Mordecai Manuel Noah (July 14, 1785, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,- May 22, 1851, New York) was an American playwright, diplomat, journalist, and utopian. Born in a family of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry; he was the most important Jewish lay leader in New York in the pre-Civil War period, and the first Jew born in the United States to reach national prominence.
Noah engaged in trade and law, but when removing to Charleston, South Carolina, dedicated himself to politics.
In 1811, he was appointed by President James Madison as consul at Riga, then part of Imperial Russia, but declined, and, in 1813, was nominated Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis, where he rescued American citizens kept as slaves by Moroccan masters. In 1815, Noah received a stunning blow; in the words of US Secretary of State James Monroe, his religion was "an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function." The incident caused outrage among Jews and non-Jews alike.
Noah sent many letters to the White House trying to get an answer as to why they felt his religion should be a justifiable reason for taking
the office of consul away. He had done well as consul and had even been
able to accommodate the United States request to secure the release of
some hostages being held in Algiers. Noah never received a legitimate
answer as to why they took the office of Consul away from him. This
worried Noah since he was afraid that this would set a precedent for
the United States. He worried that this would block future Jews from
holding publicly elected or officially granted offices within the
Noah protested and gained letters from John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison supporting church-state separation and tolerance for Jews. Prominent Reform Judaism leader Isaac Harby was moved to write, in a letter to Monroe, "[Jews] are by no means to be considered as a religious sect, tolerated by the government. They constitute a portion of the People.
They are, in every respect, woven in and compacted with the citizens of
Noah moved to New York, where he founded and edited The National Advertiser, The New York Enquirer (later merged into The Courier and Enquirer), The Evening Star, and The Sunday Times newspapers.
In 1819, Noah's most successful play, She Would Be a Soldier, was produced. That play has since established Noah as America's first important Jewish American writer. She Would Be a Soldier is now included in college level anthologies.
In 1825, with virtually no support from anyone-not even his fellow Jews- in a precursor to modern Zionism, he tried to found a Jewish "refuge" at Grand Island in the Niagara River, to be called "Ararat," after Mount Ararat, the Biblical resting place of Noah's Ark. He had brought with him a cornerstone which read "Ararat, a City of
Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai M. Noah in the Month of
Tishri, 5586 (September, 1825) and in the Fiftieth Year of American
Independence." Noah also shared the belief among various others that
some of the Native American Indians were from the Lost Tribes of
Israel, from which he wrote the Discourse on the Evidences of the American Indians being the Descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  In his Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews
Noah proclaimed his faith that the Jews would return and rebuild their
ancient homeland and called on America to take the lead in this
endeavor. On September 2, soon after arriving in Buffalo from New York,
thousands of Christians and a smattering of Jews assembled for a
historic event. Noah led a large procession,headed by Masons, a New
York militia company, and municipal leaders paraded to St. Paul's
Episcopal church .
Here, there was a brief ceremony- including a singing of the psalms in
Hebrew- the cornerstone was laid on the communion table, and the new
proclamation establishing the refuge was read. "Proclamation – day
ended with music, cannonade and libation. 24 guns, recessional,masons
retired to the Eagle Tavern, all with no one ever having set foot on
Grand Isle." This
was the beginning and the end of Mordecai Noah's venture: he lost heart
and returned to New York a couple days later without once having set
foot on the island. The cornerstone was taken out of the audience
chamber of the church and laid against the back of the building. It is now on permanent display at the Buffalo Historical Society in Buffalo, NY.
He was a staunch supporter of slavery. He worried that emancipation would threaten the whole country's safety.
The modern edition of Noah's writings is The Selected Writings of Mordecai Noah edited by Michael Schuldiner and Daniel Kleinfeld, and published by Greenwood Press.
American Conservative rabbi Henry Noah is a direct descendant.