The Lee Shai Weissbach Memorial Lecture in American Jewish History - Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of A Multiracial Jewish Family in Early America


The Filson Historical Society Tue, Oct 24 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM


Co-sponsored by the Filson Historical Society, the University of Louisville Program in Jewish Studies, and Departments of Comparative Humanities and History, with support from the Jewish Heritage Fund.

An obsessive genealogist and descendent of one of the most prominent Jewish families since the American Revolution, Blanche Moses firmly believed her maternal ancestors were Sephardic grandees. Yet she found herself at a dead end when it came to her grandmother’s maternal line. In this talk, Professor Leibman overturns the reclusive heiress’s assumptions about her family history to reveal that her grandmother and great-uncle, Sarah and Isaac Brandon, actually began their lives as poor, Christian, and enslaved in Barbados. Leibman traces the siblings’ extraordinary journey around the Atlantic world, using artifacts they left behind in Barbados, Suriname, London, Philadelphia, and, finally, New York. While their affluence made them unusual, their story mirrors that of the largely forgotten people of mixed African and Jewish ancestry that constituted as much as ten percent of the Jewish communities in which the siblings lived. 

Laura Arnold Leibman is Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College in Portland, OR. Her work focuses on religion and the daily lives of women and children in early America and uses everyday objects to help bring their stories to life. She is the author of The Art of Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects (BGC 2020), winner of three National Jewish Book Awards, and Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life (Vallentine Mitchell, 2012), which won a National Jewish Book Award, a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award from the Association for Jewish Studies. Known, too, for her scholarship in Digital Humanities, Laura served as the Academic Director for the award-winning multimedia public television series American Passages: A Literary Survey (2003).