Friday, September 12, 2008

Jewish Knowledge (2)

Topic: The First Jewish colony on Manhattan Island

It was the fact of the dominance of Holland that attracted the Jewish people fleeing from Portuguese persecutions in Brazil to the Dutch settlement in North America.

It was really in September, 1654, that a little company of twenty-three Jews reached New Amsterdam, but Peter Stuyvesant was then the Governor, and he did not fancy this invasion of his domain by infidel Jews. The appeal of the Jews to the West India Company was so well received by its Directors that in April, 1655, an official grant of privileges of residence and rights was sent to the Governor, and he was compelled to yield to the orders of his superiors. From that day to this the Jewish people have played no unimportant part in the life of New Amsterdam, New York, and of the United States at large.

It was persecution which drove the Jews from Spain and Portugal to Holland, and when they had settled in some of the Dutch possessions in the New World the transfer of authority to Portugal again forced them out. It is probable that one or two Jews were already settled in New Amsterdam when this colony reached there, but from the arrival of the refugees from Brazil dates the real beginning of the Jewish community, which received the grant of a piece of land for a burial ground so early as 1656. This was on the New Bowery, near Oliver Street, and was added to from time to time later.

The Jews at once sought the rights of citizenship, keeping guard when permitted and trading far up the Hudson River. One of them, Asser Levy, purchased the ground upon which Albany now stands. They were enterprising merchants, entering at once into the fur trade, while some acted as bakers and butchers in the little metropolis.

Some of the Jewish settlers removed to Newport as early as 1655, and there is a record of fifteen families arriving there in 1658, importing the first degrees of Masonry. They scattered, too, into Maryland, where their rights were sharply restricted, and it is probably due to their efforts for rights that Maryland was one of the first colonies to adopt religious toleration as the basis of the State. It was only a matter of time now for the Jews to follow all the tracks of colonization, and they appear in Pennsylvania and along the Southern coast. This element was made up almost exclusively of the Spanish or Portuguese Jews, men of culture and means, merchants of broad ideas who differed from the Christian settlers only in attending religious services on Saturday rather than Sunday and in the special character of these and their home ceremonials. (23)

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