Latest update: September 23rd, 2012
His mother, Rebecca Machado Phillips, was a most unusual woman. Not only did she give birth to 21 children but she was also involved in a variety of chesed organizations, something that was pioneering for women at the time.4 Naphtali’s father, Jonas, was a merchant in New York and Philadelphia. He was of Ashkenazic descent and grew up in London, where he must have received a better than average Jewish education, since he was trained as a shochet. The Phillipses were observant Jews.
Mr. Phillips voted for General Washington on his second election as President and voted also in every presidential election thereafter until that of General Grant in 1868, a period of 76 years.
Young Naphtali became interested in journalism, and his first job was with the American Advertiser, a leading Philadelphia newspaper. On July 5, 1797 he married Rachel Seixas, daughter of Moses Mendez Seixas, a prominent merchant and banker in Newport, Rhode Island.
Mr. Phillips took up his residence in New York permanently about the year 1801, and shortly thereafter became the proprietor of the National Advocate, the leading New York newspaper of that period, and continued at its head for many years. He then became an attach? of the New York Custom House, where he remained until failing sight overtook him about the middle of the last [19th] century.
Rachel and Naphtali Phillips had eleven children together. Rachel died from yellow fever during the plague that afflicted New York in 1822. On October 8, 1823 Naphtali married Rachel’s first cousin, Esther B. Seixas, daughter of Lieutenant Benjamin Mendez Seixas, a Revolutionary War officer and one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. They had four children together.
Mr. Phillips always took a deep interest in the affairs of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel. He was its President as early as the year 1816 and served for fourteen terms in that office. He was also trustee of the congregation for many years; his entire official service covering a period of (long) over half a century. He was for many years prominent in the affairs of the Democratic party in New York City and served on many political committees. At his death, which occurred November 1, 1870, in his ninety-eighth year, he was the oldest member of the Tammany Society, having belonged to it for nearly three-quarters of a century. As a mark of respect to his profound piety and long service to his people, his funeral was held at the vestibule of the synagogue of his congregation, the only person in it history of over two and one-half centuries, other than its ministers, who has ever been thus honored.
(The following is from “A Personal Tribute to Lincoln by Josephine Phillips” by Phillip Goodman, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Sep. 1951-Jun. 1952, 41. The article is available online at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.)
1 “Escape From The Inquisition,” The Jewish Press, December 2, 2005.
2 “The Jewish Settlement of Savannah, Georgia,” The Jewish Press, January 6, 2006.
3 “David Mendes and Zipporah Nunes Machado,” The Jewish Press, July 6, 2007.
4 “Rebecca (Machado) Phillips (1746-1831): Colonial Jewish Matriarch,” The Jewish Press, April 7, 2006, pages 41 & 46. Glimpses into American Jewish History Part 13.
5 Probably William Cowper (1731-1800), an English poet.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine recently retired after serving for forty years as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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