Wacahoota Press
Book Reviews
Abolition of Slavery
Rebel In Cuba
Sandino Affair
About the Authors
Course Adoptions
Contact Us


Chris Monaco's brilliant research is bringing to light information on early 19th century Florida history and American Jewish history that has not been heretofore known. It adds dimension to Moses Elias Levy, already recognized as one of the leading Jewish personalities of his time. Wacahoota Press is to be congratulated in taking the lead in reprinting Levy's Plan for the Abolition of Slavery. No longer will it be a 'lost' item in a forgotten archive.
Samuel Proctor, Distinguished Service Professor, University of Florida

Moses Elias Levy, nineteenth-century East Florida sugar planter, is best known as the father of David Levy Yulee, a fierce pro-slavery advocate and the first Jewish member of the United States Senate. Chris Monaco's edited publication of a little known abolitionist tract authored by Moses Levy serves as an important contribution to Jewish history and to the study of slavery in Florida. A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery was first published anonymously in 1828 in London, while Levy was there on an extended stay. Levy was himself a major slaveholder and investor in Florida and, as a result, kept secret his abolitionist sympathies throughout his lifetime. Monaco's introduction convincingly establishes Levy's authorship of the pamphlet, and this recent publication provides an opportunity to explore a fundamental contradiction: How could a man be both a slaveholder and an advocate of abolition?
Florida Historical Quarterly, Summer 2001

The author . . . is not only possessed of great benevolence of soul, and a deep and enlightened piety, but of the experience gathered by a residence of more than twenty-four years in slave-holding countries, twenty of which he states to have been devoted to a consideration of the means by which the system may be effectually destroyed. Appalling, indeed, is the picture which he has drawn of the effects of slavery on the minds of both the blacks and the whites—effects, which if not speedily counteracted, threaten the earth with a scourge, for centuries to come.
The World (London,1828)

Recommended "to the serious attention of the legislature and the public".
Literary Chronicle (London, 1828)

Mr. Levy's learning, humanity, and unwearied exertions . . . entitle him to the esteem of every religiously enlightened person, whatever his persuasion may be, and the honor of knowing this excellent man personally, has given me the greater opportunity to appreciate his high qualifications.
Samuel L. Keyzer (Brussels, 1828)

An important developer of the new Territory of Florida, Levy also played an important role in popularizing the Territory and suggesting legislation to establish an educational system. He is often known for his attempt to create a Jewish colony in the Florida wilderness outside of Micanopy, an extremely radical idea for that day and age. Nothing, though, could be as extraordinary as his plan for the abolition of slavery.

To make the setting clear, Florida was a slave territory which had strict laws enforcing this vile institution. Moses Levy, a citizen of the Territory, could have been locked up, or more likely, hanged for promoting the liberation of slaves....

His proposal for a universal form of emancipation, complete with free education, agricultural training and ‘a practical, substantial and religious training,' was farther than most New England based abolitionists were willing to go many years later....

Chris Monaco, who has won awards from the Florida Historical Society and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation for his film documentaries, has done a grand job in researching, editing and publishing this important work. His introduction to the document is extremely well documented and highly readable....

We are indebted to Monaco for giving us, for the first time in the United States, a usable copy of this important document. Its importance transcends its American context, being published in England at a time when the British empire was wrestling with the abolition of slavery in all its colonies. It also gives us a wonderful view of Levy, hitherto unknown and documented, that adds even more depth to understanding this outstanding Jewish leader, motivator and investor ....

"A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery" should be on the bookshelves of everyone interested in the history of slavery and the responses to it, in addition to those of us who work in and love Florida history.

Joe Knetsch, Historian, Division of State Lands, Tallahassee

As Monaco points out in his engaging and thorough introduction, Moses Levy attempted to straddle a number of different, conflicting worlds. He appeared in London at a particularly auspicious time, identifying himself with the British anti-slavery movement at a moment when hostility towards Judaism was somewhat alloyed with curiosity. Levy distanced himself from England's Orthodox community and embraced an early form of Reform Judaism. At that time, his outsider perspective as an international Jew gave his views additional cachet within England.

Levy used his time in England to begin addressing two major problems in his own life. First, he wished to end slavery, which he argued degraded both slaves and slave holders. Second, he wished to establish a refuge for European Jews on land he had bought in Florida. His pamphlet seems to address both of these issues. Levy argued that slave holding culture was self-destructive and could never reform itself. It required an outside force, one that bridged nations, and brought a new cultural sensibility to the region. His plan included a role from religious groups of settlers in slave territory–groups much like those he was attempting to establish. He articulated, whether consciously or not, a virtue for Jewish outsider status.

This book provides a tantalizing suggestion as to how much Jewish history has to offer as scholars attempt to understand the trans-national nature of institutions such as slavery. Such efforts may benefit from the inclusion of individuals like Levy, whose written work was an artifact of his struggles to bend the rigid lines of religion, business, and nation to fit the complexities of his life.

Andrew Arnold, in The Rambler: Southern Jewish Historical Society Newsletter

Because of its unlikely origins, "A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery: Consistently with the Interests of All Parties Concerned" might very well be relegated to history's curiosity bin. It was published in London, in 1818, by a North African-born Sephardic Jew, Moses E. Levy, whose active life took him to Europe, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Danish Virgin Islands, and Cuba. Levy, a deeply religious man who crusaded for social reform and who made a fortune as a plantation owner, is virtually unknown today. This welcome edition will redress that oversight.

Even though virtually no Jews owned either land or slaves in the nineteenth century–despite the malicious accusations of recent anti-Semitic pseudo-scholars to the contrary–Levy knew that he had to be careful, lest he suffer ill consequences for being a Jewish landowner in undeveloped Florida. For that reason, he published his anti-slavery tract anonymously, and in England. Levy was acclaimed among anti-slavery circles there, but when he returned to the United States, he did not identify publicly with anti-slavery sentiment. Most southern plantations owners detested abolitionist ideas, and ironically for Levy, his son David Yulee, elected to the Senate from Florida in 1845, argued fervently in favor of slavery and, in the words of the book's able editor and presenter, Chris Monaco, distanced himself from both his father's religious beliefs and his politics.

Levy's anti-slavery stance was made public at a time before the American abolitionist movement got under way, although pro-emancipation groups in the Evangelical movement of the Church of England as well as among Quakers, Methodists, and Baptists were becoming highly vocal. Great Britain outlawed the slave trade and sent its navy to intercept slave ships – the captives being sent to British-held Freetown in West Africa and liberated. But only 10 percent of the slave ships were abducted, and the slave trade to the New World actually increased in volume between 1810 and the 1840s.

What made Levy even more unique was that his fluency in Spanish led him to become friends with Don Alejandro Ramirez, intendant of Puerto Rico and later superintendent of Cuba and the Floridas. Levy worked for Ramirez in helping boost the flagging Puerto Rican economy (and convinced his host to suspend the laws of the Inquisition). Levy then moved to Cuba, before the superintendent opened its ports for trade, and seems to have moved freely within the elite of sugar producers and merchants.

Levy never become known in Florida as an abolitionist because his pamphlet was published anonymously and because he feared adding to his already vulnerable status as a Jew and a foreigner. Born in Morocco, his family had to flee when the death of the sultan for whom his father worked precipitated violent anti-Semitic outbursts. The Levy family went first to British Gibraltar, where they became part of the Sephardic Jewish community there. When his own father died in 1800, his family emigrated to the Danish Virgin Islands. By 1820 he had moved to Havana; the following year he purchased 53,000 acres of land in Spanish Florida, near the St. Johns River. There he attempted to found an agricultural colony for Jews, but the project, which he called Pilgrimage Plantation, did not succeed, and in 1835 it was burned to the ground by Indians at the start of the Second Seminole War.

Levy then traveled back and forth to Europe, finally settling in Knightsbridge, England. He began to speak at public gatherings as an advocate of reform. He became popular with members of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews, an evangelical group seeking to proselytize and convert English Jews, possibly because he was a foreigner. The evangelicals were also abolitionists, and Levy joined their cause. He dedicated "A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery: Consistently with the Interests of All Parties Concerned" to the "Religious Public."

Among the more unusual arguments made by Levy was that British convicts should be sent to the West Indies and Latin America – not to Australia – so that they could mix with the resident slave population and neutralize the spirit of the black population and produce a new, enlightened, and miscegenated people. In his detailed and lucid introduction to the book, Monaco reminds us that in the 1820s, the practice of transporting convicts was seen as a progressive step in criminal justice. It is ironic, Monaco adds, that the English public knew a good deal about the brutalities of slavery but did not seem to understand "the equally abusive realities of [penal] transportation, which continued under the guise of enlightened policy" (p. xix).

When Levy returned to Florida, his remaining assets were lost in the Panic of 1837, and he spent the rest of his life in St. Augustine under very modest circumstances, although he recovered some of his fortune before his death and was able to repay his debts. Sadly, his own children rejected his moral progressive and commitment to reform, and his son David Levy Yulee rose to a career in politics in which his conservatism and inflexibility earned him the nickname of the "Florida Fire Eater."

Monaco's presentation of "A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery: Consistently with the Interests of All Parties Concerned" offers excellent insights into a host of subjects, from abolitionism to Florida history to the saga of Sephardim in the New World to English Protestant social reformers to Cuba. He should be thanked for this careful and fascinating edition.

Robert M. Levine, in "Cuban Studies," 2002

Read about the author

Read about the editor

Buy this book


Email: wacahoota@live.com