American History

#OTD 1654: The Capitulation Protocol: Portugal decreed that Jewish & Dutch settlers had three months to leave Brazil

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Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Jan.26: 2023:

#AceHistoryDesk – The Capitulation Protocol According to the terms of the capitulation protocol of January 26, 1654, Approximately 150 Jewish families of Portuguese descent fled the Brazilian city of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco. By September, twenty-three of these refugees had established the first community of Jews in New Amsterdam.

Accuratissima Brasiliæ tabula. [Inset of Pernambuco.] Amstelodami: Henricus Hondius, excudit, [1630]. Map Collections. Geography & Map Division

Known as Sephardim (Jews of Spanish-Portuguese extraction), theirs was a complex saga. In December 1496, King Manuel I of Portugal decreed that all Jews leave Portugal by October 1497, causing many to flee to Holland where a climate of acceptance prevailed.

From there, some migrated to Pernambuco, a colony of the Dutch West India Company in modern-day Brazil. The community flourished until the Dutch eventually surrendered Pernambuco to the Portuguese and the Sephardim were again forced to flee.

After being driven ashore in Jamaica by Spanish ships, twenty-three members of the community, along with a group of Dutch Calvinists, made their way to New Netherland (New York)—another colony run by the Dutch West India Company. Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Netherland, feared that the indigent newcomers would burden the colony but when he motioned to eject the Jewish newcomers the Company refused his petition (many of the company’s shareholders were Jewish).

New York City Views. Old Cemetery, Shearith Israel, Old Bowery or St. James Places. Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, Nov. 7, 1952. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Shearith Israel Cemetery dates from the 1600s and contains the tombstone of Benjamin Bueno de Mesquita, a member of both the Recife, Brazil, and New Amsterdam Jewish communities.

The immigrants settled in the colony and soon formed Congregation Shearith Israel although the first synagogue was not built until 1730. Their community maintained traditions of Iberian origin and contributed richly to the growth of the colony. Around 1734 Isaac Mendes Seixas, born in Portugal, arrived in New York from London. His son, Benjamin Mendes Seixas, was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, it is estimated that there were several hundred Portuguese (from every small town of the Azores Islands, Madeira, and the Portuguese mainland), both Christians and Jews, in the colonies. A number fought in the Revolution, including Jacob and Solomon Pinto, Jewish brothers who settled in New Haven in the 1750s. About fifteen percent of the enlisted personnel on board the first warship to fly the Stars and Stripes, the Bonhomme Richard, captained by John Paul Jones, were Portuguese.

While Hebrew was the language of prayer for the Congregation Shearith Israel (popularly known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue), Sephardic rites of worship were used during its first decades. Synagogue accounts were kept in Portuguese. By the middle of the 1700s, however, both Portuguese and Spanish gave way to English. Nevertheless, the group’s unique synagogue architecture, liturgical music, and lifestyle remained strong.

Amongst the nearly thirty million immigrants who poured into the U.S. between 1880 and 1925 were some 30,000 Sephardim. Many settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During that same period nearly two million Ashkenazim—Jews mainly of Russian, German, and Polish descent with different religious and cultural traditions—also arrived in the U.S. Another wave of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi peoples emigrated at the time of World War II.

During the twentieth century both groups saw their old world languages and many of their folkways blend into the English-speaking American mainstream. Nevertheless, when the congregation assembles in the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue at 70th and Central Park West in New York it represents an unbroken line from the community that originated in 1654.

Old Man Entering Jewish Synagogue for Afternoon Services. Colchester, Connecticut. Jack Delano, photographer, November 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

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