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Moses Raphael Levy – Wealthy Colonial Jewish Merchant

“Levy was now compelled to pay the bond and the costs of the suit, and he lost what he himself had advanced in goods and credits. All told, the fugitive cost him over £ 176, to say nothing of incidental expenses in the affair. Years later Levy heard that Napthaly had passed away, ‘in parts remote … beyond the seas, intestate,’ but he also heard that he did leave some small effects in New York. Accordingly, Levy petitioned Governor William Burnett for letters of administration as principal creditor, and received them; he probably salvaged very little of the original credits now due for almost fifteen years.”[vi]

Nonetheless, Moses Levy’s immigration to America, the land of opportunity, paid off handsomely, as the following incident shows. Levy took out an ad in the April 14, 1726 issue of the New York Gazette in which he announced that he wanted to sell “a house in the town of Rye, with about sixty or seventy acres of upland and about five acres of meadow, together with part of mansion, formerly belonging to John Heward and now to Moses Levy, in New York, or any part thereof, on reasonable terms to any person that has a mind to purchase the same.”[vii]

“Moses Levy’s personal stature, civic attainments and early Americanization are best captured in the portraits (all in the collection of the American Jewish Historical Society) not only of himself but also of his daughters Rachel and Abigail, his son-in-law Jacob Franks, and his grandchildren David and Phila Franks. It is by far the most complete visual record we have of an early colonial American Jewish family. Decked out in an imposing powdered wig and a greyhound at his side symbolizing his landowning status (unattainable for a Jew elsewhere in the Christian world) Levy radiates the well-fed comfort and well-bred confidence of a successful merchant-landowner.” [viii]

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


[i] “First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988by Malcolm H. Stern, Third Edition, American Jewish Archives, 1991, page 154 (http://americanjewisharchives.org/FAJF/intro.php).

[ii]  “The Levy and Seixas Families of Newport and New Yorkby N Taylor Phillips Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1896; 4, AJHS Journal, page 189 (http://www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm).

[iii] See “Bilhah Abigail Franks: Early American Jewish Matriarch” The Jewish Press, October 7, 2011, pages 24 & 26.

[iv]  The Seixas-Kursheedts and the Rise of Early American Jewry by Kenneth Libo and Abigail Kursheedt Hoffman, Bloch Publishing Company in conjunction with the AJHS, 2001, page 3.

[v]  Early American Jewry, The Jews of New York, New England and Canada, 1649-1794 by Jacob Radar Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951, page 51.

[vi]  Ibid, page 52.

[vii] “The Levy and Seixas Families of Newport and New York”

[viii]  http://sephardicoralhistory.org/education/essays.php?action=show&id=37 

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


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