Isaac Pinto

Isaac Pinto (1720-1791), Jewish merchant and scholar, supported the American patriots during the Revolutionary period.

Isaac Pinto, born probably in Portugal, was of Sephardic Jewish ancestry. His tombstone establishes his birthdate as June 12, 1720. The family came to America, possibly via Jamaica, sometime before 1740. Pinto was named on the roll of New York City's early synagogue Shearith Israel for 1740-1741, but he entered the import-export business, traveled widely, and apparently had varying places of residence. He lived for a time in Norwalk, Conn., and was perhaps the Isaac Pinto who signed a Stratford, Conn., petition in 1748. He was certainly a wholesale wine merchant in Charleston, S.C. (1760-1762), but New York City was his primary abode. In 1764 he signed a petition against a colonial legislative act requiring new buildings in lower Manhattan to be of brick or stone; 4 years later the New York Journal carried his advertisement for selling "Choice South Carolina Pink Root."

Pinto was an excellent Hebraist and an expert in the laws of Jewish ritual slaughtering. He probably translated The Form of Prayer … for a General Thanksgiving … for the Reduction of Canada (1760). His Evening Service of Roshashanah … (1761, published anonymously) and Prayers for Shabbath, Rosh-Hashanah and Kippur (1766, published under his name) were the first Jewish prayer books published in America. Even then, many Jews in America were unfamiliar with Hebrew, and Pinto issued his volumes without a Hebrew text for "improvement … in the Devotion" of his coreligionists. Pursuing his scholarly interests, he corresponded in 1773 with Rabbi Isaac Karigal of Palestine (visiting Newport, R.I.) and later with President Ezra Stiles of Yale College (who referred to him in 1790 as "a learned Jew at New York").

Many of Pinto's activities can be deduced only on the basis of scanty evidence, but he unquestionably espoused the colonial cause against England. In 1770 he favored continuation of the Nonimportation Resolutions of 1765, and he wrote numerous pro-American articles (presumably as "A.B." and "Philatheles") for the New York Journal. Some authorities also credit him with the series in biblical style, "The Chapters of Isaac the Scribe, " that appeared in this newspaper during the autumn of 1772.

When the New York Jewish community reorganized itself in 1784, Pinto was asked to be clerk of the congregation, but he apparently felt he was too old to accept the office. He never married. Near the end of his life he taught Spanish in New York City, where he died on Jan. 17, 1791. His obituary in the New York Journal noted his ability as a linguist, historian, and philosopher and referred to his staunch support of American liberties.

Further Reading on Isaac Pinto

Detailed information on Pinto is nearly nonexistent. The best account, although brief and incomplete, is in David de Sola Pool, Portraits Etched in Stone (1952). The most authoritative study on Colonial Jewry is Jacob R. Marcus, The Colonial American Jew, 1492-1776 (1970).

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