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Jews Permitted to Stay in New Amsterdam

The first group of Jewish settlers in North America were 23 refugees from the Portuguese reconquest of Recife, Brazil, who arrived in New Amsterdam (present day New York City) in 1654. The colony's governor, Peter Stuyvesant, greeted them coldly and wished to expell them. He engaged in this pungent correspondence with the Dutch West India Company, overseers of the New Netherlands colony, seeking permission to eject the refugees.

Letter, dated September 22, 1654, from Peter Stuyvesant to the directors of the Dutch West India Company.

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.

  The Jewish refugees turned to influential Jewish shareholders of the West India Company in Holland for help. As a result of their intercession, Company officials wrote this letter ordering Stuyvesant to let the Jews remain in New Amsterdam:

April 26, 1655

. . .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.

Stuyvesant replied that Jewish settlers should not be granted the same liberties enjoyed by Jews in Holland, lest members of other persecuted minority groups, such as Roman Catholics, be attracted to the colony. Dutch West India Company officials, sharing his fears, responded with the following ruling.

The consent given to the Jews to go to New Netherland and there to enjoy the same liberty that is granted them in this country was extended with respect to civil and political liberties, without the said Jews becoming thereby entitled to a license to exercise and carry on their religion in synagogues or gatherings.

A year later, Stuyvesant sent the following wry report to the company on his compliance with the company's policies.

June 10, 1656

. . . Considering the Jewish nation with regard to trade, they are not hindered, but trade with the same privilege and freedom as other inhabitants. Also, they have many times requested of us the free and public exercise of their abominable religion, but this cannot yet be accorded to them. What they may be able to obtain from your Honors time will tell.