A Ship’s Tale
Well sit right back and I’ll tell a tale…Alas, this ship’s tale is no three-hour tour, but the story of the birth of Jewish life in North America.
It is well-known that the first Jewish settlers in New Amsterdam (the Dutch Colony that would later be called New York) were met with deep animosity by the Governor, Peter Stuyvesant. While many settlers did come to the new world searching for religious freedom, these 23 men, women and children came to North America by accident!
These Sephardi Jews were fleeing the Portuguese conquest of Recife (Brazil), a South American city that had been under the control of the Dutch (who allowed the Jews to live openly as Jews). One can only imagine their horror when Portugal captured the territory! Fearing the Inquisition, the Jews boarded one of the 16 boats the Portuguese provided to all those who wished to leave their new territory. Unfortunately, the ship never made it to its destination, the Netherlands. After their ship was attacked at sea, the 23 Jews were brought to New Amsterdam aboard a French vessel.
The intentions of the French captain were far from altruistic. Captain Jacques de la Motte immediately sued the refugees for their passage (knowing they had lost most of their possessions). Two members of the community were taken into custody until the money could be raised (by appeal to their co-religionists in Amsterdam).
Peter Stuvyesant had no love of Jews (as governor of Curacao, he sought to restrict Jewish immigration and prohibited Jews from owning slaves), and he used the desperate state of these refugees to appeal to the owners of the colony (Dutch East India Company) to bar the Jews lest they become a burden on the government. His petition was denied, the Jews were allowed to settle, and thus began the Jewish community of New York.
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