Discovered possible (probable?) Jewish roots in Colonial USA #usa #unitedkingdom #sephardic

Albert Stern

I am looking for someone with insight into Jewish migration to Britain's American colonies in the 1700s. I was adopted as an infant by a Jewish family, and have known all my life that I was not of Jewish lineage. Ten years ago, I had my DNA tested, which confirmed I was primarily of British stock - I was disappointed then that I hadn't even a trace of DNA that connected me with Jews. Through two years ago, however, I discovered my birth families and have since discovered many fascinating things about my ancestors. This fall, my birth sister was doing our father's family tree, and discovered a David Levy, who was born in London in 1741 and who died in Frederick, Maryland in 1804. He married Maria Barbara Weis, who was born in 1741 in Germany, but who must have come to America with her parents (named Weissen) to Maryland as a child. Levy seems to have been a colorful character - the family historian of that line says he might have been brought over as a convict forced into indentured servitude (he was likely in the colonies by 1756 and for certain in Frederick by 1766), and that he served as a quartermaster sergeant with the German Battalion with Washington's army at Valley Forge. Apparently, a building in which he operated a tavern and hardware store still stands in Frederick. It seems that church records show baptismal and other records for his children and wife, but nothing (neither baptism nor confirmation) for David, though he is mentioned in church records but only as a husband to Maria - also, he never sponsored a baptism (i.e., he never served as a child's godfather) although his wife and some children did. My ancestor is David and Maria's child Sarah, who was wed in a Lutheran church to a Gessinger (parents Gessinger and Weissman, who may have been of Jewish heritage but who were married themselves in a Lutheran church). And this is where my Jewish line effectively ends.
I have many questions that I hope someone in this group can answer. Coming from England, David Levy was likely to have been Sephardic - I think. Could he have lived unconverted with a Christian wife in that era? It seems hard to believe, even in religiously tolerant Maryland. His 10 children had a mix of biblical and English names, which suggests some Jewish consciousness. All of this is very confusing and intriguing to me, and I would very much welcome corresponding with someone who knows more about this era. Thanking you in advance.

Albert Stern

Stephen Cohen

Dear Albert:

I suggest that you get in touch with my sister, Dr. Mara Cohen Ioannides, a professor at Missouri State University, who is an expert on American Judaism and American Jewish History, and has been tracking various early Jewish families for historical research.

-Dr. Stephen M. Cohen
Central New Jersey

Ellen Shindelman Kowitt


Because you mention that David Levy served in a German battalion unit at Valley Forge, and his wife was born in a German-speaking area, it raises the question about whether he might have been of Ashkenazi origin.

All early American Jews were not all Sephardic. It is true that synagogues operating at the time in America were practicing Sephardi rites, but there are highly visible examples of those who were Ashkenazi that actively participated and intermarried into those communities. One notable example is the religious leader of Shearith Israel in Manhattan in the late 1700s, Hazan Gershom Mendes Seixas himself, was the son of a Sephardic father and a mother of Ashkenazi descent. 

DNA: Not always passed down through all lines, so just because your DNA results didn't show any Jewish, doesn't mean it's not possible. This is assuming you took an autosomal DNA test. 

David Levy is listed in the Daughters of the American Revolution ancestor database (index) as #A069673.The dates differ with him born circa 1740 and death as before 1-18-1804. He was a non-commissioned officer shown as QUATERMASTER SERGEANT, ALSO PVT IN CAPTS KEEPORT, BALTZEL, BUCHARDT, BUNNER and LCOLS GEORGE STRICKER, LUDWIG WELTNER; GERMAN REGT, CL. His wife's name is slightly different as well and listed as Barbara Weisser.

Ordering Genealogical Documentation from DAR: 
More information can be purchased about any patriot ancestor appearing in the DAR database for $10-$30 to see supporting documentation and/or descendant applications including significant genealogical detail about relationships. To search, visit Once you find someone in the results, click on the "PURCHASE" button to order. If more than one descendant application is available, select the one most recently submitted which will be the last one on the list.

Intermarriage in 18th C. America: 
The prominent colonial Jewish gentleman, Simon Gratz of Philadelphia, may or may not have married a non-Jewish woman whom he sired 7 children with. All of the children were raised Christian, and there is no evidence their parents, Simon and Mary Smith married. There are other examples in this time period of similar relationships between Jews who remained involved in the Jewish community but "married" or coupled outside of the faith. Your description of baptisms and roles in the church for David Levy's family are consistent with this. Were they always affiliated with the Lutheran church or another? Some churches excommunicated members for marrying outside of their faith. And where are David Levy and his family buried?

A new JewishGen US Research Division website covering 1624-present will provide links and guidance on research for all periods in America including colonial Jewish families. Suggestions or materials for content are welcome.
Ellen Shindelman Kowitt
Director, JewishGen US Research Division

Sherri Bobish


Found on GoogleBooks:

The County Court Note-book - Volumes 1-5

The court orders payments to the wives of certain recruits from Frederick County.  March court 1779 (From the records of the county court)
Mrs. Levy, wife of David Levy; six children.
The records states that the above men were soldiers in Col. Weltner's regiment.

You might try contacting NARA to check if there are surviving records of his Revolutionary War service.


Sherri Bobish