Solomon Etting

Solomon Etting was the second son born to Indian trader Elijah andShinah Solomon Etting in York,Pennsylvania. Young Solomon was just 14 when his father died suddenlyin 1778, leaving his widowed mother with seven children to supportand an eighth child on the way. Two years later, his mother andsisters moved to Baltimore, leaving 16- year-old Solomon and hiseighteen-year-old brother Reuben in Yorkto pursue their prospects. Twelve years later, Solomon would jointhe rest of the family in Baltimore, the city that soon became thearena for his varied and assiduous efforts in politics and business.

As ayoung man, Solomon accrued a distinct benefit from ties his fatherhad cultivated with Jewish merchants at Lancaster.

At eighteen, Etting became the first American-born shohet,trained to this role by Barnard Gratz,an old friend of his father. A year later, he married 19-year-oldReyna (also called Rachel) Simon, one of the younger daughters ofJoseph Simon, another associate of his father’s. This marriagelinked Etting and Simon as kin; together they ran a general storethat served Lancaster sand outfitted westward bound pack trainsheaded for the Ohio Valley. During the years in Lancaster, Ettingrose through the ranks of the Masonic lodge, and Reyna gave birth totheir four children. Their domestic happiness was destroyed in 1790,however, when Reyna died at age 26. Etting moved his small family toPhiladelphia shortly thereafter.

Etting remarried in 1791, this time to RachelGratz, the only daughter of Barnard Gratz. Ties between thetwo families would be further strengthened two years later when hisbrother Reuben would marry Solomon’s newwife’s first cousin, Frances,the daughter of Michael Gratz.Both couples would soon settle in Baltimore.

In Baltimore, Solomon Etting achieved remarkable success byrotating his involvement through a string of ventures. His firstbusiness in the city was a hardware store on Calvert Street. This wasfollowed by growing ventures in shipping and commerce. In 1796 hebecame a director of the Union Bank and encouraged his family topurchase stock in the enterprise. In 1797 he joined in founding thecity’s water company. Ten years later, in 1807, he helped foundthe Baltimore East India Company with a sizeable investment. He wouldeventually serve as a director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad,the first company of its kind in the United States.

Etting was equally active in the civic realm. After only two yearsin the city, he was elected to a committee of citizens to presentBaltimore’s resolution disapproving the Jay Treaty to PresidentWashington. He soon joined a local club of Jeffersonian republicans,and later helped to incorporate the German Society of Maryland, ofwhich he was vice president for two decades. During the War of 1812,when Baltimore was under attack by British forces, Etting representedhis ward on the Committee of Vigilance and Safety, playing asignificant role in the defense of the city by finding accommodationsfor soldiers and establishing a hospital for the sick and wounded.Etting also joined the Maryland State Colonization Society, anorganization concerned with a largely futile effort to encourageresettlement of manumitted slaves in Africa.

Etting’s most significant political role, however, was as aproponent of equal rights for Jews in the United States. He publiclychallenged American politicians like Henry Clay when they used theword “Jew” in a derogatory fashion. In 1797, he engineered theintroduction of a bill to the Maryland legislature to remove therequirement that one had to profess Christianity in order to vote orhold public office—a a stricture which effectively prevented Jewsfrom participating in Maryland politics. Though this bill soonfailed, he made certain that it was re-introduced in each legislativesession until it finally passed in 1826. A few months later, Solomonand Jacob I. Cohen became the first Jewselected to the Baltimore City Council, a body of which Etting wouldlater become president.

Solomon Etting

c. 1800–1820