Friday, April 8, 2011

Colonel Isaac Franks

In the late June of 1776, frightened residents of New York City—then just the lower tip of Manhattan—watched a flotilla of British ships cross the horizon and glide towards New York Harbor.  By then a least half the city’s population had fled to their “country estates” in what is now midtown Manhattan, or to Philadelphia, Long Island, Connecticut.

Nearly all of the invading ships of the Royal Navy headed toward Staten Island, then a hilly area populated by Loyalists, all too happy to assist their "rescuers." That island was a perfect headquarters for British troops, equidistant to New York and Brooklyn. 

Rebels had already fortified in both locations, but they were so outnumbered that even George Washington urged they flee. But Congress, ever foolish, insisted that New York be defended. Its waterways, the Hudson (then the “North”) River led all the way to Canada and, even then, New York was a vibrant port.

And thus began the colonies' ignoble  defeat: The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn.

Isaac Franks was 17 when he enlisted in Colonel Lasher’s Volunteers of New York. He was wounded at the Battle of Long Island, and, like many rebels in that battle, was captured  by the British. Somehow managing to escape, Isaacs immediately re-joined Washington’s army—for most of the long haul!—and was eventually promoted to the rank of colonel. At some point he became a “forage manager”—someone who hunts down food and provisions—and in 1781 was commissioned to the Seventh Massachusetts Regiment in West Point. (A year earlier the site of Benedict Arnold’s infamous defection!)

Like his distant relation, David Salisbury Franks, Isaac, born in 1759,  hailed from the huge Franks family, wealthy Jews predominant in Philadelphia, but with a presence in New York as well. 

Discharged from the army for health reasons in 1782, Isaac Franks settled in Philadelphia, where, for a time he engaged in land speculation, acquiring a huge home in nearby Germantown (the site of an earlier, disastrous battle) which he eventually loaned to George Washington himself.  Over time, Franks’ prosperity declined and he was forced to declare himself “indigent” and live off a meager veteran’s pension. No longer a practicing Jew, he died in 1822.

Coincidentally, Isaac’s sister Rachael married one of the greatest Jewish Patriots of all, Haym Saloman!

Primary Source: Samuel Rezneck, “Unrecognized Patriots: The Jews in the American Revolution (Greenwood Press 1975)

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