Romanticized Image of Jews in the Caribbean

History of the Jews of the Caribbean, by Ralph G.Bennett

Click for Source Article on Caribbean Jews

1992 Was 500th anniversary of landing of Columbus & The Second Diaspora, when the Jews were expelled from Spain and re-settled throughout the world. The colonies could provide much-desired agricultural and mineral imports and serve as a market for European goods.

1492-1497 When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many fled over the border to Portugal. But in 1497 the Portuguese government banished Jews from that country as well. Many of the Jews fled to other more hospitable European countries, such as Holland, but some sailed to Brazil to start over in this Portuguese territory. These settlements in the New World offered an opportunity for many Jews to settle in a new land. Jews settled on Caribbean islands & America. These Jewish settlers in the Caribbean had a major impact on both the region and America, with Spanish Jews dominating the slave trade out of Newport, Rhode Island. Caribbean Jews funded Jewish communities in America and often traveled & traded with America including the MASSIVELY PROFITABLE SLAVE TRADE out of Newwport! These Caribbean Jews were the missing link on how Jewish settlements were successful & funded in America. Jews led & build the use of slaves to exploit in labor intensive agriculture.

1492-1600s A sizable Jewish community in Amsterdam had grown up when Jews started arriving from Spain & Portugal during the Inquisition.

1492-1500s After Columbus claimed the New World, the Pope was asked to divide the land & he drew a line down the Western Hemisphere: everything east of the line, (most of Brazil) would belong to Portugal, and everything west of that was given to Spain. Later Holland, England, and France all fought against the Spanish and Portuguese to seize new lands for themselves.

1493 Columbus had a Jew on board named Luis de Torres who stayed behind on the island of Hispaniola with 39 other men at the settlement of La Navidad. When Columbus came back the end of that year, he found the whole garrison had been wiped out by internal strife and by an Indian attack, which had occurred in retaliation to the Spaniards’ abducting native women. The Indians remembered a man who spoke “offensively and disparagingly” about the Catholic faith, to dissuade conversion and it was likely the Jew de Torres. In 1508, de Torres’s widow received a grant from the Spanish treasury in recompense for the services of her deceased husband. Some say de Torres settled instead in Cuba.

1500s Jews set up trade routes between Portugal and the colonies, and became wealthy large plantation owners in Brazil growing labor-intensive sugar cane exported to Madeira in Portugal, and it became the basic foundation of the entire Caribbean economy until the 18th century. Sugar cane could be easily grown in the hot climates of South America and the Caribbean, then converted to sugar to be shipped to Europe. They needed slaves to do the work.

1500s Spain dominated most of Europe, including Holland, but Holland finally won its independence in 1581 and the new Dutch government established religious tolerance as one of its primary goals.

1588 The Spaniards tried to overpower England, but the Spanish Armada was defeated by the British Royal Navy marked the beginning of Spain’s downfall as master of Europe. A weakened Spain meant that her colonies were vulnerable to other European powers looking to establish themselves in the New World.

1628 Jews were established in Barbados.

1630’s Holland was a burgeoning rival to Spain and Portugal and was hoping to gain on Spain’s misfortunes by capturing Portuguese and Spanish territories in the New World. Hollanders sailed into the harbor of Recife, in the northeast corner of Brazil, conquered the region, and claimed it for The Netherlands. They had the help of many of the secret Jewish settlers living in Brazil. Since the Jews had been persecuted by the Portuguese, their sympathies lay with the more tolerant Dutch. Dutch West Indies Company liked having their Jews in the region.

1635 French holdings included the small island of Martinique, on the eastern edge of the Caribbean to the north of Venezuela and Haiti, which comprises half of the island containing Santo Domingo. There was an early, sizable Jewish population on Martinique; however, there were never notable Jewish settlements in what is now Haiti. At early date there were Jewish merchants and traders already settled in Martinique arriving earlier with the Dutch.

1642 Dutch wanted to send settlers to colonize their new territory in Brazil, a group of 600 of the Amsterdam Jews sailed for Brazil calling themselves the “Holy Congregation”, and soon numbered up to four thousand. They prospered in their traditional occupations as traders and merchants, but also plantation owners.

1642-1667 Surinam a boatload of Jews arrived from Britain in 1652 & Jews were offered rights that they did not have anywhere else, including he right to be full British citizens. 1667 British surrendered Surinam to the Dutch at the Treaty of Breda in exchange for New Amsterdam (Later New York City). The Dutch intended for the Jews to maintain the rights they had under British rule. But all British subjects were to be allowed to leave, and a ship was sent by His Majesty Charles II to carry all those wishing to depart, but the Dutch government would not allow the Jews to leave fearing all the wealth would disappear with them! A historical list shows ten Jews, mostly in the Pereira family, and their 822 slaves wished to emigrate to Jamaica, but were not allowed to do so. By 1730 the Jewish plantation-based economy of Surinam, with its riches of sugar cane, coffee, and chocolate turned out to be the leading community of the Americas. It far surpassed the wealth of such better known places as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Jewish plantations & sugar crops depended on slave labor imported from Africa & by the 1690s, these slaves began rebelling and escaped into the jungle. There they set up communities of their own, emerging periodically to attack the plantations. This resulted in a shortage of labor at the same time there was a banking crisis in Holland. These factors, along with the discovery that sugar could be obtained from beets, a crop that could be grown in Europe, caused Surinam’s economic decline, from which it has never recovered.

1650’s French conduct a mini-Inquisition on Martinique as many of the settlers were Catholic clerics serving as missionaries, including Jesuit priests who did not like the practices of the Jews and sought legislation to limit Jewish actions against slaves & the poor & for their crimes.

1650s A Barbados synagogue for Jews of Spanish or Portuguese descent was established. The original Barbados synagogue building is still standing but no longer serves as a place of worship and the cemetery is in disrepair, but is believed to be the oldest Jewish graveyard in the Western Hemisphere.

1650 Curacao had twelve Jewish families living there for the The Dutch West Indies Company was in charge of administering the Dutch colonies. The company ordered the governor to give these new settlers land, slaves to work the land, livestock and tools. The Jews settled in an area still known as Jodenwyk (Joden is “Jewish” in Dutch). In 1651, a large number of Jewish settlers, in flight from the persisting battle between the Portuguese and Dutch in Brazil, arrived in Curacao. By 1750, the population of Jews reached 2,000.

1654 British colonies of Surinam, Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands actively promoted the settlement of Jews as good merchants, but other merchants accused the Jews of unfair trade practices.

1654 Portuguese sent a fleet to reconquer their lost Brazilian territory & the siege lasted ten years. The Jews fought on the side of the Dutch while the Portuguese, who still lived there, and native Brazilian Indians sided with the Portuguese.

1656 Jews to establish a congregation in Willemstad, Curacao which is still in existence. They built a synagogue in 1692. The Jewish community in Curacao was so strong that it helped the Newport, Rhode Island congregation in 1765. Newport in the late 1600s was the #1 traders of slaves and it was run by a Spanish Jew named Lopez.

1660s Surinam town of Joden Savanne (Jewish Savannah) was headquarters for the Jewish plantation owners. In 1734, Ashkenazic Jews (of Dutch, German, or Eastern European descent) began arriving. The Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews did not get along well, and ultimately two congregations were founded. Sephardis, who were mostly wealthy and well-educated business people, were considered the elite of the Jewish people.

1661 Three Barbados Jewish businessmen requested permission to institute trade routes between Barbados and Surinam, which was still part of the British Empire. As will be seen repeatedly, even though the Jews had full legal citizenship and were allowed by the government to trade and conduct business, their success caused the other settlers to try to limit the scope of Jewish trade. British businessmen claimed the Jews traded more with the Dutch than the British, and the government did finally put limits on the Jews’ ability to trade. They were not allowed to purchase slaves, and were required to live in a Jewish ghetto.

1664 Peace was finally declared and the Portuguese conducted an Inquisition requiring citizens to profess to being a Catholic or be expelled or killed, so Jews pretended to convert (crypto-Jews) but kept their religion in their hidden societies. Sixteen Portuguese ships removed many Jews from Brazil and returned to Amsterdam.

1664 A large numbers of Jews from Brazil moved into Caribbean Islands. Jewish settlements rose up in Dutch colonies in the Caribbean like Surinam and Curacao, British colonies like Jamaica and Barbados, and French colonies such as Martinique. Jews fleeing Brazil also went to the North American colonies as well as to the Caribbean.

1665 Surinam, not an island but just north of Brazil was a British colony for a short while, and Jewish settlement started while it was British. Soon it became a Dutch colony, going by the name of Dutch Guiana. Surinam is has always been considered part of the Caribbean region because it is inaccessible by land from the rest of South America, and focuses on trade with the Caribbean. British citizens did not seem to want to settle in Surinam, so the British to encourage Jewish settlers by offering them full British citizenship, recognition of their Sabbath, and ten acres of land to build a synagogue. The Jews had never before in modern times had full citizenship in any country. It was around this same time that the Jews of Brazil were being forced from their homes. Therefore, it is natural that a large number of Jews were attracted to Surinam, given Britain’s uniquely hospitable attitude.

1667 The Jewish community became successful as traders and plantations and when the colony passed to the Dutch. Although the rights of the Jews were not changed, many Jews moved to Barbados to retain their British citizenship.

1671 British attracted Jews to their colony in Jamaica at both Kingston and Spanish Town. The Jews became economically successful there, but soon the citizens of Jamaica petitioned the British government to expel all members of the local Hebrew community, but the colonial governor in Jamaica, blocked the ban, but a special tax for Jews passed in 1693.

1683 King Louis XIV ordered all Jews expelled from French colonies in the New World, but the colonial government ignored the rule, as Jews continued to settle and flourish on Martinique. After the French Revolution, all legislative discrimination against Jews on Martinique ended.

1703-1783 Jews were banned from using indentured Christian servants, and were prohibited from holding any public positions. The Jewish communities flourished despite these restrictions. 1810s British declared equal rights for Jews in any colony it is known that 10% of Whites in Jamaica were Jews.

1783 Spain’s Inquisition to its colony of Cuba, and Cuban Jews were dispersed. Jews had been on Cuba for centuries, but were only lawfully allowed to settle in 1881.

1792 Denmark controlled a few islands in the Caribbean, including St. Thomas and St. Croix, now part of United States Virgin Islands. There were Danish colonies with Jewish settlements.

1802 The colonial government in Barbados had removed all discriminatory regulations from the Jews living there. A Jewish community remained on Barbados until 1831, when a hurricane destroyed all of the towns on the island.

1898 CUBA — It appears to remove legal discrimination and keep their Sugar Plantations the Jews instigated the Spanish-American war as after that war Jews were finally allowed to publicly worship and built a synagogue. It is possible a Jew introduced sugar cane to the Caribbean and it is likely Jews started trade routes between the islands and their mother countries while exploiting slave trading & labor to the maximum.

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