Sheftall family collection
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Sheftall family collection

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Georgia Historical Society
Creator: Georgia Historical Society.
Title: Sheftall family collection
Dates: 1733-1827
Extent: 0.04 cubic feet (2 microfilm rolls)
Identification: MS 1414

Biographical/Historical Note

Mordecai Sheftall (1735-1797) was an energetic capitalist. Upon the death of his father, Benjamin Sheftall, in 1765, Mordecai became the leader of the family and the Jewish community in Savannah, Georgia. During the Revolutionary War, Mordecai demonstrated his unflinching patriotism by suffering privation and financial loss for the American cause. He was instrumental in securing the charter for Congregation Mickve Israel in 1790.

Mordecai's father, Benjamin Sheftall, was a Prussian Jew who arrived in Georgia soon after James Oglethorpe founded the town of Savannah. Benjamin and his first wife, Perla, reached Savannah on July 11, 1733. On December 2, 1735, Perla gave birth to their son Mordecai; she died later that year. Benjamin married Hannah Solomon on November 20, 1738. On December 12, 1739, Hanna gave birth to Levi Sheftall.

Mordecai Sheftall was the first of his family to be granted land, acquiring fifty acres in December of 1756. His father and brother soon followed suit and began purchasing enormous amounts of real estate. By 1758, the family had a mercantile business, saw mill, ranch, and farmland. The brothers, Mordecai and Levi, jointly operated the mercantile business while Levi ran the tan yard and butcher business and Mordecai ran the saw mill and ranch.

The Sheftall family gained, lost, and recovered financially when the Revolutionary War began. Mordecai, a political activist, put his efforts behind the American cause. Consequently, he and his family suffered financially when the British captured Savannah and Charleston in 1778. Mordecai was serving as the Commissary General of Purchases and Issues to the Georgia Militia when he and his son, Sheftall Sheftall, were captured by the British. Mordecai was held on the prison ship Nancy from December 1778 until April 1779. In April, Mordecai was paroled to Sunbury, Georgia, but was not allowed to take his seventeen-year-old son with him. Sheftall Sheftall was eventually allowed to wait at Sunbury with his father until they could be exchanged for other prisoners in New York. The two were eventually released on April 11, 1780. They traveled to Philadelphia to wait out the war. Frances Sheftall, Mordecai's wife, and her four children fled to Charleston when Savannah fell to the British. There she endured hardship due to lack of funds to support her family. From 1780 to 1781, Mordecai pleaded with Congress for reimbursement of his hardship in order to bring his wife and family to Philadelphia. Each plea was denied. Eventually, Frances and the children joined Mordecai and Sheftall.

During this time, Levi Sheftall served as an advisor to Count d'Estaing on the attack of British troops in Savannah. The attack proved to be a disaster for the American and French forces. Levi was unjustly branded a Tory by Patriots and a Patriot by Tories. As soon as the Patriots gained control of Georgia, Levi was banished from the state and all of his property confiscated.

Upon the end of the Revolutionary War, the Sheftall family returned to Savannah to resume their lives. Mordecai became Georgia's agent for purchasing clothing and helped to rebuild Congregation Mickve Israel. By 1783, his mercantile business was again successful and his energies concentrated on restoring his brother Levi's good name. By 1787, Levi was admitted into Georgia with all rights and privileges of free citizens of the state.

Mordecai Sheftall married Frances Hart on October, 1761 and had six children with her: Sheftall, Perla, Elias, Benjamin, Moses, and Ester. He died on July 6, 1797, at the age of sixty-one.

Seftall Sheftall moved between Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston. His brother Moses, went to Philadelphia to study medicine under Benjamin Rush. Both eventually returned to Savannah.

Levi Sheftall married Sarah De La Motta on May 25, 1768 and had fourteen children: Sarah, Benjamin, Hannah, Rebecca, Levi, Rachel, Isaac, Judith, Mordecai, Emanuel, Perla, Solomon, Abraham, and Abigail Minis. He died on January 20, 1809.

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of two rolls of microfilmed documents pertaining to the Sheftall family. Documents on the microfilm include legal papers, personal letters, and account statements. The first roll includes items in the Keith Read collection at the University of Georgia. The second roll includes family papers from the private collection of Marion Abrahams Levy. The papers on this roll of microfilm are divided into four series. The first contains legal documents, letters and statements of accounts (1758-1794) of the Sheftall (Sheftall, Mordecai, Moses, Francis) family of Savannah, including letters from James Gunn and Abraham Baldwin. Most of the items relate to the Revolutionary War and Constitutional Convention periods. Item 6 describes the battle for Savannah in 1780. The second series contains letters, legal documents, petitions, and accounts (1733-1810) relating to the Sheftall family of Savannah. Several letters relate to the Continental prisoners of war held at Antigua Island and Charles Town (1799-1781). Several other letters relate to the actions of the U.S. Congress on the petition of Mordecai Sheftall for expenses incurred during the Revolution. Correspondents include: Mordecai Sheftall; Sheftall Sheftall; Allen Campbell; and James Jackson. The third series contains a memorial of land, an extract of House of Assembly minutes, letters, a certificate of exchange of prisoners, a receipt, a lottery ticket, a Justice of the Inferior Court commission, and a Savannah Hospital and Poorhouse lottery ticket. The items in the third series are restricted from reproduction and publication. The fourth series contains correspondence, receipts, a bill of sale, the affidavit of David Rose, and a regimental order and certified copy of parole issued to Sheftall Sheftall.

The collection was assembled by the Georgia Historical Society.

Index Terms

Bills of sale.
Financial records.
Georgia--Politics and government--1775-1865.
Legal documents.
Letters (correspondence)
Sheftall family.
Sheftall, Francis.
Sheftall, Mordecai, 1735-1797.
Sheftall, Moses.
Sheftall, Sheftall, 1762-1847.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prisoners and prisons.

Location of Originals

Original papers contained on microfilm roll 1 located in the Keith Read collection at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

Original papers contained on microfilm roll 2 located in the private collection of Marion Abrahams Levy.

Physical and Technical Access Restrictions

A microfilm reader is required to access this collection.

Series 3 on microfilm roll 2 is restricted from reproduction and publication.

Administrative Information

Custodial History


Preferred Citation

[item identification], Sheftall family collection, MS 1414, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.

Acquisition Information



Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the Georgia Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Division of Library and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Georgia Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.


Encoding funded by a 2012 Documenting Democracy grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Container List



1X-1414-01. Sheftall papers from the Keith Read collection at the University of Georgia


2X-1414-02. Sheftall papers from the private collection of Marion Abrahams Levy