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SEIXAS:

American family, the founder of which removed from Portugal to the United States in 1730.

Abraham Seixas:

American merchant and soldier; born in 1750 in New York city. He served in the American army and carried despatches for Gen. Harry Lee between Charleston, S. C., and Georgia. In 1782 he took the oath of allegiance to the state of Pennsylvania, where he settled at the close of the war.

Benjamin Mendez Seixas:

Fourth son of Isaac Mendez Seixas; born in Newport, R. I., 1747; died in New York city Aug. 16, 1817. He was a prominent merchant in Newport, Philadelphia, and New York, and was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange.

Gershom Mendez Seixas:

American rabbi and patriot; born in New York city Jan. 14, 1745; died there July 2, 1816; son of Isaac Mendez Seixas (1708-80) and Rachel Levy, daughter of Moses Levy, an early New York merchant. Seixas became the minister of Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese congregation of his native city, in 1766, and occupied the rabbinate for about, half a century. At the outbreak of the American Revolution he at once espoused the Patriot cause, though many of the Christian ministers of the city sympathized with the Tories. It was largely due to his influence that the Jewish congregation closed the doors of its synagogue on the approach of the British, and decided to leave the town rather than continue under British rule. On the appearance of the British fleet in New York Bay (Aug., 1776) Seixas preached a sermon in English in which he feelingly stated that the synagogal services on that occasion might be the last to be held in the historic edifice.

Gershom Mendez Seixas.(By courtesy of the Jewish Publication Society of America.)

On the dispersion of the congregation Seixas left New York for Stratford, Conn., taking with him the scrolls of the Law and other ceremonial paraphernalia belonging to his charge. At Stratford he was joined by several members of his flock. When, in 1780, the Patriots who had fled to Philadelphia were about to establish a permanent congregation, Seixas was requested to officiate, and he atonce proceeded thither from Connecticut, taking with him the synagogal property of his former charge. In this way was established the Congregation Mickvé Israel of Philadelphia. On the completion of its newly erected house of worship, Seixas was one of the committee that waited on the governor of Pennsylvania, inviting him to attend the dedication; and in the course of his patriotic address at the ceremony he invoked the blessing of Almighty God on "the Members of these States in Congress assembled and on his Excellency George Washington, Commander-General of these Colonies."

During his entire stay at Philadelphia, Seixas showed himself a public-spirited citizen, figuring also as a zealous defender of religious liberty. Thus when Pennsylvania adopted the religious test as an indispensable qualification for office, he and several members of his congregation addressed the Council of Censors on the subject (Dec., 1783), characterizing the test as "unjust to the members of a persuasion that had always been attached to the American cause and given a support to the country, some in the Continental army, some in the militia, and some by cheerfully paying taxes and sustaining the popular cause." Westcott, the historian, expressly calls attention to this protest, stating "that it doubtless had its influence in procuring the subsequent modification of the test clause in the Constitution."

After the war Seixas returned to New York (March 23, 1784) and resumed his former position as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel. He was one of the first ministers to preach a regular Thanks-giving Day sermon (see "Daily Gazette," Dec. 23, 1789), and was also one of the fourteen clergymen participating in the ceremony of the inauguration of George Washington as first president of the United States. In 1787 he became a trustee of Columbia College in the city of New York, and held that office continuously to 1815, being the only Jew ever so honored. When the college was incorporated, Seixas' name appeared in the charter as one of the incorporators.

Tablet in Shearith Israel Synagogue, New York.(From a photograph.)Tombstone of Gershom Mendez Seixas in Chatham Square Cemetery, New York.(From a photograph.)

Seixas was on terms of intimate friendship with the ministers of other denominations, particularly with the Episcopal clergy of New York. The latter, tradition relates, frequently visited the Portuguese synagogue, while the Jewish minister in turn was invited to address Christian congregations. The manuscript of one such discourse delivered by Seixas (Aug., 1800) in historic St. Paul's, New York, is still preserved by his congregation. Public-spirited at all times, he earnestly exhorted his congregation to support the administration during the War of 1812; and an address containing his appeal for the sufferers during that struggle is still extant.

He also took the lead in philanthropic work, founding in 1802 the charitable organization known as "Hebra Hased Ve Amet," which is still (1905) in existence.

Seixas was twice married, his first wife being Elkalah Cohen (1749-85), to whom he was wedded in 1775, and his second, Hannah Manuel, whom he married in 1789. His descendants are among the prominent Jewish families of New York. His remains lie in the old cemetery on New Bowery, in the city of New York.

Bibliography:
  • Leon Hühner, in Jewish Comment (Baltimore), Jan. 10, 1902;
  • idem, New York Jews in the Struggle for American Independence, in Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc.;
  • N. Taylor Phillips, in Am. Jew. Year Book, 1904-5, pp. 40-51;
  • idem, in Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. iv. 202-214, vi. 129-133;
  • Sabato Morais, ib. i.13-24;
  • Thompson Westcott, Persons Who Took the Oath of Allegiance to Pennsylvania, p. xxiii., Philadelphia;
  • T. E. V. Smith, New York City in 1789. p. 146, New York, 1889;
  • Charles P. Daly, The Settlement of the Jews in North America, p. 56 ib. 1893;
  • Isaac Markens, The Hebrews in America, ib. 1888;
  • Moore, History of Columbia College, ib.; Nile's Register, Baltimore, 1816.
A. L. Hü.Isaac B. Seixas:

American rabbi; born in 1782; died Aug. 10, 1839, in New York city; a son of Benjamin Mendez Seixas. He became rabbi of the Congregation Shearith Israel, New York city, in 1828, in succession to Moses L. M. Peixotto.

Tombstone of Moses Seixas at Newport, R. l.(From a photograph.)Isaac Mendez Seixas:

American merchant; born in Lisbon 1708; died at Newport. R. I., Nov. 3, 1780. He emigrated to North America via Barbados, arriving in New York about 1730, established a mercantile business there, and settled at Newport, R.I., in 1765. He married Rachel Franks, daughter of Moses Levy, by whom he had seven children.

Moses Seixas:

Merchant; eldest son of Isaac Mendez Seixas; born in New York March 28, 1744; died in New York city, Nov. 29, 1809. He was one of the founders (1795) of the Newport Bank of Rhode Island, of which he was cashier until his death. It was Moses Seixas who addressed a letter of welcome in the name of the congregation to George Washington when the latter visited Newport, and it was to him that Washington's answer was addressed.

Bibliography:
  • Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. i-xii.;
  • N. Taylor Phillips, ib. iv. 189 et seq. (pedigree).
A. F. T. H.
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