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Behind Every Great Soldier

Dr. Pearl Herzog

Frances Hart Sheftall stood behind her husband as he became the highest ranking Jewish soldier in the American Revolution — and later fought for his freedom when he was captured by the British. The amazing story of a European Jewess who remained Torah-true in Colonial America.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

soldiersIn the library of Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology is a 1998 master’s thesis entitled “The Wedding Costume of Frances Hart Sheftall.” Its author, Lisa Frisina, devotes page after page to the beautiful, intricate, tzniyusdig 18th-century wedding gown. Even more compelling than the dress, however, is the story of the woman who wore it.

Frances Hart Sheftall — or Fanny, as she was called — was married to the highest ranking Jewish soldier in the American Revolution. Although she spent most of her life inSavannah,Georgia, she was born inThe Hague,Netherlandsin July, 1740, to Ashkenazic Jews, Moshe and Esther Hart (the anglicized version of Hertz). Her father was a merchant and she was raised in a middle class family.

From the little documented information available about her parents, it seems that Fanny was related to the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Aaron Hart, whose brother Moshe Hart was the founder of the Great Synagogue of London.

Fanny and her brother Joshua immigrated to America, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. There, Joshua became a prominent merchant and businessman. Through his business dealings, he developed a friendship with a young man named Mordechai Sheftall, who was from Savannah, Georgia. Joshua made the shidduch between Mordechai, then 26, and his sister, who was 21. The wedding ceremony — to which Fanny wore the gown that so captured Frisina’s interest — was held in Joshua’s home in 1761. 

 

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