MOSES HAYS AND PAUL REVERE SILVER
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MOSES MICHAEL HAYS, a merchant who lived in New York, Newport, and Boston in the stirring years of the second half of the eighteenth century, is of interest to us today primarily because he was a link between two outstanding figures of his time - Paul Revere the patriot, and Myer Myers the New York silversmith. He was, however, an
interesting figure in his own right.
Hays was born in New York on May 9, 1739, and died on the same day sixty-six years later. His father, Judah, was a merchant; his paternal grandfather was born in Holland. By 1769 Moses had been made a freeman of New York, and sometime later the family moved to Newport, Rhode Island. His commercial ventures there proved unsuccessful, and in 1777 - when the British occupied Newport - or shortly thereafter, he settled in Boston with his wife and six children. In New York Hays had been an active member and supporter of the first Jewish congregation in this country, Shearith Israel, and in Newport he was a member of the famed Touro Synagogue. Since Boston had no Jewish community when he moved there - his was the only Jewish family in the city - he continued his contributions to the Newport congregation. Hays prospered in Boston, eventually becoming one of its prominent citizens. He was instrumental in establishing the Massachusetts Bank (more familiar today as the First National Bank of Boston), and his name appears among the petitioners for a charter for the Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Company.
Hays' name first appears in connection with Myer Myers on August 13, 1766, when his marriage to Myers' sister Rachel was recorded. Later the two families were knit even more closely when, in 1796, two of Hays' daughters, Judith and Sally, married the half-brothers Samuel and Moses Mears Myers, sons of Myer Myers. The names Hays and Myers are engraved in script on two pairs of sefer bells in the Touro Synagogue at Newport, one pair of which also bears Myers' mark. Jeanette Rosenbaum and Kathryn C. Buhler of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, have both suggested that the names represent the donors of the bells. Hays was a devoted supporter of the congregation for many years, and Myers was the maker of one pair of bells. It is certainly possible that the Touro sefer bells were a joint gift of these two old friends and brothers-in-law.
Through Freemasonry Hays was connected with Myers, and with Revere as well. Hays was Master of King David's Lodge in New York in 1769, and Myer Myers was Senior Warden under him. When Hays settled in Boston he continued his Masonic activities (as the name of Moses Michael Hays Lodge attests today); during his second term as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Paul Revere served under him as Deputy Grand Master.
Revere was also a signer of the Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Company petition mentioned above. And Revere made silver for only one Jewish family - that of Moses Michael Hays. It is interesting silver, and has been published and commented on before this. The style of the silver teapots he is famous for, is unusual for a Boston-made piece; Revere is known to have made only two others in this shape, and all three have a prominent outstanding hinge, in contrast to the invisible ones on Revere's other teapots. The late John Marshall Phillips pointed out (American Silver, Chanticleer Press, 1949) that this drum shape was the first reaction against the bulbous pear-shape pots which had been in vogue for many years. The script monogram is in the latest fashion, while the beading on the cover is unique. In fact, Revere had never before used that mode of decoration. It is interesting, too, to note that drinking goblets very similar to these appear on Jewish coins made as far back as 80 BC.
In legal documents, in synagogue records, in the rolls of Freemasonry, as well as in the surviving pieces of silver in many collections, we have a record of Moses Michael Hays and two of his historically important friends. A contemporary, the Reverend Samuel Joseph May, has left us a fine portrait of the man himself - and, incidentally, of the table on which Revere's silver must have appeared:
Moses Michael Hays [was] a man much respected, not only 'on account of his large wealth, but for his many personal virtues and the high culture and great excellence of his wife, 'his son Judah and his daughters. His house, far down in Hanover Street, then one of the fashionable streets of the town, was the abode of hospitality; and his family moved in what were then the first circles of society. He and his truly good wife were hospitable, not to the rich alone, but also to the poor. Many indigent families were fed pretty regularly from his table. They would come especially after his frequent dinner parties, and were sure to be made welcome, not to the crumbs only, but to ampler portions of the food that might be left. Always, on Saturday, he expected a number of friends to dine with him. A full-length table was always spread, and loaded with the luxuries of the season; and he loved to see it surrounded by a few regular visitors and others especially invited. My father . . . seldom failed to dine at Mr. Hays’s on Saturday, and often took me with him; for he was sure I should meet refined company there. Both Uncle and Aunt Hays (for so I called them) were fond of children, particularly of me; and I was permitted to stay with them several days, and even weeks, together. And I can never forget, not merely their kind, but their conscientious care of me. I was the child of Christian parents, and they took especial pains that I should lose nothing of religious training so long as I was permitted to abide with them. Every night, I was required, on going to bed, to repeat my Christian hymns and prayers to them, or else to an excellent Christian servant woman who lived with them many years. I witnessed their religious exercises - their fasting and their prayers - and was made to feel that they worshipped the Unseen Almighty and All-merciful One. Of course I grew up without any prejudice against Jews - or any other religionists, because they did not believe as my father and mother believed. (‘Memoir by Rev. Samuel Joseph May’, published by the American Unitarian Society, Boston, 1873.)
Apparently Moses Michael Hays made an important contribution to his community quite apart from the counting house, the synagogue, or the lodge.
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