Lewis Franklin, an Early Jewish High Holiday Pioneer

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Lewis Franklin

Lewis Franklin in San Diego #WS1515

Lewis Franklin in San Diego
#WS1515

Values Codes I-E-L

Lewis Franklin was born in 1820 in Liverpool, England, whose family roots were in Silesia – a part of Posen in Poland, recently incorporated into Prussia.

As a young man he sailed to Jamaica to help a brother’s mercantile business, but  soon sailed again to Baltimore, Maryland, where he heard  of the discovery of gold in California.

Lewis Franklin then sailed to San Francisco, where he opened a store and invited the Jews to join him at High Holy Day services – the first conducted in California – in 1849.

(There is a question as to whether the first service was held in Franklin’s store or a tent.)

Impressed by Franklin’s leadership, the Jews of San Francisco invited him to deliver a High Holy Day sermon the following year, in which he beseeched his co-religionists to be faithful to the Torah and to help Judaism in California.

 

San Diego

Lewis Franklin moved the following year to San Diego, where he opened a general store.

He again hosted High Holy Day services, although only two other Jews – Mark Jacobs and Charles Fletcher – attended.

 

Civic

Lewis Franklin served as foreman of San Diego’s first County Grand Jury.

Lewis Franklin soon won election as a County Judge.

Among miscreants indicted by Franklin’s grand jury for dueling, which was illegal in California, was Mayor Bean’s younger brother, P. Roy Bean who dug his way out of jail with either a spoon or a pocket knife.  “Judge Roy Bean”  showed up in Langtry, Texas, where he doled out his own kind of “justice,” styling himself  “The Law West of the Pecos.”

 

Business

 

Maurice Franklin,  #WS1573

Maurice Franklin,
#WS1573

Lewis Franklin eventually acquired the Exchange Hotel alongside San Diego’s plaza, and changed its name to the Franklin House.

At three stories, it was the “skyscraper” of San Diego in the late 1850s.

There, Franklin’s older brother, Maurice Franklin, established a pharmaceutical business and eventually became a partner with Lewis in the hotel.

 

After Maurice brought his bride, Victoria Jacobs (daughter  of Mark Jacobs) to live with him at the hotel, the two brothers began to quarrel, eventually becoming so embittered with each other that a court had to decide how to divide the assets – much to the enjoyment of the townspeople for whom courtroom dramas were a major entertainment.

 

 

Lewis Franklin kept the hotel. Maurice Franklin got his pharmaceuticals.  Along with Victoria and a son, Abraham, Maurice to relocated to San Bernardino.

 

High Holy Days – 1859

In 1859, the Franklin Hotel was the venue for High Holy Day services conducted for San Diego’s small Jewish community.

As there were only ten men present during the service, Lewis Franklin and others raised objection when the Grand Jury sought to compel one of the worshipers – Moses Mannasse – to give evidence about an assault that he had some time before witnessed.

A posse was deputized to compel Moses Mannasse to leave the High Holy Day services and walk two buildings away to the courthouse to give testimony.

Once at the courthouse, however, Moses Mannasse declined to give testimony until after the sun went down – when Yom Kippur was over.

Lewis Franklin wrote a letter to Jewish newspapers throughout the United States in which he contended that forcing Moses Mannasse to testify on a High Holy Day was a grave insult to the Jewish people.

 

Lewis Franklin eventually left San Diego for Baltimore, and later returned to his native England, where he lived out the rest of his days.

 

Lewis Franklin  died in 1879, leaving a wife, Emily, and three children.

 

More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Franklin, Lewis A.; First Jewish Sermon in the West; Yom Kippur; 1850; San Francisco; Franklin, Lewis A.; 10/1
  • Franklin, Lewis A.; First Jewish Sermon in the West: Yom Kippur; 1850; San Francisco; San Francisco; Levey, Samson H.; 25/2
  • Franklin, Lewis A., Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part One, A-L, Norton Stern, 41/1

Also: Norton B. Stern, “The Franklin Brothers of San Diego,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, 1975, Vol 21, Number 3.

Donald Harrison is Curator for this Exhibit

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