American philanthropist; born at Newport, R. I., June 16, 1775; died at New Orleans, La., Jan. 13, 1854; son of Rev. Isaac Touro and Reyna Hays. His father was of Portuguese origin and had settled in Jamaica, but went to Newport about 1760 to serve as minister of the Jewish congregation there. During his residence in the town he became a close friend of Ezra Stiles.
Shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolution, Newport was taken by the British, and the Jewish patriot citizens consequently left. The synagogue was closed, and its members scattered throughout the other colonies. The father of Judah went to Kingston, Jamaica, where he died Dec. 8, 1783; thereupon the mother returned to the United States with her children, making her home with her brother, Moses Michael Hays, who had become an eminent merchant of Boston. She died in 1787; and young Touro was reared and educated by his uncle, in whose counting-house he was later employed. At the age of twenty-two he was sent as supercargo with a valuable shipment to the Mediterranean; and the results of the trip showed his remarkable business ability.Settles in New Orleans.
A few years later (1802) he went to the French territory of Louisiana, settling at New Orleans, then a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants. There he opened a store, and soon built up a thriving trade in New-England products. Later he became the owner of many ships and of valuable real estate, until he was numbered among the most prominent merchants of the place. After the territory had become part of the United States, Touro repeatedly exhibited his public spirit. During the defense of New Orleans by Andrew Jackson he entered the ranks as a common soldier, and was severely wounded on Jan. 1, 1815, being given up for dead; but he was saved by the bravery and care of his friend Rezin Davis Shepherd, a young Virginian merchant, who had settled in the same city. Their friendship continued throughout their lives; and both of them amassed great fortunes.
Touro's name will always be numbered among the foremost in the annals of American philanthropy. His charities knew neither race nor creed, and his public spirit was no less noteworthy.
To Amos Lawrence and Judah Touro belongs the credit of supplying the funds for completing the Bunker Hill Monument, each subscribing $10,000 for the purpose. In 1843 the completion of the monument was celebrated by a banquet in Faneuil Hall, Boston, at which the generosity of the two donors was publicly acknowledged. A resolution was also adopted by the directors to the effect that John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Joseph Story, Edward Everett, and Franklin Dexter be appointed a committee to prepare an inscription for a tablet which was to be placed on the monument and which was partly to record the liberality of Lawrence and Touro.
Another object of his generosity was his native city of Newport. In 1842 he improved the enclosures of the old Jewish cemetery immortalized by Longfellow; and it was his money which purchased the Old Stone Mill supposed to have been built by the Norsemen, Touro's desire being that the historic landmark and the surrounding grounds might be saved for the town.The grounds in which the mill is situated are still known as Touro Park.
In him the poor of New Orleans had a constant friend and benefactor, and many incidents of his charity are recorded. A noteworthy case was that of a Universalist congregation whose church was sold at auction under foreclosure of a mortgage and was bought by Touro, who returned it to the worshipers. Its minister, the Rev. Theodore Clapp, became Touro's friend; and in his memoirs he gives a most appreciative account of the benefactor of his church.Touro's Will.
Though he gave liberally to charitable objects during his entire life, the provisions of the will of Touro, who died unmarried, disposed of over half a million dollars in charity, an enormous sum in those days. These provisions were published throughout the United States and even in the journals and periodicals of many European countries. Among the larger bequests were $80,000 for founding the New Orleans Almshouse, liberal endowments for nearly all the Jewish congregations of the country, bequests to the Massachusetts Female Hospital, the Female Asylum, and the Boys' Asylum of Boston, and one for the preservation of the old cemetery at Newport, and for the payment of the salary of the minister of the old synagogue in that city. A large sum was also left in trust to Sir Moses Montefiore for almshouses in Jerusalem. In addition to these, there were private bequests, including one to the Rev. Theodore Clapp already mentioned; while the entire residuary estate was left by Touro to his friend Shepherd. His body was taken to Newport, and lies in the old Jewish cemetery. The funeral is stated "not to have been equaled since the reinterment of Commodore Perry in 1826." At a later date a public meeting was held at Boston to express regret at his death. On his tombstone, which may still be seen, are inscribed the appropriate words: "The last of his name, he inscribed it in the Book of Philanthropy to be remembered forever."
A few years after his death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory; but opposition to this tribute came from a number of Jewish rabbis throughout the country, who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven image, and that a statue came within the scope of prohibition. This led to an interesting theological controversy, much of which has been preserved in Benjamin's "Drei Jahre in Amerika"; but the outbreak of the Civil war put a sudden end to the matter. The story of Touro's life has been woven into Wassermann's German novel "Judah Touro" (Leipsic, 1871).
- Walker, Judah Touro, in Hunt, Lives of American Merchants, ii. 440-467, New York, 1858;
- Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, vi. 144, ib. 1894;
- Denison, The Israelites of Rhode Island, in Narragansett Historical Register, iv. 308-312;
- Warren, History of Bunker Hill Monument, pp. 283, 311-312, 330;
- Clapp, Autobiographical Sketches and Recollections During a Thirty-five Years' Residence in New Orleans, 3d ed., pp. 94-104, Boston, 1858;
- Daly, The Settlement of the Jews in North America, New York, 1893;
- Wolf, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen, pp. 63-64, 71, 440;
- Benjamin II., Drei Jahre in Amerika, pp. 365-381, Hanover, 1862;
- Mendes, The Jewish Cemetery at Newport, in Rhode Island Historical Magazine, vi. 103;
- National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vi. 361, New York, 1901;
- Abraham, in Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. iii. 98-100;
- Phillips, ib. vi. 139;
- Frankland, Fragments of History, in American Jews' Annual, 1889-95, p. 30.