First Mention.

One of the original thirteen states of the American Union; named after William Penn, who received a grant of the territory from King Charles II. in 1681. When Peter Stuyvesant, in 1655, conquered the Swedish colonies onthe Delaware River, three Jews, Abraham de Lucena, Salvator Dandrade, and Jacob Coen, requested permission to trade along the Delaware River (Nov. 29, 1655), claiming that under the act of Feb. 15, 1655, they had received the consent of the directors of the West India Company to travel, reside, trade, and enjoy the same privileges as other inhabitants. This petition was refused "for weighty reasons," but they were permitted to send two persons to the South River (subsequently named the Delaware) in order to terminate a trading expedition already entered upon.

These were the first Jews of whom there is any record in Pennsylvania. On June 14, 1656, the directors of the West India Company wrote to Stuyvesant asking that the Jews be permitted to trade along the South River and "carry on their business as beforesaid." From this time on it is evident that the Jews took advantage of the privilege granted to them and traded with the Indians and Swedes in that territory. In 1657 Isaiah Mesa (spelled also "Masa" and "Mara"), "a Jew," is mentioned in the annals of Jacquet's administration as a participant in several lawsuits. In 1662 a community of Mennonites or Anabaptists proposed to settle at Horekill, in Delaware county, and in their articles of association they determined to exclude all "usurious Jews." When Sir Robert Carr, in 1664, assumed command of the Delaware in the name of the English crown, he received instructions from his government that "all people should enjoy the liberty of their conscience."

In Philadelphia.

In 1681, when William Penn gained possession of the land that bears his name, there must have been several Jewish settlers in the southeastern portion. The earliest Jewish resident of Philadelphia of whom there is any record was Jonas Aaron, who was living there in 1703. The most prominent member of the Jewish belief in the early history of the colony was Isaac Miranda. The date of his birth is not known; he died in Lancaster, Pa., in 1733. He took up his residence in the colony very early in the eighteenth century, and was one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Philadelphia and the first in Lancaster. In 1723 James Logan, secretary of the province, refers to him as an "apostate Jew or fashionable Christian proselyte," who had gone into the interior of the colony to transact some official business. In 1727 Miranda was appointed "agent to receive and collect the perquisites and rights of Admiralty," and on June 19, 1727, he was appointed "deputy judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty"—the first judicial office held by a Jew in the provinces. He was a large holder of land, and his name is frequently mentioned in the archives of the colony. In 1730 (or 1720) the Indians of Lancaster made a complaint that he had acted unfairly toward them, but no action is recorded in the matter.

Jews came from the other colonies, some from New York, some even from Georgia, and took up their abode in the province. After Philadelphia, the next city in which they settled was Lancaster. The first Jewish resident was Isaac Miranda (see above), who owned property there before the town and county were organized in 1730. Ten years later there were several Jewish families in the town; on Feb. 3, 1747, there was recorded a deed to Isaac Nunus Ricus (Henriques) and Joseph Simon, conveying half an acre of land "in trust for the society of Jews settled in and about Lancaster," to be used as a place of burial. Henriques had come from Georgia in 1741. Joseph Simon was perhaps the best-known Jewish merchant in the county, while Dr. Isaac Cohen, one of the first residents of Lancaster, was the earliest Jewish physician in Pennsylvania.

Easton, in Northampton county, was another town that contained pre-Revolutionary Jewish inhabitants. The first merchant in the town was Myer Hart de Shira (Texeira? See Hart), who is mentioned among the founders of Easton in 1750. He took the oath of allegiance to the colonial government in 1764, and became one of Easton's most wealthy citizens. Michael Hart (not related to Myer Hart) was an early resident. He was born in 1738 and became very rich, owning much property in the surrounding country. Michael Hart deeded to his son Jacob, on March 25, 1800, ground for a burial-place for the Jews. Although there were several families residing in Easton, a synagogue was not founded until 1839, when the Congregation Brit Sholom was established. It was chartered on Nov. 25, 1842, and the Rev. Morris Kohn was its first rabbi.

Schaefferstown, now in Lebanon county, but originally in Lancaster county, is supposed to have contained Jewish inhabitants. According to tradition a synagogue existed there early in the eighteenth century, and a cemetery was established about 1732. The early German Pietists assumed many of the old Hebrew customs, and consequently were confounded with the Jews.

Estate Agents.

Many Jews were connected with the sale and exploitation of land in Pennsylvania. In 1763, owing to the depredations of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians in Bedford county, twelve traders suffered a loss of £80,000, among whom were David Franks, Levy Andrew Levy, and Joseph Simon. On July 5, 1773, the sale of southern Illinois took place. The Indian nations of the Illinois country conveyed their property to twenty-two residents of Pennsylvania, among whom were Moses Franks, Jacob Franks, Barnard Gratz, Michael Gratz, David Franks, Moses Franks, Jr., Joseph Simon, and Levy Andrew Levy. This territory never became the property of those interested in its sale. The greatest speculator in land in the province was Aaron Levy, who in 1779 purchased land in Haines township, Center county, upon which he laid out the town of Aaronsburg (recorded Oct. 4, 1786), the first town in the United States laid out and named after a Jew. Levy was interested with Robert Morris in the well-known speculation in lands in the western portion of the state which resulted so disastrously to the "financier of the Revolution" (see Levy, Aaron).

It is estimated that there were not more than 800 Jews in Pennsylvania at the close of the War of Independence. The greater portion had taken up their residence after 1765, and many had arrived eleven years later, after New York had been occupiedby the British. The Jews enjoyed all the rights of the other inhabitants, except that none could become a member of the General Assembly. There was nothing in the Constitution as established by the General Convention in 1776 that prevented a Jew from becoming a judicial, executive, or military officer of the commonwealth. On Dec. 23, 1783, the Rev. Gershom Mendez Seixas, Simon Nathan ("parnas"), Asher Myers, Barnard Gratz, and Haym Solomon, the "Mahamad" of the Congregation Mickvé Israel, Philadelphia, petitioned the Council of Censors that there be removed from the Constitution the declaration requiring each member of the Assembly to affirm his belief in the divine inspiration of the New Testament. The law was subsequently changed, and all civil disabilities of the Jews were removed.

Successive Settlers.

The history of the Jews in Pennsylvania after 1825 is the history of their activities in the various cities in which they settled, and which are treated in the respective articles. Although Jews had taken an active interest in the development of the western portion of the state from a time preceding the Revolution, it was more in the way of speculation and investment; it was not until the first quarter of the nineteenth century that the Jews settled in Pittsburg and the other western cities. Wilkesbarre and Harrisburg had few Jewish inhabitants, and Aaronsburg, although founded by a Jew, had only a few Jewish residents. It was not until after the Spanish and Portuguese Jews had ceased to migrate in numbers to America that the western portion of the state was settled, and this was owing to the arrival of many Jews of German and Polish origin. Yet the early Jewish pioneers, those that had settled in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and Easton long before the Revolution, had come from Germany and Holland, while the first settlers of New York, Newport, R. I., and Savannah, Ga., had been mostly of Spanish descent. About 1825 there was a fresh exodus from Germany, and many Jews settled in Philadelphia and became important factors in the community, while others traveled westward and helped in the development of many towns.

Although Jews had been living in Pittsburg ever since it was incorporated in 1804, it was not until 1830 that there was an actual Jewish community there, and this consisted of Jews of German origin. In 1846 the first congregation was organized and named "Etz-Chayim." It met in a small room in Third street, over an engine-house; its first presiding officer was William Frank. The Congregation Rodef Sholem, one of the most important congregations in the state, was established in 1858. At present Pittsburg (with Allegheny) contains the second largest Jewish community in Pennsylvania.

The first Jewish settlers in Harrisburg arrived from Germany in the early forties. The oldest congregation is Ohev Sholom, established in 1851 (present rabbi, Samuel Friedman); Chisuk Emmunah and Beth-El were established after 1884. The city possesses also a benevolent society and two other societies. The present (1904) Jewish population of the city is 1,200 in a total of about 70,000 inhabitants. Other important towns containing many Jewish residents are: Wilkesbarre, whose first synagogue, B'nai B'rith, was incorporated in 1848; Scranton, which has three synagogues, the earliest, the Anshe Chesed, having been incorporated Jan. 7, 1862; Reading, which has two congregations, one of which, the Oheb Sholom, was founded May 1, 1864. In addition, the following towns contain enough Jewish families to support at least one synagogue: Allentown, Altoona, Beaver Falls, Braddock, Bradford, Butler, Carbondale, Chambersburg, Chester, Connellsville, Danville, Dunmore, Duquesne, Erie, Greensburg, Hazleton, Homestead, Honesdale, Johnstown, McKeesport, Newcastle, Oil City, Phænixville, Pottsville, Shamokin, Sharon, Shenandoah, South Bethlehem, South Sharon, Titusville, Uniontown, Washington, Williamsport, and York. Jews are settled with some sort of organization in at least fifty towns in the state.

The expulsion of the Jews from Russia was the occasion of many settling in this state. They began to arrive in 1882, and at the present time they constitute the majority of the Jewish population.


In the state of Pennsylvania there the thirty-four cities and towns with one or more Jewish institutions. Of these 31 have 92 regularly organized congregations, 2 hold holy-day services, and in 1 no communal religious life exists. There are 59 congreations with a membership of about 7,000 and an income of over $120,000; 8 congregations are affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; 38 have together 33 cemeteries, and there are 2 cemeteries independent of organized congregations; 29 congregations report schools with 2,433 pupils; 7 schools are affiliated with the Hebrew Sabbath-School Union of America. Free religious schools are conducted by 2 societies, 1 reporting an income of $3,187, with 2,721 pupils; there are 2 Hebrew Free Schools with an income of $5,660, and instructing 430 pupils.

Exclusive of the schools and classes for religious instruction, there are, chiefly in Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Wilkesbarre, the following educational agencies: 1 manual-training school; 4 societies conducting industrial classes; 2 societies conducting evening classes; 2 kindergartens; 1 day-nursery; 2 alumni associations, furthering religious instruction; and 1 college for Hebrew studies. Three of these report an income of $21,316, and 3 others report 499 pupils. There are 41 charitable societies, 23 of which report an income of $219,324, of which $193,396 must be set to the credit of Philadelphia.

The charitable societies include 3 orphan asylums, 1 hospital, 1 home for incurables, 1 maternity hospital, 1 "friendly inn" and home for the aged—all except 1 orphan asylum being in Philadelphia. There are 11 social clubs (5 with an income of $25,620), 4 associations for young men (2 with an income of $4,718), 1 loan-association, 14 mutual-benefit societies—all in Philadelphia. There are also 12 literary clubs (11 in Philadelphia) and 2 musical associations.

In two cities there are branches of the Alliance Israélite Universelle; in four, sections of the Council of Jewish Women; in five, 9 Zionist societies; and in seventeen, 60 lodges. The last-mentioned are distributed among the orders as follows: 25, Independent Order B'nai B'rith; 6, Independent OrderFree Sons of Israel; 17, Independent Order Sons of Benjamin; and 12, Order B'rith Abraham. The present population of Pennsylvania is 6,302,115, including more than 100,000 Jews. See Aaronsburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Reading, Scranton, Wilkesbarre.

  • H. P. Rosenbach, Hist. of the Jews of Philadelphia Prior to 1880, Philadelphia, 1883;
  • Markens, The Hebrews in America, New York, 1888;
  • Morais, The Jews of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1894;
  • Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc.: A. S. W. Rosenbach, Notes on the First Settlement of Jews in Pennsylvania, 1655-1703 (1897, vol. v.);
  • H. Necarsulmer. The Early Settlement of Lancaster (1901, vol. ix.);
  • I. H. and A. S. W. Rosenbach, Aaron Levy (1894, vol. ii.);
  • Morris Jastrow. The Jews of Philadelphia (1893, vol. i.);
  • H. Berkowitz (1901, vol. ix.).
  • Other sources are: Daly, Settlement of the Jews in North America; Pennsylvania Colonial Records; Pennsylvania Archives;
  • Watson, Annals, Philadelphia, 1868;
  • Westcott's History of Philadelphia;
  • Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania;
  • American Jewish Year Book, 1900-1;
  • Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, i. 266; Second Series, ix. 738;
  • American Historical Register, April, 1895.
A. A. S. W. R.