The foundations of Michigan’s Jewish community were laid by the German Jews who came to America in the 1840s and spread out across the continent. Jewish history in Michigan, which became the 26th state on January 26, 1837, began, however, with some hearty frontiersmen who traversed the territory for trade.
Credit for being the first Jewish settler in Michigan is given to Berlin-born Ezekiel Solomon, who arrived in Montreal during the French and Indian War. After the 1760 British victory, which gave England control of Canada, Solomon obtained a license to trade with the native population. In 1761, he set up shop in the area of the Straits of Mackinaw near Fort Michilinackinac. It is believed that he partnered with five other Jewish men – Benjamin Lyon, Chapman Abraham, Levi Solomons and Gershom Levy, each of whom took a trading territory.
Living a frontier life was not easy. It is recorded, however, that several of these Jews maintained a strong connection to the Montreal Jewish community. In fact, Chapman Abraham, who is considered the first Jewish settler of Detroit, and Benjamin Lyon are mentioned in the membership regulations of Shearith Israel, the first synagogue in Montreal. (They were given extra time to fulfil certain obligations due to their great distance.)
A few years after the British took control over the territory and the Jewish traders arrived, Chief Pontiac lead the native Indian tribes in an uprising. Ezekiel Solomon, Chapman Abraham and Levi Solomons were captured (separately) in the uprising. Ezekiel Solomon escaped captivity and little is known about Levi Solomons. Abraham, it is reported, escaped his captors by pretending to be a madman.
Following the Pontiac uprising, the Jewish traders appear to have continued their trading. There are historical markers in Michigan honoring both Ezekiel Solomon and Chapman Abraham.