Note for: Isaac Mendes Seixas, 5 Sep 1708 - 3 Nov 1780 Index
CLOSE-UP: Isaac Mendes Seixas, was a Portuguese converso whose family had to flee to London after his father was accused, in 1725, of secretly continuing to practice his ancient faith. In 1730, Isaac left London for New York, where in 1741 he married Rachel Levy, an Ashkenazic Jew. Their children were the product of this "mixed" Sephardic-Ashkenazic marriage common to the New York Jewish community in the 1700s.
Isaac had lived as a Marrano in Lisbon, Portugal, until he escaped to New York. At that time the various communities of the New World were major places of refuge for Marranos fleeing Spain and Portugal. In New York, Isaac married the American-born Rachel Levy, daughter of Moses Levy, a very wealthy German Ashkenazi immigrant, who had become parnes (president) of the New York kehillah. They came to head a large family that played a major role in the American Jewish world over the following century.
The couple had seven children who lived into adulthood, among them Gershom Mendes Seixas (1746-1816), who became the first religious leader of Congregation Shearith Israel, New York City's first and oldest Jewish congregation, and Moses Mendes Seixas (1744-1809), a Newport, RI, merchant, banker, and later president of that city's Touro Synagogue. Among their other activities, both Gershom and Moses Seixas served as mohelim, performers of the Jewish religious rite of circumcision, in their respective communities.
Son of Abraham Mendes and Abigail Seixas, Isaac Mendes came to America from Lisbon, Portugal about 1734. He was naturalized in 1745 and elected constable in New York City, but was not eligible for the position, being neither a freeman nor a freeholder. He moved to Newport, Rhode Island and lived there until the Revolutionary War, when he moved to Stratford, Connecticut. He returned to Newport after the war, and died shortly after. He married Rachel Levy about 1740, they had eight children: Abraham (died in infancy), Abigail (1742-1819), Moses (1744-1809), Gershom (1745-1816), Benjamin (1747-1817), Abraham (1751-1799), Grace (1752-1831), and Raphael (died in infancy).
Note for: Rachel Levy, 27 Feb 1719 - 12 May 1797 Index
Rachel Levy was the oldest of seven children born to Grace Mears Levy, second wife of Moses Raphael Levy. Rachel Levy was well loved throughout the entire Levy-Franks circle, even though the children from Moses's first marriage hated their step-mother. Rachel caused a social uproar in the New York Jewish community when she married London merchant Isaac Mendes Seixas, who was of Sephardic descent, in 1740. Their union crossed contemporary social, status and ethnic lines that divided eighteenth-century Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewry. The young couple moved to New Jersey where Isaac opened a "Small Contry Store". The happy pair eventually produced eight children.
Note for: Moses Raphael Levy, 1665 - 14 Jun 1728 Index
Moses Raphael Levy and his first wife had five children born between 1696-1709 in London. He and his second wife had seven children born between 1719-172? in London and New York. Their children intermarried with those bearing surnames: FRANKS, PUE, MICHAL, SEIXAS, HART, THOMPSON, ISAACS. Some removed to Philadelphia and Baltimore. On 3 June 1695, Moses was made a freeman in NY.
Moses Levy was at one time president of Shearith Israel, the first congregation in the thirteen colonies.
The merchant ship that carried Moses Levy, his wife, Richa Asher Levy and several of their young children, including their eldest daughter, then called Bilhah Abigaill, docked in the New York harbor around 1703. It was a long sea voyage-as many as eight weeks-far from their clan of numerous Levy relatives in London.
While the population of London was then approaching one million people, New York could count a mere five thousand souls, fifteen percent of whom were blacks, some free but mostly slaves. There were perhaps only 250 Jews in New York at the time. More than any other British colony, New York attracted a heterogeneous population. In addition to the Dutch and the English, a sizable group of Huguenots had settled there in the late seventeenth century, followed by Palatine Germans, Swedes, Scots, Irish, and persons of many backgrounds who arrived from the West Indies. It was said that as many as eighteen languages could be heard on the streets of New York. But even then, in 1703, New Yorkers were densely crowded into a small area, for the largest portion of the population lived below Wall Street, fearing to venture northward into the area still occupied by (perhaps) hostile Indians. The locus of local government was the Fort. Built originally by the Dutch, it changed its name with each reigning British monarch, so that it was called Fort Anne during Moses Levy’s time.
From the age of seven, Bilhah Abigaill, who in New York shed the marked name of Bilhah to become just Abigaill which she always wrote with two l’s, grew to womanhood. Her childhood, for which no reference survives, can only be inferred. In addition to the two brothers, Asher and Nathan, who had also immigrated to New York in 1703, two more brothers were born, Isaac and Michael.
Richa died in 1716; two years later Moses remarried a much younger woman, Grace Mears, who in turn, bore him seven children, half-siblings to Bilhah Abigaill who retained life-long affectionate relationships with the older children. But Abigaill married young, leaving her father’s house before most of the younger Levy children were born.
Her husband, Jacob Franks, had arrived in New York in 1707, also from London, also from a large and successful Jewish merchant family. He, too, came to New York to make his fortune and possibly within the Levy orbit, for he resided in the Levy household. Five years later, Jacob and Abigaill married, she barely of age at sixteen. Naphtali’s return to England marked the commencement of the correspondence that would be the sole surviving written record of his mother’s life.
LAST WILL OF MOSES RAPHEL LEVY: In the name of God, Amen. I, MOSES LEVY, of New York, merchant, being sick. All debts to be paid. I leave to my son, Asher Levy, one silver mugg, of the weight of 20 ounces. To my daughter Miriam, £100 when of age or married, over and above her share. I leave to my grandson, Napthalai Franks, one piece of silver plate, of the value of £12. All the rest of estate I leave to my wife Grace, and to my sons, Nathan, Isaac, Michael, Sampson, Benjamin, and Joseph, and to my daughters, Rachel, Miriam, Hester, and Hannah. The shares of Nathan, Isaac, and Michael, are to be paid in 5 years, and the rest when of age or married. But if my wife shall not be contented with her share, but shall insist upon the performance of certain Articles of Agreement, made by my wife, Grace Levy (then Grace Mears), and Jacob Mears, before our marriage, then my executors shall pay to her in 5 years, such sums of money and plate, as by said Articles are agreed. I make my wife and my sons, Nathan and Isaac, and my son-in-law, Jacob Franks, and my brother-in-law, Judah Mears, executors. Dated June 13, 1728. Witnesses, Matthew Clarkson, Richard Nichols, Moses Lopez X Foneca. Proved, December 4, 1728.