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Jews in Colonial America

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  • Michael (Jechiel) of Herzfeld, Germany (1645 - bef.1701)
    He was In New York before June 16, 1682/3. Public records of that year show that he paid £1.15.0 for his burgher rights. The following year he was granted a license to "trade and traffic" within the Ci...
  • Solomon Israel (aft.1710 - 1795)
    He was almost certainly a Sephardic Jew whose ancestors came to Amsterdam from Spain. The identification is supported by DNA on his male-line descendants, who belong to haplogroup J2. Notes for SOLOMON...
  • John Moses (c.1616 - c.1693)
    Many researchers believe his surname indicates he was a Sephardic Jew whose ancestors fled Spain, went to the Netherlands, and ultimately came to England. There is, however, no direct evidence. In Ne...
  • Mary Sizemore (1742 - c.1803)
    His brother William (m. Winifred Greene, who was Jewish) passed the R1b gene to John H. Sizemore who married Mollie Gregory (who was Jewish). These Gregories moved with the Yateses, Coopers, Sheldons, ...
  • Joachim Chaim Gans (deceased)
    Joachim Gans (other spellings: Jeochim, Jochim, Gaunz, Ganse, Gaunse) was a Bohemian mining expert and renowned for being the first recorded Jew to live in North America. German mining expert who fig...

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.

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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.