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An American family of German origin, the founder of which settled in the United States in the second half of the eighteenth century. Several of its members took part in the military affairs of the nation. Of these members the most prominent were:

Alfred Mordecai:

American soldier; officer in the United States army; son of Jacob Mordecai; born in Warrenton, N. C., Jan. 3, 1804; died in Philadelphia Oct. 23, 1887. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point June 24, 1819, and was graduated, the first in his class, July 1, 1823, with the rank of brevet second lieutenant in the engineer corps. He served for several years as assistant professor of natural philosophy and engineering at West Point. From 1825 to 1828 he was the assistant engineer in charge of the construction of Forts Monroe and Calhoun, Va. On May 30, 1832, he was made captain of ordnance, and spent the following year in Europe. In 1842 he was appointed assistant to the chief ordnance, officer in Washington, D. C. He served as a member of the Board of Ordnance from 1839 to 1860. In 1840 he was a member of a commission that visited the chief arsenals and cannon-foundries in Europe, and two years later was appointed assistant inspector of arsenals. He was brevetted major on May 30, 1848, for meritorious services during the war with Mexico. Major Mordecai was a member of a military commission to visit the "Crimea and theater of war in Europe" (1855-56), and his observations, particularly on military organization and ordnance, were published by order of Congress (Washington, 1860). He was in charge of some of the largest arsenals in the United States: Washington, D. C., in 1833 and again in 1844-55; Frankford, Pa., 1836; and Watervliet, 1857-61.

At the beginning of the Civil war Mordecai resigned from the army (May 5, 1861). From 1863 to 1866 he was a railway engineer in Mexico; and in 1867 he was made secretary and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Canal Company, in which position he continued until his death. He wrote extensively on military subjects and was the author of a "Digest of Military Laws" (Washington, 1833); "Ordnance Manual for the Use of Officers of the United States Army" (1841; second edition, 1850); "Reports of Experiments on Gunpowder" (1845-49); "Artillery for the United States Land Service, as Devised and Arranged by the Ordnance Board," with plates (1849).

  • Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, vol. i., p. 724, Washington, 1903;
  • Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1888, vol. iv., p. 389.
Alfred Mordecai:

American soldier; officer in the United States army; son of Alfred Mordecai; born in Philadelphia June 30, 1840. He was graduated from the Military Academy at West Point June 24, 1861, and was brevetted second lieutenant of topographical engineers. Later, at the outbreak of the Civil war, he was selected as an aid to General Howard; he served at the first battle of Bull Run, and subsequently was transferred to the ordnance department. He was promoted first lieutenant on March 3, 1863, and captain on June 1, 1863; and was brevetted major in September, 1863, for gallant services at the siege of Fort Wagner, S. C. Two years later he was brevetted lieutenant-colonel for distinguished services on the field and in the ordnance department. Mordecai is one of the best-known ordnance officers in the United States army. He was twice instructor of gunnery at West Point; was in command of the arsenal at Leavenworth, Kans., and of New York Arsenal, Governors Island; twice in command of Watervliet Arsenal (1881-86 and 1898-99); superintendent of the armory at Springfield, Mass.; and in command of the arsenal at Benicia, Cal. Colonel Mordecai is now (1904) inspector of ordnance, being attached to the Ordnance Office in Washington, D. C.

  • Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, vol. i., p. 724, Washington, 1903;
  • Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1888. vol. iv., p. 390;
  • Henry S. Morais, Jews of Philadelphia, 1894.
Jacob Mordecai:

American educator; son of Moses Mordecai; born in Philadelphia April 11, 1762; died in Richmond, Va., Sept. 4, 1838. After having been employed in the office of David Franks, who was a commissary for the exchange of British prisoners, at the close of the Revolutionary war Mordecai removed to Warrenton, N. C., where, finding that his commercial ventures were not a success, he established (in Jan., 1809) a seminary for young ladies. In a few years the school became well known throughout the South, the most prominent families sending their daughters there to be educated. Jacob Mordecai was one of the first of his race in America to become interested in pedagogics; he adhered closely to the ideas of Maria Edgeworth.

In this adherence Mordecai was no doubt influenced by his daughter Rachel Moṛdecai, who for many years carried on a correspondence with the noted English novelist. Owing to advancing years and the arduous nature of his calling, he discontinued the seminary, and left Warrenton for the suburbs of Richmond, where he remained until his death.

  • Gratz Mordecai, Notice of Jacob Mordecai, in Pub. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. 1897, vol. vi., pp. 39-48.
Moses Mordecai:

American trader; founder of the Mordecai family in America; born in Bonn, Germany, in 1707; died in Philadelphia May 28, 1781. He went to America about 1750 and settled in Philadelphia, where he engaged in the brokerage business. On Oct. 25, 1765, Mordecai signed the celebrated Non-Importation Agreement, by which the merchants refused to import goods until the repeal of the Stamp Act. In 1777, after the outbreak of the Revolution, he signed an agreement to take the colonial paper currency sanctioned by the king, instead of gold and silver.

  • Hyman Polock Rosenbach, The Jews in Philadelphia Prior to 1800, pp. 12, 13, Philadelphia, 1883;
  • Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. 1893, vol. i., p. 60; 1897, vol. vi., pp. 40-41.
A. A. S. W. R.
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