Jews and Gentiles in Early America

William Pencak
The fascinating story of the Jewish contribution to and participation in early American life


Jews and Gentiles in Early America offers a uniquely detailed picture of Jewish life from the mid-seventeenth century through the opening decades of the new republic.

Though the first national census in 1790 counted barely three thousand Jews, the Jewish community was nevertheless far more important in the history of early America than their numbers suggest, author William Pencak reveals in this fascinating chronicle of an often-overlooked facet of American Jewish history.

Pencak approaches his topic from the perspective of early American, rather than strictly Jewish, history. Rich in colorful narrative and animated with scenes of early American life, Jews and Gentiles in Early America tells the story of the five communities—New York, Newport, Charleston, Savannah, and Philadelphia—where most of colonial America's small Jewish population lived.

How did these communities rise and fall? How did they interact with the larger gentile population? Pencak's exploration of popular anti-semitism in the pre-Revolutionary era describes the persistence of prejudices derived from traditional European society, and his abundantly detailed community studies explore the forms these prejudices took in colonial America, some of which continue to this day.

William Pencak is Professor of History at The Pennsylvania State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Bill Pencak is no stranger either to novel topics or unconventional ideas. In this eminently readable and substantive contribution to the history of Jews in early America, Pencak has once again pushed the boundaries of debate in original and constructive ways."
    —Edith Gelles, Stanford University

  • "Jews and Gentiles in Early America is the best account I have seen about Jews in America in this era. Willlaim Pencak's research is extensive and the informative depth with which he addresses important political issues is unsurpassed. His analysis is unfailingly sophisticated and virtually unchallengeable. He paints with a broad stroke, putting his narrative and interpretations not only in a wide Americana context, but also in an international scope. In Jews and Gentiles, Pencak has made an exceptional contribution to American Jewish history and colonial history in general."
    —Frederic Cople Jaher, History Department, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana

  • "William Pencak has produced a learned and informative volume on the nature of Jewish-Gentile relations in colonial America. The book's reconstruction of Jewish life in colonial New York, Newport, Charleston, Savannah, and Philadelphia is based on a broad array of primary and secondary source materials that persuasively demonstrate the fact that, despite a truly remarkable level of social acceptance, colonial Jews simultaneously encountered bouts of rejection. Scholars and general readers alike will be indebted to Dr. Pencak for deepening our understanding of the complex and often contradictory ways in which non-Jews related to their Jewish neighbors during this formative period in the nation's history."
    —Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and Associate Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

  • "An invaluable contribution to scholarship, this is also a book that anyone interested in early American Jewry will read and savor."
    Jewish Book World, 55th National Jewish Book Awards Runner-Up

  • "In this well written and researched history of the formative years of Jewish colonial and Federal period contact and settlement, Pennsylvania State University Professor William Pencak provides the reader with a clear, incisive summary of social and political interaction between Jews and their neighbors...This is a volume to be studied and appreciated. It is an excellent example of the writing of American history and deserves a place in any library."
    American Jewish History

  • "William Pencak has written a first-rate study of Jews in colonial and revolutionary America...This extremely detailed work, based on extensive research in both primary and secondary sources, will be appreciated by students of American Jewish and American ethnic history. Pencak's analysis is subtle, nuanced, and substantial."
    Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

  • "Sandwiched between an excellent introduction and conclusion, separate chapters cover each of the five locations. Going beyond the extensive literature, Pencak provides rich additional detail and places old information into new context...This volume is highly recommended for those interested in religion, politics, and the nature of prejudice."
    —Mark K. Bauman, Journal of Southern History

  • "Jews and Gentiles in Early America will take its place among the most useful of works on Jews in this period. Pencak's solid research, sharp political analysis, and broad reach across varying colonies through the pre-revolutionary period to the dawn of the nineteenth century goes far in explaining a place that has offered Jewish citizens unparalleled opportunity alongside enormous complexities."
    —Emily Bingham, American Jewish Archives Journal

  • "The book is a superb addition to the bookshelves of students of early American religious and ethnic life, and to American Jewish history...Pencak offers important insights and descriptions...His writing is superb, his stories engrossing, and his research unimpeachable."
    —David S. Koffman, Journal of the Early Republic

  • "This book should make an impact on the study of American Jewish history and antisemitism alike...The book opens the field for further research and debate, and readers will find its methodological and argumentative contributions both challenging and compelling."
    —George R. Wilkes, Journal of Jewish Studies

  • Runner-up: Jewish Book Council's 2005 National Jewish Book Award in the American Jewish History category

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 352pp.
  • 22 B&W photograph section, 5 maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2005
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11454-2

Add to Cart
  • $44.95 U.S.