Dr. Levi Myers and Antebellum American Jewishness

In our previous research into the earliest records of Jewish presence at Princeton University, we uncovered something unexpected. Our Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 file on Mordecai Myers, Class of 1812, contains correspondence between Mordecai’s father, Levi Myers, and a man named Cleland Kinlock. Though they do not mention Princeton or Mordecai Myers, and thus would not ordinarily be found in an alumni file, these letters offer a fascinating look into antebellum American Jewish reflection on religious identity.

Levi Myers, the son of another Mordecai Myers and Esther Cohen Myers, was born October 26, 1767 in Jacksonboro, South Carolina. His parents had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1750, where Esther Cohen’s father served as the rabbi of Beth Elohim Synagogue. Mordecai and Esther sent their son to study medicine in Charleston at the age of 15. After apprenticeships with Drs. Haynes and Ramsay, Myers went on to medical school at Edinburgh University in 1785. He returned to South Carolina in 1789, where he set up a successful medical practice of his own. In 1794, he married Frances Minis. Together they had 8 children, including the Mordecai Myers who later went to study at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1809.

In September 1822, a hurricane hit the South Carolina coast, destroying the house where the Myers family lived. There was only one survivor, a household servant. Levi, Frances, four of their children, and nine members of their household staff (very likely including several slaves) all died when the house collapsed.

Though a few letters sent to Dr. Myers are found in his son’s Undergraduate Alumni Records file, we’ve chosen to highlight the one most focused on Jewish identity. We’ve done our best at offering a transcription, but some of the text still eludes us, and we welcome any suggestions to fill in the blanks. We believe the “Bishop Warburton” referenced here is William Warburton, an Anglican bishop of Gloucester who was known for controversial writings. Click each image to enlarge.
Kinlock_1_AC104_Box_72 Kinlock_2_AC104_Box_72

June 15, 1818

 

Dear Sir,

 

It was one of the peculiarities of the Hebrew People that they never sought to make proselytes, in which I am, I assure you, as good a Jew as any one of the descendants of Abraham. The fact is that I have no sort of confidence in my own opinions, nor indeed in the opinions of others, for such is my idea of the weakness & [______?] & fallibility of human nature, the imperfections of human language & the indistinctness of our ideas that I would whether any man that ever breathed ever knew the truth of anything, or if he had known it whether he would be able to communicate it to others. My mind is oppressed & crushed by a sense of my own ignorance, & by the discouraging tendency of my own notions, & I now consider myself as a bad man if I placed these notions within the view of those who might be injured by them. You, I believe are not liable to be injured by these notions of mine & therefore, at your request, I trust these to you, begging that you will be as careful of them as I am myself, & that you will return them to my overseer [_______?] at your leisure.

 

I would be much obliged to you if you could procure me by loan or by purchase any of the works which contain exposition of your learned of their arguments against Christianity, or org. texts which had been quoted against Bishop Warburton or said by him to be redoles & riddles he says that they contain for him. Now what those texts were which learning & insolence could not twist & turn to his own purposes I cannot imagine & I would like much to know.

 

Your Dear Sir Most Sincerely,

Cleland Kinlock

Sources:

Collins, Kenneth. “Levi Myers (1767-1822): An Eighteenth Century Glasgow Medical Graduate from South Carolina.” Journal of Medical Biography (2014).

Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104).

This Week in Princeton History for June 27-July 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Ulysses S Grant visits the campus, women take classes for the first time, and more.

June 27, 1871—Sitting U.S. President Ulysses S Grant visits the College of New Jersey (Princeton) for the first time.

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Sketch of Ulysses S Grant by Emery Kelen, undated. Derso and Kelen Collection (MC205), Box 52, Folder 39.

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The Bank Holiday of 1933 at Princeton University

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated President of the United States on Saturday, March 4, 1933. Immediately following his inauguration weekend, at 1:00 AM on March 6, Roosevelt issued Proclamation 2039. This action ordered all banks in the United States to close. No one would be able to withdraw, transfer, or deposit money between Monday, March 6 and Thursday, March 9. But even after some banks were allowed to reopen, those deemed to be in danger of failing would remain closed until they were deemed sound. This emergency measure was intended to prevent runs on banks that would cause a catastrophic ripple effect throughout a fragile economy, giving Congress time to pass legislation to shore up the nation’s banking system. On March 9, they passed the Emergency Banking Act. Gradually, banks reopened, now backed by the Federal Reserve. If a bank failed, account holders were insured against the loss, removing motivation to withdraw and hoard government-issued scrip.

In the interim, citizens all over the United States scrambled to find solutions to the problems that nearly a week or more without access to currency, without warning, would cause. One popular solution was for individuals and private corporations to issue their own scrip to circulate locally. Newspapers, in particular, commonly offered scrip, because they had ready access to printing presses.

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Daily Princetonian scrip, 1933. Daily Princetonian General Records (AC285), Box 2.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 20-26

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first collegiate track contest is held on campus, Japanese visitors ceremonially forgive scientists for their role in the development of the atomic bomb, and more.

June 20, 1779—William Richardson Davie (Class of 1776) leads a charge against the British at the Battle of Stono Ferry. He is wounded and falls off his horse, but evades capture.

June 21, 1873—The first collegiate track contest in the United States is held at the College of New Jersey (Princeton).

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Program from Caledonian Games, College of New Jersey (Princeton), June 21, 1873. Athletic Programs Collection (AC042), Box 17, Folder 1.

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“A Princeton Student’s Letter to His Father” and the Election of 1912

With Father’s Day coming up this weekend and the United States in the midst of a particularly contentious election season, this seemed like perfect timing to highlight a 1912 pamphlet found in the Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), “A Princeton Student’s Letter to His Father and His Father’s Reply” (Box 2).

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This Week in Princeton History for June 13-19

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus newspaper gets its start, a senior carries the Olympic torch, and more.

June 13, 1908—The first-ever session of Princeton Summer Camp begins with 17 boys from Philadelphia. In later years, the camp will become the Princeton-Blairstown Center.

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Princeton Summer Campers at the shore, 1916. Student Christian Association Records (AC125), Box 11, Folder 13.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 6-12

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a decision is reached about the location of the Graduate College, swords are banned from campus, and more.

June 7, 1910—A long battle ends when the Board of Trustees accepts the bequest of Isaac Wyman, Class of 1848, and with it Dean Andrew Fleming West’s plan to build the Graduate College across from the Springdale Golf Club. Woodrow Wilson, whose hopes of locating the College in the center of campus have been dashed, will resign his University presidency and leave Princeton for politics as a result.

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Woodrow Wilson’s plan for the Graduate College imagined dormitories built adjacent to the existing 1879 Hall (at Washington & Prospect) to create inner and outer courtyards. Today, this space is occupied by the Woolworth Center, home of the Department of Music. Graduate School Records (AC127), Box 27, Folder 5. Click to enlarge.

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Princeton University and “Meet Me in St. Louis”

By Madeline Lea ’16

In the opening scenes of the 1944 MGM motion picture Meet Me in St. Louis, Lon Smith receives his Princeton University Catalogue in the mail (view the clip here). Lon, the eldest child of the Smith family, has been accepted to Princeton in the fall, and his going away party is the excuse to invite John Truett, “The Boy Next Door”  to the Smith house. Lon’s sister, Esther (played by Judy Garland), has a crush on the new next door neighbor, and she believes Lon’s party will be the perfect excuse to meet him.

The University Archives receives numerous requests for information about the Catalogue of Princeton University: 1903-1904.

The Catalogue for the academic year of 1903-1904 (the edition fictional incoming freshman Lon Smith received) was fairly lengthy with 407 pages of Princeton facts and figures. The volume is 8 inches x 5 ¾ inches. The cover is tan with black lettering.

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The Catalogue was given to every student and intended to provide basic information about Princeton University. Early Catalogues contained the following: names of the Board of Trustees, a list of the Faculty, a list of students (by class year), information about admission, courses of instruction, examinations, expenses, and commencement exercises. Over the years more detailed information was included, such as a history of the University, a map of the campus, an academic calendar, and library hours. As Princeton grew from a college to a university, it provided new services to its students, faculty, and staff. The Catalogue is a valuable resource that helps to document this growth.

Additional Related Source:

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.

This post was originally written by Nancy M. Shader in 2003 for the FAQ section on our old website. It has been revised and expanded by Madeline Lea ’16 as part of the launch of our new website.

This Week in Princeton History for May 30-June 5

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a conference defends the study of classics for all students regardless of major, a nineteenth-century alum envisions 2015 New York in a dystopian science fiction novel, and more.

June 1, 1761—The Board of Trustees vote to ban ball-playing against the College of New Jersey (Princeton) president’s house: “The Trustees having on their own view been made sensible of the Damages done to the President’s House by the Students playing at Ball against it, do hereby strictly forbid all & every of the Students, the Officers & all other Persons belonging to the College playing at Ball against the President’s House, under the Penalty of Five Shillings for every Offence to be levied on each Person who shall offend in the Premises.”

June 2, 1917—Academics, college administrators, business tycoons, politicians, and the general public gather at a “Classical Conference” at Princeton University to discuss the future of American education and defend traditional instruction in classics for all students regardless of their specializations or future careers.

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Some notable attendees at the Princeton University’s “Classical Conference” pose for a photograph on June 2, 1917. Left to right: Princeton University president John Grier Hibben, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (sister of Theodore Roosevelt), Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jenny Davidson Hibben (wife of John Grier Hibben), Andrew F. West (Princeton University dean of the Graduate School), Lawrence Eugene Sexton (a Harvard University overseer), Douglas Robinson (husband of Corinne Roosevelt Robinson), Allan Chester Johnson (Princeton University professor of classics), an unknown visitor, and Dr. Lewellys F. Barker (Physician-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins University and former President of the American Neurological Association). Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP17, Image No. 435.

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“This Is More Than a School”: James M. Stewart ’32’s Princeton

When we launched our Tumblr page in January 2015, we filled it with a variety of content on the history of Princeton University, but it didn’t take long for us to discover that one alumnus in particular consistently received a lot of attention on the platform: James Maitland Stewart ’32. In honor of this, we currently have an exhibit case in our lobby dedicated to Stewart’s long-term connection to Princeton: “‘This Is More Than a School’: James M. Stewart 32’s Princeton.”

Jimmy Stewart, the son of Alexander “Eck” Stewart of the Class of 1898, wrote on his 1928 application to Princeton that he chose it due to family connections and his belief that Princeton “is by far the best equipped to give me a broad, profitable education, provided that I apply myself diligently to the work.” His dreams of becoming a civil engineer, however, were short-lived. Diligent work proved a challenge in the face of tempting recreational activities. He later told Princeton Living, “College algebra was like a death blow to me.” He did especially poorly in a Shakespeare course and “did not survive Spanish.” Unable to keep up in his classes, Stewart was forced to attend summer school to avoid flunking out. At the end of Stewart’s freshman year, his math professor told him, “You’d better think very seriously about being something else [other than a civil engineer], or you’ll be in deep trouble.”

Transcript

Grade card for James Maitland Stewart ’32, Undergraduate Academic Records 1920-2015 (AC198), Box 25. To better understand Stewart’s academic struggles, see our previous blog post explaining the 1-7 grading system used here. N.B.: Access to student academic records is governed by this policy.

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