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First Name: Uriah

Last Name: Levy

Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Phillips

Date of Birth: 22 April 1792

Date of Death: 22 March 1862

Rank or Rate: Commodore

Years Served:
Uriah Phillips Levy

•  1st Barbary War (1801 - 1805)
•  War of 1812
•  2nd Barbary War (1815)


Uriah Phillips Levy
Commodore, U.S. Navy

Uriah Phillips Levy was born on 22 April 1792 in Philadelphia, PA, to Michael and Rachel Phillips Levy. He had two older siblings. Uriah Levy was close to his maternal grandfather, Jonas Phillips, who had emigrated to the U.S. in 1756 from Germany, and fought with the Philadelphia Militia in the American Revolution. His maternal great-great grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunes Riberio, a Portuguese physician, was among a group of 42 Sephardic Jews who escaped the Spanish Inquisition of the early 16th century and migrated to England, where they settled. Descendants of that group sailed from London in 1733 and helped found the city of Savannah, GA, where they lived for generations.

Levy's younger brother was Jonas Phillips Levy, who became a merchant and sea captain. He was the father of five, including the Congressman Jefferson Monroe Levy.

Family stories have it that Uriah Levy ran away from home at the age of ten and ended up serving on various vessels as a cabin boy, returning home to Philadelphia at age 13 for his bar mitzvah. In 1806, he apprenticed as a sailor.

Naval Career

Later he became a Sailing Master in the U.S. Navy, and fought in the Barbary Wars. At the age of 21, he volunteered for the War of 1812, in which he was a "supernumerary," or extra, Sailing Master on the USS Argus, which interdicted British ships in the English Channel. The Argus seized more than twenty vessels, but was captured, her captain killed, and the entire crew, including Levy, taken prisoner. They were imprisoned by Great Britain for sixteen months until the end of the war. During his captivity, Levy had difficulty obtaining a subsidy and parole because his status as an extra master was not understood by the British Transport Board.

Upon his return to the U.S., Levy served aboard the USS Franklin as Second Master. Levy was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1817, Master Commandant in 1837, and Captain in 1844.

During his tenure in the U.S. Navy, Levy faced considerable anti-Semitism. He reacted to slights and was court-martialed six times, and once demoted from the rank of Captain. Twice, he was dismissed from the Navy, but reinstated. He defended his conduct in his handling of naval affairs before a Court of Inquiry and in 1855 was restored to his former position. Later, in recognition of his superior abilities, Levy commanded the Mediterranean Fleet. He was promoted to the rank of Commodore, then the highest rank in the U.S. Navy.

A promoter of justice and human rights, in his post as Commodore, Levy was instrumental in abolishing flogging (corporal punishment) in the U.S. Navy, although his position was considered controversial at the time. In addition to changing practices in the Navy, he helped gain the support of the U.S. Congress in passing an anti-flogging bill in 1850.

Philanthropic Activities

Levy became wealthy by investing in New York City's burgeoning real estate market, and used his wealth to support many philanthropic endeavors. Many of these were in support of Jewish-American life. He served as the first president of the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC. In 1854 he sponsored the new Jewish Seminary of the Bnai Jeshurun Educational Institute in New York.

In 1833, the City of New York gave him the Key to the City after he presented the city with a copy of a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Levy had commissioned it in Paris by the noted sculptor David d'Angers. Levy was cited for his "character, patriotism and public spirit."


In 1834, Levy purchased Thomas Jefferson's run-down plantation Monticello for $2,500 from Barclay, a pharmacist. Jefferson had left his beloved home to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, upon his death in 1826. The estate was encumbered with more than $100,000 in debt and she had additional family financial difficulties due to her husband's debts. Martha Randolph gradually sold portions of the plantation's land and nearly all of the home's furniture and artifacts. She sold the Monticello property in 1831 to James Turner Barclay, a Charlottesville pharmacist.

Levy was a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson for his ideal freedom of religion. He had said of the president:

"I consider Thomas Jefferson to be one of the greatest men in history, the author of the Declaration and an absolute democrat. He serves as an inspiration to millions of Americans. He did much to mould our Republic in a form in which a man's religion does not make him ineligible for political or governmental life."

After Levy purchased Monticello from Barclay, he undertook to have the long-neglected home fully repaired, restored, and preserved. In addition, he bought an additional 2,500 acres that had originally belonged to the plantation. He proudly showed off the property to visitors. Levy never made Monticello his permanent residence, as his Navy career and business commitments kept him primarily in New York. He used Monticello as a vacation home and moved his widowed mother, Rachel Levy, there in 1837. She became the steward of the estate until her death in 1839. She was buried along the walk approaching the main house.

In his will, Levy left Monticello to the American people to be used as an agricultural school for the orphans of Navy warrant officers. Upon his death in 1862, however, Congress refused to accept the donation due to the crisis caused by the American Civil War. During the war, the Confederate government seized and sold the property. Levy's lawyers for his estate recovered the property after the war.

Following two lawsuits by family members over Levy's will, with 47 parties to the suit, in 1879 his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy bought out the other heirs and took control of Monticello. The war and lengthy lawsuits had caused neglect of the property. Jefferson Levy also spent an enormous amount of money repairing, restoring and preserving Monticello. He sold it in 1923 to a private non-profit group, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (then called the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation), which adapted the home and associated property as a museum. It began additional restoration and preservation work as well.

The history of the Levy family's role in preserving Monticello was downplayed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation through much of the 20th century. Historians believe that is due to anti-Semitic views among its board and members, although the Levy's had roots in the South since 1733. Not until the 1980s were the facts rediscovered about the critical private roles of two Levy men in preserving and restoring Monticello for the American public.

In 1985, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation restored the gravesite of Rachel Levy and recognized descendants of the family in a special ceremony. Since then, officials have created additional occasions to welcome members of the Levy family, and in 2001 the Foundation published a book on the role of Levy family in saving the plantation. The Foundation now openly celebrates Uriah P. Levy's role in helping restore a landmark of Virginia and United States' history. It includes information on site about his and his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy's roles in preserving the presidential home.

Jefferson Statue

In another tribute to Jefferson, Levy commissioned a bronze statue of the President while studying naval tactics in France; he donated it to Congress in 1834. The piece currently stands in the Capitol Rotunda. The Levy statue is unique as the only privately commissioned piece of artwork in the Capitol, the rest were commissioned either by Congress or the States.


1988, Levy was listed in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame

1959, the Jewish Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, VA, was renamed the "Commodore Levy Chapel" in Levy's honor.

2001, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation published The Levy Family and Monticello 1834-1923, a history of the Levy family's nearly century-long contributions in saving Monticello.

2005, the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel opened at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, which is named in his honor.

The Cannon-class destroyer escort, the USS Levy (DE-162) was named in his honor.

2011 A statue of Uriah P. Levy has been installed at Mikveh Israel Synagogue on Independence Mall in Center City Philadelphia.


Levy married, for the first time at the age of 61, his 18-year-old niece Virginia Lopez.

Death and Burial

Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy died on 22 March 1862. He is buried at Beth Olom Cemetery in Queens, NY, associated with the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

Honoree ID: 2761   Created by: MHOH




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