Moses Elias Levy Yulee

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Moses Elias Levy Yulee

Birthplace: Essaouira, Essaouira, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
Death: September 07, 1854 (73)
White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier, WV, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Elias Eliahou Levy and Unknown Ha-Levi ibn Yuli
Husband of Hannah LEVY YULEE and Hannah Margarite Levy
Father of Elias L. Yulee, Maj., CSA; Rahma Mendes da Costa; David Levy Yulee, U.S. Senator and Rachel Henriques
Brother of Rachel Benlisa
Half brother of Judah Levy-Yuly

Managed by: William Chandler Lanier, Jr.
Last Updated:

About Moses Elias Levy Yulee

Moses Elias Levy (1782 Mogador, Morocco - September 7, 1854 White Sulphur Springs, Virginia) was a Sephardi Jew who was known for his involvement in establishing early Jewish colonies in Florida. He is the father of David Levy Yulee.

In 1822, he established the Pilgrimage Plantation as a refuge for Jews escaping persecution. The plantation burned down in 1835 during the Second Seminole War.


After the family immigrated to the United States, he bought 50,000 acres (200 km2) of land near present-day Jacksonville, Florida Territory. He wanted to establish a "New Jerusalem" for Jewish settlers. His son David Levy was sent to a boy's academy and college in Norfolk, Virginia, then returned to Florida to study law in St. Augustine.

An Early Jewish Floridian

In 1821, Moses Elias Levy purchased 53,000 acres of land in northeast Florida. Levy believed that Florida could be a new Zion, a home for the persecuted Jews of Europe. Today, in a very different form, Levy’s vision has become a reality. South Florida now has the third largest concentration of Jewish population in the United States.

Born in Morocco in 1781, Moses E. Levy was the son of a Moroccan government minister. After the Sultan’s death in 1790, Morocco experienced an outbreak of antisemitic violence and the Levy family fled to Gibraltar. There, at the age of 15, while praying at a synagogue, Levy had a revelation, he later wrote, "surpassing the idea of hellfire" A according to historian Chris Monaco, "During this episode . . . Moses Levy ‘swore never to doubt the Bible.’" While most of 19th-century American Jewry took a lax approach to religious observance, Levy remained staunchly traditional, keeping the Sabbath and observing kashrut.

In 1800, the death of Levy’s father and a yellow fever epidemic forced Moses, his mother and his infant sister to leave Gibralter for the Danish Virgin Islands, where they joined a thriving Jewish community. Three years later, at age 22, he became partners in a lumber business with Philip Benjamin, father of U.S. Senator and Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Levy subsequently moved to Puerto Rico, where he became a munitions contractor and, after separating from his wife, moved to Cuba, where he built a fortune in shipping.

While in Cuba, Levy decided to use his wealth to purchase a tract of land near Micopany in Spanish Florida, which was soon ceded to the United States. Levy built houses and dug wells in hopes of attracting European Jews living under oppressive conditions. Jews in the Diaspora needed a homeland, he observed, because "no amelioration can be expected at the hands of nations for us." He argued, "The race of Jews has miraculously been continued unmixed with the people of the nations through which they have been scattered" and warned that "every Jew who contributes to the . . . amalgamation of the House of Israel is an enemy to his nation, his religion and, consequently, to the world at large."

He named his colony Pilgrimage Plantation. Between 1820 and 1824, Levy traveled north to New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk to seek financial support for his plan. Yet, by 1825, few Jews had emigrated from Europe to the wilds of Levy’s experimental plantation. Perhaps the fact that hostile Indians, snakes and alligators inhabited Florida discouraged settlers.

In 1825, Levy traveled to London, hoping to persuade Jewish philanthropists there to support Pilgrimage Plantation. His pleas fell mostly on deaf ears. Through his willingness to address leading English Christians, however, Levy had an impact on the campaign to reestablish full Jewish rights in England. In 1826, a number of upper-class Christian Londoners took a genuine interest, on liberal grounds, in restoring full political equality to England’s Jews, whose rights had been suspended 500 years earlier. Levy addressed reform-minded Christian groups on a number of occasions and impressed them with his learning. The sophisticated yet pious Levy helped dispel the notion among affluent Londoners that all Jews were peddlers living in poverty in London’s East End.

Levy also confronted the evangelical London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews, challenging their attempts to "save" the Jewish people through conversion. Ironically, Levy’s contacts with evangelicals, whom he opposed on conversion, gave him a voice in the British antislavery movement. Levy had lived with slavery in the Caribbean and Florida. He was listened to with rapt attention on the subject by the leading group of British evangelical abolitionists was known as the Clapham Sect. Because Levy observed the Sabbath, spoke fluent Hebrew and knew the Bible, the Claphamites respected Levy as a lineal descendant of the ancient Hebrews, whose religion, they believed, was the wellspring of Christianity.

British abolitionists advocated for immediate emancipation to save the souls of both slave and slave owner. Levy argued that, first, banks and businesses would have to be created to invest in non-slave agriculture and the children of slaves would have to be educated in agricultural techniques. Levy thought it would require a generation of gradual preparation for emancipation. Despite these reservations, Levy was one of the few individuals living in the American South to propose emancipation –even if he was in the relative safety of London when he made his views public.

Ironically, little that Levy stood for survived his own lifetime. In 1835, Pilgrimage Plantation was burned during the Second Seminole War. Levy’s son, David Levy Yulee, later became a United States Senator from Florida, the first Jewish-born American so elected. Contrary to his father, the younger Levy remained pro-slavery and rejected his Jewish identity. Nevertheless, Moses Elias Levy proved a visionary in predicting that, one day, Florida would make an excellent home for Diaspora Jews to settle in.

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Moses Elias Levy Yulee's Timeline

July 11, 1781
Essaouira, Essaouira, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
February 2, 1804
St. Thomas, USVI
St Thomas, Virgin Islands, U.S.
June 12, 1810
St. Thomas, USVI
September 7, 1854
Age 73
White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier, WV, United States