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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Facing the Inquisition or Anti-Semities of Colonial America

Nadene Goldfoot
1492 was when Columbus, leaving from a Spanish port,  sailed the ocean blue in search for India and spices, but  almost got to North America instead.  It was also the year of the Spanish Inquisition and the fact that Jews either had the choice of having to get out of Spain or become Jews in secret.

Most ships sank in the ocean upon leaving Spain, but many Jews headed for nearby Portugal where they found refuge for a while until they too were forced to leave. 

By 1620, Pilgrims seeking religious freedom that had been living in Holland boarded the tiny ship, the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth Rock, which later became a locale in Massachusetts.  New Amsterdam was the original name of New York.  The New Netherland area of the Dutch West India Company, which included New Amsterdam, covered parts of present-day New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey.  On Sept. 22, 1654, 23 Jews sailed to New Amsterdam on the French privateer, St. Catherine, from Brazil where they had been defending the Dutch posession from a Portugese attack.  They did not want to be caught by the inquisition who hunted down Jews.

Asser Levy was one of the refugees from Brazil and could have even come before..  He was the kosher butcher and fought for Jewish rights.  He even secured the rights of Jews to be admitted as Burghers and serve guard duty for the colony.  Jacob Barsimson had left Holland on July 8, 1654 and came to lower Manhattan where Wall Street is today and arrived on the Peartree August 22nd fleeing from the Portuguese who had captured the Dutch settlement and established the Portuguese Inquisition there. 

 The new governor, Peter Stuyvesant, wrote to the directors of the West India Company in Amsterdam requesting permission to expel the Jews who had landed there from Brazil.  It seems that the local magistrates
 were afraid that they would become indigent and a problem for the community when winter came.  Actually, they just hated Jews because their Christian religion taught them to do so. 

There just happened to be several influential Jews among the directors of this very Dutch West India company.  The directors of the West India company rescinded Stuyvesant's order on April 26, 1655 even though all but the Jewish ones  had the same attitudes but thought it would be unreasonable and unfair.  They knew that the Jews had been involved with Brazil and had taken a monetary loss there after investing a large amount of capital in shares in the West India Company of Amsterdam.  They decided to grant them permission to sail and trade in New Netherland and to live and remain there as long as their poor had not become a burden to the Company or to the community but that they would support their own. 

March 13, 1656 brought permission to go to New Netherland and enjoy the same privileges as they had been already granted only as far as  civil and political rights were concerned.  They were not given the right to build a synagogue or practice their religion in any gathering.  If they ask for permission they are to be referred to the company and the magistrates are to wait for the company's decision.

June 13, 1656 rolled around and the company heard that the magistrates had forbidden the Jews to trade in Fort Orange and the South River.  They were also not allowed to buy any land which is granted to them without any problem in New Amsterdam.  People were reminded that Jews were not to be employed in any public service or allowed to have open retail stores.  They were allowed to carry on their business as before and practice their religion in their houses.  It was expected that they would build their houses close together in one or the other side of New Amsterdam. 

August 28, 1655 brought about the question of whether Jews were to serve in their Military Service.  Should they train and mount guard with the citizens' bands?  It was decided that they should be taxed for their freedom as they didn't want them to train and be on guard duty with them.  Each male over 16 and under 60 years of age would have to pay 65 stivers every month.  Later, British colonies also denied settlement and other rights to Jews.

By 1664, the colony was captured by the English.  Perhaps they should have allowed the Jews to train and guard with them after all.  As it was, the English did not interfere with the rights earned by the Jews.  Jews had been barred from settling in English colonies before, just as they had been banned from all English land for 400 years before.  Oliver Cromwell, Protector from 1649 to 1660 and his son Richard lifted this prohibition.  The founding of the 1st major Jewish settlement was in Newport, Rhode Island.  In 1672, Rabba Couty appealed to the King's Council in England for a decree against him by the courts of Jamaica where one of his ships had been seized and forfeited.  He had a successful appeal and established the rights of Jews as British subjects. 

Before 1620, British had settled in the South part of the new North America for purely financial business reasons.  Jews had settled in Georgia but were expelled by January 5, 1734.  The Trustees for establishing the Colony had received a letter and had decided that settling Jews there was prejudicial to the Colony and that they would be expelled.  However, by the middle of the 18th century, freedom prevailed so much that intermarriage was frequent and became socially acceptable.  Well-to-do Jews joined the same clubs and private libraries as their Christian peers, attended the same dances and sent their children to the same schools. 

Jews contributed money to Anglican and Catholic undertakings and even got Christian help to build a synagogue.  In the New England states, where people came who were very religious, there was a form of philo-Semitism that was part of the Puritan tradition and hatred for Jews was widespread.  For example, in 1762 Jews were denied naturalization in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island , founded by Roger Williams, theologian seeking religious tolerance, in 1762 was petitioned by Aaron Lopez and Isaac Elizer, Jews wanting to be naturalized on an act of Parliament made in the 13th year of His Majesty's reign of George the 2nd.  As it turned out, their charter for this colony only allowed the Christian religion.  From 1663, their law said that no person not Christian could be admitted free .  It seems that anti-Semitism continued to the latter half of the 18th Century and that Jews were taxed more than others for just existing.  Those seeking religious tolerence for themselves certainly did not spill over any tolerance for Jews, at least not right away. 

Jews had started arriving in Newport by 1655.  15 families arrived in 1658.  Some of the families are thought to have come from the Dutch Island of Curacao on the coast of Venezuela before.  They established a congregation almost immediately and in 1684 had their rights to settle confirmed by the General Assembly. 

The old adage that we might still feel a connection to was that "Tax on tax young Belcour cries, more imposts, and a new excise.  A public debt's a public blessing which 'tis of course a crime to lessen.  Each day a fresh report he broaches, that Spies and Jews may ride in coaches.  Soldiers and Farmers don't despair, untax'd as yet are Earth and Air."  It seems that taxes were spreading to the masses as well.

Reference: Book:  "Kike!" by Michael Selzer -anti-Semitism in early America.

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