1964 : Historical Marker Dedicated to Ezekiel Solomon, Michigan’s First Jewish Resident

When:
May 31, 2021 all-day
2021-05-31T00:00:00-04:00
2021-06-01T00:00:00-04:00

Two hundred years ago, Fort Michilimackinac was a remote British outpost in the New World where traders like Ezekiel Solomon plied their trade, bartering glass beads, blankets and other goods with the Indians and French trappers in return for beaver pelts.

According to historical documents, Ezekiel Solomon was a Berlin-born Jew who emigrated to Montreal, where he was active in a Sephardic congregation and was elected to an honorary position.

As a member of a syndicate of five Jewish businessmen in Montreal, he acquired a license from the British to trade furs, and in 1761 he made the perilous 1,000-mile journey to Fort Michilimackinac.  If he operated like most fur traders of this era, Solomon would have been in residence at the fort during the brief summer season, returning to Montreal to sell furs and resupply during the winter each year.

On June 2, 1763, during Pontiac’s Rebellion, Ojibwa Indians captured the British fort at the Straits and killed 15 to 20 of the 35 British personnel stationed there.  Although Solomon’s German-Jewish consortium lost goods worth a combined 18,000 pounds in the attacks, he himself survived, and he returned the following year to resume trading.   In fact, Solomon and his partner, Gershon Levy, must have done well enough since they purchased a two-room house (or a house/stable combination) from which they operated the Solomon-Levy Trading House within the walls of Fort Michilimackinac (current day Mackinac City) for a number of years.

On July 23, 1769, back in Montreal, Mr. Solomon married a Roman Catholic woman named Louise DuBois (also named Okimacinesikwe or Chief Bird Woman so she must have been biracial) , and over the course of their lives together fathered five or six children. Interestingly enough, both husband and wife remained true to their faiths, although Mr. Solomon did donate money to support the hiring of Jesuit priests on Mackinac Island, a move which would have been strongly supported by his devoutly Catholic wife.  Solomon also contributed money to Shearith Israel, the Sephardic congregation of Montreal which he helped found in 1768.  It is also likely that his wife would have assisted in his fur trade and other business endeavors.

By 1781 the English finally decided the Fort was not adequately defensible, so tore it down and rebuilt it on the bluffs of Mackinac Island.  It is therefore very likely that Mr. Solomon would probably have moved his trading operations over to Mackinac Island which remained under English control until around 1814.  Records seem to indicate the family moved from Montreal to Mackinac Island sometime between 1780 and 1794.

Ezekiel Solomon probably died in either 1805 or 1808; his wife died on Mackinac Island in 1813 while it was still under English control.

http://www.sunshineinajar.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/DSCN0557-768x1024.jpg

A French-Canadian fur trader, perhaps Ezekiel Solomon, in his shop.

Sources :

First Jewish Settler in Michigan Informational Historical Marker.

Lawrence A. Rubin, Ezekiel Solomon Historical Marker Dedication article including copy of Senate Resolution No. 121, May 28, 1964, memorializing Michigan’s First Jewish Settler and the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan.

I Ezekiel Solomon, Resident in the Fort of Michilimackinac at the time it was surprized by the savages declare that on the second day of June, 1763, a Frenchman, Monsieur Cote, entered my house several times and carried from thence several parcels of Goods, my property. * * The Deposition of Garrit, Roseboom, Tunis, Fischer, Cummin, Shields and Wm. Bruce, Merch’s from LaBay, as taken upon Oath before a Court of Enquiry at the Detroit the 4th day of July 1764.In: Historical Collections, Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Vol. 27, 1897, pp. 631-670.

Judith Levin Cantor. Jews in Michigan. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2001.

Dr. Lynn L.M. Evans.  “Ezekiel Solomon at Michilimackinac: Another Look.” Michigan Jewish History (Fall 2012): 32-36, http://michjewishhistory.org/assets/docs/Journals/Michigan_Jewish_History_2012_09.pdf

Jessica Outram, “Ezekiel Solomon: Introducing My Jewish-Canadian Grandfather“, Sunshine in a Jar, January 21, 2012; updated January 21, 2018.

Jessica Outram, “Learning About Ezekiel Solomon’s Home in Fort Michilimackinac: Creating a Timeline“, Sunshine in a Jar, September 28, 2015; updated July 18, 2016

Jessica Outram, “Marie Elizabeth Louise Dubois: Who is She?”, Sunshine in a Jar, January 21, 2018; updated January 22, 2018.

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