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Bilah Abigail Levy Franks

Bilah “Abigail” Levy Franks’ letters created a portrait of life for Jews in colonial America. Levy was born in England and immigrated to America with her family at age seven. In 1712, she married Jacob Franks, with whom she had nine children, and became active in Shearith Israel synagogue in New York as well as in the secular society of her well-to-do Christian neighbors. But the family’s financial troubles pushed Franks to send her children one by one back to England for better opportunities, and though Franks wrote to them often, she never saw them again. Her letters to her son Naphtali relate her experiences of New York society, her wide and varied reading of everything from novels and poetry to philosophy, and her combination of devotion to Judaism and anger at its superstitions. They also reveal her frustration with the lack of suitors for her children who could combine a Jewish background with the necessary social status and intellectual refinement she wanted for her family. Through her writing, Franks offers a window into the attempts of colonial American Jews to retain their religious identity while still participating fully in the larger society.

Bilah Abigail Levy Franks
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Women in the Franks-Levy Family Portrait Series: The Franks-Levy family portraits, oil paintings still in their original frames, are the oldest surviving portraits of colonial American Jews and the oldest family-series portraits to survive in all of American painting. The series consists of seven paintings: Moses Raphael Levy (1665–1728); his second wife, Grace Mears Levy (1694–1740); Bilhah Abigail Levy Franks (1688–1746), Moses's oldest child by his first wife Richea Asher Levy; and Abigail's husband Jacob Franks (1688–1769). Three portraits of five of the nine children of Abigail and Jacob Franks complete the series. (1) Bilhah Abigail Levy Franks.

Institution: American Jewish Historical Society.

Date of Birth
Place of Birth
London, London City of
Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Bilah Abigail Levy Franks." (Viewed on January 22, 2018) <>.


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