You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

March 2: Jews and the Slave Trade

March 2, 2012

Congress abolished the slave trade on this date in 1807. According to Eli Faber’s 1998 book, Jews and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight, the fact that “Jews participated in the slave trade, sometimes by investing in companies engaged in it, sometimes as the owners of slave ships... are matters that have long been known” as part of Jewish historiography. In the mid-1990s, however, Nation of Islam spokespeople began making claims that Jews were the key leaders and financiers of slavery in the Americas, and soon published The Secret Relationship Between Jews and Blacks, which Henry Louis Gates, Jr. denounced as “the bible of the new anti-Semitism.” Faber notes that in Curaçao, Dutch Surinam, and Newport, Rhode Island — one of the larger Jewish population centers in the colonial period — Jews were active in the slave trade. Yet within the British empire, which dominated slave traffic by the 18th century, Jewish involvement was “exceedingly limited,” despite the sophistication of Jewish merchant networks.

“Because England’s Jewish merchants did not trade with Africa, almost none of them were drawn into the exchange of European goods for slaves. Nor are any known to have been among the primary owners of the slave fleets of London, Bristol, and Liverpool...” —Eli Faber