention to found the city of Ararat—named after the resting place of Noah’s Ark—as a Jewish homeland.
 
A 300 pound cornerstone was created for the new community and it was to be dedicated on Grand Island in September 1825. The organizers could not find enough boats to carry the expected crowd to the island, so the cornerstone was dedicated at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo. Noah was a Royal Arch Mason and it is believed that Episcopal cooperation was obtained through his masonic connections. On September 2,  Mordecai Noah, wearing a Richard III costume and gold medallion borrowed from New York’s Park Theatre, led a procession that included a military band, an assembly of Freemasons, and a number of city officials. Also atttending was the great Seneca Chief, Red Jacket. Noah believed – as the Mormons later would— that American Indians were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.
 
The cornerstone was laid on the communion-table, and cups filled with wine, corn and oil were placed on top of it. The stone was consecrated using both Hebrew and Episcopal rites. Following the consecration, Noah delivered a speech proclaiming himself “by the Grace of God, Governor and Judge of Israel” and announcing a re-organization of the Jewish government. He offered Ararat as an asylum to Jews throughout the world and at the same time levied a tax of three Shekels (one dollar) in silver on every Jew throughout the world, to capitalize the new venture and aid in the settlement of emigrants to the new community.
 
Grand Island Grand Island, New York
In spite of its grandiose beginnings, Ararat was a profound failure for a number of reasons. Noah had not consulted with Jewish leaders and his ideas had very little support. In America the Jewish community feared the venture would prove disreputable. In Europe, where Noah hoped to get most of his settlers, the idea was ridiculed from all corners.  Adding to Noah’s woes, the “Morgan Affair” the following year—in which Freemasons were accused of kidnapping and killing William Morgan for revealing their secretes—led to fervent anti-Masonic sentiment in Western New York. The Freemasons’ very visible support of Ararat raised public suspicion of the project.
 
The cornerstone never made it to Grand Island and it is doubtful whether Noah ever did either. Since 1825 it has been a matter of debate whether Noah was sincerely trying to establish a Jewish homeland or if it had all been a real estate scheme.  Letters discovered later indicate that it was a little of both.  Mordecai Noah’s support of Zionism never faltered, but in 1825 he was well aware of the value of the property at the mouth of the Erie Canal which opened later that year, and he hoped to make a sizeable profit in land sales.

Sources: