In her long life Rebecca Gratz wrote many letters, giving us much information about her distinguished Philadelphia family whom, we are happy to say, saved their papers.
When sister Rachel Gratz Moses died in 1823 leaving young children their aunts and uncles took over much of their care.
See a post on one niece Miriam Moses Cohen's quilt here:https://civilwarquilts.blogspot.com/2022/02/miriam-moses-cohens-civil-war.html
The brothers, rich men all, have left no mysteries about their bachelorhood but Rebecca Gratz has too often been defined by her chosen spinsterhood. As wealthy heirs she and sister Sarah did not need husbands to support them.
The story that has been perpetuated since 1820 (when Rebecca was in her forties): This Jewish woman was in love with a Gentile but believing strongly that Jews should not marry outside their faith she rejected her true love. The tale really has little basis. Beautiful and wealthy she had many suitors but chose to live an independent life in the company of her brothers and her "children"---her nieces and nephews.
Brother Benjamin did marry outside the faith. The youngest of Michael and Miriam's children was sent west after the War of 1812 to manage family enterprises in Kentucky. Settling in Lexington he created a southern branch of the family, becoming a Southerner in many ways. He made his own fortune, first in manufacturing rope, then in railroads. Creating rope from hemp was tough manual labor. At one point Benjamin had 75 slaves working in this profitable enterprise.
With skills at creating relationships and a tight family web, Rebecca befriended her new sister-in-law. Her letters to Maria detailing events in the Philadelphia household have been published. The extended family mourned when Maria died in her mid forties. Benjamin married his late wife's niece Anna Maria Boswell Shelby in a year or two. She was a rich widow; owner of 28 slaves according to a family account. Benjamin brought four adolescent boys to the marriage; Ann had one, Joseph Orville Shelby in his mid teens.
"So amiable affectionate & clever....he has gone to such a thriving place and where he has so many friends!"
"I was in Kansas at the head of an armed force [in 1863]....I went there to kill Free State men. I did kill them. I am now ashamed...but then times were different....Those were the days when slavery was in the balance and the violence engendered made men irresponsible."
So it was circumstances that drove him to murder.
After Fort Sumter in 1861 Rebecca in Philadelphia worried about Ann's son: "What is the position of Jo Shelby in this terrible struggle? Missouri seem to be most turbulent." His position: A continuing commitment to slavery and violence to protect it. He organized a Confederate brigade in Union Missouri.
"I have seen [Jo's] name mentioned in the Southern Army...We may pray for Jos personal safety-tho' we cannot for the success of his arms." Aunt Rebecca.
Rebecca’s letters are a major source for Gratz & Shelby family information: Link:
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