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Mordecai Shefthall: Colonial Hero

When the British attacked Savannah, Mordecai Sheftall was captured in a skirmish when he refused to abandon his son. Marion Levy Mendel, a Sheftall ancestor, describes the capture. Threatened with “skivvering” (plunging a bayonet into a person until entrails are pulled out), he refused to reveal where patriot supplies were hidden. Sheftall was imprisoned, escaped, and recaptured. He was eventually pardoned and remained a patriot throughout. Professor Harvey Jackson points out wars are fought with more than blood; it takes money to wage war. For example, in today’s dollars the Civil War cost $20 billion, World War II cost $1.5 trillion, and the Vietnam War cost $150 billion. The Continental Congress did not think of money when it declared war. As a colonel, Mordecai Sheftall was the highest ranking Jewish officer in the Continental Army and responsible for the men under his command. John Sheftall, Esq., another ancestor, explains how Sheftall was willing to use his personal funds to provide for soldiers because he was honor bound to do it. He did it believing he would be paid back. As Marion Mendel recounts, Sheftall’s mercantile business was ruined by the war, and he never recovered his wartime expenses on behalf of the army. He also never questioned his loss and remained optimistic at war’s end. The most memorable and telling phrase is from a letter Mordecai Sheftall wrote to his son after the war. “We have the world to begin again.”

Teacher tip: Write a short paragraph that supports this statement: Mordecai Sheftall gave his all for the cause of the American Revolution and earned the title of colonial hero.