Jacques Judah Lyons (1813-1877)
Jacques Judah Lyons, hazan, rabbi, and community leader, was born in Surinam, Dutch Guiana on Menahem 25, 5573 (August 25, 1813). His parents, Judah Eleazar and Mary Asser Lyons, had emigrated to Surinam from Philadelphia in the early 1800s. Jacques education was limited to the institutions the Dutch colony could afford; however, he spoke several languages in addition to Dutch, including Hebrew, English, German, and French and possessed a strong understanding of Spanish.
Jacques began his career as a hazan in Surinam in Congregation Nevie Shalom, a synagogue founded by Spanish-Portuguese Jews. In 1836 he left for Philadelphia, his parents' home state, and was hired within a few months by Congregation Beth Shalome of Richmond, Virginia. He served Beth Shalome for two years, winning the high esteem of the congregation. In 1839, following the death of Rev. Isaac B. Mendez Seixas, he was elected Seixas' successor as minister of Congregation Shearith Israel of New York City. He married Grace Nathan, daughter of Seixas Nathan and Sarah Mendes Seixas in 1842. Jacques and Grace were blessed with three children: Julius J., Sarah, and Alfred.
During his thirty-eight years of ministry, he became highly active in Jewish welfare and advocating Orthodox Judaism. He served as superintendent of the Shearith Israel's school, Polonies Talmud Torah; president of its benevolent society, Hebra Hased va-Emet; director of the Sampson Simson Jewish Seminary and Scientific Institute; and one of the founders of Jews Hospital, later renamed The Mount Sinai Hospital.
Jacques possessed a deep interest in Jewish history. In 1854, Jacques and Rabbi Abraham de Sola of Montreal collaborated in writingA Jewish Calendar for Fifty Years, a book that contained a comprehensive Jewish calendar, an essay on the Jewish calendar system, as well as historical information concerning Jewish communities in the United States, Canada, and the West Indies. Prior to 1861, and continuing to the end of his life, Jacques painstakingly gathered sources and information on United States Jewish history in the hopes of publishing his findings. He made copies of some of the documents he found, and also obtained papers from old families, such as Naphtali Phillips, Isaac Phillips, Joshua Phillips, Horatio Gomez, Joseph Nones, the Pesoa, and Judah Families. His family later destroyed a portion of his papers; one cannot but think of the treasures that may have been contained therein.
Jacques died at the age of sixty-three on Elul 4, 5638, shortly before Rosh Hashanah (August 15, 1877). His funeral services were held on August 15, 1877 in Shearith Israel, and were conducted by his successor Rev. Dr. Henry Pereira Mendes, Rev. Dr. Abraham De Sola of Montreal, Rev. Samuel M. Isaacs of Congregations Shaarai Tefilla of New York, and Rev. Sabato Morais of Congregation Mikve Israel of Philadelphia. His niece through marriage, Emma Lazarus, wrote the poem "Rosh Hashanah, 5638" in his memory. He is buried in the congregation's cemetery in Long Island.
De Sola Pool, David and Tamar.An Old Faith in the New World: Portrait of Shearith Israel 1654-1954. New York: Columbia University Press, 1955, 178-182.
Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (PAJHS), vol. 21 (1913), xxiii-xxviii; and vol. 27 (1920), 144-9.
Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972. vol. 11, 626.
The Jacques Judah Lyons Collection is a truly valuable source for researchers interested in early American and West Indies Jewish history. The collection primarily consists of material concerning the Shearith Israel Congregation, New York Jewish community, Touro Synagogue, Newport Jewish community, Philadelphia Jewish community, and West Indies Jewish communities. The collection also includes material relating to Jews who served in wars or military missions for the United States, correspondence of the Jewish leaders with George Washington, information concerning Haym Salomon, and a detailed log book of the Ship "Sansom."
The Jacques Judah Lyons Collection is composed of manuscripts, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, notebooks, log book and photographs. Materials are in fragile condition and must be handled very carefully. Certain items may be restricted from use due to fragility.
The collection is stored in a total of 14 manuscript boxes and three oversize boxes. Manuscripts are organized numerically:
It is believed that the current order of the collection was either specifically organized by the children of Jacques, or by Jacques himself. The reader is strongly urged to refer to the following volumes of thePublications of the American Jewish Historical Society, which categorize the manuscripts into broad subject areas, and offer summaries of each manuscript along with its reference number. These volumes are located in the reference collection in the reading room (call# E184.J5 A5). The volumes and their table of contents are as follows:
Volume 21 (Part I):
Volume 27 (Part II):
"Containing transcripts and summaries of the manuscripts embraced in the Collection, as well as the most important material selected from notebooks and scrapbooks of the late Rev. J.J. Lyons."
Please note that there are additional items in the collection that are not listed in either of the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society volumes.
The collection is divided into six series as follows:
The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.
This series contains 341 numbered documents, pertaining to the history of Jewish Americans in the earliest Jewish communities. These documents have been digitized and detailed descriptions are available by clicking the link. The rest of the manuscripts are unnumbered, and are miscellaneous items.
This series is composed of four notebooks and contains an address by Charles P. Daly at the Hebrew Benevolent Society of New York entitled "The Settlement of the Jews in North America."
This series has scrapbooks with newspaper clippings and notices as well as a watercolor of the first Bnai Jeshrun and a watercolor of Grand Island.
This series contains a minute book with meeting minutes belonging to Congregation Shearith Israel and Lyons' notes.
The series consists of letters to Julius J. Lyons, both business and about his father's memorial and the Lyons Collection.
This series contains one oversized box that consists of a synagogue subscription list and ship log.