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Uriah P. Levy
Birth name Uriah Phillips Levy
Born (1792-04-22)April 22, 1792
Died March 26, 1862(1862-03-26) (aged 69)
Place of birth Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Place of death New York City
Place of burial Beth Olom Cemetery, Queens, New York
Allegiance US flag 15 stars United States of America
Service/branch US Naval Jack 15 stars United States Navy
Years of service 1806 - 1860
Rank Commodore
Commands held USS Vandalia
USS Macedonian
USS Franklin
Mediterranean Fleet
Battles/wars Barbary Wars
War of 1812

Uriah Phillips Levy (April 22, 1792 – March 26, 1862) was a naval officer, real estate investor, and philanthropist. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and the first Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy.[note 1] He was instrumental in helping to end the Navy's practice of flogging, and during his half-century-long service prevailed against the antisemitism he faced among some of his fellow naval officers.

An admirer of Thomas Jefferson, Levy purchased and began the restoration of Monticello in the 1830s; he also commissioned and donated a statue of Jefferson that is now located in the Capitol Rotunda; it is the only privately commissioned artwork in the Capitol.

Early years[]

Levy was born on April 22, 1792, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Michael and Rachel Phillips Levy.[1] He had two older siblings. Uriah Levy was close to his maternal grandfather, Jonas Phillips, who had emigrated to the United States in 1756 from Germany, and fought with the Philadelphia militia in the American Revolution. His maternal great-great grandfather, Dr. Samuel Riberio Nunez, a Portuguese physician, was among a group of 42 Sephardic Jews who escaped the Spanish Inquisition of the early 16th century and migrated to England, where they settled. Descendants of that group sailed from London in 1733 and helped found the city of Savannah, Georgia, where they lived for generations.[citation needed] Levy's younger brother was Jonas Phillips Levy, who became a merchant and sea captain. He was the father of five, including the Congressman Jefferson Monroe Levy.

Family stories[citation needed] have it that Levy ran away from home at the age of ten and ended up serving on various vessels as a cabin boy, returning home to Philadelphia at age 13 for his bar mitzvah.


In 1806, he apprenticed as a sailor. Later he became a sailing master in the U.S. Navy, and fought in the Barbary Wars. At the age of 21, he volunteered for the War of 1812, in which he was a supernumerary sailing master on the Argus, which interdicted British ships in the English Channel. The Argus seized more than 20 vessels before being captured; her captain was killed, and the crew, including Levy, were taken prisoner.[2] They were imprisoned by Great Britain for sixteen months until the end of the war. During his captivity, Levy had difficulty obtaining a subsidy and parole because his status as a supernumerary was not understood by the British Transport Board.[3] Upon return to the United States, Levy served aboard the Franklin as second master. Levy was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1817, master commandant in 1837, and captain in 1844.

During his tenure in the U.S. Navy, Levy faced considerable antisemitism. He reacted to slights and was court-martialed six times, and once demoted from the rank of Captain. Twice, he was dismissed from the Navy, but reinstated. He defended his conduct in his handling of naval affairs before a Court of Inquiry and in 1855 was restored to his former position. Later,[specify]

Levy commanded the Mediterranean fleet.  He was promoted to the rank of Commodore, then the highest rank in the U.S. Navy.

Levy was instrumental in abolishing flogging in the U.S. Navy, although his position was considered controversial at the time. He also helped gain the support of the U.S Congress in passing an anti-flogging bill in 1850.[4]

Levy became wealthy due to investing in New York City's real estate market.[citation needed]

Philanthropic activities[]

Levy undertook various philanthropic endeavors, many of which were in support of Jewish-American life. In 1854 he sponsored the new Jewish seminary of the Bnai Jeshurun Educational Institute in New York.

In 1833, New York City gave Levy the Key to the City after he presented the city with a patinated plaster statue of Thomas Jefferson, the one used to cast the bronze version he gave to the U.S. Congress.[5] Before the statue was set up in New York City Hall, Levy installed it in a building on Broadway and charged admission to view it. The proceeds were used to buy bread for the city's poor.[5]


Levy was a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson:[6]

"I consider Thomas Jefferson to be one of the greatest men in history, the author of the Declaration and an absolute democrat. He serves as an inspiration to millions of Americans. He did much to mould our Republic in a form in which a man's religion does not make him ineligible for political or governmental life."

In 1834, Levy paid $2,700 for the 218-acre Monticello—which is equivalent to $63,800 in today's dollars. Levy undertook to have the long-neglected home repaired, restored, and preserved. He also bought hundreds of additional acres that had been part of the plantation. Levy never made Monticello his permanent residence, as his Navy career and business commitments kept him primarily in New York. He used Monticello as a vacation home and moved his widowed mother, Rachel Levy, there in 1837. She became the steward of the estate until her death in 1839. She is buried along Mulberry Row, the 1000-foot-long main plantation street adjacent to the mansion.

In his will, Levy left Monticello to the American people to be used as an agricultural school for the orphans of Navy warrant officers. Upon his death in 1862, however, Congress refused to accept the donation due to the American Civil War. During the war, the Confederate government seized and sold the property. Levy's lawyers for his estate recovered the property after the war. Following two lawsuits by family members over Levy's will, with 47 parties to the suit, in 1879 his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy bought out the other heirs for $10,050, and took control of Monticello. The war and lengthy lawsuits had caused further neglect. Jefferson Levy also spent an enormous amount of money repairing, restoring and preserving Monticello. He sold it in 1923 to a private non-profit group, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (then called the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation), which adapted the home and associated property as a museum. It began additional restoration and preservation work as well.

Flickr - USCapitol - Thomas Jefferson Statue

Statue of Jefferson in the Capitol.

The history of the Levy family's role in preserving Monticello was downplayed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation through much of the 20th century. Historians believe that is due to anti-Semitic views among its board and members, although the Levys had roots in the South since 1733.[7] Not until the 1980s were the facts rediscovered about the critical private roles of two Levy men in preserving and restoring Monticello for the American public.

In 1985, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation restored the gravesite of Rachel Levy and recognized descendants of the family in a special ceremony. Since then, officials have created additional occasions to welcome members of the Levy family. The Foundation now openly celebrates Uriah P. Levy's role in helping restore a landmark of Virginia and United States' history. It includes information on site about his and his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy's roles in preserving the presidential home.

Jefferson statue[]

In another tribute to Jefferson, Levy commissioned a bronze statue of the President while studying naval tactics in France; he donated it to Congress in 1834. T. The statue, which currently stands in the Capitol Rotunda is the only privately commissioned piece of artwork in the Capitol.[6]

Personal life[]

Levy served as the first president of the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC.[4] At the age of 61, Levy married his 18-year-old niece Virginia Lopez.[6]

Levy died on March 26, 1862, and was buried in Beth Olom Cemetery, Queens,[1] associated with the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.[6]

Legacy and honors[]

The Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
Jewish Chapel Norfolk VA
Wall-hanging in Commodore Levy Chapel, Naval Station Norfolk
  • Commodore Levy Chapel, the Jewish Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia, and the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland are named in his honor.
  • 1988, listed in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame[8]
  • 1959, the Jewish Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia was renamed the "Commodore Levy Chapel" in Levy's honor.
  • 2001, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation published The Levy Family and Monticello 1834-1923, a history of the Levy family's nearly century-long contributions in saving Monticello.
  • 2005, the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel opened at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, which is named in his honor.
  • The Cannon class destroyer escort, the Levy (DE-162) was named in his honor. At the conclusion of World War II, the Levy hosted the surrender ceremonies of the Japanese Navy.[9]
  • 2011 A statue of Uriah P. Levy by the Russian sculptor Gregory Pototsky was dedicated on December 16, 2011, outside Mikveh Israel Synagogue on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. The statue pedestal was designed by John Giungo.[10]

Published works[]

See also[]


  1. At the time, Commodore was the highest rank in the U.S. Navy; it would be roughly equivalent to the modern-day rank of Admiral.


Specific citations
  1. 1.0 1.1 Uriah Phillips Lev at Find a Grave. Retrieved 2013-07-20.
  2. Dye 2006, p. 26
  3. Dye 2006, pp. 46–47
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harris Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£, Hamil R. (September 17, 2005). "Jewish Chapel Is Set to Open at Naval Academy". Washington Post. p. B09. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Freudenheim, Leslie M. (January 5, 1995). "City Hall Restoration Should Return Jefferson to Place of Honor". Letter to the Editor. Retrieved 2013-07-20. "The statue was given to "the people of New York" by Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862) at the end of 1833. It is the original plaster from which the bronze version, which he gave "to the people of the United States," was made....Before the statue was set up in City Hall, Levy charged admission to view it at 355 Broadway, using the proceeds to feed the city's poor....For his generous gift, Levy was given the Freedom of the City of New York award, symbolized by a large gold snuff box." 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Usofsky Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£, Melvin I. (Summer 2002). "The Levy Family and Monticello". Virginia Quarterly Review. pp. 395–412. 
  7. Urofsky 2001, p. 197
  8. "Uriah P. Levy", Jewish-American Hall of Fame, accessed 8 April 2011
  9. Pollack Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£, Rachel. "Guide to the Uriah P. Levy (1792-1862) Collection, undated, 1787-1948, 1959, 1961, 1985, 2005". New York, New York: American Jewish Historical Society Center for Jewish History. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  10. Schwartzman Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£, Bryan (November 22, 2011). "Statue Honors First Jewish Commodore". Jewish Exponent. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Jewish Publishing Group. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
American Jewish Year Book, 1902-3, pp. 42–45.
Brody Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£, Seymour "Sy". "Uriah P. Levy: A Naval Hero Who Ended the Practice of Flogging". A Judaica Collection Exhibit: Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America from Colonial Times to 1900. Florida Atlantic University Libraries. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
Dye, Ira. Uriah Levy: Reformer of the Antebellum Navy (New Perspectives on Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology). Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-3004-8. 
Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Uriah P. Levy". Jewish American Hall of Fame. Jewish Museum in Cyberspace. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
Leepson, Marc (2001). Saving Monticello: The Levy family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House That Jefferson Built. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-0106-X. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center And Jewish Chapel Dedication". US Naval Academy. [dead link]
Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Uriah P. Levy Biography". Levy Center & Jewish Chapel. Friends of the Jewish Chapel (at the United States Naval Academy). Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Uriah P. Levy (1792-1862) Collection". American Jewish Historical Society. Retrieved October 21, 2012. [dead link]
Pollack Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£, Rachel. "Guide to the Uriah P. Levy (1792-1862) Collection, undated, 1787-1948, 1959, 1961, 1985, 2005". New York, New York: American Jewish Historical Society Center for Jewish History. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "About Us: The Levy Stewardship of Monticello". Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
Urofsky, Melvin (2001). The Levy Family and Monticello 1834-1923. Monticello: Thomas Jefferson Foundation. ISBN 1-882886-16-X. 

Further reading[]

  • Cameron, Joshua (Port of Philadelphia Day 1975: 11-27). Commodore Levy: He Changed the Navy. Philadelphia. 
  • Fitzpatrick; Saphire, Saul (1963). Navy maverick: Uriah Phillips Levy Donovan. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc. pp. 273. 
  • Sternlicht, Lieutenant Sanford V. (1961). Uriah Phillips Levy: The Blue Star Commodore. Norfolk, Virginia: Norfolk Jewish Community Council. 

External links[]

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