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Mordecai: An Early American Family 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0809027569
ISBN-10: 0809027569
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1815, Alfred Mordecai, the son of a middle-class Jewish family from Warrenton, N.C., applied as a cadet to West Point, "a bold bid for a Jew." Despite high odds, Alfred was accepted-another step in the complex assimilation of the Mordecai family into U.S. society. Bingham, an independent scholar, draws on a large cache of letters and journals written by members of the Mordecai family and a wealth of other published material, to piece together a detailed history of this remarkable Southern Jewish clan. The Mordecais' history is deftly charted through thee generations beginning with Jacob and Judith moving to Virginia from Philadelphia in 1785, through Jacob's founding, with his grown children, of a renowned primary school and the conversion to Christianity of some family members during the Second Great Awakening of the mid-19th century. From there, Bingham follows the family sundering that occurred in the 1860s, when most of the family supported the Confederacy, and Alfred, refusing either to side with them or to support the war in any way, resigned from the Union army. But as thrilling as this family history is, Bingham's great feat here is to show, through the social, political and religious evolutions of one family, how class, race, ethnicity, region and intellectual affiliation profoundly affected assimilation in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bingham's prose is as fluid as fiction, but she never sacrifices historical insight for narrative drive or soft-pedals such uncomfortable material as the Mordecais owning slaves. This is an important addition not only to Jewish studies but to the literature on family and gender relations in the 19th century. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Encompassing the Revolutionary War, which formed the nation, and the Civil War, which split it in two, this engrossing book tells the story of three generations of a lower-middle-class Jewish family that settled first in Virginia and later in North Carolina. Drawing on thousands of vibrant letters, diaries, and journals, Bingham offers a portrait of the Mordecai clan, who, as one of them wrote, were determined to become a "little faithful band of love and duty," guided by affection, responsibility, and a deep respect for learning. They pledged to stick by one another through thick and thin, to recognize their God but always tolerate others, and to improve themselves and the world around them. The book becomes a history of religious expression, doubt, and searching as the family sought to find a meaningful and appropriate expression of Judaism in the context of their lives while attempting to assimilate as patriots and as Southerners. Bingham offers an exceptional panorama of one family's effort to belong and to succeed. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (April 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809027569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809027569
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,410,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I picked up Emily Bingham's book Mordecai An Early American Family while visiting my son and daughter-in-law. My intent was to give the book a quick glance and set it aside. By the end of the first chapter I was engrossed in the story of the Mordecai family, its hopes, its dreams, its successes, its failures. The family was depicted as tightly knit unit. Daughters were as well educated as sons. All worked together for the good of the family. Ms. Bingham's discussion of the family's struggles to maintain their Jewish faith and worship in the absence of a supportive Jewish community challenged me to reflect upon my response given similar circumstances. Rachel's conflict between Judaism and Christianity was poignant. From start to finish I found Mordecai absorbing and thought provoking.
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Format: Hardcover
Emily Bingham's biography of the Mordecais is beautifully researched and written. Thanks to the family's voluminous journals, letters, books, and diaries--and to Bingham's graceful style--we have a family history that compels us to keep turning the pages.
Three generations of Mordecais come alive, shedding light upon the complex history of the Southern Jewish experience. Among many individuals who stand out, perhaps the most unforgettable are Alfred, accepted at West Point at a time (the mid 1800s) when few Jews even applied, and Rachel, whose story would itself be a fascinating biography. Their relationship to their Jewish heritage--and the uses they put it to--are important additions to the story of other ethnic groups and their struggle to assimilate while still maintaining their identity.
Emily Bingham's solid scholarship and broad knowledge of the era she writes about make MORDECAI a fascinating biography of a people and a time.
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Format: Hardcover
While others have been captured by their story, there is no other scholar who has put as much time and thought into the fascinating lives of the Mordecai family, nor is there anyone else who has written about them with such care and obvious attention to detail. This is, indeed, an American family, and through their lives Bingham escorts the reader through many of nineteenth century America's most divisive and troubling dilemmas, while demonstrating the power of kinship to unite loved ones through such a whirlwind of influences.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My mothers maiden name is Mordica which is an Anglicization of the name Mordecai. Sometime over the past hundred years or so the spelling was changed here locally, and most likely changed to disguise the Jewish origins of the family. The family traces back to one Moses Mordecai, a Jewish man from Germany, who was born in Bonn in 1707. He emigrated to Philadelphia after stopping off in England to marry Elizabeth Whitlock who converted to Judaism. You can read a little about the family in the Jewish Encyclopedia which is available online. Eventually one of their descendents, Solomon Mordecai, ended up in Missouri before it was even a state.

The story of the Mordecai family is sadly one of assimilation, and this book touches on that topic. This book only deals with a small segment of our family history, and there is much that followed before, and certainly much that followed after. There are many mysteries in the family that remain, at least to me, including how Moses Mordecai met Elizabeth Whitlock, and the origins of Moses Mordecai in Bonn Germany which have alluded me. The history of Jews in Bonn before and after his time was not a happy one, and even in 1994 a synagogue was fire bombed there. So, maybe the family history in Bonn, however short or long, is lost.

For me this book is personal so I have that personal interest that most others will not share. It is hard for me to be objective. But, it does seem to cover a rather narrow portion of my family history rather well. It is also an outstanding case study on the dynamics of assimilation.
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