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Jews of New Amsterdam

Lawrence Bush
September 6, 2017

Captain Jacques de la Motthe of the St. Catrine, who had brought twenty-three Jews to North America after rescuing them from a pirate attack, petitioned for payment of their fare on this date in 1654. His passengers had been part of a convoy of sixteen ships carrying Dutch colonists from Recife, Brazil back to Holland following Portugal's reconquest of Recife. One of the sixteen had blown off course and then been set upon by Spanish pirates. "Its passengers were taken prisoner," writes Stephen Birmingham in his book, The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, "its cargo was confiscated, and . . . [the] prisoners were told that as Jews they would be taken to a Mediterranean port, where they would be sold as slaves." The St. Catrine rescued them after battling with the pirates, but the captain then refused to allow the scant possessions of the Jews to be unloaded from his ship until their passages — already paid for the trip to the Netherlands — were paid to him. Governor Peter Stuyvesant responded to the captain’s petition by seizing the refugees’ few possessions and selling them at auction, then jailing two as debtors. To read the whole story, click here. It would take three years for the Jews of New Amsterdam to gain their rights — a victory enabled by the fact that a few Dutch Jews were significant investors in the Dutch West India Company, which ran the colony.

“We pray 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.” —Peter Stuyvesant

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.