The Letters of Abigail Levy Franks, 1733-1748


Abigaill Franks’ letters are among the earliest extant by a woman in colonial New York City. They are also the earliest known letters by a Jewish woman in British America and probably the Western colonies. Thirty-five letters survive, all written to her son Naphtali between 1733 and 1748. These letters represent a rare resource for the study of family life during the colonial period as well as of the life of a lively and articulate woman.
In this fascinating book, Edith B. ...
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Abigaill Franks’ letters are among the earliest extant by a woman in colonial New York City. They are also the earliest known letters by a Jewish woman in British America and probably the Western colonies. Thirty-five letters survive, all written to her son Naphtali between 1733 and 1748. These letters represent a rare resource for the study of family life during the colonial period as well as of the life of a lively and articulate woman.
In this fascinating book, Edith B. Gelles carefully edits all of Abigaill Franks’ letters to make them accessible to modern readers. Gelles’ substantial introduction provides a portrait of New York City at the time, describes typical colonial family life, and discusses the Jewish immigrant experience in New York. Abigaill’s spontaneously written letters tell of one Jewish family’s assimilation in eighteenth-century America; it is a story that resonates with other stories of assimilation that permeate the pages of American history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300103458
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/29/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Edith B. Gelles is senior scholar, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Stanford University. She is the author of Portia: The World of Abigail Adams and Abigail Adams: A Writing Life.
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THE LETTERS OF Abigaill Levy Franks 1733-1748


Copyright © 2004 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10345-8

Chapter One

[Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, May 7, 1733]

Dear HertSey

My last by this Vessle was friday, Just Sabath Since wich by the Post I have received two of yours by Via boston, bearing Date ye 26th Jan[uar]y & ye 20th Feb[ruar]y and AllSoe Some from your father of Severall date's. They All Comfirm the[e] then Injoying A happy State of Health In Company of all friends. My Wishes Will be Compleat If this finds you Still in the Same Agreeable Situation.

You will find Some Postage to pay by this, Every one being willing to Assure you themselves of theire good Will. Could I have my Other two Letters back Again, I Would put all the Contents in this One. Not that I think you will be Uneassy at the Charge, but Still its to Noe purpose to have Soe many Letters Abouth Nothing.

I observe ye Uncomon Article you mention Concerning the mans Teaching to Write in a fortnight And the Progress Miss franks has made in it. Pray my Love to her. The Pritty Charecter you [give] her in favour of her good Sence & aptness to Learn has made me have a great Vallue for her (As indeed I must have for Every thing belonging to Mr. Is[aac] Franks), and tell Miss I Shall be Very glad to have her keep a Corispondence with her name Sake, Whoe will be Very Proudof the Favour. I Shall take Care by the Next Oppertunity to Let Phila write her a Letter. You would be Amazed to See how She is Grown. She is much Taller then david. I shall put her her [sic] Next Week Att Mr. Brownalls.

Your fathers not bringing any goods makes most People Imagin he intends for London, & I cant Convince e'm to the Contrary. Every body seems Very Much Concerned at it. Mrs. Moore Sent for your Sister As Soon as Ever She heard it And Where Soe Concerned that She was Glad to get from e'm. I Conffess (tho' their is nothing in it), Still it Gives me a Seceret pleasure to Observe the faire Charecter Our Familys has in the place by Jews & Christians, whoe Express a regreet & I bleive Some are Really Sincire. I think its the greatest happyness a Person Can Injoy Next to the haveing a good Conscience, for As Addison Says, A good Conscience is to the Soul wath health is to the body.

I have Just Now Sent for the box from burling. Pray make my thanks due for the first Vol[ume] of Addison & Lett me know Wath books you have made Choice of for your Uncle's Libr[ary]. My Respects to all friends. Coz[i]n Colly is in Raptures to think of goeing home. I wish him Very Well & hope it will be to his advantage. I Salute You with my blessing and Am,

Dear HertSey, your Afectionate Mother, Abigaill Franks

New York [Monday] May ye 7th 1733 to Nap[htali] Franks

Chapter Two

[Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, July 9, 1733]

Dear HertSey

The Arrivall of the Acceptable bearer of your Letter gave Me In-expressable Joy. Your Presence would have bin a Vast addition, but As the pres[en]t must give way to the futer and that the hopes of your Stay will in All appearance be Soe much to your advantage, I cant Say but that It in a great Measure Mitigates the Uneassyness I might Else have bin Under. But As I Allways taught my Self that Vallueable Lesson of Rissignation, I have the Consolation to attend this in the hopes of Your Carefull Observence of a due Gratitude and respect to the Admonitions of Your kind Uncles. They have all favoured me with th[ei]r Letters, wherein they Speak Soe Favourable of you and with Soe much Tenderness that tho' I've all the Gratitude Possiable, my words fall short of wath I think.

Your Uncles, Messrs: Isaac & Aaron, have Assured me of there Endeavours to put you forward, but that they Had not Come to a Determination yet in wath Method. But wathever they Intend, I imagine will be Soe well Considered that the Consequence gives me noe Uneassy thought.

I have Soe Offten recommended You to be Wary in y[ou]r conduct that I will not Again make a Repetion. But this I must recom[men]d to you: not to be Soe free in y[ou]r Discourse on religeon and be more Circumspect in the Observence of some things, Especialy y[ou]r morning Dev[otio]ns. For tho' a Person may think freely and Judge for themselves, they Ought not to be to free of Speach nor to make a Jest of wath ye multitude in A Society think is of the Last Consequence, and As You Observed to me some time agoe, you wondered Any one Could Take amiss if his Neighbour did not goe the Same Road. Pray why are You Soe Intent by your Disputes to think Anyone will follow you? It Shows in one of your Age a Self-Opinion wich Quality I would have you Carfuly avoid, for it will grow opon you with time if not Nipt in the bud. You wrote me Some time agoe you was asked at my brother Ashers to a fish Dinner, but you did not Goe. I Desire you will Never Eat Anything with him Unless it be bread & butter, nor noe where Else where there is the Least doubt of things not done after our Strict Judiacall method. For wathever my thoughts may be Concerning Some Fables, this and Some other foundementalls I Look Open the Observence Conscientioussly, and therefore with my blessing I Strictly injoin it to your care.

I rec[eiv]ed a Letter by the boston Post Last night, dated ye 19th Apr[il]. I observe your Complaint on Acc[oun]t of my not writting, but for this time I hope you will be Satisfyed that It did not Proceed from from [sic] Negligence, but because there Was Vessles at the Same time goeing from hence. For Since I was ascertained of your Stay, I have wrote you many Letters. I have Justly the Same Complaint, for you have neglected writting by Some boston Ships. However Wee will pass this and take more Care for the futer. Mr. Cope Sailed Last fryday for Antig[u]a with Col[one]l Gilbert with whome he is to Live. It was with Some pains before he Could Gitt Leave of Mr. Hossmendon. He gave his kind Love and Service to you and Desire you would by All Oppertunitys Let him hear from you. Your Sisters thank you for your Pres[en]t and Richa in Perticuler, who Intends you a Letter by Downing. Your brothers Joyn with e'm in theire Love & Service to you. In mine to Mr. Isaac Franks, I forgot to thank him for his Picture, pray Soe you doe it for me. I think it a Very handsome Picture, tho' every one that knows him Tells me it falls Short of the Originall. I have nothing more to add, Soe Shall Conclude this with my Prayers to the Allmighty to have you in his Portection. I am, My Dear Child,

your Loveing mother,

Abigaill Franks

New. York [Monday] July ye 9th 1733 Mr. Nap[hta]ly Franks

[Address] To Mr. Napthli Franks To be left att Tom's Coffee House6 & behinde the Royall Exchange In London Via Dover QDG

Chapter Three

[Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, October 7, 1733]

Dear HeartSey

I am now Seated to write, but after I have told you that I have rece[ive]d three of yours by Oliver and that they rece[ive]d a hearty wellcome, I've Very Little more to Say but that this parts with Us in the purfect Injoyment of our wishes in regard to Our State of health. And I must Anex the Ussall Sentence with hopeing this may meet you in the Same, attended with that tranquality of mind wich your Last Seem to intimate, dated from Mr. franks's Country Seat, wich You give a Very agreeable discription of. But If your Letter was dated at the bottom of a hill, It was Read on the Top of a Very high one, for I was at harlam and Mr. Moore brought me my Letters. You'll be Surprised that I have taken a ramble for a day twice this Summer, but I cant Avoid it, it being on y[ou]r Sisters Score, for Mr. Moors Family Are Very pressing and will not Goe without her, and She will not Goe without me. It is only our Selves and Mr. Riggs & his Wife and fanny make up our Company, Soe t[ha]t I Tell you Fanny rigs and my Self from a Very agreeable Prospect Sat down and read y[ou]r Letters and one I rece[ive]d from Coz[i]n ab[raham] Sallomons, wherein He Took the pains too Oblige me with an Acc[oun]t of the Religeon, Manners, & Custom of the East Indians, Inter mixt with things that had come under his Observation, and I will Assure you, he puts things down in a Very prety method.

Your Sister takes it Unkind you have not answered her Letters. I cant think at Soe great a distance Answering of Letters Ought to be deffered, but I fancy its a Sort of Catching DisTemper on y[ou]r Side of the watter to think a Letter not worth Answering. I pray you to be more punctall henceforth. In the Interim She Sallutes You with her best Love & Soe doe all the Rest of your brothers and Sisters. Moses is a Learning the Mat[hemat]ecks at Mr. Mallcoms, whoe tells me he will Goe thro' it with abundance of Ease and be perfect in a Very Little time. Phila Learns french, Spanish, hebrew, and writting in the morning, and in the Afternoon She goes at Mrs. Brownells. She makes a Quick advance in wathever She Learns. Mr. Lopas Tells me he is Surprised at her advancement in ye Spanish. I intend to Send for Some patterons for her to work opon next Summer. As for News, you will have Soe much of it from your Father & Colly that I have nothing of that Nature to touch opon. But As I would not Send too Short a Letter, I hope to fill it Up with these triffles, for the most Mateirell is to Come, Wich is to recommend the Same Care on your Conduct wich You have had hitherto. I've wrote soe often to you on that Subject that I Shall at preas[en]t not dwell Any Longer opon it, but Desire you to Dispose of my best regards to your U[n]cles & Aunts, And Love to All Your Coz[i]ns. My Service to Mr. Is[aac] Levy & his Family, to Mrs. Norris & her Capt[ain] & all other friends. Desire my brothers to Accept[ance] of my Love, and I Conclude with An Indulgent parents wish towards her childs Happyness. My Dear,

Your Affectionate Mother,

Abigaill Franks

New York [Sunday] Octob[er] ye the 7th 1733

Chapter Four

[Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, October 10, 1733]

On the Other Side I wrote Last week, thinking the Vessle would have gon in a day or two. But According to Custum, haveing Stayed Soe much Longer has Given me an Oppertunity to Look over the Letter, and I find I have made Noe Mention of the receipt of ye Catalogue of books. You may bleive I Like e'm, for Some have heretofore fallen Under My Perusiall and Gave me the Pleassure that good Authors Genrely Infuse to a mind Inclined to books. I could with Vast Pleassure Imploy three hours of the 24 from my Family Affairs to be diping in a good Author And relinquish Every other Gaity Commonly Called the pleassure of Life. But As few Can Arrive to the Summit of theire Wish, I have Learnt to be Content with any thing And think its a Lesson Every one Ought to Endeavour to be perfect in.

I Should be pleased to See the Tryall of the Widow da Costas, with A Jewish Love Letter Especialy wrote by a Portugeuse. If you Can Procure it, pray doe.

Coz[i]n Colly has at Lenght got Leave to Come home. I would have you be Very Carefull wath you Say to him or how you Bleive wath he Says to you, for he does not keep Very Close to truth. By noe means Disoblige him, for you know his Temper. Pray Let Noe One See this, for he and I are Very good freinds, And I would not Say Soe much to Any one Else of him, tho' I have often told him his faults And Shall Give him a Great Caution before he Goes, If he will but Mind me, for I wish him Very Well and am Sorry he is soe odly Tempered. This being wath offers, I Conclude as on the other Side.

A Franks

My Service to Mr. Pechco.

At Night & without Spectacles, soe blots must be allowed.

[Tuesday] October ye 16th [1733] to Mr. Napt[hal]y Franks

[Docket] from my Mother [Address] To To Mr. Napthli Franks at Toms Coffee house Cornhill near the Royall Exchange via Bristoll London WGP

Chapter Five

[Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, December 16, 1733]

Dear HeartSey

My Last Was but a Short Letter and Dont find I have a Subject for a Larger at preas[en]t, nor Indeed Soe Large, for After I have repeated wath You hear in all Your Letters, that wee are well &c., I find I have nothing Else to Say-tho' Something I forgot in My Last Gives room to Lenghten this, wich is that I have not delivered your Letter to Mrs. Kearney for these following reassons: I had Seen the Letter She Sent you wherein She mentions Something Concerning the Gover[nor]s Family, wich I thought you would answer. And As all that Family have a Diference with Our Court, I knew wath Ever you Might Say would Give them a handle to Say more, they, haveing all A Very Extensive faculty that way of Puting Every thing in its best or worst Light as Suits. I chose, theirefore, to keep ye Letter And desire You to write another with an Excuse for your Omission.

Wee have a Perfect war here, and it is dayly increasing, the Court being Very much disliked. I think they are best that have nothing to doe with him. I bleive they are Sorry they have Carrid it with Soe high A hand at first, and now, if he would be more Complying, it would hardly regain the Exteem of the People. Young delancy & Fred[erick] Philps have Lost a great deall of good Will by being in the Gov[ernor]s Interest.

Sam will not have Rach[e]ll Unless he has u200 with her, Soe that is of[f]. I bleive its a mortification to her, but her thinking he would have her proved a benifit to Some Sombody. The Proverb Says its an Ill wind that blows nobody good. My Love to Nat[han]. Tell him I Expected a half Sheet of Paper Some times, but find he has got into the fashion. I think the Poets have a fable of being Dipt in a river to Cause Oblivion. I bleive its the river of thames. Methinks you have A Little Sprinkling Some times; pray take Care how you Come to nigh.

Wee have had a fine winter hither to, for its not Cold nor noe Snow. My humble respects to your Uncles & Aunts, My Compliments to all your Coz[i]ns. Your Sister Phila Shall work you a Purse against the Next Ships Goe in the Spring. Wee are Just goeing to diner, wich makes mee Conclude this. With my Prayers for your happyness, I am

Dear Child,

Your Affectionate mother,

Abigaill Franks

I am reading Rapin. New York [Sunday] Decemb[er] ye 16th, 1733 Nap[htali] Franks [Address] To Mr. Napthly Franks att London


Excerpted from THE LETTERS OF Abigaill Levy Franks 1733-1748 Copyright © 2004 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Editorial List of Abbreviations....................liii Franks Genealogy....................lvi Levy Genealogy....................lviii Illustrations....................lxi The Letters of Abigaill Levy Franks, 1733-1748....................1
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