from Colonial Times to 1900
Abigail Levy Franks: The Epitome of a Jewish Mother in Colonial America
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
Bilhah Abigail Levy Franks was born a year after her parents, Rachel and Moses Levy, arrived In New York from London. She received an extensive cultural education, which was unusual for young women in the colonies. Some of her favorite authors were Shakespeare, Smollett, Fielding, Dryden and Pope.
Abigail kept up with th events in the colonies. She went to court to observe the trial of Peter Zenger, a newspaper editor, who criticized the governor and was tried for libel.
At age 16, she married Jacob Franks in 1712. He was a boarder in her parent’s home, who emigrated from London. They had nine children, six of them survived infancy.
There were approximately 50 Jewish families living in New York City. Most of them belonged to Shearith Israel Congregation, the oldest Jewish synagogue in North America. Jacob Franks served as president. He and Abigail attended Sabbath and the Jewish holidays services.
Abigail was very strict in observing the Sabbath, the holy days and her kosher home. She was very careful about eating in her relatives homes. She feared that their kitchens were not as kosher as hers.
She wrote 34 letters to her son, Naphtali, who was living in London. Her letters were published by the American Jewish Historical Society, who also has her portrait.
In her letters to Naphtali, she told him to eat only bread and butter in his uncle’s house as his kitchen wasn’t that kosher. She was always sending him food.
In her letters, she discussed other family members, family business, the politics of the city and neighborhood gossip.
Abigail’s letters showed a great deal of warmth for her son and she always ended them with a prayer for the Almighty to look after him.
Abigail Levy Franks died in 1756. Although members of her family are buried in the cemetery of Shearith Israel, in lower Manhattan, there is no record of her grave.
The legacy, that she left, were the letters she wrote which tell of a devout, religious, warm Jewish mother, who loved her children.
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Last updated 12 May 2011