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June 3: The Dutch East India Company

June 2, 2015

voclogo2Founded in 1602 and granted a 21-year monopoly of Dutch trade with Asia, the Dutch East India Company had its markets extended on this date in 1621 when it was granted a charter for New Netherlands, which would eventually become New Amsterdam, where Jews would settle for the first time in North America in 1654. The Company can be considered the world’s first multinational corporation and had tremendous power, not only to monopolize trade but to build forts, wage war, negotiate treaties, mint coins, establish colonies, and imprison or execute convicts. “At first the Jews [mostly Portuguese] did not invest in the Company,” writes Lazarus Morris Goldman in The History of the Jews in New Zealand (1958), “as they had no desire to pour money into a company which was in direct competition with them and which showed prejudice against Jews by prohibiting them from becoming directors.... However, as the influence and power of the Dutch East India Company grew, the Jews gradually bought up its shares, and by the end of the 17th century became the principal stockholders in Holland, controlling a quarter of its stock. In the middle of the 17th century, the relief and sustenance of the needy Jews of Amsterdam was obtained by a communal tax on the Jewish shareholders in the East India Company, which formed a principal source of income of the community in that period and for many years afterwards.”

“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 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.” —Letter from the Dutch East India Company to Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam, April 26, 1655