Shinah Solomon Etting

The daughter of merchant Joseph Solomon and Bilah Myers-Cohen, émigrés from London, Shinah grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where her family was among the handful of Jews who established a small community there in the 1740s. Her father was one of only a few Jewish men to whom the Pennsylvania frontier seemed ripe with opportunities, in particular those afforded by Indian trade and the vast natural resources of the wilderness. Though its Jewish community in this period never grew above a small group of shopkeepers and traders, Lancaster was known in this period for its relatively sizeable Jewish presence, which was reinforced by contact and exchange with the Jews of Philadelphia.

The middle of five children, and the elder of the two daughters in the family, the lively Shinah married Frankfurt-born Elijah Etting at age 14. Etting had then just established himself as an Indian trader in York, a few miles to the west of Lancaster, becoming the first Jew to settle there. Shinah soon joined her new husband there, and the first of their eight children, Reuben, was born in York four years later. Elijah was successful in his endeavors, maintaining ties with Jewish merchants in both Lancaster and Philadelphia, and the family thrived despite the isolated setting in which they lived. Their success must be credited in part to Shinah winning personality. In 1773, a Philadelphia visitor named Alexander Graydon spent a summer in York, later noting that

Those who have known York… cannot fail to recollect the sprightly and engaging Mrs. E, the life of all gaiety that could be mustered in the village; always in spirits, full of frolic and glee, and possessing the talent of singing agreeably, she was an indispensable ingredient in the little parties of pleasure…The master of the house, though much less brilliant than the mistress of the house, was always good humored and kind; and as they kept a small store, I repaid as well as I could the hospitality of a frequent dish or tea, by purchasing there what articles I wanted.”

1777 and 1778 would prove to be monumental years for the family. When the Continental Congress met in 1777 in York to sign the Articles of Confederation, her husband was asked by Joseph Simon, founder and unofficial leader of Lancaster’s Jewish community and longtime business associate of Shinah’s father, to present a petition on their behalf concerning a financial matter. (Simon’s daughter Reyna would marry Shinah’s son Solomon Etting, while Simon’s granddaughter Frances Gratz would marry Shinah’s son Reuben.)

But a year later, Elijah Etting died suddenly, leaving Shinah to care for eight children, the oldest just 16, the youngest still unborn. Their last child, Joseph, was born that November but would not live to see his third birthday.

Two years later, the independent and energetic Shinah moved her five daughters to Baltimore, while her two eldest, sons Reuben and Solomon, remained in Pennsylvania to seek their own fortunes.

In 1780, Baltimore was a growing seaport with no formal Jewish community and only six Jewish households. Shinah’s move to Baltimore would help to shape the city. There, she and her daughters opened a boardinghouse “for gentlemen” on Market (now Baltimore) Street, which she ran for many years, later branching out into trade. At least one of her unmarried daughters, Sally, seems to have followed in her footsteps.

Her sons later joined the family there, and by the time of Shinah’s death in 1822, had both achieved wealth and become prominent figures in the city’s civic affairs, creating something of a family dynasty.

Shinah Solomon Etting

c. 1792