The first Jews to settle in North America

Started by Kenneth Kwame Welsh on Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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10/11/2011 at 11:02 PM

* The first Jews to settle in North America as a group are said to have landed in New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1654 after having sailed from the northern Brazilian town of Recife via Jamaica. In Jamaica ­ still a Spanish island they were kept under house arrest. They managed to escape and reach New Amsterdam where then Governor Peter Stuyvesant wanted them out. As a result of letters from Jews in Barbados and Holland, they were allowed to stay and they founded the Shearith Israel congregation, one of New York's first. It is slated to celebrate its 350th anniversary in 2004.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0054.htm

10/12/2011 at 5:55 AM

Kenneth Kwame Welsh Fascinating! As you noted, the first Jews "as a group" in North America landed in the harbor of New Amsterdam (later to become New York City) but they were not the first Jews to set foot in North America. However, the group's success in obtaining official permission to remain in the colony set a precedent for other Jews who followed in their footsteps. http://www.jewsinamerica.org/, http://www.ajhs.org/

Private User Though not exactly noble prize worthy, you might be interested to learn that the first "documented" case of a Jew to reach the shores of America was a "chemist" from Prague, Joachim (Chaim) Gans. He arrived on Roanoke Island, North Carolina in 1585 as part of Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition commissioned by Queen Elizabeth.

Gans' story is a fascinating tale that starts in his birthplace of Prague. Joachim was related to the famous historian, astronomer and talmid chacham, David Gans, who was a student of the Rema and the Maharal, worked in the laboratory of the greatest astronomer of his time, Tycho Brahe, and authored "Tzemach David" which chronicles Jewish history up to his time.

Joachim was a chemist specializing in metals. He most probably learned his trade in the Ore Mountains of Bohemia which had the most advanced copper mining techniques of the time.

Archeologists have found bricks from Gans' furnace and chunks of copper, indicating that Gans had the capability of smelting ore at a temperature of over 2,000 degrees – enough to melt copper. http://www.baruchsterman.com/Essays/TheFirstJewInAmerica-English.pdf
(The most complete account of Gans' life is found in "The Search for the First English Settlement in America" by Gary Grassl).

10/12/2011 at 6:15 AM

If I may add, the New Amsterdam issued got 'solved' because 'old' Amsterdam based relatives send over money with the next ship. In fact, the case of jews in New Amsterdam was successfully defended because a relative of them had 'burgher' status in 'old' Amsterdam. So, they reckoned, how can we refuse jews in New Amsterdam the citizen rights they would enjoy in 'old' Amsterdam?
Interesting to see how, despite the hardships of those days, there was an early attempt to apply coherent legal thinking as to the status of people, regardless of race.
As Kwame can confirm, the early black 'slaves' were actually not more 'slave' than many poor Dutch immigrants and were bound to a contract - but they were able to buy themselves into some level of freedom early on. One crucial problem was, however, that it was hard for blacks to get belong to the same church - and thus the did remain 'second class' citizens, probably in a very similar way as other non Dutch Reformed (like jews). The real issues of slavery only appears to emerge when the 'english' took over, as they had a very different perspective on people. In fact, I think it's quite safe to say that the early New Amsterdammers where rather pragmatic and materialistic, whereas others were 'principled' and gave 'philosophical' explanations for discrimination.

10/12/2011 at 6:15 AM

If I may add, the New Amsterdam issued got 'solved' because 'old' Amsterdam based relatives send over money with the next ship. In fact, the case of jews in New Amsterdam was successfully defended because a relative of them had 'burgher' status in 'old' Amsterdam. So, they reckoned, how can we refuse jews in New Amsterdam the citizen rights they would enjoy in 'old' Amsterdam?
Interesting to see how, despite the hardships of those days, there was an early attempt to apply coherent legal thinking as to the status of people, regardless of race.
As Kwame can confirm, the early black 'slaves' were actually not more 'slave' than many poor Dutch immigrants and were bound to a contract - but they were able to buy themselves into some level of freedom early on. One crucial problem was, however, that it was hard for blacks to get belong to the same church - and thus the did remain 'second class' citizens, probably in a very similar way as other non Dutch Reformed (like jews). The real issues of slavery only appears to emerge when the 'english' took over, as they had a very different perspective on people. In fact, I think it's quite safe to say that the early New Amsterdammers where rather pragmatic and materialistic, whereas others were 'principled' and gave 'philosophical' explanations for discrimination.

10/12/2011 at 7:18 AM

Private User , Randy Schoenberg @Kwame

Jewish Prague/New World Connection-:
Dougham Gannes AKA Joachim Gans from Prague, was the first Jew in English America and probably the first documented, "non-baptized Jew" in the New World. He was the chief technologist at what National Geographic Magazine calls "America's First Science Center."

Joachim was a relative of the famous Prague Renaissance genius David Gans. He was born in Prague around the middle of the 16th century, during the golden age of Prague Jewry. He arrived in England in 1581, where he introduced a new quicker and cheaper method of smelting ores.

In 1585, he took part in Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition to establish an English settlement in what they called "the Newfoundland of Virginia." Gans was the chief metallurgist at this First English Settlement in America.

The bricks of Gans' assay oven and two copper nuggets smelted by him are the only relics from the First English Settlement. They are also the sole remaining artifacts made by Elizabethans in the New World.

"One group of specialists was of considerable importance, namely the 'mineral men'—metallurgists and miners. The leading metallurgist in the list of settlers was Dougham Gannes, otherwise Joachim Ganz, the Jewish expert from Prague, who had been involved in the locating and working of copper mines in England…" wrote David Quinn, the leading English authority on early English colonization.

"Gans was to find and test the metals that were to make everyone's fortune," wrote Ivor Noël Hume, the leading American authority on early English settlements.

*Joachim's life is described in detail in Appendix F, "Joachim Gans in England Before His Journey to Virginia" (FES, pp. 221-225) and
* Appendix G, "A Postscript for Joachim Gans" (FES, pp. 226-243)
* "The Search for the First English Settlement in America" by Gary Grassl

10/12/2011 at 10:40 AM

Don't forget the crypto-Jews who arrived in North America beginning with Columbus's first voyage. Crypto-Jews, conversos, and New Christians fled Spain during the Inquisition. Many then fled from the Inquisition in central Mexico and were among the first settlers of New Mexico.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crypto-Judaism

10/12/2011 at 10:54 AM

Today is the real Columbus Day!

10/12/2011 at 11:24 AM

Great point, Ric! Imagine, I'm coming across a lot of 'conversos' as well in 'old' Amsterdam. Pragmatism ruled, in those days!

10/12/2011 at 11:51 AM

It's called going with the flow. : )

10/12/2011 at 2:54 PM

On Ric's recommendation I think, I bought a book about the New Mexican crypto-Jews.

Private User
10/12/2011 at 3:59 PM

http://www.geni.com/discussions/101621?msg=746380. Slight digression - we've been talking about Mining Projects. Joachim Gans seems like a prime candidate for Copper Mines.

Back on topic - in studying up a bit on Puritans I am struck by the differences in pragmatism taken by the Dutch (and also the first Virginians). The cultural impact New Amsterdam endures here in New York City in some ways. Is that true of other trading company legacies?

10/12/2011 at 4:02 PM

Who has seen that History Channel program, "How The States Got Their Shapes"?

10/13/2011 at 12:10 PM

Ric Dickinson,
it has been said that the "first European to step on the shores of North-America" (ignoring Erik the Red's folks) was Jewish - Columbus' translator, a converso. Some even argue that Columbus himself was Jewish. There are a number of "anamolies" regarding the setting sail for that voyage. They left the day th edict banning Jews from Spain went into affect, only Columbus had insisted his crew get aboard to night before...

There were also quite a few Jewish hunter-traders up with the Huson Bay Company from the very start.

Private User
10/13/2011 at 12:18 PM

Were these French / Alsatians coming along with the Hudson Bay trappers? My theory is that because of international trading families, Jews put American furs on the marketing map. I think there was a book about this. Also, wouldn't there have been Conversos and Marranos among the Conquistadors?

10/13/2011 at 2:40 PM

Jews encountered barriers to get into "New Spain" (Mexico) even more so than did Conversos. Jews had to filter theie way through as soldiers and sailors with Cortez in 1519 and with forged documents bearing new names (Lerner 94). Conversos who were in judicial office like Luis de Carvajal, el Conquistador, who had the title of admiral and was privilege to be awarded governorship of a newly created province, the New Kingdom of Leon in New Spain, also took flight to the New World (Liebman, The Enlightened 26).

http://www.cryptojews.com/mestizo.html

10/13/2011 at 6:28 PM

We have to hook up with Benjie Melendez in NYC. He and I did some serious research, in the late 80s and up to 1990, on Conversos and Marranos.

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