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CRESSON, WARDER:

Religious enthusiast, and convert to Judaism. Born in Philadelphia, Pa., July 13, 1798; died in Jerusalem, Palestine, Nov. 6, 1860. He was directly descended from Pierre Cresson, one of the settlers of "Haarlem," N. Y., whose grandson, Solomon, migrated to Philadelphia about the beginning of the eighteenth century. Warder Cresson's father, the grandson of the last named, was John Elliott Cresson (1773-1814), who married in 1795 Mary Warder.

Connection with Leeser.

Warder Cresson, as a young man, was much given to speculation upon religious and sociological questions. Though all in his family were Quakers, and he was reared in that faith, in 1830 he published a pamphlet entitled "Babylon the Great Is Falling! The Morning Star, or Light from on High," in which he deplores the extravagance and evil tendencies of the times, and exhorts all Quakers to lead a better and less wayward life. He now went through a period of strong religious mania, joining successively, various sects as each appeared to him to represent the true religion. About 1840 he made the acquaintance of Isaac Leeser, who took an interest in him, and he became deeply attached to Judaism, discarding all his other forms of belief. On May 17, 1844, he was commissioned consul at Jerusalem (the first to be so commissioned), though no despatches from him are now on file in the Department of State. He speaks of his departure for Jerusalem as follows:

"In the spring of 1844 I left everything near and dear to me on earth. I left the wife of my youth and six lovely children (dearer to me than my natural life), and an excellent farm with everything comfortable around me. I left all these in the pursuit of the Truth, and for the sake of the Truth alone."

Previous to his departure he had been successfully engaged in agriculture at Gwynedd, a suburb of Philadelphia, and had accumulated a competence.

Residence in Jerusalem.

He was much affected by the surroundings of the Holy City, became more and more inclined toward Judaism, and assumed the name Michael C. Boaz Israel. During these years (1844-48) he was a frequent contributor to Isaac Leeser's magazine, "The Occident," devoting much space to a criticism of the methods of the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews. While in Jerusalem he identified himself with the Sephardic community, and was on terms of intimacy with Ḥakam Jehiel Cohen and the present chief rabbi, Elyashar. In 1848 he determined to become a Jew, and in March of that year, after much opposition from the bet din and the chief rabbi, Abraham Ḥai Gagin, he was circumcised and received into Judaism. He returned to Philadelphia in Sept., 1848, to arrange his affairs in order that he might pass the remainder of his days in the Holy City.

Trial for Lunacy.

When his wife and family learned of his determination they interposed every possible obstacle to the execution of his plans. He became estranged from all except one son, and had much difficulty in tracing the property which he had left in their care. They regarded his actions as indicative of a loss of mind, and in May, 1849, his wife (Elizabeth Townsend) and his son Jacob applied to the court and obtained a commission in lunacy. He appealed from this decision, and the trial of this cause,which extended over six days in May, 1851, was one of the famous cases of the time. Eminent counsel were retained on both sides and nearly one hundred witnesses were called. The decision of the lower court was reversed, and Cresson was discharged. The argument of Horatio Hubbell, Jr., one of his counsel, was published in "The Occident" (xxi.) in 1863, with interesting comments from the pen of Isaac Leeser.

During the period of his stay in Philadelphia he was a regular attendant at the Mickve Israel synagogue, taking part in the Jewish communal life, and rigorously observing the ceremonial laws. During that time he contributed to "The Occident," and in 1851 published his strangely jumbled volume, "The Key of David: David the True Messiah, or the Anointed of the God of Jacob," etc. Its value lies mainly in its autobiographical character.

Agricultural Colony in Palestine.

Soon after the trial he returned to Jerusalem and actively supported the efforts then being made for the agricultural regeneration of Palestine. In the fall of 1852, when Sir Moses Montefiore and Judah Touro were working along the same lines, he announced his intention of establishing an agricultural colony in the valley of Rephaïm. In March, 1853, the columns of "The Occident" (x.) contained his circular, sent from Jerusalem, inviting attention to, and assistance for, his projects. Though interspersed with much theology and with many quotations from the Bible, the circular is one that only a practical farmer and a thinker upon educational subjects could have produced. The prevailing distress was to be relieved by the establishment of agricultural colonies, and the oppressed of Israel in all parts of the world were to be enabled to return to Zion. Ample provision was also projected for the education of the colony. But, the means not being forthcoming, his plans were doomed to failure. Yet he never seems to have given up hope, and during the years 1853-56 the columns of "The Occident" contained many communications from him on this subject.

He married a Sephardic woman shortly after his return to Jerusalem. He lived the life of a pious Oriental Jew, dressed as a native Sephardi, and became a prominent leader of the community. At his death he was buried on the Mount of Olives, with such honors as are paid only to a prominent rabbi.

Besides the two works mentioned above, Cresson wrote: "The Two Witnesses, Moses and Elijah," London, 1844; "The Good Olive-Tree, Israel," ib. 1844; "Jerusalem, the Center and Joy of the Whole Earth," Philadelphia, 1844.

Bibliography:
  • The Occident, iii. 167;
  • vi. 456, 498, 599;
  • vii. 35, 122, 192, 324;
  • x. 102, 361, 600;
  • xii. 351;
  • xiii. 133;
  • xiv. 122;
  • xxi. 203, 248, 301;
  • Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. No. 8, pp. 81-83;
  • Warder Cresson: Zionist and Convert to Judaism, in Jewish Comment, Baltimore, Nov. 30, 1900.
A. H. F.
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