Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Reenacting Personas

I've had a lazy couple of hours and I'm disgusted that it's after 1 o'clock already... My Latin class was canceled due to Prof M being what must be very under the weather, so I've been sitting at my computer since 11am, doing nothing of any particular importance. I somehow got side-tracked from checking my e-mail at some point and started looking for info about Jewish women's names in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I was looking for information so that I could at least construct names for my reenacting personas... I don't even know how necessary that is, but I've thought to do it anyway. Susan has reenacting personas, so I figured "why not?" I do know that until about mid-19th century, most Jews in the US were of Sephardic descent, so I needed Sephardic names... This was more significant for the surnames I chose rather than the first names. I couldn't find all that much about first names for girls in an historical context, so I chose Biblical names - they always work, no matter what! So I thought Sephardic names for Rev War and early 19th century, and a more Anglo-Ashkenazic (or really, from what I chose, it's rather ambivalent) for Civil War.

So I'm thinking "Sarah Abrams" for Rev War, "Rebecca Katz" for early 19th century and "Eleanor Levy" for Civil War... Eleanor Levy is the only name that is in any way based on a real person.

Eleanor Cohen Seixas (I would not be mean and pick "Seixas" for non-Jewish people to try to pronounce, although it was quite tempting - it's pronounced "Say-zacks" as far as I know.) of Columbia, SC. She was around my age during the Civil War and was married very soon after the War ended to a Mr. Seixas, a very successful merchant of Charleston and New York, and moved to NYC with him sometime around 1866 - 1867. Excerpts from her diary are available online here. I will excerpt a few paragraphs here myself, for I think some people may find them quite interesting:

August 6th, 1865: Yes, I am a bride, a wife, four days married, but I must start at the beginning. The sun shone clearly, brightly, while I was married. All said I looked better than I ever did before, and I feel I did look well. I was very plainly dressed. White Swiss muslin, high neck and long sleeves, trimmed with Valienciene lace, lace barbe at my throat, my hair beautifully braided, a white illusion that enveloped me, and a few natural flowers. All passed off well. The glass broke; the ring was on my finger, and from every side I received kisses and congratulations for Mrs. Seixas. Mr. S. was very nicely dressed. He wore a suit of black, except a very handsome, white vest. He looked remarkably well. He was serious and felt fully the responsibility of his position. My cake was splendid, and, after eating it and drinking my health, I hastened to my room and donned my travelling dress.

We left at four, in a Confederate wagon drawn by four mules. Fred was driving. I was in a gale of spirits, laughing, gossiping, and teasing Mr. S.'s life out of him. I felt the parting and had to show my excitement either in tears or smiles; so, as I bride, I preferred smiles. I made Mr. S. laugh until he was weak. He was kind, gentle, tender, and loving. We arrived at White Oaks in time to take the cart. We met there a Mr. Stockton and lady, a newly married couple. It was very pleasant to have them for travelling companions. Mr. Goodwin of Columbia was with us and gave us no peace, telling everybody we were bride and groom.

August 30th: I feel quite ashamed of my neglect of my dear old friend, but for four weeks I have lived in such a whirl that it was impossible to write. We had a delightful time coming on. Memory will ever rest joyfully on my bridal tour. We stopped Friday night in Raleigh, then in Peterburg, Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington. I saw all the battlefields, and cannot describe my feeling in leaving Richmond, for then I felt I left the sunny South, home of my birth, my choice, and my heart. We stopped at the best hotels everywhere; each one was better than the other, until we reached Philadelphia. The Continental there surpassed anything I ever dreamed of. We had two rooms, parlor and bedroom, furnished with green velvet, meuble mantle, étagère mirrors, and in superb style.

We arrived after six days' travel in New York City...

My experience of married life is that there is no true happiness in single life, yet marriage without love must be intolerable. Only deep, pure, holy love can ever fit a woman for what she has to undergo. My dear husband is kind and affectionate. Of course he has faults, as have I, but I will try to cure mine, and bear with his. His greatest fault is that he never thinks seriously. He is always lighthearted, and life is not made of sunshine alone, as we all know.

He has determined to stay in New York, and this has pained me much, for I don't like this place to live in. It is too grand, too large, too gay and fashionable to suit poor me, and I wanted to live with my beloved family. The separation from them is too hard, but as a true wife I try to reconcile myself to my husband's will. I have visited theatres, ice cream saloons, etc., and I am forcibly struck by the contrast between the prosperous North and our poor, desolate South, yet is she dearer to me in her desolation than this gay, heartless country.

I have not been well and have yearned for home and ma...

I think it's quite interesting how her feelings of living in New York and her attachment to the South so closely mirror my own... Not that I'm *ever* going to live in New York City... I'm not even sure I really want to visit New York (I have once, for 5 hours, and I don't have any particular urge to return), and certainly not for more than a few days. The only thing that would draw me there are the museums and galleries... and perhaps the Carnegie Deli... lean pastrami on rye with dijon mustard, piled so thick you can't bit all the way through in one go... yum-yum!

As for what I shall do, well... most Jews in the US during the 18th and 19th centuries - stereotypically enough - were merchants and lived in commercial centers. At least early on in the 18th century, they did not live outside of major port cities, most especially Charleston (which had the highest Jewish population in North America until 1830), New York, Philadelphia, and Boston (among a few others). In 1776, there were only about 2,000 Jews in the newly declared United States, but by the Civil War there were upwards of 40,000 (still very few compared to the overall population). From what I've been able to find, their wives and daughters often were seamstresses or helped in the family store if they had one, if they took on any work at all, although they did not work outside of the home or family business. So I expect that I would do basically the same thing that Susan's persona does... This occupational trend is even reflected in my own family record, although that is from the late 19th - early 20th centuries, in the lives of my grandmother's parents. Miriam Bernstein, who immigrated to the US in 1889 when she was 18 years old, married Simon Rudy sometime after 1889 (I have the date somewhere, but that would take some serious searching). He was a merchant in a smallish town in Indiana and after my grandmother was born (the youngest of five children and the last of 8 pregnancies), they moved to Indianapolis, where Simon prospered and the family lived in a very nice brownstone townhouse until he died suddenly of a heart attack, I think, around 1920 when my grandmother was 14. Before they married, Miriam worked as a seamstress in a shirtwaist factory. During their marriage, she, of course, did the family mending and made clothes. After his death, Miriam supported her younger children (because the older boys were, by that time, out on their own or in college) by taking in work as a seamstress out of her house. Her eldest unmarried daughter, Sophie, was also a milliner's apprentice, and, according to my grandmother, made beautiful hats.

I was also tempted just to use my own name, both first and surname, for simplicity, but I canned that when I came to the realization that before somewhere around 1880-ish there were very few to absolutely no "Stern"s in North America. It's a very Polish-German name, so until there was a significant influx of Jewish immigrants from those German-speaking regions, the name does not appear in the US, and even then, only in the extreme North (New York, Cleveland - where my grandfather was born - Detroit) for the first decade at least, far after the Civil War, as far as I can tell from the US Census records from that time. So c'est la vie...

Found out another interesting fact before I have to go and start getting ready to head over to school, just in case my second class isn't canceled... Shoshannah, which means "rose," is the Hebrew equivalent of the English name Susannah. Fun fact... TTFN!

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