Using artifacts—a kiddush cup, a portrait, broken teacups—together with the written record, Laura Leibman reconstructs the biographies of a few fascinating figures in American Jewish history in her recent book, The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects. Among the titular objects is a miniature ivory portrait of Sarah Brandon Moses, which has been preserved alongside one of her brother, Isaac Lopez Brandon. Jenna Weissman Joselit writes in her review:
Within [the miniature’s] circumscribed space and under glass, Sarah looks for all the world as if she stepped out of the pages of a Jane Austen novel—her skin and neoclassical dress pearly white, her hair neatly arrayed in tendrils that accentuate her liquid brown eyes, her gaze clear and steady.
[Despite appearances], gentility didn’t come naturally to Sarah. Like her mother before her, she had been born a slave into the Lopez family of Barbados. Her father, Abraham Rodrigues Brandon, one of the wealthiest men on the island, granted Sarah her freedom when she was three years old, setting her on a course that took her first to Paramaribo, [the capital of Suriname], where she converted to Judaism, and then on to London, where she trained at a “Ladies School” for Jewish girls.
There, Sarah met Joshua Moses, an American Jew in town on business who, in a curious twist of fate, happened to be the middle son of Reyna Levy Moses, [another of the book’s other subjects] Sarah married him . . . and relocated to New York City where she lived, happily ever after—a member in full of New York’s Jewish society—until her untimely death in 1828, shortly after the birth of her ninth child.