For a Jew to be a landowner, or the owner of an import and export business, or a tavern-keeper, was a rare feat. For a Jew to be all three and a woman who also raised eight children (a ninth died in infancy) was unprecedented. Abigail Minis arrived in Savannah, Georgia, in 1732, along with her husband, Abraham, and their two oldest daughters. Abigail’s business career began upon her husband’s death in 1757, when she took over the family’s properties and their import-export business. Not only did she significantly increase the amount of acres owned and managed by the family, but, in 1763, she opened a tavern in partnership with her unmarried daughters.
The Minises and the 40 Jews who arrived in the new Georgia colony were allowed to disembark in the colony only because the settlement charter only excluded Catholics. Indeed, when the Trustees of the colony realized that so many Jews had arrived, they wrote to James Oglethorpe, the head of the colony, stating: “The Trustees have heard with concern of the arrival of Forty Jews with a design to settle in Georgia. They hope they will meet with no sort of encouragement, and desire… be allowed no kind of settlement with any of the grantees…” However, after fellow Jewish immigrant Dr. Samuel Nunes helped stop an epidemic, the Jews were permitted to stay. While they organized Congregation Mickve Israel in 1735, most of the Sephardi families fled in 1742 when they thought the Spanish, who controlled Florida, might overtake the colony. The Minis and the Sheftall families were the only families who remained.
Beyond her impressive success, Abigail Minis made her mark in history by supporting the colonial troops during the Revolutionary War using her finances and business acumen to help supply the militia. When Savannah was taken by the British in 1778, the Minises were able to flee to Charleston, S.C. They returned to Savannah in 1783, where Abigail lived until she died in 1794, at the age of 93.
Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.