Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

from Colonial Times to 1900:


Mordecai Sheftall: Acquired Reputation of "Great Rebel"

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Mordecai Sheftall was a leader in the Revolutionary movement against the British in Georgia and was recognized as an important outstanding citizen in Savannah. He quickly acquired the reputation of being a "great rebel" and the British were very anxious to capture him. His reputation and abilities were used for the war effort when the Revolutionary Govemment named him Commissioner General of Purchases and Issues to the Militia of Georgia. When supplies were needed and money scarce, Sheftall advanced his own funds to buy the provisions for the Revolutionary troops. A year later, his leadership was extended by American General Robert Howe to service the troops of both Georgia and South Carolina.

While he was awaiting confirmation from Congress, he was captured by the British. On December 29, 1778, a force of 3,500 soldiers, consisting of two battalions of Hessians and British Redcoats, landed in the early morning at Brewton Hill, two miles below Savannah. The invading force encountered very little opposition and, by three o'clock, they had captured the city.

Sheftall and his 15-year-old son, Sheftall Sheftall, tried to escape the enemy with about 186 Revolutionary officers and men across Musgrove Creek. The British encircled them and, after a brief skirmish, Mordecai, his son and the others suffendered. He was treated very badly on a prison ship and, after several months, he and his son were transfeffed to a British garrison in Savannah. He managed to escape, but the British soldiers dogged him for many miles, finally overcoming and returning him to the garrison prison.

Sheftall had difficulties while in prison and he was finally freed when the British and Americans exchanged prisoners of war. After his release, he went to Philadelphia. There, he engaged in "legalized pi racy" by selling shares in a privateering vessel. This ship would join other patriotic privateers in playing havoc on British commerce in the Atlantic Ocean.

These ships ransacked and destroyed many British commercial ships, which started to hurt their owners in their pocketbooks. These acts of piracy pressured the English businessmen to favor an end to hostilities. Sheftall was very active in his newfound role until the war ended.

Visitors to Savannah can view the old Jewish cemetery on Broughton Street, which was donated by Mordecai Sheftall in 1773. It was declared an historic landmark by the commission in 1850.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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