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Jews in Colonial America

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  • Samuel Palache, Hakham (1550 - 1616)
    Rabbi Samuel Palache grew up in Morocco but ended up in Amsterdam in 1610. He proposed that the Prince of Orange and the Sultan of Morocco get together. Rabbi Samuel Palache and his brother, Joseph, ...
  • Isaac Mendes Seixas (1709 - bef.1781)
    Since Isaac is described in his father Abraham's 1738 will as "now a single man" and since Abraham leaves him "only £50 for reasons known to myself," I am led to believe that Isaac may have divorced a ...
  • Moses (Raphael) Levy (1665 - 1728)
    Levy was born in Germany in 1665 and arrived in NY from England in 1695. He was a successful merchant with a fleet of ships that sailed between the colonies, the Caribbean, England and North Africa. He...
  • Rabbi Valentijn Valck van der Wilden (c.1627 - 1687)
    He came to New York in 1680.
  • Rachel van der Wilden (1631 - 1701)
    She was the sister of Asser Levy, one of the first Jews in New Amsterdam in 1654. She came to New York in 1680. She was the sister of Asser Levy, one of the first Jews in New Amsterdam in 1654. She cam...

The purpose of this project is to document the Jewish families who lived in North America in the Colonial period (before 1789).

Scope of Project

The first Jew to set foot on American soil was Solomon Franco, a merchant who arrived in Boston in 1649; subsequently he was given a stipend from the Puritans there, on condition he leave on the next passage back to Holland. In September of 1654, shortly before the Jewish New Year, twenty-three Jews of Dutch ancestry from Recife, Brazil, arrived in New Amsterdam (New York City). Governor Peter Stuyvesant tried to enhance his Dutch Reformed Church by discriminating against other religions, but religious pluralism was already a tradition in the Netherlands and his superiors at the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam overruled him.

There were few Jewish communities in Southern Colonial America. There is only rare mention of Jewish religious activity until the mid-1700's. Were they practicing their faith in secret, or only in the home? Were the earliest Jews in Colonial America faced with discrimination? Were there too few in any given area to support a temple or synagogue?

Because religious identity in the American colonies was often unfriendly to dissenters and nonconformists, it might be difficult in many cases to completely document Jewish immigrants. Therefore, this project is open to ancestors for whom there is a family tradition of Jewish origin, for whom contemporary evidence suggests a Jewish origin, as well as those whose Jewish identity is well-documented.

When adding your ancestor to the project, please remember these guidelines:

  • The United States did not exist until 1787, with the ratification of the Constitution. Please do not add it to locations in this project.
  • Make sure the name fields of the Master Profiles include first name, middle name, last name, maiden name if known, otherwise blank, suffix for Sr., Jr., etc.
  • Add prefixes such as Gov., Dr., Rev., etc, only in the display name. Please add titles and ranks (Count, Sheriff, etc.) to the display name only.

General Notes

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A Note on Melungeons

Melungeons, a tri-racial group in Colonial Virginia, and later in Tennessee, may be added to this project. The Melungeons are claimed in some sources to have been crypto-Jews, or at least had a strain of Jewish ancestry, perhaps from Portuguese Jews settled in the region before the English. The claim is controversial, but in some cases seems to be supported by genetic testing. For more information, see the Melungeon Project.