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.
- Leo Hershkowitz, By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654
- NYCHistory, Return to the Jewish Arrival to New Amsterdam 1654
- NYCHistory, Who Was Asser Levy
- Rockefeller University, Tracing the History of the First Jews in the US
- Wikipedia, History of Jews in the United States
- William Pencak, Jews and Gentiles in Early America: 1654-1800, University of Michigan Press, publ. 2005.
- Jews in the American Colonies Under the Act of 1740.
- Please add additional well-documented sources to this area.