Ezekiel Solomon: Introducing My Jewish-Canadian Grandfather
Born in Berlin. Child of the Enlightenment Era.
Ezekiel Solomon was born in Berlin, Germany in 1735. Solomon shares his birth year with John Adams (second American President) and Paul Revere (American Patriot). In 1735, Alexander Pope was writing poetry and George Frederic Handel composed operas. King George II was on the British throne.
In 1740 Frederick the Great came into power in Germany and would soon declare himself the leader of the Age of Enlightenment. Ezekiel Solomon was a child of the Enlightenment. He grew up during a time when ideas about science and faith and humanity were changing. Was Solomon an educated man?
To be Jewish in Berlin in the 1700s
Jews were among the wealthiest people of Berlin during this time. Since Solomon could afford to emigrate to Canada I think it would be a fair assumption that he came from a family of money. When Solomon arrived he would become a successful fur trader so I imagine his father was also a merchant.
Ezekiel Solomon grew up in a time when Jews in Berlin were encouraged to integrate into a secular society. Moses Mendelssohn wrote about the “blending of cultures.” Was Solomon’s family influenced by Mendelssohn?
A Young, Ambitious Fur Trader in North America
According to one site, in 1755, during the Seven Years War, Solomon entered a partnership with Chapman Abraham, Benjamin Lyon, Gershom Levy, and Lucius Levy Solomons to provide supplies for the British army in North America. When did Solomon arrive in North America? Why did he come? Who was with him? Are Levy and Ezekiel brothers? Where was Solomon’s first step on North American soil?
One site hypothesizes that Solomon arrived in Montreal in about 1759. Solomon helped raise funds for the Shearith Israel Congregation in Montreal. It opened in 1760. It was the first Jewish congregation in Canada. I read a number of sources that suggest Solomon was noted in the synagogue’s records a number of times through his life.
Ezekiel Solomon is the first known Jewish man to live in the state of Michigan. Ever. “In 1761 Solomon went to Fort Michilimackinac, today’s Mackinaw City in Michigan.” Solomon was with Alexander Henry, an English trader who disguised himself as a Frenchman to enter the area. Henry was the first known English-speaking trader to travel in and around the area that is now Sault Ste. Marie. This was a time of great conflict between the French and the English, the First Nations and the English. Which languages did Solomon speak? Where did Solomon and Henry meet?
Alexander Henry wrote Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories between the Years 1760 and 1776. I have downloaded this text and look forward to reading it. This should include more details about Solomon’s life as a trader.
Survived Capture by Pontiac During Massacre
Solomon was captured by Pontiac’s men during the 1763 massacre, but gained his freedom by being ransomed.
- 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.
After his release Ezekiel Solomon opened up a general store in Montreal according to From the Jewish Heartland: Two Centuries of Midwest Foodways.
Husband and Father
On July 23, 1769 he married Marie Elizabeth Louise Dubois, also called Okimabinesikwe. Marie was Roman Catholic. They married in Montreal at Christ Anglican Church. Thanks to some help from Bonnie, this morning I looked at a microfilm of an original document from “Cathedral Actes 1766-1795” showing Solomon’s marriage. I have included the image in this post. Notes made about 250 years ago, on the day of his marriage, on my screen! Who was Louise DuBois? How did she meet Solomon? Did she accompany him on business travels?
Contributions to the Economic Life of Early Canada
Ezekiel Solomon went on to help develop commercial trade along the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and up through Northwestern Ontario. Solomon was responsible for trade in the territory of the Michilimackinac and continued to work in the interior of Canada despite the tension with First Nations people. Solomon was one of the few successful traders who competed with the Hudson’s Bay monopoly.
Solomon was wealthy and successful. He must have been brilliant and strong. To survive North America in the mid-1700s was a challenge. Susanna Moodie’s classic CanLit novel Roughing it in the Bush still surprises readers today with the challenges of living in early Canada–and it was written nearly 100 years AFTER Solomon arrived in North America. Not only did Solomon survive–he thrived! Was Solomon more than a merchant? Was Solomon a peacebuilder? What motivated Solomon to accomplish so much?
Ezekiel Solomon died in Mackinac between 1805 and 1808.