||An autograph letter document, completely in the hand of Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin covered two large pages: “To the Honorable the Judge of the District Court in and for the first judicial district of Louisiana. The petition of William H. Sheppard of the City of New Orleans…was engaged as chief clerk and confidential agent of J.W. Bergen & Co…that by the terms of said engagement petitioner was to receive from them a salary of fifteen hundred dollars per annum…that petitioner did further at different times loan unto J.W. Bergen & Co. sums of money & merchandise…some time in the summer of 1835, the said J.W. Bergen & Co. having become embarrassed in their business…”
Judah P. Benjamin (1811–1884), U.S. lawyer and statesman. Benjamin was undoubtedly the most prominent 19th-century American Jew. He was a noted lawyer, whose services were requested in connection with some of the most significant legal disputes of the time, a powerful politician who was a leader in the cause of Southern rights and on behalf of the short-lived Confederacy.
Born in St. Croix in the West Indies, of British parents, Benjamin was a British subject. His family moved to Charleston, South Carolina, while he was still a boy. He was at Yale University for two years, but studied law privately in New Orleans while earning a meager living as a tutor in English and as a clerk in a business establishment. Deprived of a happy home through an unsuccessful marriage to a non-Jewess, Natalie St. Martin, a high-spirited Creole who left him to live in Paris after their only child was born after ten barren years, he was free to devote himself to law and politics. His legal eminence brought him wealth, and his political activity fame. He was the first professing Jew to be elected to the United States Senate, as a Whig in 1852, and as a Democrat (after the Democratic Party espoused the cause of Southern rights) in 1856. He became a leading member of the school of Southern politicians which favored secession from the Union as the only safeguard for Southern survival and delivered a number of major addresses in the Senate defending slavery. When Louisiana seceded, he withdrew from the Senate, and was immediately called to the cabinet of the newly created Confederate government (March 1861) as attorney general. President Jefferson Davis relied heavily upon Benjamin's companionship and counsel and appointed him to the more important position of secretary of war in September 1861. Benjamin quickly succeeded in antagonizing Davis's high-strung generals with his complacent lawyerly manner and became a convenient scapegoat for a number of military disasters and chronic supply problems, causing him to resign in March 1862. Loyal to Benjamin despite anti-Semitic attacks, Davis promptly appointed him secretary of state, a position which he held until the collapse of the Confederacy. In this role Benjamin came close to obtaining recognition of and help for the Confederacy from England and France. But the Confederacy's cause was doomed from the first, and after Lee's surrender to Grant (April 1865) Benjamin was the only leading Confederate to choose permanent exile rather than live in the defeated South, convinced that as both a rebel and a Jew he had little future in America. He parted ways with the fleeing president in South Carolina and escaped to England through Florida and Nassau, and there made for himself a distinguished career as barrister (he was appointed Queen's Counsel), which in many ways out-shadowed his prewar American legal career. Ill health forced his retirement from active work in 1882 and he died two years later in Paris where he had finally rejoined his wife and daughter.