Sunday, June 21, 2015

Return to the Jewish Arrival to New Amsterdam 1654

Return to the Jewish Arrival to New Amsterdam 1654

In my post of January 14, 2010 called Who Was Asser Levy I wrote about the story of how the Shearith Israel Congregation came to become the first Jewish congregation in New Amsterdam.

The story shows that the congregation was formed due to the emigration of 23 Jewish refugees from the former Dutch colony of Nieuw Holland in 1654 to New Amsterdam. Their arrival put them at odds with the Dutch Director-General of New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant. Though Stuyvesant tried to have these refugees expelled from his colony, his attempts were rebuked by the Dutch West India company and by 1657 the Jewish refugees won full rights within the colony. Ok, that's the story in a nutshell. As with any historical event, there is always more than meets the eye and my research on the matter has dug up a more elaborate scenario. So here goes.

It is accurate that the Dutch colony of Nieuw Holland was taken over by the Portuguese under General Francisco Barreto de Menezes. Menezes gave the order that those who did not want to live under Portuguese rule in the colony had six months to leave. In order to facilitate the evacuation, Menezes provides the colony's refugees with sixteen ships that were to sail from Nieuw Holland to Holland. In making the journey to Europe, many of the ships faced peril in the form of dangerous conditions and pirates. Many of these ships did not make it to Europe. The ship that carried the Jewish refugees was one such ship.

Here is where I find different branches to the story. In my original post, I said that the Jewish refugees arrived in New Amsterdam during the month of September of 1654 aboard the ship the Sainte Catherine. Ana Domingos and Paulo Mendes Pinto in their article Tracing the History of the First Jews in the US state the following:

One of the boats was attacked by pirates in Cuba, but the lives of twenty-three Portuguese Jews were saved by a French ship, the Sainthe Catherine...On September 7, 1654, the Sain the Catherine arrived in Dutch waters at the port of the city of Nieuw Amsterdam. Its captain, Jacques de la Motthe, said farewell to the ones he saved, leaving behind the first Jewish settlers in North America.

Well that was very nice of Captain de la Motthe. But like I said before, there is always more than meets the eye. Abraham J. Peck in his article Creating Jewish New York sheds more light on Captain de la Motthe's motives:

The generally accepted history is that in late August or early September of 1654, a French ship--called variously the St. Catherine or St. Charles--captained by Jacques de la Motthe, arrived in the harbor of New Amsterdam with a number of Dutch refugees, including 23 Jewish men, women, and children, presumably from Recife. The surviving documentary references have given rise to a number of theories regarding the route and circumstances that brought these pioneers to Peter Stuyvesant's small village.

At least two Jews met the boat: Solomon Pieters or Petersen, who appears briefly in the Dutch records as advocate for the Jews in their first dealings with Stuyvesant; and Jacob Barsimson, an Ashkenazi trader who had just arrived in the colony. Captain de la Motthe sued his Jewish passengers for the promised fare, and when they were unable to meet his demands, two heads of family were imprisoned as hostages until funds to pay the debt could be obtained from relatives in Amsterdam.

To further shed light to the arrival of the Jewish refugees to New Amsterdam, I found the following from the passenger logs from the St. Charles on

St. Charles 1654

The Dutch administrations in Brazil, which succeeded that of Gov. Maurice, were inefficient and corrupt. The Portuguese revolted and the Dutch finally capitulated January 25, 1654. They were given three months in which either to depart or to embrace the Roman Catholic religion and become Portuguese citizens. In April 1654, there was a fleet of sixteen Dutch ships in the Harbor of Recif to evacuate the Dutch Protestants together with a small number of Dutch and Portuguese Jews.

On 7 Sept. 1654 Capt. Jacques de la Motthe/Motte, skipper of the St. Charles, appeared in court with a petition. He required 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]

The names I have found so far (using primary records only) are:

Abram Israel
David Israel
Asser Levy
Moses Ambrosius
Judicq de Mereda

It is not clear if Solomon Pietersen was on board the ship so I have not added his name to the list.

Another passenger (non-Jewish) was Dominie Joannes Polhemius

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]

Leo Hershkowitz in his article By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654 adds the following to the argument:

In late summer 1654, two ships anchored in New Amsterdam roadstead. One, the Peereboom(Peartree), arrived from Amsterdam on or about August 22. The 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. The 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. These were the first known Jews to set foot in the Dutch settlement, and with them begins the history of that community in New York.

So what does all this mean. I believe that the arrival of the Jewish refugees to New Amsterdam was much more complicated than I posted. The fact that the refugees and their possessions were basically held for ransom by the Captain of the St Catherine. The story of the battle between Captain de la Motthe and the Jewish refugees was documented in detail in The Green Bag: An Entertaining Magazine for Lawyers 1901. Lee M. Friedman documents in his article The Petition of Jacques de la Motthe (Volume XIII No 8 August 1901 Pg 396-398) the attempts of Captain de la Motthe to receive payment of the Jewish refugees. He attempted to do so by means of filing suit against the refugees and later through the attempted sale of their possessions by public auction. In the end, the refugees appealed to the better nature of the crew of the Saint Catherine. The crew heard the pleas of the Jewish representative Solomon Pietersen and decided to wait for their payment until their return to New Amsterdam on a later voyage.

It was at this point that Stuyvesant attempted to have the refugees removed from the colony by his appealing to the West India Company. His appeal was rejected due to the Jewish influence within the West India Company and the belief that the colony was there to make money. As the saying goes: The rest is history.


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