In 1860, Cassville, the county seat of Cass County, Georgia, was far removed from its frontier days. It boasted the county courthouse. It had four hotels for travelers. It had a bookseller, whose owner also printed the local paper, the Cassville Standard, and it had two institutions of higher education, one for young men and the other for young women.
But it had only two Jewish families: the Kantrowitzes and the Levys.
Robert Kantrowitz, a 28-year-old immigrant from Germany, was a barkeeper, and he died shortly after the Civil War. His wife Hannah left Georgia for Brooklyn and memorialized him by naming herself as his widow in every city directory she was listed in.
But Sam Levy, as he was known in Cassville, had deeper roots in Georgia.
Levy was born in Germany in 1821 and came to Georgia in 1844 to settle in Augusta, where he swiftly established himself. A year after his arrival, he married Hannah Hendricks, whose parents were one of the earliest Jewish families to settle in Augusta. By 1848, he had $1,600 worth of stock in his retail business, and he owned two slaves, domestic servants, a woman of 25 and a girl of 10. We don’t know their names, since slaves were listed by age and sex in the Slave Schedule, but not by name. His fellow Israelites thought highly of him; in 1852, they elected him Vice-President of Augusta’s synagogue B’nai Israel.
And in 1853 he took his family to Cassville, where a Jew was an oddity and where the closest synagogue was in Macon.
But he did well there. Sam Levy was well-known as the proprietor of one of Cassville’s general stores. He prospered. On the eve of the Civil War, he was worth $2,500 in real estate and $6,300 in personal estate, which included his two slaves, again domestic servants, a woman of 38 and a girl of 11, still nameless.
The Civil War was not kind to Cassville, and the Levys shared in its misfortune. In May of 1864, Sherman’s army came through northern Georgia and fought a battle in Cassville; in October of 1864, they came back, and burned Cassville to the ground. On Oct. 31, 1864, Warren Akin, a lawyer in nearby Cartersville, sent the news of Cassville to a friend. He recounted that a Cassville lady had left town for Nashville and had taken Mr. Levy’s furniture away with her. We hope that she took it for safekeeping instead of lifting it for herself.
In 1865, the Levys returned to Augusta, and Levy went briefly back into retail. By 1867, because he had taken the oath of loyalty and was a Reconstructed Confederate, he could vote again, and he was presiding as a judge in Richmond County. Three years later, he was appointed as a judge of the Probate Court in Augusta.
In 1870, the Levys’ nearest neighbors were three women of color who were most likely their domestic servants. In Southern cities, it was common for servants to live in small houses behind their employer’s residence. Now free, all three were listed and named in the census. They included Agnes Thompson, a woman of 35; Emma Wiley, a girl of 16; and a little girl of 9, very likely a former slave, still connected by name: Ellen Levy.