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Portuguese-Spanish Jewish Journey to Jamaica

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This is sub-project of the Master Project for Jamaica: Jamaica Out Of many, One People"'.

In 1700, there were more Jews in Spanish Town than in all of North America, and by 1730, Jews represented 12 percent of the white population of Jamaica. In the 18th century, Ashkenazi Jews began arriving from England and Germany, joining the Sephardi Jews who had begun to arrive a century earlier. In the early 20th century, some Jews came to Jamaica after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Source.

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The Portuguese - Spanish - Dutch Jews of Jamaica

14th Century Jewish Journey to Jamaica

Jews of Portuguese-Spanish ancestry first landed on the island some 40 years later in 1530. They made their homes in Spanish Town, then known as St. Jago de la Vega the only operating town on the island at the time.

After many years, groups of Jews approached their Spanish governor and requested permission to settle on the island. Permission was duly granted.

The 1530 - 1640 Portuguese Crypto Jewish Influx

Between 1530 and 1640, crypto Jews emigrating to the New World were nearly all Portuguese. In most Spanish colonies Portuguese was synonymous to "crypto Jews". (The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415-1825," by C. R. Boxer.)

Influx of Jewish Settlers from Amsterdam - 1655

In 1655, following the English Conquest, Amsterdam Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel visited Lord Protector Cromwell and requested permission for Jews to settle in England (which Cromwell welcomed in the hope that the Jews would bring capital and mercantile knowledge). This implied permission in English colonies, which led to another influx of Jewish settlers to Jamaica from places like Amsterdam. All Jewish settlers had to be naturalized as British citizens and as such they were entitled to own property, a right denied to Jews in Medieval Europe.

17th Century

Jamaica's revered historian Edward Long described the Jews in 17th century Spanish Town thus:

"The Jews here are remarkably healthy and long-lived....I think they owe their good health and longevity, as well as their fertility, to a very sparing use of strong liquors, their early rising, their indulgence on garlic and fish, Mosaic Laws, sugar, chocolate."

The two Spanish Town congregations united in 1844. Many families had begun to relocate to Kingston as that town grew in economic and political importance. Today, the site of the Sephardic Synagogue and its adjacent cemetery replete with gravestones featuring names such as,

  • De Souza,
  • de Pass,
  • Melhado
  • Nunes
  • Moses Cohen Henriques - Pirate, escapee from Spanish Inquisition

Jewish Cemeteries in Jamaica

  1. Port Royal - Hunt's Bay
  2. Kingston, Orange St. --- two cemeteries, Sephardic
  3. Kingston, Church and North St. - Sephardic
  4. Kingston, Ellison Road - Ashkenazi
  5. Buff Bay, Portland
  6. Spanish Town, White Church St. - two cemeteries
  7. Spanish Town - adjacent to "Neve Shalom".
  8. St. Anne Bay, St. Ann
  9. Anotto Bay, St. Mary
  10. Port Maria
  11. Clarendon
  12. Lacovia --- St. Elisabeth
  13. Glenmore --- two cemeteries
  14. Falmouth --- two cemeteries
  15. Lucea
  16. Rowe Corner

Links