When Abraham Isaacks arrived in New York from Holland in 1698, the total Jewish population in the colonies numbered two to three hundred. He may have been as young as 5 years old, in which case he was probably in the company of his parents, whose names are not known to us.
Like many of colonial New York’s Jews, Isaacks became a merchant. He was also a landowner and was actively involved in New York political life – both unusual traits for Jews of the time, even for prosperous ones like Isaacks.
In 1733 and 1737 Isaacks was president of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese congregation founded by the Jews who came to New Amsterdam in 1654 and fought Peter Stuyvesant for citizenship. Though their quarters have changed, it remains the oldest Jewish congregation in America. They met in rented space until 1730, when Isaacks led the effort to build their Mill Street Synagogue, the first synagogue erected in North America. From the congregation’s current website:
Shearith Israel was the only Jewish Congregation in New York City from 1654 until 1825. During that entire span of history, all of the Jews of New York belonged to this Congregation, which provided for all the needs of the Jewish Community, from birth to death. It offered education in both religious and general subjects, provided kosher meat and Passover provisions, and performed a wide variety of charitable and other functions for the Jewish people.
Isaacks’ wife Hannah was part of the prominent Mears family, whose descendents include Emma Lazarus and Benjamin Nathan Cardozo.
Hannah died two years after her husband, whereupon her son Jacob, a merchant in Newport, became administrator of the family. By the mid-18th century, Jacob Isaacks (brother to our ancestor, Fanny Isaacks Polock) had become one of Newport’s most prominent Jewish residents. He was a member of Congregation Jeshuat Israel’s board of trustees, and he was on the building committee for what became known as the Touro Synagogue, which remains the oldest surviving synagogue building in America. Jacob Isaacks began the family’s tradition of military service by serving in the French-Indian War in 1745 and by lending the state of Rhode Island three “four-pounder” guns during the Revolutionary War.
Abraham Isaacks is an ancestor of Lyman Colt Josephs.