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—A City of Refuge:

A proposed city planned by Mordecai Manuel Noah in 1825. The reactionary policy adopted by many European governments after the battle of Waterloo led to the reimposition in many places of Jewish disabilities; and Jews laboring under them turned eagerly to emigration for relief. Mordecai M. Noah, in his journeys to and from his post of United States consul at Tunis, had occasion to familiarize himself with the conditions of Jews in various parts of Europe and Africa; and he could not refrain from contrasting the civil and political restrictions placed on the Jews abroad with the equality of rights and opportunities for enterprise and worldly success accorded to them in America. The consequence was that, in 1825, less than a decade after his return to New York, he conceived and published a plan for the establishment of "a city of refuge for the Jews," on a site which he selected upon Grand Island, in the Niagara river, near Niagara Falls, not far from Buffalo, N. Y. To this proposed city he gave the name "Ararat," thereby linking it with his own name and personality, and at the same time suggesting the nature of his scheme.

At that time Noah was perhaps the most distinguished Jewish resident of America; and his successful and varied activities as lawyer and editor, politician and playwright, diplomat and sheriff of New York, lent to his project considerable importance. Accordingly, he induced a wealthy Christian friend to purchase several thousand acres of land on Grand Island for this purpose. The tract was chosen with particular reference to its promising commercial prospects (being close to the Great Lakes and opposite the newly constructed Erie Canal); and Noah deemed it "preeminently calculated to become, in time, the greatest trading and commercial depot in the new and better world." Buffalo, at that time, had not grown to its present commercial importance, and Noah, in sober earnest, anticipated Carlyle's satirical prediction by describing the Falls of Niagara as "affording the greatest water-power in the world for manufacturing purposes." After heralding this project for some time in his own newspaper and in the press, religious and secular, generally, Noah selected Sept. 2, 1825, as the date for laying the foundation-stone of the new city. According to plan, impressive ceremonies, ushered in by the firing of cannon, were held, and participated in by state and federal officials, Christian clergymen, Masonic officers, and even American Indians, whom Noah identified as the "lost tribes" of Israel, and who were also to find refuge at this new "Ararat."

Foundation-Stone of the Proposed City of Ararat.

Circumstances made it inconvenient to hold the exercises on Grand Island; so they were held instead in an Episcopal church at Buffalo. Noah was naturally the central figure; and, after having appointed himself "judge and governor" of Israel, he issued a "proclamation" in that official capacity. In this "state paper," he announced the restoration of a Jewish state on Grand Island, preliminarily to a restoration of a Palestinian state; commanded that a census of the Jews be taken throughout the world; levied a poll-tax of three shekels in silver per annum, to be paid into his treasury by Jews everywhere; graciously permitted such Jews as wished toremain in their adopted homes to stay there; directed Jewish soldiers in European armies to remain in such service till further "orders"; ordained certain religious reforms; made provision for the election every four years of a "judge of Israel," with deputies in each country; commanded the Jews throughout the world to cooperate with him, and appointed as his commissioners a number of distinguished European Jews.

Nothing came of the plan. The proposed city was never built, and it is even doubtful if Noah himself ever set foot on Grand Island. The letters of some of those nominated as European commissioners, declining the proffered appointments, have been handed down through the medium of the press of that day, which freely ridiculed the whole project. In the course of one of these letters, the grand rabbi of Paris said:

"We declare that, according to our dogmas, God alone knows the epoch of the Israelitish restoration; that He alone will make it known to the whole universe by signs entirely unequivocal; and that every attempt on our part to reassemble with any political national design is forbidden as an act of high treason against the Divine Majesty. Mr. Noah has doubtless forgotten that the Israelites, faithful to the principles of their belief, are too much attached to the countries where they dwell, and devoted to the governments under which they enjoy liberty and protection, not to treat as a mere jest the chimerical consulate of a pseudorestorer."

To-day, the only tangible relic of the entire project is the foundation-stone of the proposed city, preserved in the rooms of the Buffalo Historical Society, with the inscription of 1825 still legible upon its face. It is but fair to Noah to state that his plan was to establish "Ararat" as a merely temporary city of refuge for the Jews, until in the fulness of time a Palestinian restoration could be effected; and that he developed plans and projects for such Palestinian restoration both a few years before and twenty years after the year 1825, in which year this "Ararat" project began and ended.

  • Lewis F. Allen, Founding of the City of Ararat on Grand Island by Mordecai M. Noah, in Buffalo Historical Society Publications, vol. i., reprinted as an appendix to Some Early American Zionist Projects, by Max J. Kohler (Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. Publications, No. 8);
  • Daly, Settlement of the Jews in North America, 1893;
  • Simon Wolf, Mordecai Manuel Noah, A Biographical Sketch, 1897;
  • Jost, Neuere Geschichte der Juden, ii. 227-235, Berlin, 1847.
  • An interesting account of the project, in the guise of fiction, is furnished by Israel Zangwill in They that Walk in Darkness (1899), in Noah's Ark.
A. M. J. K.
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