Newly discovered documents reveal patriot pastor's tragic tale, Revolutionary War Jewish persecution

Newly discovered documents that were recovered from the drowned body of a patriot pastor shed light on the fight for religious freedom during the Revolutionary War.

The water-stained documents, which are being sold by the Raab Collection, were taken from the body of the Rev. Moses Allen, a pastor and patriot who was captured in Savannah, Ga., by British forces in late 1778. Around the same time, Mordecai Sheftall, a prominent figure in the Savannah Jewish community and officer in the Continental Army, was also captured by the British, along with his son. Mordecai Sheftall is described as the highest-ranking Jew in the American Revolution.

Allen and the Sheftalls were taken to the prison ship Nancy. “Allen was persecuted for being a parson who preached freedom from the pulpit,” explains the Raab Collection, which is selling the rare documents, in a blog post. “Sheftall and son were singled out by the British captain for being Jewish.”

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The Raab Collection explains that Allen drowned while attempting to escape the prison ship in early 1779. “When they took his body from the sea, they found 4 pages of his diary he had kept while in captivity,” it says. “Those sheets not only told the story of the fall of Savannah Georgia but also of the bravery and persecution of Mordecai Sheftall.  They show how Allen stood in solidarity with Sheftall.”

The diary entry recovered from the body of Rev. Moses Allen that describes how the British prevented Jewish prisoners from keeping kosher. (Raab Collection)

The diary entry recovered from the body of Rev. Moses Allen that describes how the British prevented Jewish prisoners from keeping kosher. (Raab Collection)

In the diary pages, Allen recounts the horrific treatment that Sheftall and his son endured at the hands of the British. “Pork for dinner,” he writes. “The Jews Mr. Sheftall & son refused to eat their pieces, & their knives & forks were ordered to be greased with it. It is a happiness that Mr. Sheftall is a fellow sufferer. He bears it with such fortitude as is an example to me.”

Documents that show Jews practicing their faith during the American Revolution are extremely rare, according to the Raab Collection. The papers also describe the fall of Savannah to the British.

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After they were recovered from Allen’s corpse, the scraps of paper were sent back to the pastor’s family. They remained in the basement of Allen’s descendants before their recent discovery.

Illustration showing fighting during the second battle of Savannah, Ga., during the American Revolution, October 1779. Illustration by A.I. Keller.

Illustration showing fighting during the second battle of Savannah, Ga., during the American Revolution, October 1779. Illustration by A.I. Keller. (PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Mordecai Sheftall survived the Revolutionary War. He died in 1797 at age 61, according to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

The friendship between the Jewish leader and the patriot pastor is particularly poignant, according to document dealer Nathan Raab. “It is both a reminder of persecution but also shows what we as Americans can do together,” he told Fox News via email.

Revolutionary War discoveries and artifacts have been grabbing plenty of attention. Skeletons discovered late last year beneath a historic house in Connecticut may be the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers, Connecticut State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni recently told Fox News.

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A Revolutionary War rifle that was stolen in 1971 and discovered at a barn sale almost 50 years later was recently back on display after being reunited with its owner.

A remarkable Revolutionary War diary written by a Massachusetts corporal has also been shedding light on Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to join the Continental Army. The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia will display the diary in 2020.

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In June, the wreck of what appears to be a British ship destroyed during the siege of Yorktown in 1781 was discovered in Virginia.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers