Sunday, June 21, 2015

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654

By Chance or Choice:
Jews in New Amsterdam 1654
Leo Hershkowitz
In late summer 1654, two ships anchored in New Amsterdam roadstead.
One, the
Peereboom (Peartree), arrived from Amsterdam on or about August 22.
e other, a Dutch vessel named the St. [Sint] Catrina, is often referred to as
the French warship
St. Catherine or St. Charles. Yet, only the name St. Catrina
appears in original records, having entered a few days before September 7 from
the West Indies. e Peereboom, Jan Pietersz Ketel, skipper, left Amsterdam
July 8 for London, soon after peace negotiations in April concluded the first
Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654). Following a short stay, the
Peereboom sailed
for New Amsterdam, where passengers and cargo were ferried ashore, as there
were no suitable docks or wharves. Among those who disembarked were Jacob
Barsimon, probably together with Asser Levy and Solomon Pietersen. ese
were the first known Jews to set foot in the Dutch settlement, and with them
begins the history of that community in New York.
A number of vessels arrived and departed New Amsterdam during 1654 and early 1655, including the Gelderse Bloem (Flower of Gelderland), Swarte Arent (Black Eagle), Schaal (Shell), Beer (Bear), Groot Christofel (Great Christopher), Koning Solomon (King Solomon), Jonge Raafe (Young Raven), and d’Zwaluw (Swallow). Perhaps Pietersen and Levy were on one of these, but given the extensive use of the Peereboom, it seems likely they would have been on that ship. Regardless of which vessel they were on, they came by choice. ese were not refugees fleeing imminent persecution.
e second arrival, the Dutch St. Catrina, Jaques de la Motthe in command,
probably a Walloon or Huguenot, carried, as reported by Pietersen, twenty-three
Jews, “big as well as little.” Here the story becomes somewhat confusing. e
vessel came from St. Anthony — a place Berthold Fernow, the editor of the
Records of New Amsterdam, finds was in Brazil, just as he insists at first mention
that the vessel was the St. Charles, although later correctly writing St. Catrina.
Strangely, he does not correct his first impression and leaves unquestioned his
Brazil conjecture.
e Peereboom, as mentioned, left Amsterdam in July 1654 and, via London,
continued to New Amsterdam. As noted, probably several Jews were aboard.
One, Jacob Aboaf, departed in London. But who were the others? One was Jacob
Barsimon; others were likely Pietersen and Levy. Pietersen, who is not listed in
Brazilian congregational records, was seemingly a passenger since he witnessed
and noted the arrival of twenty-three Jews on the
St. Catrina. He says nothing

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 • 1

as to who the twenty-three were. Was his count correct? at number cannot
be supported using existing evidence. Levy, a possible third passenger, also was
not from Brazil and was not on the St. Catrina but was in New Amsterdam
when the supposed twenty-three arrived. Originally from Vilna [then Poland]
and one of the few Jews whose place of origin is known, Levy, like the other
two, was an Ashkenazic or eastern European Jew and obviously chose to travel
to the Dutch colony. ey were not bothered by Peter Stuyvesant, appointed
director-general in 1646 by the West India Company, probably because all three
had passports issued by the company. Barsimon’s passport is certain. Historians,
such as Samuel Oppenheim and Arnold Wiznitzer, have placed Levy in Brazil,
but they appear to be mistaken.
3 e terrible Khmelnitzki pogroms begun in
1648 were a probable cause of Levy’s as well as others’ departures from eastern
Europe. After that year, the Jewish population, particularly in Amsterdam,
grew steadily to six thousand, or 3 percent of the population, by 1700. is
expansion mirrored the Netherlands’ economic expansion and a flourishing
overseas trade.
e intentions of these first three arrivals were clear to New Amsterdam’s
resident minister, Domine Johannes Megapolensis, who on March 18, 1655,
sent a letter to the Classis at Amsterdam, noting, “Last summer some Jews came
here from Holland in order to trade.” His reference to “some Jews,” not one
or two, supports the view that there were at least three Jews on the
He continued, “[A]fterwards, some Jews, poor and healthy, also came here on
the same ship with D[omine] Polhemius.” is is certainly a reference to the
arrival of the
St. Catrina, which came indirectly from Brazil after the Portuguese
conquest in 1654. e clergyman further wrote, “God has led Domine Joannes
[Johannes] Polhemius from Brazil over the Caribbean Islands to this place,”
probably meaning Jamaica and Cuba. (ere were
St. Anthonys at both places,
as well as in Brazil.) He then voiced his resentment at having to spend several
hundred guilders to support the new, indigent arrivals. Megapolensis continued,
“ey came several times to my house, weeping and bemoaning their misery.
If I directed them to the Jewish merchants, they said they would not even lend
them a few stivers.” Were the Jewish merchants Barsimon, Levy, and Pietersen?
Was the
St. Catrina’s passengers’ poverty a result of having their goods and
money taken or lost during their voyage from Brazil “over the Caribbean
Islands?” Perhaps a good deal of their property had to remain in Brazil after
the Portuguese seizure. Megapolensis further argued that the followers of the
“unrighteous Mammon” aimed to get possession of Christian property and to
outdo other merchants by drawing all trade toward themselves. ese “godless
rascals, who are of no benefit to the country, but look at everything for their
own profit, may be sent away from here.”
For Megapolensis, trade and profit were basic motives for those “godless
rascals.” ese “obstinate and immovable Jews,” who “come to settle here,” he

2 • American Jewish Archives Journal

continued, caused greater confusion in the colony already troubled with hav-
ing dissident Catholics (Papists), Quakers, Mennonites, and Lutherans. is
view of the acquisitiveness of Jews was often used as a reason to try to restrict
immigration. For example, in 1641, Johan Maurits, governor-general of Dutch
Brazil, was told by resident merchants that the colony was being overrun by Jews
and “every contract with a Jew ends in bankruptcy of a Christian.” In his reply,
however, Maurits stated that Christians should be more careful, avoiding their
“lust for speculation.” Besides, he said,  Jews deserved and earned more liberties
than others as they have always been “reliable political allies.”5 Obviously, this
was a view not held by Megapolensis or Stuyvesant.
Who were these “godless rascals”?
On January 26, 1654, some twenty-five years after the Dutch had taken
Brazil from Portugal, the colony once again fell to Portuguese control. e
gamble of the West India Company had failed. Terms of surrender were, how-
ever, very generous. Movable property could be retained, and ships would be
provided for those who chose to leave. No reprisals would be taken, including
reprisals against Jews, who were largely at Recife, Mauricia, and Pernambuco
— principal ports of the colony. Further, three months’ stay was granted, and
all, including Jews, would be treated with “great respect and courtesy.” e
Portuguese commander, Francisco Barreto, approved these seemingly magnani-
mous terms. Still, what Jews could carry with them was not clear. Certainly
real property remained, but could they keep gold, silver, and jewels? Or were
these taken by the Portuguese?
ere were at the time about 150 Jewish families in Brazil, most of whom left for the Dutch Republic.6 Barreto also provided at least sixteen ships as transport, some Dutch, some Portuguese.7 One of the vessels, the Dutch Valck (Falcon), skipper Jon Craeck, left Brazil on February 24 but was driven by adverse winds to Spanish-held Jamaica. Its passsengers apparently remained on the island until the end of April, when they might have sailed to Cuba, perhaps on the Valck. It is possible, too, that Pietersen’s twenty-three Jews and Polhemius then boarded the St. Catrina and sailed to New Amsterdam.
In a document dated November 14, 1654, at the request of the Amsterdam Sephardic community, a representative of the Dutch government wrote to the King of Spain to protest the detaining of Portuguese Jews in Jamaica, in contradiction of a treaty between the Netherlands and Spain. is treaty may explain the presence of the Dutch St. Catrina in Spanish territory. e report stated that Jewish passengers had left Recife for Martinique, but winds carried them to Jamaica. eir immediate release was requested.8
Whether the St. Catrina came via Cuba or Jamaica, it seems certain that it
was not the first ship to bring Jews to New Netherland. As seen previously, the
Peereboom arrived earlier from the Netherlands by choice. Was it a second choice
for those twenty-three who sailed from Brazil? But why did both groups select

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 • 3

New Amsterdam? Answers are found in the story of the Dutch Republic, New
Amsterdam, and the largely Sephardic Jewish community in Amsterdam.
For those on the Peereboom and St. Catrina, New Amsterdam could
fulfill a variety of dreams and aspirations. is small outpost, managed by the
West India Company, was settled to profit from trade in furs and agricultural
products, especially grain. But, interest in New Netherland was also related to
the remarkable rise of the Dutch Republic during its “Golden Age,” the time
of Rembrandt, Grotius, Huygens, masters of art, law, and science. It was also
the age of its naval supremacy. Admirals such as Michiel De Ruyter, Cornelis,
and Maarten Tromp often defeated their English adversaries. e West India
Company, chartered in 1621 following an armistice with Spain, had a mem-
ber of the States General on the company’s governing Council of XIX and
exemplified the aggressive spirit of the republic. Willem Usselinx, a militant
Calvinist and one of the leading advocates for establishing the company, was
a zealous anti-Catholic refugee from Antwerp who sought revenge against an
invading Spain. An added interest in New Netherland could be to establish a
base for possible seizure of Spanish treasure carried from Mexico and Peru. In
1628, Piet Heyn captured the Mexican silver fleet, a spectacular victory that
helped stimulate the Dutch economy and fund company operations. Certainly
a Protestant colony questioned the authority of a Spanish Catholic claim to the
New World. Usselinx also reasoned that immigrants and foreigners were a prime
asset for the Republic. “It is,” he wrote, “because of foreigners [like himself] that
the country will be peopled as its might is derived most from those who come
from abroad, settle here, marry and multiply.” New colonies would strengthen
the economy. Interestingly, Usselinx wanted to prohibit slavery.
Usselinx’s views on the need for immigration and colonization to strengthen
a free nation perhaps influenced these first Jewish travelers to New Amsterdam. In
addition, the writings of Adriaen Van der Donck — particularly his Beschrijvinge
van Nieuw Nederlant, or Description of New Netherland, first published in 1655
after his 1649 Vertoogh, or Remonstrance, published in 1650 — would have
stimulated interest. His work was known by 1655, when the thirty-five-year-old
author died. Van der Donck, a doctor of laws, graduate of the University of
Leiden, became a member of Stuyvesant’s advisory Council of Nine. He was a
severe critic of the director-general and the company because of their failure to
promote good government and permanent, substantial settlement.
10 Description
of New Netherland, Van der Donck’s “little book,” contained a very detailed
and positive account of the natural abundance found in the province. “It is,”
he wrote at the beginning of his essay, “a very beautiful, pleasant, healthy and
delightful land, where all manner of men can more easily earn a good living
and make their way in the world than in the Netherlands or any other part of
the globe that I know.”

4 • American Jewish Archives Journal

is reference to health is quite interesting. In the seventeenth century,
a number of terrible epidemics could have persuaded many to seek a more
beneficial climate. In 1636, more than 17,000 out of a population of 120,000
died in Amsterdam; in 1654, almost 11,000 of some 60,000 died in Leiden;
and in 1664, more than 24,000 of about 200,000 died in Amsterdam. Surely
seeking a “healthy” land was an added inducement to travel
12 and, perhaps,
motivation to relocate.
Central to the rapid growth of the republic was the Dutch attachment to
freedom and liberty. is was exemplified by the Utrecht Union of 1579, which
placed the seven provinces under an elected parliament, the States General, and
the leadership of its elected Stadtholder, Willem of Orange, and after 1584 to
that of his son Maurice, also the Stadtholder. Medieval economic restrictions
were lifted, and the concept of free trade was introduced. is freedom to
trade, it could be argued, also promoted tolerance and freedom of ideas and
encouraged the first Jews to settle and flourish in the republic.
e rise of this Jewish community parallels the rise of the republic. e
histories of the Dutch nation and of Jewish society are remarkably similar.
e Netherlands, a small country geographically, achieved greatness, while the
Jewish community, small in number, also prospered and contributed signifi-
cantly to the prosperity and growth of the country. In 1654, the arrival of the
Peereboom and the St. Catrina reflected the accomplishments and ambitions
of the “Golden Age.”
e largely Protestant Dutch nation liberated itself from Spanish Catholic
domination by the early seventeeth century after an eighty-year war of inde-
pendence. As mentioned, the Utrecht declaration of tolerance and religious
freedom attracted Jews to the republic; they began arriving sometime before
1597, when the first Amsterdam congregation, Beth Ya’acob (House of Jacob),
was established. Its synagogue opened in 1614, joining two others formed in
1604 and 1609. It was not that authorities or the people of the Netherlands
gladly welcomed these largely Spanish-Portuguese (Sephardic) Jews or the east
European Jews who joined them, particularly after 1648; but it was generally
recognized by those like Usselinx that members of this community took part
in the vital business activity of the East and West India Companies’s ventures
and were “among the earliest seventeenth century contributors to the prosper-
ity of the Netherlands in general and Amsterdam in particular.” Officials in
Amsterdam made certain such important citizens were not lured to neighboring
and competing cities, such as Haarlem or Leiden.
ere are still other reasons for the migration to New Amsterdam. With
the end of the first Anglo-Dutch War on April 5, 1654, the Dutch were made
to pay huge damages to the victorious English, including loss of trade in the
Orient. During the war, the building of Amsterdam’s Stadt Huys (city hall)

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 • 5

halted, grass grew in the streets, and begging — almost unknown earlier
— became very common. is economic downturn affected decision making.
Perhaps poor economic conditions were also a consideration in the minds of
the Amsterdam
parnasim (Jewish religious leaders) in support of colonization.
In January 1655, they called attention to the fact that the company had offered
land free to immigrants under their 1650 “Freedoms and Exemptions” and that
loyal citizens, like Jews, would help pay taxes and increase trade and population.
e French and English, perhaps reluctantly, permitted Jews in their colonies.
Why not the West India Company? Such arguments were successful, and
except for the twenty-three who again did not come directly from Holland, all
others probably had required passports.14 is act of 1650 also stipulated that
free individuals obtaining land would have a year to put it under cultivation,
and this perhaps mitigated against Jewish settlement. Jews, it seems, did not
become farmers.
e West India Company’s interest in its colonial possessions was, as men-
tioned, primarily one of trade and profit and, perhaps secondarily, settlement.
Still, as Usselinx suggested, increasing population could be turned into assets.
However, New Netherland was a problematic colony from the start, despite
its possibilities, and few people — including, of course, Jews — bothered to
make the Atlantic voyage.
e region had been “discovered” in 1609 by an Englishman, Henry
Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company. e 1497 voyage of John
Cabot, who was employed by Henry VII, established England’s initial claim to
this part of the New World; Hudson’s discovery solidified it. ere was no such
right of discovery for the republic, though a number of merchant explorers, such
as Adriaen Block, established the first settlements in New Netherland. Still,
neighboring English colonies, Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut to the north
and Virginia and Maryland to the south, were constant reminders of a threaten-
ing English presence. For the English, the Dutch were interlopers. It could be
argued that the States General, perhaps aware of a sense of being trespassers as
well as having to face rising financial costs, never really fought to retain their pos-
session. e New Netherland Company in 1620 suggested moving four hundred
families to New Netherland, but the Dutch Admiralty advised rejection of the
proposal as “it might make a bad impression in England and France.” Stuyvesant
was concerned about the English, especially from pressure from Connecticut.
erefore, just before a peaceful surrender in 1664, he asked for an overall
settlement of boundary disputes between the Dutch and English colonies. Such
agreement, reached in 1650, led to the loss of the Connecticut Valley and eastern
Long Island. No clear States General mandate was issued for New Netherland
— at least none that the republic was willing to fight for. Only just before
surrender did Stuyvesant ask for a charter containing the great seal of the States
General, an image of authority “which [the] Englishman commonly dotes upon

6 • American Jewish Archives Journal

like an idol.” It was
not done. e West
India Company,
with interests in
the Caribbean and
southern Africa, had
little money or desire
to defend the colony.
It paid few dividends
to shareholders. In
1674, at the time
of reorganization,
investors received but
30 percent of their

One of the earliest Jewish communities in the western hemisphere
was established on the island of Curaçao in the seventeenth century.
(Courtesy American Jewish Archives)

deposits, though
creditors were paid in full.
The precarious

hold of the company on its territory was particularly tested by the surrounding
English colonies, especially in the spring and early summer of 1654. Rumors of
possible invasion by English forces added to deeply felt unease and a need for
help. On July 7, 1654, the directors wrote to Stuyvesant that in “these dangerous
times a good quantity of ammunition of war may be sent to them, among which
some muskets of 3½ feet in length to be distributed in time of need among the
citizens.” is was probably in response to the concern of the director general
on news of the arrival of four English warships in Boston and that “the English,
living among and under us, would we believe, enter into a plot with our enemies
to our great disadvantage.” e letter was sent on May 30, 1654.16
Stuyvesant wanted to prevent the ship Koning Solomon (King Solomon) from
leaving, as it would weaken defenses by carrying away one thousand to two
thousand pounds of gunpowder together with gunners. While the company
would profit by sailing of the vessel, “people here would be unhappy.”
17 War or
its possibility surely deterred immigration. However, on June 15, 1654, news of
the April Peace Treaty with England was received, and immediately the yacht
de Hoen (Hen) was sent to Curaçao. e panic was over for a time and normal
trade and commerce resumed. By July 27, the
Koning Solomon was about to leave
for the Fatherland, and by August, the barque D’Zwaluw arrived from Virginia.
Earlier, the barque De Jonge Raaf arrived from the West Indies. e company
directors wrote to Stuyvesant and his council to expect the ships
and Gelderse Bloem together with “a party of boys and girls from the orphan
asylum here [Amsterdam] making first a trial of 50 persons,” this to show

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 • 7

“our zeal in increasing the population but you also must promote cultivation of soil and not rely on English neighbors.”18 And, it could be added, reduce economic problems in the republic.
e arrival of the Peereboom with seeming orphans and some Jewish
merchants was a result of the war’s end, the urging of the Amsterdam Kahal
(Congregation), changing economic and social conditions, and the desire
of the company to increase, perhaps as Usselinx had suggested, population
and settlement. For example, a year later, on May 27, 1655, the burgomasters
and regents of the city of Amsterdam wrote to the “Noble, Honorable, Wise,
Prudent, Very Discreet Sir, Petrus Stuyvesant,” again informing him that, with
the West India Company’s consent, some children were being sent from the
almshouse to “increase the population of New-Netherland.” us, “taking a
burden” away from Amsterdam authorities, they requested that the youths be
treated “kindly” to the advantage of the company and the children.
19 Despite
the arrival of orphans, whose numbers are not certain, and a small increase
in immigration, the directors were not successful in maintaining control of
the province.
Even with its various problems, Amsterdam was still Europe’s chief financial
center. Its free-market economy produced a vast commercial center where French
wines, colonial sugar, and Swedish copper were found in endless quantity.
Investment capital was readily available. Loans in England could be had at
6 percent, secured by adequate bonds, while in the Netherlands, loans were
at 3
½ percent without “pawn or pledge.” Surely, low-interest rates stimulated
the possibilities of the western Atlantic settlement. In 1656, Jews were about
4 percent of the chief investors in the company; by 1658, they were 6
½ percent.
Portuguese-Jewish merchants were of vital importance to the Dutch economy,
especially in centering the profitable sugar trade in Amsterdam.20 Maps by
Lucas Wagenaar, Nicolas Visscher, and other contemporary cartographers were
often decorated with views that depicted the abundant richness of the colony
in vivid, complimentary detail. New Netherland was shown as a thriving,
flourishing province, full of promise. For the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth
century, as well as for their Jewish compatriots, it was their “Golden Age,” and
all was attainable.
In early 1655, or just possibly late 1654, still another group of Jews arrived
in New Amsterdam, all from the republic, all probably granted passports partly
as a result of the influence of the Amsterdam parnasim. Many had been in
Brazil and were part of the 1654 exodus. One, Jacob Cohen Henriquez, was
the son of principal investor Abraham Cohen, alias Francisco Vaez de Leon.
While Cohen, accused of theft and smuggling, and many of the others did not
stay very long, these early arrivals were surely influenced in their decision to go
to New Amsterdam by their coreligionist West India Company shareholders.
is must have also applied to those on the Peereboom.

8 • American Jewish Archives Journal

Stuyvesant seems not to have objected to those on the Peereboom or those
coming directly from Amsterdam. However, he did raise questions about the
twenty-three in several letters, which were carried by the Schaal and the Beer.
Two letters, dated September 22 and 25, 1654, were to the directors of the
company asking, if not insisting, that “these new territories not be invaded” by
people of the “Jewish race.” Another letter, dated October 27, was received via
England. Stuyvesant’s writing came after the
Peereboom arrival and seems to
have been a reaction to the St. Catrina’s passengers. Stuyvesant used the same
objections raised by Domine Megapolensis. e directors replied on April 26,
1655, stating that although they recognized these objections:
We observe that it would be unreasonable and unfair, especially because
of the considerable loss sustained by the Jews in the taking of Brazil and
also because of the large amount of capital, which they invested in shares
of this Company. After many consultations we have decided and resolved
upon a certain petition made by said Portuguese Jews, that they shall have
permission to sail and trade in New Netherland and to live and remain there
provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the Company, or
the community, but be supported by their own nation. You will govern
yourself accordingly.
e Amsterdam parnasim had asked incoming Jews — the post-Peereboom
and St. Catrina arrivals — to provide financial aid to the twenty-three indigent
Jews. As a group, however,  they were primarily interested in possibilities of com-
mercial enterprise.23 Isaac Israel became active in trade on the Delaware River, as
did David Ferera and Joseph d’Acosta, a major shareholder in the company. ey
dealt in furs, cattle, butter, cheese, tobacco, cloth, and lumber. Ferera bought
and sold tobacco in Maryland. D’Acosta was an agent in March 1655 for a newly
formed Gilles Verbrugge and Co., engaged in trade between New Netherland
and Amsterdam.24
ough Jews asked for permission to erect a synagogue, Stuyvesant did not grant it, and this issue was never pursued. No evident congregation was established, and these early arrivals appear not to be the “Founding Fathers of Congregation Shearith Israel.” Abraham de Lucena, a leader of the last group, had a “Sefer Torah” (holy scroll) given to him by the Amsterdam community, but there was little need for it. De Lucena left New Amsterdam soon after arrival and returned the scroll to its donors.25
Stuyvesant’s dislike of these new immigrants might have also stemmed in
part from some Jewish experience in Curaçao. In 1651, a letter by the company
directors to Stuyvesant, where he was governor-general of the island, directed
him to be aware of one Jan de Illan, who was Jewish, as were his associates,
and was under contract to bring a “considerable number of people” to settle on

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 • 9

the island. ey wrote that de Illan meant only to trade to the West Indies and the mainland. De Illan instead turned to exporting horses and timber and not importing people. e contract appeared to have been a subterfuge. Surely the incident reinforced Stuyvesant’s suspicions and dislike.
Despite the possibilities and wonders described in Van der Donck’s books,
the dream of success was quickly dispelled for all of the Peereboom passengers
except for Levy, as well as for all of those on the
St. Catrina and for the Abraham
de Lucena, Salvador d’Andrada, and Joseph d’Acosta travelers. Possibly the
last arrived on the ship
Gevelekte Koe (Spotted Cow), Pieter Jansen skipper, but
more likely they were on the ship
Great Christofel (Great Christopher), Willem
Tomassen skipper, which was in port by spring 1655. e de Lucena voyagers
first appear in records on March 1, 1655, when Sheriff Cornelis Van Tienhoven
brought “Abram de La Sina, a Jew into court claiming the merchant had kept
his store open during the sermon and sold by retail,” a privilege reserved for
burghers. Tienhoven asked for a fine of six hundred guilders and deprivation of
trade. He also declared that Jews arriving last year from the West Indies (those
on the
St. Catrina) and “now from the Fatherland must depart forthwith.”
e court decided to let the resolution “take its course.”26 David de Ferera and
Salvador d’Andrada were sued on May 5, 1655, for payment of freight shipped
on the vessel arriving in 1655 from Amsterdam. All left after a troubled stay
a year or two later.
27 Possibly, a sense that the colony would fall to mounting
English pressure also hastened their departure.
It would also appear that Jacques de la Motthe of the St. Catrina remained
in New Amsterdam after the September arrival of his ship. On March 15, 1655,
he appeared before the Court of Burgomasters and Schepens as defendant in
a suit brought by Tienhoven. He was asked to give evidence in a case involv-
ing adultery.28 Why would de la Motthe remain in port? However, he did
leave soon after, as did the others, except for Levy. Did he then depart aboard
St. Catrina?
In Summary
Like de la Motthe, none of the twenty-three and none of those with de
Lucena stayed very long in the province. Only Asser Levy of those on the
Peereboom remained, and he died in New York in 1682. By 1664, seemingly
none of the original 1654-1655 arrivals, except Levy, were present to see and
accept the surrender to the English. ese were not settlers. ey did not seek
to establish a community29 but were drawn by possibilities of trade, the urging
of the Amsterdam Jewish community, perhaps fear of plague in that city, and
possibly the rhetoric of Dutch expansionists, such as Usselinx or Van der Donck.
ese few chose first to voyage to New Amsterdam but then to take their leave.
e company also chose to surrender and leave. However, as a community, the
Dutch inhabitants remained together with their property, customs, language,

10 • American Jewish Archives Journal

and religion. e company’s dreams and hopes were lost in the face of reality. For Jews, this was also an adventure that failed.
Many questions remain about the arrival of these first few. Why exactly
did they choose 1654? Why not 1644 or 1638 or indeed any other year? Why
choose this small, newly founded community at the edge of a vast, unknown
wilderness? Was their decision by chance, choice, or both? What was the
community’s response to the refugees from Brazil or to those from Amsterdam?
Unfortunately, those involved seemingly left no extant letters or journals or any
account of their experience. Answers to questions raised by historians were far
from the minds of participants. Still, with material now available, perhaps some
reasonable assumptions can be made that might shed some light on a time long
past. Perhaps, more evidence in Dutch archives will come forward, and some of
these basic queries can be answered. Asser Levy came from Vilna and conducted
business in Germany. What can be found in relevant records regarding Levy and
other early arrivals? Obviously, it is important to do archival research and use
primary sources where possible instead of depending on secondary information
and stories. Using the Dutch name
St. Catrina instead of the usually accepted
St. Catherine or St. Charles is a case in point.

Leo Hershkowitz is Professor of History at Queens College of e City University of
New York. An earlier version of this article appeared in de Halve Maen in Summer 2004.
1    Ketel was probably the skipper since in April he had agreed to command the Peereboom, although
Jacob Jansz Huys, in December 1654 while in New Amsterdam, agreed to sail the vessel to the
West Indies. See Gemeente Archief Amsterdam Inv. fol. 145, April 25, 1654; Berthold Fernow,
The Records of New Amsterdam 1653-1674, Volume 1, New York: e Knickerbocker Press,
1897, pp. 274, 278 (hereinafter “R.N.A.”); Zvi Loker, Jews in the Caribbean in Colonial Times
(Jerusalem-4 N.D.), p. 63; Teunis G. Bergen, “List of Early Immigrants to New Netherland,”
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume XIV, July, 1883, p. 181 (wrongly
cites July 8, 1654, as the date of the arrival of Peereboom); Adriaen Van Laer translations of New
York Colonial Manuscripts, Reel III, pp. 625-628, microfilm in the State Library, Albany, New
York; Peter Padfield, Tides of Empire, Volume II, London: Routledge Kagan Paul, 1979, pp. 187,
233; Berthold Fernow, Documents Relating to the History of Early Colonial Settlement, Albany,
New York: Weed Parsons and Co., 1883, pp. 315, 341, 484, 486, passim (hereinafter “Colonial
”). e first mention of the name of the ship St. Catrina is in the original manuscript
of the Records of New Amsterdam in the Municipal Archives, 31 Chambers Street, New York,
although Fernow first translates the name as
St. Charles, R.N.A., pp. 240, 241, 244. Captain
de la Motthe had written a petition in French. is does not confirm that the ship was French.
ere were many French-speaking Protestants (Huguenots and Walloons) in the Netherlands.
ere is no record of a
St. Catherine in French archives (see Wiznitzer reference below).
2R.N.A., Volume I, pp. 240-244; Jacob R. Marcus, The Colonial American Jew 1492-1776,
Volume 1,Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970, pp. 215, 216, passim; Samuel Oppenheim,
The Early History of the Jews in New York 1654-1664, New York: American Jewish Historical
Society, 1909, pp. 37-43 (hereinafter “Early History”). Oppenheim believes there was a direct
voyage of what he calls the
St. Charles from Brazil. For a contrary view, see Arnold Wiznitzer,
“e Exodus from Brazil to New Amsterdam of the Jewish Pilgrim Fathers 1654,”
Publications of
the American Jewish Historical Society
, Volume XLIV, Philadelphia, 1954, pp. 88, 90 (hereinafter

By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 • 11

“Exodus”), referring to the St. Catherine and a Caribbean voyage. Wiznitzer is very critical
of Oppenheim. Egon and Frieda Wolff, “e Problem of the First Jewish Settlers in New
Amsterdam 1654,”
Studia Rosenthaliana, Volume XV, August, 1981, pp. 176-177, strongly
support the idea of a voyage from Surinam to New Amsterdam for the twenty-three Jews.
3Samual Oppenheim, “More About Jacob Barsimon, the First Jewish Settler in New York,”
Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Volume XVIII, Philadelphia, 1910, pp.
39-44 (hereinafter “Jacob Barsimon); Leo Hershkowitz, “New Amsterdam’s Twenty-ree
Jews — Myth or Reality,” in Hebrew and the Bible in America, Shalom Goldman, ed., Hanover,
New Hampshire: Brandeis University Press, 1993, pp. 172-173. e author finds no evidence
to support the twenty-three figure. Wiznitzer cites his own publication of Recife’s
Zur Israel
to support his assertion, but Levy does not appear on any such list. “Exodus,” pp.
92-93; Arnold Wiznitzer, The Records of the Earliest Jewish Community in the New World, New
York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1954, pp. 50-52; Arnold Wiznitzer, Jews in Colonial
, New York, 1960, pp. 138, 176-177. ey also find Levy in Brazil and one of the “twenty-
three.” For a list of immigrants into New Netherland, see “A List of Early Immigrants to New
Netherland,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume XIV, New York, 1883,
pp. 181-190. Aboaf and Barsimon are noted on pages 182-183.
4Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic, Oxford, England: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1995, p. 658; S.M. Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Volume II, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1916, pp. 144-152.
5Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York, Volume I, Hugh Hastings, ed., Albany, New
York: James B. Lyon, State Printer, 1901-1916, pp. 335-336; Oppenheim, Early History, p.
2; H.S. van der Straaten, Maurits de Braziliaan, Den Haag, the Netherlands: Van Soeren,
1998, p. 51. Translation and reference, as well as many helpful suggestions, are provided by
Joep de Koning.
6ere is an early account by Saul Mortera of a French ship rescuing the twenty-three from the hands of Spanish pirates. Often accepted by historians, this odd tale involving the St. Catherine or St. Charles has little substance. Wiznitzer, “Exodus,” pp. 80-86, 89, 91.
7Isaac Da Costa, Israel and Gentile, London: J. Nisbet and Co., 1850, p. 449; Pierre M. Netscher, Les Hollandais au Brésil , e Hague: Belinfante Freres, 1853, p. 163.
8“Exodus,” p. 86. Under Dutch law, Jews were considered, at least in part, as a separate
entity governed by their own laws. But as citizens they were protected by Dutch law. Jacob
A. Schiltkamp, De Geschiedens van Het Notariaat in Het Octrooigebied van De West-Indische
Compagnie, S’Gravenhage, the Netherlands: H.L. Smits, 1964, pp. 175-181. I would like to
thank Dr. Schiltkamp for his insight and helpful corrections in regard to this article.
9C. Ligtenberg, Willem Usselinx, Utrecht: A. Oosthoek, 1915 (Bijlage), p. cxvi. My thanks to
Joep de Koning for this insightful information and translation. Amandus Johnson, The Swedes on
the Delaware 1638-1664, Volume I, Philadelphia: International Printing Co., 1927, pp. 52-56.
Angry at the company for not receiving proper recognition, Usselinx traveled to Sweden in 1624,
where he met King Gustavus Adolphus and convinced him to establish a trading company in
the New World. is expansion would not only defy Spanish power, but also add to the glory
of Sweden even if on New Netherland property. Established was a short-lived New Sweden
on the Delaware River. Herbert I. Bloom,
The Economic Activities of Jews of Amsterdam in the
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
, New York: Kennikat Press, 1970, pp. 124, 125, 162.
10A Description of the New Netherland, omas F. O’Donnell, ed., Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1968, pp. xxxi-xxxxix.
11A new unpublished translation of the Van der Donck book, Description, by Diederik Willem Goedhuys, is preferable to those that came before. A manuscript copy is in the writer’s possession. I would like to thank Russell Shorto for a copy of the translation.
12Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic, pp. 621, 625.

12 • American Jewish Archives Journal

13F.J. Dubiez, The Sephardi Community of Amsterdam (C.F.L. Los, translator), Amsterdam:
N.P. N.D., p. 5. For a thorough discussion of this subject, see Miriam Bodian, Hebrews of
the Portuguese Nation, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1996, pp. 51-75;
Henri and Barbara van der Zee, A Sweet and Alien Land, New York: Viking Press, 1978, pp.
246-250; Marcus, I, p. 228; Odette Vlessing, “e Portuguese-Jewish Merchant Community
in Seventeenth Century Amsterdam,” in Entrepreneurs & Entrepreneurship in Early Modern
Times, Cle Lesger and Leo Noordegraaf, eds., Den Haag: Stichting Hollandse Historiche
Reeks, 1995,
14Jonathan I. Israel, “e Jews of Dutch America,” in The Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the
West, 1450 to 1800
, Paolo Bemardini and Norman Fiering, eds., New York: Berghahn Books,
1997, pp. 341, 344; “Jacob Barsimon”
passim; The Jewish Experience in America, Abraham
J. Karp, ed., Volume I, New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1969, pp. 37-38; Van der Zee,
p. 250.
15E.B. O’Callaghan, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Volume
I, Albany: Weed, Parsons and Co., 1858, pp. 400-401 (hereinafter “
Documents Relative”).
16Ibid., Volume II, pp. 234-237; C.R. Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire: 1600-1800, New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, p. 49; Simon Hart, The Prehistory of the New Netherland Company,
Amsterdam: City of Amsterdam Press, 1959, p. 37; Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer,
History of the
City of New York in the Seventeenth Century, Volume I, New York: e Macmillan Company,
1909, p. 505.
17Ibid., pp. 267, 268.
18Ibid., p. 279; Year Book of the Holland Society, New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1900,
p. 174.
19Berthold Fernow, Colonial Settlement, Volume XIV, Albany: Weed, Parsons and Co., 1883, p. 325. It is not known if or how many orphans were sent. In 1655, an Orphan Master Court was established in New Amsterdam. Berthold Fernow, The Minutes of the Orphan Masters Court of New Amsterdam, Volume I, New York: Francis P. Harber, 1902, pp. vi, vii.
20Bloom, p. 126; Vlessing, pp. 224, 225, and 233.
21Isaac Emmanuel, “New Light on Early American Jewry,” American Jewish Archives, Volume VIII, January, 1955, p.15; Padfield, p. 7; Oppenheim, Early History, p. 13; Hershkowitz, “New Amsterdam’s Twenty-ree Jews,” pp. 176-177; “Jacob Barsimon,” pp. 38-39.
22Documents Relative, Volume XIV, p. 315; Bloom, Economic Activities, p. 126; Marcus, Colonial American Jew, Volume I, pp. 218, 219.
23Oppenheim, “Jacob Barsimon,” pp. 39, 40.
24Hershkowitz, “New Amsterdam’s Twenty-ree Jews,” p. 176.
25is view, stated by David De Sola Pool and accepted by the present congregation Shearith
Israel, appears to have no basis in fact. David and Tamar De Sola Pool,
An Old Faith in the New
World, New York: Columbia University Press, 1955, p. 3; Isaac S. Emmanuel, “New Light on
Early American Jewry,”
American Jewish Archives, Volume VIII, January, 1955, p. 17.
26R.N.A., Volume I, pp. 336, 360, 309. e skipper of the Spotted Cow appeared in court on August 9, 1655, brought there by Joseph d’Acosta seeking to recover claims on damaged goods “spoiled” in the vessel. Since the de Lucena group, including d’Acosta, arrived in New Amsterdam no later than March 1655, the Spotted Cow seems not to have been the vessel they used. Another vessel, the Balance from Amsterdam, arrived in mid-August 1655. e ship Swarte Arent (Black Eagle) was also in port from April to August 1655.
27R.N.A., Volume I, pp. 290-91, 313; Documents Relative, Volume XIV, p. 135. 28Ibid., Volume I, p. 298.

29Hershkowitz, “New Amsterdam’s Twenty-ree Jews,” pp. 179-180; Hershkowitz, “Original Inventories of Early New York Jews (1682-1763),” American Jewish History, Volume XC, September, 2002, p. 244. 

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