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A Multiracial Jewish Family in Early America

Once We Were Slaves

An obsessive genealogist and descendent of one of the most prominent Jewish families since the American Revolution, Blanche Moses firmly believed her maternal ancestors were Sephardic grandees. Yet she found herself at a dead end when it came to her grandmother’s maternal line. In this talk, Professor Leibman overturns the reclusive heiress’s assumptions about her family history to reveal that her grandmother and great-uncle, Sarah and Isaac Brandon, actually began their lives as poor, Christian, and enslaved in Barbados. Leibman traces the siblings’ extraordinary journey around the Atlantic world, using artifacts they left behind in Barbados, Suriname, London, Philadelphia, and, finally, New York. While their affluence made them unusual, their story mirrors that of the largely forgotten people of mixed African and Jewish ancestry that constituted as much as ten percent of the Jewish communities in which the siblings lived. Laura Arnold Leibman is Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College, VP of Program (AJS), and the author of "The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects" (Bard Graduate Center, 2020) which won three National Jewish Book Awards. Her latest book" Once We Were Slaves" (Oxford UP, 2021) is about an early multiracial Jewish family who began their lives enslaved in the Caribbean and became some of the wealthiest Jews in New York.

Time and Place
March 14, 2023, 5:00 pm
Goldwin Smith Hall, Room 142, Cornell University