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May 5, 2017

Jews to New Netherland (New York)

Back in 2000, I was approached by the Jewish Archives in Recife Brazil, asking for my help in identifying the 23 Jewish refugees who were on board the ship St. Charles sailing from Recife to New Netherland in 1654. According to the Archives in Recife, the first Jewish Synagogue in America was built in Recife, this is known from archeological excavations.

I have a small connection with the Dutch settlement in Recife Brazil through my 8th great grandmother Maria Post who was born there and baptised on 6 June 1649 in the Dutch church in Recife. See FN 1:

The Archives interest was in the names of the refugees, and what their lives were like in New Netherland. As far as I am aware, there is no passenger list for the St. Charles. Names of the Jewish refugees may be able to be pieced together by using other documents. I managed to find the names of some of the adult passengers from other records -- mainly court documents of the time. The names I found (using primary records only) were: Abram Israel, David Israel, Asser Levy, Moses Ambrosius & Judicq de Mereda

One source I consulted stated that there were 23 Jews "big and little" (meaning adults and children)

On 7 Sept. 1654 Capt. Jacques de la Motthe aka Motte, skipper of the St. Charles, appeared in court with a petition. He requires payment for freight and board 'of the Jews whom he brought here from Cape St. Anthony". de la Motte states that "the Netherlanders who came over with them" are not included in his suit and that they have paid him. Solomon Pietersen "a Jew" appears and says that "900 guilders of the 2500 are paid and that there are 23 souls, big and little [meaning adults and children] who must pay equally" [Source: The Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 Anno Domini, edited by Berthold Fernow in 7 volumes. reprint Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc. Baltimore. 1976 Vol. I Minutes of the Court of Burgomasters and Schepens 1653-1655 p 240]

It is not clear if Solomon Pietersen was on board the ship so I have not added his name to the list. There are some published materials on the Jewish refugees who came from Brazil to New Netherland, but I have not attempted to find them. I have found the names of several other Jewish settlers to New Netherland who may have been passengers on St. Charles -- but they may also have arrived before or after the Recife refugees.

From what can be pieced together about them, it seem probable that the twenty-three consisted of six family heads---four men (with their wives) and two other women who in all likelihood were widows, since they were counted separately---and thirteen young people. The heads of the families were Asser Levy, Abraham Israel De Piza (or Dias), David Israel Faro, Mose Lumbosco, and ---the two women---Judith (or Judica) Mercado) (or De Mercado, or de Mereda) and Ricke (or Rachel) Nunes. [Source: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite by Stephen Birmingham]

The Jewish Archives representative informed me that they plan on establishing a Jewish Center Study at the old Synagogue, and they will place the information and sources I find for others to use. I do not know if this happened.

Historical Background

On January 26, 1654, approximately 150 Jewish families of Portuguese background fled the city of Recife, in Pernambuco, Brazil. By September a number of these refugees had established the first community of Jews in the future United States.

Known as Sephardim (Jews of Spanish-Portuguese extraction), theirs was a complex saga. After 1497, the kingdom of Portugal outlawed Jewish life, causing many to flee to Holland where a climate of acceptance prevailed. From there, some migrated on to Pernambuco, a colony of the Dutch West India Company in modern day Brazil. Their community flourished there until the Dutch eventually surrendered Pernambuco to the Portuguese and the Sephardim were again forced to flee.

After being driven ashore in Jamaica by Spanish ships, twenty-three members of the community, along with a group of Dutch Calvinists, made their way to New Netherland (New York)—another colony run by the Dutch West India Company. Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of all Dutch possessions in North America, feared the indigent newcomers would burden the colony but when he motioned to eject the Jewish newcomers the Company refused his petition (many of the company's shareholders themselves being Jewish). [Library of Congress.]

Helpful Sources

A book cited by Stokes in his Iconography: Samuel Oppenheim, _The Early History of the Jews in New York, 1654-1664_ (1909) As cited by Russell Shorto in The Island at the Center of the World: Hershkowitz, Leo, "New Amsterdam's Twenty-Three Jews -- Myth or Reality?" In Shalom Goldman, ed., _Hebrew and the Bible in America: The First Two Centuries_; Hanover, N.H.: Brandeis Unirversity Press, 1993. [Howard Swain]

Harry Macy has an interesting article in the latest (vol 15, nos 2-3; Spring/Summer 2004) NYGBS newsletter now titled The New York Researcher. The article is titled: "1654-2004: The 350th Anniversay of New York's First Jewish Settlers" and is on pp 35-37. In a footnote he mentions that Leo Hershkowitz has "compiled a probable list of those coming in 1654 and the next few years." This is in his article, "Original Inventories of Early New York jews (1682-1763)" in American Jewish History vol 90 (2002) pp 246-47, note 7. Mr. Macy''s article lists many other sources of interest to those researching these early Jewish settlers. [Howard Swain]

(Summer 2004) issue of "de Halve Maen", the quarterly publication of The Holland Society of New York. It is Professor Leo Hershkowitz' article, "By chance or by choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654", pages 23-30. Herkowitz says that de Peereboom (The Peartree) sailed from Amsterdam to New Amsterdam on 8 July 1654. New Amsterdam is now New York City.

Among those who disembarked were Jacob Barsimon, probably with Asser Levy and Solomon Pieterson. These were the first known Jews to set foot in the Dutch settlement...

"The 23 Jews whose voyage had originated in Brazil arrived shortly after "de Peereboom". On page 29 Herkowitz says, "Though Jews asked for permission to build a synagogue, it was not granted by Stuyvesant, and this issue was never pursued..." [courtesy of Dorothy Koenig]

Visit's free JEWISH FAMILY HISTORY COLLECTION for access to their Jewish records

FN 1: C.J. Wasch, Doopregister der Hollanders in Brazilie 1633-1654, (1889), Adriaen Crijnen Post, Clara Moockers. Wt Christoffel ---, Andelijina Caron, Dorothea Montanier.

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