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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Taylor Phillips’

Early Jewish Religious Observance In New York

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

   (All quotes are from “Unwritten History, Reminiscences of N. Taylor Phillips,” The American Jewish Archives, 1954, 6, pages 77-104.)
 

   In 1927 Captain N. Taylor Phillips1 delivered an address before Congregation Shearith Israel in New York in which he recalled some of the history and traditions of early New York American Jewry. His recollections give fascinating insight into Jewish religious life in America when the community was still in its infancy.

 

The Synagogue

 

   The majority of Jews who resided in New York during the 17th and 18th centuries were of Portuguese descent.

 

     The people who were then interested in the congregation were those who had come mostly, mediately [sic] or immediately, from Portugal, and they were Marranos or secret Jews. Nearly all of them were Marranos. In fact, when they came to New York, the early records of the town spoke of them as the “Portuguese nation” whenever they wanted to talk about the Jews. They spoke about the “Portuguese nation” because all the Jews, practically, were Portuguese. As I said a moment ago, most of them were Marranos. There were a few Spanish among them, the Gomez family and a few others, but the majority of them were Portuguese Marranos.

 

   The Gomez family came to America around the year 1700. The family was not just wealthy, but also highly cultured.

 

     [T]he Gomez family from the very first time they came here were people of prominence and influence, and they had commissions [papers of denization] related to England, very important commissions, and they enjoyed a great many rights as freemen and all sorts of things. They were the real thing – there is no doubt about that.
 

     And the Gomez family was the mainstay of the congregation at that time, before the building of the first synagogue in Mill Street in 1728 and 1729, consecrated in 1730. They were very influential in the congregation; what they said went in every way. And, in fact, I have heard it said that they were surrounded with all sorts of affluence and wealth, and when they came to the synagogue – these are the personal touches that I am giving you – when they came to the synagogue on the Sabbath or on a Holy Day, they had their slaves walking behind them through the streets carrying their prayer books and talethim [prayer shawls]. They would walk into the synagogue auditorium with this retinue behind them, and the slaves would deposit their books and talethim on the seats and bow themselves out. That was a regular ceremony every Saturday morning.

 

Religious Observance in the Home

 

   At one point in his speech N. Taylor Phillips described how Judaism was observed in the homes of Jews during colonial times. Religious observance was an integral part the lives of colonial Jews. Maintaining a kosher home fell, of course, primarily to the women.

 

     No matter how well off they were, how rich they were, whether they were Gomez or Machado, or who they were, the women either did the cooking themselves or superintended it. It was not left to the slaves, or to the Negroes. If it was, it was a treifa house, that is, the house that permitted the servants exclusively to run the kitchen. People would not eat there, and, therefore, the woman of the house either had to do it herself or had to be on the job and see that it was properly done. If she had a lot of servants, she directed them or could give the final O.K. that everything was “according to Hoyle,” but she had to be there personally.

 

   The Jewish community of New York was quite small from its inception in 1654 through the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1695 it numbered about 100 souls and increased only to about 500 Jews in 1825.2 The result was that it was close-knit, and there was a good deal of social interchange among Jews. Naturally, food was a key part of this social interaction.

 

     The different families of the congregation got to be known for their specialties in the culinary art. One house would be celebrated for the pound cake that was made there, another for the “stickies,” those masses of dough with sugar stuff over them – my descriptions of the mysteries of the cuisine are not very good, but I am doing the best I can. And still another woman would be famous for her sopes peridoes – which was a sort of French toast with a syrup of sugar, water, etc., poured over it, which they ate at Purim. Some women would be celebrated for the way they made them, and when Purim came everyone rushed to their houses to get the last word in sopes peridoes.

 

Passover Observance

 

   Pesach preparations began right after Purim, just as they do in many homes today. One woman actually died as a result of her efforts to prepare for Pesach. Captain Taylor Phillips related the story:

  

     One of my ancestors, the wife of Samuel Lopez, was vigorously engaged about a hundred years ago in supervising the kashruth of her home. She went up on a stepladder to see that there wasn’t anything wrong with dishes, etc., or something of that sort – that was the way they went at it – when she fell off the stepladder and was killed. She lost her life in an effort to keep her louse strictly according to Jewish law, but, as I say, this is only an illustration of the vigor with which they cleaned up.

 

   No member of the congregation during colonial times used butter on Pesach, but they did use milk. However, they made sure that the milk they used did not come in contact with any chometz.

 

     Before the Revolution, considerably before it, the cow would be brought around to the house and milked into the can of the house owner, and then later on, after the Revolution, when that was no longer possible, the children would be sent up to the farms, up around what is now Greenwich Village. I have heard my father say that in his boyhood, at Passover time, he would walk up Greenwich Street, carrying a can. Then the woman who kept the farm milked the cow into the can [he had brought] and he went back [carrying the milk all the way home]. As I have stated, the reason was that they would not allow anybody’s cans but their own to be used, because the others were not pesachdech [fit for Passover food]. These little things just give you an idea of how they lived.

 

1 For information about the life of N. Taylor Phillips, please see “N. Taylor Phillips: Scion Of One Of America’s First Jewish Families,” The Jewish Press,May 1, 2009, page 23.

2 “The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York” by Hyman B. Grinstein, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945, page 469.

 

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 llevine@stevens.edu.

N. Taylor Phillips: Scion Of One Of America’s First Jewish Families

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Naphtali Moses Taylor Phillips, generally known as N. Taylor Phillips, was a descendent of one of America’s first Jewish families. His great-great-great grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunes (Nunez) Ribeiro and his great-great grandmother, Zipporah were among the first group of Jews to arrive in Savannah, Georgia in 1733. Zipporah married David Mendes Machado, who served as the chazzan of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York from 1737 until his passing in 1747.

Zipporah’s daughter Rebecca married Jonas Phillips in 1762. Jonas was a member of the Philadelphia county militia during the Revolutionary War and at one time was employed by Congregation Shearith Israel of New York as a shochet. Their son Naphtali Phillips was a grandfather of N. Taylor Phillips. (One should not confuse the grandfather, Naphtali Phillips, with the grandson, Naphtali Moses Taylor Phillips.).

In 1796 it was Naphtali Phillips who took the first copy of George Washington’s farewell address that came off the press of the American Advertiser, a leading Philadelphia newspaper. In 1848 this document was placed in the cornerstone of the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital.

On July 5, 1797, Naphtali Phillips married Rachel Hannah, daughter of Moses Mendez Seixas, a prominent Newport, Rhode Island, merchant and banker and a brother of Gershom Mendez Seixas, known as “the patriotic Jewish minister of the American Revolution.”

[Naphtali] 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.1

On June 16, 1812, Rachel Hannah gave birth to her fifth child, Isaac. Isaac Phillips would go on to serve as president of Congregation Shearith Israel.

He [Isaac Phillips] was one of the founders of Mount Sinai Hospital and was the last surviving member of the charter board. He was, according to the strictest sect, an Orthodox Jew until the day of his death. His first wife dying in 1855, he married in 1856 Miss Miriam Trimble [1839-1882], a Gentile, who became a convert to Judaism before her marriage.2

Miriam Trimble Phillips gave birth to N. Taylor on December 5, 1868.

Naphtali Moses Taylor Phillips attended Columbia Grammar School and then Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1886 at the age of 18 with the degree of LL.B. At 21 he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of NY, and three years later to the bar of the United States Supreme Court. He held various political offices. He was a member of the New York State legislature (1898-1901), serving on the judiciary and other committees and as a member of the Joint Statutory Revision Commission of that body (1900). He served as deputy comptroller of the City of New York from 1902 to 1910. Mr. Phillips was a leader in Democratic politics for many years.

As a result of his distinguished lineage, N. Taylor was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. On March 9, 1892, he married Rosalie Solomons, daughter of Adolphus S. Solomons and Rachel Mendez Seixas Phillips Solomons. Rosalie was active in Jewish affairs as well as in politics. She served as Tammany co-leader of the Seventh Assembly District, from 1918-1939 and passed away in 1946 at the age of 79.

One of the outstanding characteristics of Naphtali Phillips was a phenomenal memory through which he consistently endeavored to carry on the traditions he inherited from the past. It was this loyalty to his American and Jewish family traditions which stimulated his enduring interest in the American Jewish Historical Society. He was one of its founders, and a director of it since 1893. For many years he was its treasurer, and later its honorary vice-president. In its Publications there are printed no less than ten articles from his pen, several of which characteristically tell the story of families of his American forebears from Colonial times, while others are centered on historical aspects of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel with which ancestors of his had been prominently associated for over two centuries.

This conscious identification with his past made him one of the leading spirits fifty years ago in organizing and making effective the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebration of the settlement of the Jews in this country. It was also expressed by his being a life member of the New York Historical Society.

When the United States entered the first World War, N. Taylor Phillips, a Son of the American Revolution, was determined in his generation also to give military service to his country. At the time he was nearly fifty years of age, and he found difficulty in being accepted in the armed forces. But he persisted in his purpose and eventually he was able to enter the army. He became a captain and served in Washington throughout the war.

His loyalty to the past was expressed most penetratingly through his synagogue. He loved it passionately. N. Taylor Phillips served as its president for eight years.

In 1897 when Congregation Shearith Israel dedicated its present synagogue building, it was N. Taylor Phillips who wrote a valuable history of the congregation as his grandfather Naphtali Phillips had done three generations earlier. This was published in the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society and in the American Hebrew. In the fall of 1954 when he was eighty-five years old he was one of the two men who opened the doors of the synagogue for its solemn service of reconsecration at the beginning of the national tercentenary celebration of the settlement of the Jews in the United States, just as almost a century earlier his grandfather, Naphtali Phillips, then eighty-seven years of age, had formally opened the doors for the dedication of the newly built synagogue of the congregation on Nineteenth Street.

He would chant the Book of Jonah in the afternoon service of the Day of Atonement. He did this with special love because he knew that his great-grandfather, Jonas Phillips, had similarly chanted the Book of Jonah in the synagogue at the time of the Revolution. His seat in the synagogue was in the same position in the present synagogue as that of his father and grandfather in the earlier synagogue of the congregation.

In all such ways he deeply cherished the historic traditions of his fathers. It was this loyalty which made him so constant and so devoted a member of the American Jewish Historical Society for nearly two-thirds of a century from its foundation in 1892.3

N. Taylor Phillips passed away on April 30, 1955 at the age of 87. He was considered the Phillips family’s unofficial historian and published many articles about the history of the Jews of New York during the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

1″Naphtali Phillips,”Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1913; 21, AJHS Journal. page 172 ff. (Available at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.)

2 Obituary of Isaac Phillips, The New York Times, August 6, 1889.

3″Necrology N. Taylor Phillips 1868-1955″ byD. De Solo Pool, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); Sep 1955-Jun 1956; 45, 1-4; AJHS Journal, pages 64- 66. (Available at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.)

 

 

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 llevine@stevens.edu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/n-taylor-phillips-scion-of-one-of-americas-first-jewish-families-2/2009/04/29/

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