Who Was Pittsburgh's First Jewish Mayor? Originally Published November 6-7, 2020.

Samuel Pettigrew was Pittsburgh’s first Jewish mayor, serving from 1832-1836.  (Pittsburgh was incorporated in 1816.)  Historians have not yet unearthed what date Samuel Pettigrew was born in Easton, Pennsylvania.  (We also do not know where he is buried.)  Samuel’s father, Lt. James Pettigrew, was born in the United Kingdom and was not Jewish.  Samuel’s mother, Judith Hart, was the daughter of the shopkeeper whose Jewish family was one of the founding families of Easton, Pa.

Easton is the seat of Northampton County, located where the Delaware River meets the Lehigh River (from Pittsburgh it is just past Allentown on the way to New York), and has a population of around 27,000.  Let’s take a side trip there.  Easton’s land was selected and surveyed in 1736 by Thomas Penn and Benjamin Eastburn (Surveyor General).  Eleven families were considered founders of the town (as they already lived there), including Myer & Rachel Hart.  A tavern was built in 1753, and still stands.  The First United Church of Christ was built in 1775, and contains a Star of David in a stained-glass window honor of the Harts, who contributed to the original church building fund.  Hart also contributed money, labor, and material for building a free school, around 1755.  He was naturalized 4/3/1764 (under the Plantation Act of 1740, to Great Britain, of course).  Myer was known as a wealthy man; the proof is that he paid high taxes.  On March 1, 1780, slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania and we note, with regret, that Myer Hart was compelled to release his slaves.  (As another side note, Judith’s sister married into the Cardozo family, which family produced Justice Benjamin Cardozo.)

Back to the next generation, and Revolutionary War officer Lt. James!  When planning to marry, James and Judith had a bit of trouble with getting permission from their families, so in 1782 they had an Army chaplain perform the secret wedding, which took place at a Victory Ball for George Washington hosted by Judith’s father. They were later wed in a Jewish ceremony by Judith’s Uncle Mordecai.  Thus duly wed, they eventually produced Samuel.

Samuel would be the last mayor of Pittsburgh appointed by City Council, and also the first to be elected by popular vote.  He oversaw the industrialization of the city, including production of the first steam locomotive west of the Alleghenies (named “The Pittsburgh”), and creation of a water system to draw from the Allegheny rather than wells (in 1832-33 there was a cholera epidemic in Pittsburgh).  In 1834, the first public school opened with five students.  Samuel also asked Council to appoint a joint committee to hire a police force.  And he ushered the city through a major flood in 1832, cresting at 38.2 feet.

The family later moved west, and Samuel Pettigrew passed away in 1841.