Colonial Craftsmen and Clientele:
Jewish Silversmith in Early New York
Myer Myers (1723-1795)
Myer Myers (1723-1795), a silversmith and goldsmith in Eighteenth Century New York City, was the son of Sephardic immigrants. His parents, Solomon and Judith Myers, were part of a community that traced its history back to the earliest settlement in New Amsterdam, started by twenty-three Sephardic refugees from Brazil, who moved to the city in September, 1654, and were granted asylum despite the protests of Governor Peter Stuyvesant. During the same year, the first Jewish congregation in the country, Shearith Israel, (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue), was formed New Amsterdam. The congregation built its first synagogue in 1730 on Mill Street, just south of Wall Street and was modeled after Sephardic traditions in Amsterdam.
The senior Myers was named among the freemen of New York for 1723 -1724 as a shopkeeper. By 1732, he had become an employee of Congregation Shearith Israel, In 1743, congregational minutes referred to him as "deceased" and authorized a pension to his widow, together with an allowance for Passover matzo and wood.
Although it is not known with whom the silversmith Myer Myers apprenticed, he became a freeman of the City of New York on April 29, 1746. By the spring of 1753, 30 year-old Myers had sufficient business to employ an English indentured servant, Lewis Meares, a jeweler by trade with engraving experience. In August, 1754, Myers moved his shop from the Meal Market in lower Wall Street to a house on King Street (now Pine Street), where he continued the goldsmith´s business with sufficient success to produce a variety of hollowware forms requiring carved wooden handles. According to the daybook of New York cabinetmaker Joshua Delaplaine, he supplied Myers with a kink coffeepot handle, a pear pot handle, a kink milk pot handle, and two chaffing dish handles in 1754.
By November 1763, silversmith Benjamin Halsted had joined Myers in the firm of Myers and Halsted, goldsmiths, advertising fancy goods, readymade plate, and jewelry for sale at their premises at the lower end of King Street. The firm continued to make all sorts of work, in gold and silver, on a custom, made-to-order basis. Myers´s clients included a broad range of New York society, from Sir William Johnson, the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs to a son of Liberty, Evert Bancker, Jr., who bought a pair of gold buttons in 1767. Myers was a leader of the Synagogue Shearith Israel, and crafted religious objects for both Jewish and Protestant congregations.
Myer Myers, his second wife Elkaleh (Joyce) Mears (whom he had married in 1767 following the death of Elkalah Cohen Myers) and his family joined other members of Congregation Shearith Israel in evacuating New York and taking refuge in Norwalk, Connecticut in advance of the British occupation of the City during the Revolutionary War. Most Jews in New York City were patriots and many served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
While the Myers family was living in Norwalk, Connecticut, a daughter was born in 1776, and a son in 1778. By 1782, Myers and his family had fled to Philadelphia, which had the largest Jewish community in the Colonies. Upon the evacuation of New York by British troops late in November 1783, Myers returned to the City. During his exile, he may have worked with silversmith John Burger for five years, as Burger claimed upon his return to the City.
Jews accounted for one percent of the national population in 1789, when Gershom Seixas of the Shearith Israel congregation, took part in President George Washington´s inauguration with fifteen Christian religious leaders.
After the chaos of the Revolutionary War, American skilled workmen, including silversmiths, were caught up in the transition to an industrial society. Some urban craftsmen adapted to change. Others sought to extend and adapt older patterns of work; and still others challenged their masters by forming various journeyman associations. The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen was founded in New York City in 1785 by representatives of thirty-one different trades with the slogan, By Hammer and Hand all Arts do Stand, to stress their mutuality of interests. Myers served as chairman of the Gold and Silversmiths Society in 1786, and maintained a shop at 29 Princess Street (now Beaver Street), at the corner of Broad Street in 1789. By 1792, he had relocated to Pearl Street, where he remained until his death in 1795.
An emerging artisan republicanism of urban craftsmen - men like the New York silversmith Myer Myers and other yeomanry of the city, whom Thomas Jefferson called the heirs to the spirit of ’76 - became the legacy for the future.