Thursday, November 5, 2015

Jewish Women in 17C America

Colonial Period in the United States by Eli Faber

Jewish women in colonial North America occupied traditional positions & played traditional roles within the Jewish community as well as in the larger society. Public Judaism was reserved for males. Women could not serve in positions of leadership in either the Jewish or the general community, & they are not known to have had their own social organizations. Their primary occupation was that of homemaker, although several kept lodgings in which poorer Jewish individuals lived at the Jewish community’s expense.

Marriage, the central event in the life of a colonial Jewish woman, occurred for the 1st time at an average age of 23; men were approximately seven to 10 years older. 

The exceedingly small size of the Jewish population in colonial North America necessitated choosing marriage partners not only from among the local population but also from among the Jewish communities located elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe, in the Caribbean, & in England. 

Jewish Woman in Istanbul - 17th century

Marriage created networks of personal ties that spanned the Atlantic world. Such networks bestowed commercial advantage on the Jewish merchants who resided in each location & comprised the upper ranks of each Jewish community. The small size of the Jewish population also probably accounts for the occasional marriages with non-Jews, although Jewish women appear to have entered into such marriages less frequently than Jewish men did.

Participation by Jews in international commerce led to still other forms of family disruption & separation for colonial Jewish women. Merchant husbands traveled frequently & extensively, while sons were often posted to distant ports to act as commercial representatives for their families.

Families of means engaged private tutors for their daughters. Evidence regarding the extent of literacy among them is inadequate, but it appears from the wills of men who named their wives as their executrixes that many colonial Jewish women were literate & had been educated to the point of being capable of administering what in some cases were sizable estates.

Their presence as the executrixes of estates suggests, as well, that Jewish women had some experience in business matters, although few functioned as businesswomen in their own right. Although some owned land or kept lodging houses, & one in New York, Grace Levy Hays, 1690–1740, is known to have kept a retail store, the majority who were exposed to commercial affairs functioned primarily as ancillaries to their husbands, either by assisting them as clerks or by watching their businesses when they traveled.

Jewish women in colonial America regularly received property & money in the form of bequests in the wills made by husbands, fathers, brothers, & other male relatives. Impoverished women also received funds, including dowries for marriage, through the communal allocations that were regularly made to the poor.

Orthodox practice prevailed within the walls of the synagogue, the community’s primary institution, so that colonial Jewish women sat apart in an upstairs gallery during services & participated in worship in only a passive manner. Nonetheless, they made voluntary financial contributions to the synagogue &, when they made wills, bequeathed funds to it as well as to the Jewish community in general.

Adapted & Excerpted From Faber, Eli. "Colonial Period in the United States." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009

Groshen, Doris “Colonial Jewry: Religion, Domestic & Social Relations.” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 66 (1976–77): 375–400 

Hershkowitz, Leo, ed. Wills of Early New York Jews (1704–1799) (1967) 

Hershkowitz, Leo, & Isidore S. Meyer, eds. 
   Letters of the Franks Family (1733–1748) (1968)
   The American Jewish Woman, 1654–1980 (1981)
   American Jewry—Documents—Eighteenth Century (1959) 
   The Colonial American Jew, 1492–1776, 3 vols. (1970); 

Stern, Malcolm H. “The Function of Genealogy in American Jewish History.” In Essays in American Jewish History to Commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of the Founding of the American Jewish Archives (1958).

America as a Religious Refuge - Jews in 17C America

Early American Jews were unremarkable in many ways. They looked & behaved like other colonists: they wore the same clothes, lived in the same types of homes, worried about their children, & worked to earn a living, just like their neighbors. Their religion & their history were the only differences. Their beliefs had gotten them expelled from England in 1290 & cast out from Spain in 1492.  By the settlement of the British American colonies in the early 17C, Jews had been banned from all English lands for centuries. Oliver Cromwell (British Protector from 1649 through 1660, through his son Richard) lifted this prohibition. 

"From the time of its discovery, America has been a haven for Europe's oppressed & persecuted. In 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World, the Spanish Inquisition reached its apogee. Spain expelled its Jews, &, five years later, Portugal followed suit. The remnants of Iberian Jewry found refuge in the cities & towns of Europe, North Africa, & the Near East, &, in the first half of the 17C, some of their descendants established communities in Dutch-ruled Brazil...

"References to Columbus's voyages & to his "discoveries" are recorded in a number of early Hebrew printed books as well as in other works by Jews related to navigation & exploration. For Jews forced to practice their faith in secret, the New World offered the prospect of practicing Judaism in the open. Other Jews saw in the newly discovered lands possibilities for economic opportunity & adventure, while some, like 16C scholar & geographer Abraham Farissol, may have seen the discovery of the New World as a harbinger of the messianic era...

"Printed by Stephen Daye in 1640, the Bay Psalm Book is the 1st book printed in the English settlements of America. Its preface included 5 Hebrew words, including the Hebrew words for psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs. This marks the 1st appearance of Hebrew in a work printed in what is now the United States.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Page 2 - 3. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Stephen Daye, 1640." (see note)

The earliest legislation of the colonies of New England was determined by the Bible. For example, at the 1st assembly of New Haven in 1639, John Davenport emphasized the primacy of the Bible as the legal & moral foundation of the colony: "Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction & government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God & men as well as in the government of families & commonwealth as in matters of the Church... the Word of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in organizing the affairs of government in this plantation." Subsequently, the New Haven legislators adopted a legal code - the Code of 1655 - which contained some 79 statutes, half of which included biblical references, virtually all from the Hebrew Bible. The Plymouth Colony had a similar law code as did the Massachusetts assembly, which, in 1641 adopted the so-called Capital Laws of New England based almost entirely on Mosaic law.

In 1654, Portugal recaptured Brazil & expelled its Jewish settlers. Most returned to Holland or moved to Protestant-ruled colonies in the Caribbean. A group of twenty-three Jewish refugees, including women & children, arrived in New Amsterdam hoping to settle & build a new home for themselves. In the years that followed, the growing Jewish community pressed the authorities to extend to them rights offered to other settlers, including the right to trade & travel, to stand guard, to own property, to establish a cemetery, to erect a house of worship, & to participate fully in the political process.

For some decades Jews had flourished in Dutch-held areas of Brazil; but a Portuguese conquest of the area in 1654, confronted them with the prospect of the Inquisition, which had already burned a Brazilian Jew at the stake in 1647.  A shipload of 23 Jewish refugees from Dutch Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam (soon to become New York) in 1654. By the next year, this small community had established religious services in the city.

Luis de Carabajal y Cueva 1539-1595
, a Spanish conquistador was 1st set foot in what is now Texas in 1570.  In Spain, his parents were forced to convert to Christianity. He roamed the Atlantic in charge of a fleet;  he governed the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon; he helped bring other Jews to North America. At the end of his life, he was living in Mexico, supposedly as a good Christian, when the Inquisition intervened. Carabajal & his entire family were charged with "Judizing," jailed & tortured. He died in prison; his relatives were burned at the stake.

Joachim Gans, was the 1st Jew recorded in English America.  Gans was born in Prague around the middle of the 16C. He arrived in England in 1581, where he introduced a new quicker & 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. "Gans was to find and test the metals that were to make everyone's fortune," wrote Ivor Noël Hume, an American historian of early Chesapeake settlements.

Elias Legarde was a Sephardic Jew who arrived at James City, Virginia, on the Abigail in 1621. According to one historian, Elias was from Languedoc, France and was hired to go to the Colony to teach people how to grow grapes for wine. Elias Legarde was living in Buckroe in Elizabeth City in February of 1624. Elias was employed by Anthonie Bonall. Anthonie Bonall was a French silk maker and vigneron (cultivates vineyards for winemaking), one of the men from Languedoc sent to the colony by John Bonall, keeper of the silkworms of King James I.  In 1628 Elias leased 100 acres on the west side of Harris Creek in Elizabeth City, Virginia. 

Josef Mosse and Rebecca Isaake are documented in Elizabeth City in 1624. John Levy patented 200 acres of land on the main branch of Powell’s Creek, Virginia, around 1648, Albino Lupo who traded with his brother, Amaso de Tores, in London. Two brothers named Silvedo and Manuel Rodriguez are documented to be in Lancaster County, Virginia, around 1650. None of the Jews in Virginia were forced to leave under any conditions.

Solomon Franco, a Sephardic Jew from Holland who is believed to have settled in the city of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colonyin 1649. Franco was a scholar & agent for Immanuel Perada, a Dutch merchant. He delivered supplies to Edward Gibbons, a major general in the Massachusetts militia. After a dispute over who should pay Franco (Gibbons or Perada) the Massachusetts General Court ruled on May 6, 1649, that Franco was to be expelled from the colony, and granted him "six shillings per week out of the Treasury for ten weeks, for sustenance, till he can get his passage to Holland."

On July 8, 1654, Jacob Barsimson left Holland and arrived aboard the Peartree on August 22 in the port of New Amsterdam (in lower Manhattan, where Wall Street is today). Barsimson was employed by the Dutch East India Company and had fled the Portuguese.

In September 1654, the 23 Jews from the Sephardic community in the Brazil, arrived in New Amsterdam (New York City).  Barsimson is said to have met them at The Battery upon their arrival. This group was made up of 23 Dutch Jews (4 couples, 2 widows, and 13 children). Like Barsimson, they had fled from a former Dutch settlement; the group had emigrated from Pernambuco in Dutch Brazil (now called Recife), after the settlement was conquered by the Portuguese. Fearing the Inquisition, the Jews left Recife. They originally docked in Jamaica and Cuba, but the Spanish did not allow them to remain there. Their ship, Ste. Catherine, went to New Amsterdam instead, settling against the wishes of local merchants and the local Dutch Reformed Church. 

Colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant, upon complaint from his local church groups, attempted to have the Jews expelled. He wrote a letter to the directors of the Dutch West India Company dated September 22, 1654: "The Jews who have arrived would nearly all like to remain here, but learning that they (with their customary usury and deceitful trading with the Christians) were very repugnant to the inferior magistrates, as also to the people having the most affection for you; the Deaconry also fearing that owing to their present indigence they might become a charge in the coming winter, we have, for the benefit of this weak and newly developing place and the land in general, deemed it useful to require them in a friendly way to depart, praying also most seriously in this connection, for ourselves as also for the general community of your worships, that the deceitful race—such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ—be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony to the detraction of your worships and the dissatisfaction of your worships' most affectionate subjects." 

However, among the directors of the Dutch West India Company included several influential Jews, who interceded on the refugees' behalf. Company officials rebuffed Stuyvesant and ordered him in a letter dated April 26, 1655, to let the Jews remain in New Amsterdam, "provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation..."We would have liked to effectuate and fulfill your wishes and request that the new territories should no more be allowed to be infected by people of the Jewish nation, for we foresee therefrom the same difficulties which you fear, but after having further weighed and considered the matter, we observe that this would be somewhat unreasonable and unfair, especially because of the considerable loss sustained by this nation, with others, in the taking of Brazil, as also because of the large amount of capital which they still have invested in the shares of this company. Therefore after many deliberations we have finally decided and resolved to apostille [annotate] upon a certain petition presented by said Portuguese Jews that these people may travel and trade to and in New Netherland and live and remain there, provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation. You will now govern yourself accordingly." 

Upon the capture of the colony by the English in 1664, the rights enjoyed by the Jews were not interfered with, and for 20 years they appear to have lived much as before the British occupation, though with slight increase in their numbers.

Solomon Pietersen was a merchant from Amsterdam who came to town in 1654. In 1656, Pietersen became the first known American Jew to intermarry with a Christian; though there are no records showing Pietersen formally converted, his daughter Anna was baptized in childhood.

Asser Levy (Van Swellem) is first mentioned in public records in New Amsterdam in 1654 in connection with the group of 23 Jews who arrived as refugees from Brazil. It is likely he preceded their arrival. Levy was the (kosher) butcher for the small Jewish community. He fought for Jewish rights in the Dutch colony and is famous for having secured the right of Jews to be admitted as Burghers and to serve guard duty for the colony.

Esther & Isaac Pinheiro were married in Amsterdam in 1656. After coming to the New World, the couple lived in New York, but eventually settled on the West Indian Island of Nevis, which was a bustling center of shipping & trade. Isaac Pinheiro passed away while in New York, on February 17, 1710. In his will he designated Esther as his sole executrix & left much of his property & other holdings to her. She took on the responsibility of running her husband’s far-flung & rather extensive business interests, after his death. Esther Pinheiro became a familiar figure in the commercial communities of New York City & Boston. From 1716 to 1718, the Widow Pinheiro was a frequent visitor to the mainland colonies. She sailed from her home in Charlestown, the capital of Nevis, to the ports of Boston & New York City in what was presumably her own small sloop, the Neptune. She managed the sale of the cargo & assembled a return load of flour, lumber, fish, & goods from Europe.

In New York City, Shearith Israel Congregation is the oldest continuous congregation started in 1687, having their first synagogue erected in 1728, & its current building still houses some of the original pieces of that first.

Religious tolerance was also established elsewhere in the colonies; the colony of South Carolina, for example, was originally governed under an elaborate charter drawn up in 1669, by the English philosopher John Locke. This charter granted liberty of conscience to all settlers, expressly mentioning "Jews, heathens, and dissenters."  As a result, Charleston, South Carolina has a particularly long history of Sephardic settlement, which in 1816, numbered over 600, then the largest Jewish population of any city in the United States.

In Maryland, Dr. Jacob Lumbrozo, who had arrived January 24, 1656, was tried in 1658 for blasphemy, but was released by reason of the general amnesty granted in honor of the accession of Richard Cromwell (March 3, 1658). Letters of denization were issued to Lumbrozo September 10, 1663. Besides practicing medicine, he also owned a plantation, engaged in trade with the Indians, & had active intercourse with London merchants. He was one of the earliest medical practitioners in Maryland, & his career casts light upon the history & nature of religious tolerance in Maryland. By the strength of his personality, he was able to disregard nearly all the laws which would have rendered his residence in the colony impossible, & he seems to have observed his faith even though this, under the laws, was forbidden.

By 1658, Jews had arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, seeking religious liberty. Sephardic Dutch Jews were among the early settlers of Newport (where Touro Synagogue, the country's oldest surviving synagogue building, stands).  

Small numbers of Jews continued to come to the British North American colonies, settling mainly in the seaport towns like Savannah, Philadelphia, & Baltimore. By the time of American Revolution, the Jewish population in America was very small, with only 1,000-2000, in a colonial population of about 2.5 million.

For Jews, the promise of America was deeply rooted in its commitment to religious liberty. In the 18C, President George Washington's declaration in 1790 to the Newport Hebrew Congregation that this nation gives "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance," provided the Jewish community with an early assurance of America's suitability as a haven.

For more documents, see the Library of Congress here.

America as a Religious Refuge - Persecution - Jews by English

Jewish bodies found in medieval well in Norwich, England.  BBC 22 June 2011

Manuscript from The Chronicles of Offa that depicts Jews in England

"The remains of 17 bodies found at the bottom of a medieval well in England could have been victims of persecution, new evidence has suggested.

"The most likely explanation is that those down the well were Jewish and were probably murdered or forced to commit suicide, according to scientists who used a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies in their investigation.

"The skeletons date back to the 12th or 13th Centuries at a time when Jewish people were facing persecution throughout Europe.

"They were discovered in 2004 during an excavation of a site in the centre of Norwich, ahead of construction of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre. The remains were put into storage and have only recently been the subject of investigation.

"Seven skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.

"DNA expert Dr Ian Barnes, who carried out the tests, said: "This is a really unusual situation for us. This is a unique set of data that we have been able to get for these individuals.  "I am not aware that this has been done before - that we have been able to pin them down to this level of specificity of the ethnic group that they seem to come from."...

"Regarding the nature of the discovery, Professor Black said: "We are possibly talking about persecution. We are possibly talking about ethnic cleansing and this all brings to mind the scenario that we dealt with during the Balkan War crimes."

"Eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between two and 15. The remaining six were adult men and women.

"In terms of the brutality of the ethnic cleansing, it was thought women and children quite frankly weren't worth wasting the bullets on," added Professor Black.  "Pregnant women were bayoneted because that way you got rid of a woman because that wasn't important and you got rid of the next generation because you didn't want them to survive. So I know what sort of pattern I am looking for."

"Pictures taken at the time of excavation suggested the bodies were thrown down the well together, head first.

"A close examination of the adult bones showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the bottom of the well. But the same damage was not seen on the children's bones, suggesting they were thrown in after the adults who cushioned the fall of their bodies.

"The team had earlier considered the possibility of death by disease but the bone examination also showed no evidence of diseases such as leprosy or tuberculosis.

"Giles Emery, the archaeologist who led the original excavation, said at first he thought it might have been a plague burial, but carbon dating had shown that to be impossible as the plague came much later.

"And historians pointed out that even during times of plague when mass graves were used, bodies were buried in an ordered way with respect and religious rites.

"Norwich had been home to a thriving Jewish community since 1135 and many lived near the well site. But there are records of persecution of Jews in medieval England including in Norwich (see fact box).

"Sophie Cabot, an archaeologist and expert on Norwich's Jewish history, said the Jewish people had been invited to England by the King to lend money because at the time, the Christian interpretation of the bible did not allow Christians to lend money and charge interest. It was regarded as a sin.

"So cash finance for big projects came from the Jewish community and some became very wealthy - which in turn, caused friction.  

"There is a resentment of the fact that Jews are making money... and they are doing it in a way that doesn't involve physical labour, things that are necessarily recognised as work... like people feel about bankers now," said Ms Cabot.

"The findings of the investigation represented a sad day for Norwich.  Ms Cabot added: "It changes the story of what we know about the community. We don't know everything about the community but what we do know is changed by this."

Medieval English Jewish History

1066: The Norman Conquest opens the way to Jewish immigration. The monarchy needs to borrow money and Christians are forbidden to lend money at interest. London, Lincoln and York become centres for substantial Jewish populations.

1100s: Resentment against the Jewish community grows over their perceived wealth and belief they killed Jesus. The "blood libels" - Jews are accused of the ritual murder of Christian children.

1190: Many Jewish people massacred in York. In Norwich they flee to the city's castle for refuge. Those who stay in their homes are butchered.

1230s: Executions in Norwich after an allegation a Christian child was kidnapped.

1272: Edward I comes to the throne and enforces extra taxes on the Jewish community.

1290: Edward I expels the Jews en masse after devising a new form of royal financing using Christian knights to fill the coffers.

After the expulsion, there was no Jewish community, apart from individuals who practiced Judaism secretly, until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. While Cromwell never officially readmitted Jews to Britain, a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain.  The Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753, an attempt to legalize the Jewish presence in England, remained in force for only a few months. Historians commonly date Jewish Emancipation to either 1829 or 1858 when Jews were finally allowed to sit in Parliament, though Benjamin Disraeli, born Jewish, had been a Member of Parliament long before this.