Franks Family

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Franks Family

This biographical sketch discusses various members of the Franks family who are represented in the collection.

Bilhah Abigail Levy (circa 1696-1756), called Abigail, was born circa 1696 to Moses and Rachel Levy, German Jews who had immigrated to London and then moved to America at the turn of the 18 th century. It is uncertain whether Abigail was born before or after her parents' immigration to America. Upon arriving in America, Moses Levy soon became a pillar of the Jewish community and a wealthy merchant, as well as the owner of a fleet of trading ships. Abigail Levy Franks received a formal, classical education, rare for a Jewish woman in the 18th century who was expected to devote all her time to home and family life. She prided herself on her attendance at Shearith Israel and her strict observance of the Sabbath and dietary laws. Suspicious of the kitchens of relatives, she even sent kosher food to her son Naphtali in London. Though highly involved in secular society, Abigail Franks, always remained conscious of her identity as a Jew and tried to teach her children the same.

Jacob Franks (1688-1769) also emigrated from England to New York in the 1700s and boarded in the Levy household. In 1712, Franks wed sixteen-year-old Abigail Levy. They were married for forty-four years and had nine children. The Franks family was one of the leading families in Colonial New York, not only within the small Jewish community but also within the larger elite secular social circle comprised of prominent Protestant families such as the Livingstons, DeLanceys and Van Cortlands. Jacob Franks was acknowledged as a linguist and Judaic scholar. An eminent and wealthy merchant, he engaged in the slave trade, privateering, general commerce, and shipping. He was also very involved in the Jewish community and the construction of the Shearith Israel synagogue as well as president of the congregation in 1730.

Naphtali Franks (1715-1796), called "Heartsey," a Yiddish nickname meaning "dear heart," was the eldest son of Jacob and Abigail Franks. In the 1730s, Naphtali was sent to his father's relatives in London to enter the family merchant business and to ensure he marry a Jewish woman. He married his first cousin, a daughter of Jacob's brother Isaac Frank (?-1736) and became an important member of the London Jewish community.

Phila Franks (1722-1811), a daughter, shocked and saddened her parents by revealing she had secretly married a non-Jew. Oliver DeLancey, Phila's husband, was a wealthy merchant, a famous politician, and a member of one of New York's most powerful families. DeLancey remained a Loyalist during the American Revolution serving as a senior officer in the British Army in America. The DeLanceys went to England where DeLancey died in 1785. Phila continued living in England where her daughters married prominent men and her sons made names for themselves.

Another daughter, Richa, close in age to Phila, was probably born some time before 1717. She was courted by a member of the Gomez family, a leading Sephardic family in New York. However, Abigail Franks regarded the man as a "stupid wretch" and Richa rejected his proposal. She also rejected the proposal of another Christian man. Whether or not Richa ever married is disputed. Another son, Moses (1718-1789), was known as the artist of the Franks family. He also participated in the family merchant business and later relocated to London where he moved in the high social circles. Moses also married a first cousin, the daughter of Jacob's brother Aaron Franks (1692-1777) .

David Franks (1720-1793), youngest son of Jacob and Abigail Franks, was born in New York on September 23, 1720. He moved to Philadelphia as a young man where he became a successful businessman and a member of the elite society, marrying into one of Philadelphia's Christian families. He remained a Loyalist during the American Revolution and was jailed for a short time by Congress as an enemy to the American cause. After his release he went to England for a time, then returned to Philadelphia to continue in his brokerage business. By most accounts he died in October 1793 from a yellow fever epidemic; according to others, he died in England in 1794.

Abigail and Jacob Franks had two other daughters, Rebecca (circa 1733-1803) called Becky, and Poyer (circa 1734) possibly named Abigail, although virtually nothing is known about them. Aaron (1732-1738) and Sarah (1731-1733), two other children, died in childhood.

David Salisbury Franks (circa 1740-1793), son of Abraham Franks, was one of the first Jews to settle in Montreal. (The precise relationship between the Montreal Franks and the New York Franks remains the subject of much scholarly debate). David Salisbury Franks joined the American colonists in their battle against the British in Canada. Following the colonists' defeat there, he retreated to Philadelphia and joined the Continental Army. David Salisbury Franks served as an aide-de-camp to Benedict Arnold, the military governor of Philadelphia, and was later cast under suspicion of disloyalty when Arnold's treason became known. Franks was subsequently cleared of all charges, promoted, and took part in numerous highly important diplomatic missions for the United States, including one to Paris where he delivered to Benjamin Franklin the treaty that officially ended the Revolutionary War and established American independence. However, his association with Arnold continued to plague him, and his political enemies were able to use it to have him dismissed from the diplomatic corps in 1786. Franks fought to have his reputation restored, and did subsequently hold other government positions. He died in poverty from yellow fever in 1793, and was rescued from Potter's Field by a Christian neighbor, who had him interred in Christ Church's Burial Yard in Philadelphia.

Isaac Franks (1759-1822), cousin to the Levy-Franks, fought in the battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War, and was an aide-de-camp to George Washington, with whom he maintained a lengthy relationship. He later settled in Philadelphia, and was involved in numerous business endeavors. It was to Isaac Frank's house in Germantown, Pa. that Washington relocated the seat of government during a yellow fever epidemic in 1793. In 1794, Franks received a Lt. Colonel's commission from Pennsylvania's governor, henceforth becoming known as Colonel Franks.

John Franks (dates unknown), of Halifax, may or may not have been related to the Franks family.


Adler, Cyrus, and A.S.W. Rosenbach. "David Franks." Jewish Encyclopedia Online. 2002. Jewish Encyclopdedia. 28 July 2003. <> .

Feldberg, Michael. "The Temptations of Marrying Out... In Colonial New York." Jewish World Review. 2001. 24 July 2003 <> .

Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. "An Old New York Family." Art in America. vol. LI, no. 3. June, 1963.

Hershkowitz, Leo, and Isadore S. Meyer, eds. The Lee Max Friedman Collection of American Jewish Colonial Correspondence: Letters of the Franks Family (1733-1748).

Karp, Abraham J. The Jewish Experience in America . 5 vols. New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1969.

Marcus, Jacob Rader. Early American Jewry . 2 vols. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951-53.

Marcus, Jacob Rader. The Colonial American Jew, 1492-1776 . 3 vols. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970.

Smith, Ellen. "Franks, Bilhah Abigail Levy." Jewish Women in America . 2 vols. Ed. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Moore Dash. New York: Routledge, 1997.

From the guide to the Franks Family Papers, 1711-1821, [1965-1968], (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Franks Family Papers, 1711-1821, [1965-1968] American Jewish Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Brandford, William, 1755-1795. person
associatedWith Colebrooke, James, Sir, 18th cent. person
associatedWith Coxe, Abigail. person
associatedWith Croghan, George, d. 1782. person
associatedWith De Lucena, Abraham. person
associatedWith Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790 person
associatedWith Franklin, William, 1731-1813. person
associatedWith Franks, David Salisbury, 1742-1793. person
associatedWith Franks, Jacob, 1688-1769. person
associatedWith Friedman, Lee M. (Lee Max), 1871-1957. person
associatedWith George II, King of Great Britain, 1683-1760. person
associatedWith Gratz, Barnard, 1738-1801. person
associatedWith Gratz, Michael, 1740-1811. person
associatedWith Hart, Myer, 18th cent. person
associatedWith Home, Archibald. person
associatedWith Hyamson, Albert Montefiore, 1875-1954. person
associatedWith Levy, Levy Andrew, 18th cent. person
associatedWith Levy, Nathan, 1704-1753. person
associatedWith Mease, James, 1771-1846. person
associatedWith Newcastle, Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of, 1693-1768. person
associatedWith Parker, James, circa 1714-1770. person
associatedWith Roth, Cecil, 1899-1970 person
associatedWith Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813. person
associatedWith Sarzedas, Moses, 1767-1811. person
associatedWith Simon, Joseph, 1712-1804. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Pennsylvania - Economic conditions.
Charleston (S.C.)
Lancaster County (Pa.)
Albany (N.Y.) - Economic conditions.
United States - History - Colonial period - Sources.
New York (City) - History.
United States - Relations - Great Britain.
New York (City)
Halifax (N.S.)
United States - History - Revolution.
Easton (Pa.)
United States - Economic conditions.
Philadelphia - Economic conditions.
Jewish soldiers


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