The earliest community of Columbus, Georgia, included a small but prominent collection of Jewish families that contributed central leaders to the development of political and economic life in this town. One name from this group that occurs with frequency in the early sources of Columbus history is that of R. J. Moses. By. Jack Schley
Born into a large family in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1812, Raphael’s father was at one time a well-to-do auctioneer. Raphael said of himself that he was a playful child growing up in the Low Country; more so inclined to mischief than to books. School did not seem to be doing him much good, so upon turning the age of thirteen his father permitted him to move to Philadelphia. The Moses’ had family there and the young boy worked in a music shop; in addition to, attending law lectures at night. After only one year in the northern state, Raphael returned to Charleston to enter the auction house trade. The administrative and bookkeeping skills he learned through this work would impact his career for the rest of his life.
Almost a decade later, at the age of twenty-one, Raphael proposed to Eliza M. Moses, his cousin, on the battery in Charleston. They were married in that city on January 20, 1834. The couple remained there for three more years until the fire of 1837 destroyed most of the city. Raphael and Eliza picked up and pushed inland to the frontier lands being claimed out of the Native American territory to the west. That same year, they landed in Saint Joseph, Florida, a small coastal trading town situated near the mouth of the Apalachicola River. Raphael found a decent job there as an administrator to a newly formed railroad. As children were born to Raphael and Eliza, the family remained somewhat transient. Yellow fever swept through Saint
Joseph with force, causing the family to relocate to the nearby town of Apalachicola.
Raphael’s executive abilities and naturally keen mind earned him a respectable reputation in these frontier communities. Seeking to further his public position, Raphael studied law for six
weeks in Apalachicola and was successfully admitted into the legal profession.
The settlement of Apalachicola was a trading post town with deep connections to the
city of Columbus, Georgia. Many of the cotton merchants, mill owners, and steamship operators in Columbus were influential in developing Apalachicola as a way point between the river and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1849, the Moses family pushed upstream.
Raphael and Eliza purchased a farm south of Columbus on a hilltop near the Chattahoochee
River. They renamed the place Esquiline, after one of the ancient hills within the city of Rome,
Italy. There, atop the hill in an attractive home, the family finally settled. From this farm, Raphael became known as perhaps the first farmer in the state of Georgia to profitably sell peaches across state lines. In 1851, he shipped two baskets of fruit to New York in open champagne crates. The perishables arrived fresh, and Moses was paid $30 per basket. (Equivalent to almost $900 in 2017.) Raphael expanded his orchard across the farm to the point of annually generating 10,000 in revenue in the cross-country fruit trade. (Over $250,000 today). This became a defining industry for the State of Georgia, almost half a century later, labeling Georgia as “The Peach State.”
In addition to his peach plantation, Raphael Moses also developed a lucrative legal practice
in Columbus, and took to politics as a campaign orator in the Presidential elections of the 1840s and 1850s.
In the course of his early political life, an opponent once taunted Moses for his Jewish
heritage. Raphael’s response to this became well known, “’… had you a wealth of gifts
and selected from your abundance your richest offering to lay at my feet, you could not
have distinguished me more gratefully than by proclaiming me a Jew…. I feel it an honor to be
one of a race whom… after nineteen centuries of persecution still survive as a nation and
assert their manhood and intelligence and give proof of the Divinity that stirs within them by
having become a greater force in the government of mankind.” Raphael further proclaimed,
“Would you honor me? Call me a Jew.”