By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 15 2017 05:08PM
When I recently asked friends on social media to share their memories of favorite stores from their youth, several mentioned the people who ran those establishments. Most of the memories were good, although some shared recollections of “mean” owners! Fortunately, most of the ones I remember were good folks, like the ones my grandfather used to chat with in their tiny shop while I chose a few licorice sticks.
In Easton at the Forks, one of the “real” characters from 1766 is Meyer Hart, who opened the village’s first store when the town was founded in 1752. He and his wife, Rachel, were on founder William Parson’s list of eleven original families, and in 1755, Hart, whose birth surname is alternately listed as “de Shira” and “Texeira,” contributed twenty pounds of wrought nails, which cost twenty cents per pound, to the construction of Easton’s first school.
In 1763, Hart paid nineteen shillings in Northampton County taxes, more than anyone else in Easton, and according to M.S. Henry in History of the Lehigh Valley (p. 63), at that time the merchant owned three houses and “several negroes.” Before Pennsylvania abolished slavery during the Revolution, a few Eastonians owned slaves. (Before her death, Easton/Northampton County history librarian extraordinaire Jane Moyer, told me these slaves were treated more like indentured servants, a subject I continue to research.)
There is some dispute as to whether Michael Hart of Easton, also a merchant, was Meyer’s son or not. Michael was born in 1738 and died in Easton in 1813. In my novel, I treat the two as father and son. Michael was also known, much to his displeasure as you can imagine, as “the stuttering Jew,” and there’s a story about a woman coming to town and asking whether he was, in fact, the “stuttering Jew.” Michael became so enraged, she ran out of the store and hid as he pursued her. Fortunately, he didn’t catch the miscreant.
There was at the time of the Revolution a small Jewish community in Easton, but there was no Hebrew congregation/synagogue until 1839. I believe in the early days, these families probably worshiped in each other’s homes, but I invite any evidence to the contrary!
Meyer Hart earned a place in Easton history in another way as well. During the construction of the church which would service the large German Reformed and Lutheran believers, he donated two kegs of hand forged nails to the building. To honor his generosity, when the congregation installed stained glass windows in the 19th century, one of them featured a Star of David. I can’t help but wonder whether the writer of the earlier account of Hart’s contribution of nails to the first school might actually have been mixed up with this other story. Perhaps, of course, Hart actually did give nails to both efforts.
During the Revolution he was then in his fifties and was put in charge of British prisoners of war for about two years. Although Hart left a strong legacy in Easton, he didn’t finish his life in the town at the forks of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. He moved to Philadelphia around 1782 where his name appears among the roles of the Mickve Israel congregation, and in 1785, in the city’s first directory. He died in 1795.