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.
However, among the directors of the Dutch West India Company included several influential Jews, who interceded on the refugees' behalf. Company officials rebuffed Stuyvesant and ordered him in a letter dated April 26, 1655, to let the Jews remain in New Amsterdam, "provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation":
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.
Upon the capture of the colony by the English in 1664, the rights enjoyed by the Jews were not interfered with, and for twenty years they appear to have lived much as before the British occupation, though with slight increase in their numbers. Jews had previously been barred from settling in English colonies as they had been banned from all English lands for 400 years. Oliver Cromwell lifted this prohibition and the first major Jewish settlement soon followed in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1672, Rabba Couty attained prominence by his appeal to the King's Council, in England, from a decree passed against him by the courts of Jamaica, as a result of which one of his ships had been seized and declared forfeited. His appeal was successful and resulted in establishing the rights of Jews as British subjects, and his appears to be the first case in which a colonial grant of naturalization was recognized as valid.
It would thus appear that the religious rights of these early Jewish settlers had been secured in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and that they enjoyed also many political rights. An act passed by the General Assembly of New York on November 15, 1727, provided that when the oath of abjuration was to be taken by any British subject professing the Jewish religion, the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" might be omitted. Three days later an act was passed naturalizing one Daniel Nunes da Costa. A bitter political controversy of the year 1737 resulted in the decision by the General Assembly that Jews should not be allowed to vote for members of that body.
In 1740 Parliament passed a general act permitting foreign Jews to be naturalized in the colonies. Previous to this date, however, the New York Colonial Assembly had passed numerous special acts of naturalization, some of which were applicable to individuals only; others, more general in character, under which Jews could be naturalized without taking oath "upon the true faith of a Christian," were also put upon the statute-book. Between this time and the Revolutionary War the Jewish community in this colony increased by slow stages, the principal immigrants coming from Spain, Portugal, and the West Indies.
During the French and Indian War, Jacob Franks was the royal agent, in association with a British syndicate, for provisioning the British forces in America; his dealings with the crown during this period exceeded £750,000 in value.
There is record of the purchase of a burial-place in February 1677. Between 1740 and 1760 a number of enterprising Portuguese Jewish settlers from Portugal and the West Indies arrived, and by their activity established Newport as the seat of the most extensive trade of the country. The most prominent of the settlers during this period were the Lopez, Rivera, Pollock, Hart, and Hays families. Aaron Lopez (or Lopes) was one of the leading merchants of his time, and owned as many as thirty vessels. With the advent of Jacob Rodriguez Rivera, a native of Portugal, in 1745, the manufacture of spermaceti was introduced in America. In 1762 the erection of a synagogue was begun, and was completed and dedicated in the following year. From 1760 until the outbreak of the Revolution the Rev. Isaac Touro, who had come from Jamaica, was the rabbi of the congregation. In 1763 there were between sixty and seventy Jewish families in Newport. The first Jewish sermon which was preached in America, and which has been published, was delivered in the Newport Touro Synagogue on May 28, 1773, by Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal. This was delivered in Spanish, and was afterward translated into English. Carregal was a most interesting personality; he appears to have come from Hebron, and was on terms of intimacy with Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale College. The first Jewish club in America was formed in 1761 at Newport, with a membership limited to nine persons. Just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War the Jewish population of Newport must have numbered nearly 1,000. The war dispersed the community, which never regained its importance. The Jews for the most part espoused the colonial cause, and lost the greater part of their property when the town was captured by the British.
In 1790 the congregation presented an address to George Washington on the occasion of his visit to the city. The letter of welcome is still preserved. Abraham Touro bequeathed a fund to the city of Newport to maintain the synagogue as well as the cemetery; this fund is still in existence, though no representatives of the original families now live in the city.
Mention is found of a Jew in Connecticut on November 9, 1659, and of another in 1670. The first Jewish family to settle in New Haven came in 1772, though a few individuals who had become converts to Christianity dwelt there a few years before. The first congregation was established about 1840, the congregants being members of about twenty Bavarian families. From that date on the community increased by slow stages. There are Jewish settlements also in Bridgeport, Ansonia, Derby, Waterbury, New London, and Hartford. The first congregation in Hartford was established in 1843. Since 1891 a number of Jewish farmers have been settled in various parts of the state.
The earliest mention of a Jew in Massachusetts bears the date May 3, 1649, and there are references to Jews among the inhabitants of Boston in 1695 and 1702; but they can be regarded only as stragglers, as no settlers made their homes in Massachusetts until the Revolutionary War drove the Jews from Newport. In 1777 Aaron Lopez and Jacob Rivera, with fifty-nine others, went from Newport to Leicester, and established themselves there; but this settlement did not survive the close of the war. A number of Jews, including the Hays family, settled at Boston before 1800. Of these Moses Michael Hays was the most important. In 1830 a number of Algerian Jews went to Boston, but they soon disappeared. The history of the present community begins with the year 1840, when the first congregation was established.
The Jewish immigrants to Vermont and New Hampshire have never been very numerous, though there are congregations in Burlington, Vermont and in Manchester, Portsmouth, and Nashua, New Hampshire. Little of importance can be said about the communal life of the Jews in New England, and their numbers increased but slowly until after the beginning of the great Russian emigration in 1882, when the overflow from New York as well as the emigration through Canada commenced to stream into New England.
The opening up of the West and the resulting unprofitable nature of farming in New England drew away from this part of the United States many thrifty farmers, who abandoned their unfruitful fields for the more attractive opportunities in the western states. Of interest in connection with this shifting of the population is the fact that many of these abandoned farms, especially in Connecticut, have been taken up by Russian Jews, who, principally as dairy farmers, have added a new and useful element to the agricultural community.
Jews have lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, since at least 1730, before the town and county were organized. Joseph Simon was the best known of the first arrivals. Meyer Hart and Michael Hart were among the earlier settlers at Easton, where they arrived previous to the Revolutionary War. A synagogue was established there in 1839. Shaefferstown had a few Jewish settlers at an early date, and a synagogue and cemetery in 1732. For a considerable number of years preceding the Revolutionary War a number of Jews of Pennsylvania were engaged in the exploitation and sale of western Pennsylvania lands. Among the more prominent of these were Jacob and David Franks, Barnard and Michael Gratz, Joseph Simon, and Levy Andrew Levy.
Among the first immigrants was Dr. Nuñez, who was made welcome because of his medical knowledge, and because he, with a number of others, brought sufficient wealth to the colony to enable the immigrants to take up large tracts of land. A congregation was organized as early as 1734. Three years later Abraham de Lyon, who had been a vineron in Portugal, introduced the culture of grapes. The cultivation and manufacture of silk and the pursuit of agriculture and of commerce were the chief occupations of these early settlers. A dispute with the trustees of the colony respecting the introduction of slaves caused an extensive emigration to South Carolina in 1741, and resulted in the dissolution of the congregation. But in 1751 a number of Jews returned to Georgia, and in the same year the trustees sent over Joseph Ottolenghi to superintend the somewhat extensive silk-industry in the colony. Ottolenghi soon attained prominence in the political life of his associates, and was elected a member of the Assembly in 1761 and in succeeding years. There seems to have been little if any distinction made socially between the Jews and the other settlers, and educational and philanthropic institutions seem to have been supported by all alike.
In 1748 some prominent London Jews set on foot a scheme for the acquisition of a tract of 200,000 acres (809 km²) of land in South Carolina. Nothing came of this, however, though on November 27, 1755, Joseph Salvador purchased 100,000 acres (405 km²) of land near Fort Ninety-six for £2,000. Twenty years later Salvador sold 60,000 acres (243 km²) of land for £3,000 to thirteen London Sephardic Jews. This land was known as the "Jews' Lands." Another of the Salvadors (Francis Salvador, the nephew of Joseph) purchased extensive tracts of land in the same vicinity in 1773-74. Moses Lindo, likewise a London Jew, who arrived in 1756, became actively engaged in indigo manufacture, spending large sums in its development, and making this one of the principal industries of the state.
During the Revolutionary War the Jews of South Carolina were to be found on both sides; and the most eminent of the revolutionists was Francis Salvador, who was elected a member of the First and Second Provincial Congresses which met 1775-76, the most important political office held by any Jew during the Revolution. Two-thirds of a company of militia commanded by Richard Lushington was made up of Charleston Jews.
After the fall of Charleston in 1780 the majority of Jews left that city, but most of them returned at the close of the war. The Sephardic Jews established a congregation in 1750, and the Jews of German descent another shortly thereafter. In 1791, when the Sephardic congregation was incorporated, the total number of Jews in Charleston is estimated to have been 400.
To judge by names alone, it would appear that a few Jews wandered into Virginia as early as 1624. A small number seem also to have been there before the end of the seventeenth century, but for nearly 100 years no traces of Jewish settlement are found. At least one Jewish soldier—possibly two—served in Virginia regiments under Washington in his expedition across the Allegheny Mountains in 1754. It is probable that Jews drifted into the colony from Baltimore and other points in Maryland at an early date. By 1785 Richmond had a Jewish community of about a dozen families of Spanish-Portuguese descent, which organized a Sephardic congregation in 1791. This congregation remained in existence until 1898.
Of the remaining states of the southern group east of the Mississippi River the principal Jewish settlements have been made in Alabama and Mississippi. An occasional Jew made his way into the territory which is now Alabama during the early part of the eighteenth century. One Pallachio became prominent in 1776.
It is likely that there were a few Jews in the Natchez district of Mississippi before the close of the eighteenth century, but no congregation was organized until that of Natchez was established in 1843.