This is an umbrella project for all projects related to Jews from Indiana.
Jews have long been a presence in Indiana and the Old Northwest albeit very small. Two distinct phases and two different types of immigrants characterized Jewish migration into 19th century Indiana. The initial "wave" began as early as the 1760s when Jewish traders, businessmen, and land dealers instrumental in the establishment of early trade routes from the east into the Midwest. (Blackwell: 314)
The first Midwestern Jews were mainly American-born or "English," descendants of the Sephardim who made their way to the English colonies (in 1825 all but 3 of the known immigrant Jews in the Old Northwest were of "English" origin). They headed west for the same personal and economic reasons as any other immigrants. It was this scattered group that formed the core of Jewish "settlement," which was often highly mobile and seemingly disinclined to set out deep roots in any single place. (Wimberley: 9; Hertberg: 90)
This pioneer group was almost exclusively male. Long accustomed to being a distinct minority, few seemed to carry their faith on their sleeves. Many rather rapidly assimilated into the dominant "American" society, giving up many or all aspects of Jewish culture. This was partially the result of the paucity of other Jews in the area, but was also in keeping with the assimilationist tendencies of many of these early immigrants. A great many married outside their faith, again a result of there simply being few, if any, Jewish women nearby. (Blackwell: 314-317; Wimberly: 2)
Several early Jews rose to prominence in Indiana. Moses Henry and Isaac Levy served George Rogers Clark's effort to wrest the west from the British, Henry as a liaison with Native Americans, Levy as a physician and victualer. Samuel Judah, an eastern-born, Rutgers graduate, became a political force in Indiana. Emigrating to Indiana in 1818, Judah initially lived in Merom, but soon moved to more thriving Vincennes, where he began a long legal and political career. Embracing Andrew Jackson and the Democratic cause, although he later became a Whig, he served six terms in the Indiana House, eventually being selected Speaker. He was an early promoter of internal improvements and incorporated the Lawrenceville Plank Road Company. Like many of his brethren, Judah strode quickly onto the assimilationist path, marrying a Christian woman and raising their eleven children in her faith.
Other Jews moved more anonymously through the Midwest. Coming as peddlers and traders they moved throughout the region, often settling in the growing river towns. Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis attracted Jews along with other immigrants. In Indiana, Madison, and Vincennes all had Jewish settlers by the mid-1820s. Rising Sun's Jewish community was established in 1824. Terre Haute may have had Jewish settlers as early as 1818 and Messrs. Jacob & Levy owned a store there in the mid 1820's. (Karp: 2-3; Wimberly: 5-6)