History Timeline 1600s

Picture above: Drawing of a Susquehannock Fort from original plate by Jacob van Meurs, 1671. Courtesy Free Library of Philadelphia via Wikipedia Commons. Right: Drawing of a Puritan Woman, 1897, Percy Moran, G.H. Buck and Co. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Puritan Woman

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s


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  • 1654 Detail

    August 22, 1654 - Jewish settlement in the American colonies begins with the arrival of twenty-three settlers from Brazil in New Amsterdam.

    New Amsterdam

    It seems odd that these two instance would coincide, but the first voyage of Columbus in 1492 actually began in the same year that the forced process of Jewish immigration to the Americas started. Spain, i.e. the Catholic Monarchs King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I had threatened to evict all of them, three hundred thousand, from their nation in 1492. They must leave, convert, or be killed, per the Alhambra Decree of March 31, 1492. Two hundred thousand converted; around forty to one hundred thousand were expelled. During the 16th century and the Holy Inquisition, Jewish migration pushed them toward the Netherlands, a new Calvanist Republic who accepted them, as well as other nations in the Mediterranean, Italy and Greece.

    As the Dutch expanded their presence into the New World, Jewish migration to the Americas began in the Netherlands colony of Recife, which had begun as a Portuguese colony in 1535-1537, and was part of the first colony, Terra de Santa Cruz, later known as Brazil, in the New World to begin the slave trade. But New Holland, Dutch Brazil, did not last long; Portugal reclaimed the Recife from the Dutch in 1654, and the Jewish settlers scattered throughout the Caribbean and other havens in the New World, which were scarce.

    Twenty-three of those hired a boat to take them to a new colony in North America, which had started with Henry Hudson and 1609 trip up the Hudson River for the Dutch. It was called New Amsterdam, what we term today as New York City.

    Upon arrival, they requested permission from the Dutch authorities to remain. It was granted. The population of Colonial Jews would never exceed one tenth of one percent of the colonial censuses. They lived in cosmopolitan ports like New York and Newport, where residents of a variety of backgrounds lived alongside one another and there was opportunity for trade. The first Jewish people were Sephardic Jews, ironically tracing back to the 1492 banning by Spain from the Iberian Peninsula, as that was where they hailed.

    There were synagogue communities set up in cities besides New York; i.e. Newport, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Charleston. Oddly, the largest of these was Charleston, until the 1830's. Unlike Old World synogogues, those in the New World separated their religious morality and control over the American mercantile experience, allowing the merchants more freedom to succeed.

    It was not an easy fight to retain their freedoms in New York, as New Netherlands Governor Peter Stuyvesant attempted to advance his Dutch Reformed Church by discriminating against other religions; Jewish, Quaker, etc. However, the Dutch West India company ruled against him; the tradition of religious pluralism already had status in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the Dutch did not retain control of New Amsterdam much longer. In 1664, the British conquered the Dutch colony and renamed it New York.

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    Jewish Community After the Revolution

    The principles professed in the documents of the American Revolution; the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill or Rights, became a touchstone in Jewish history. For the first time, a nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom. Yes, the Jewish community still had to fight for certain rights in various communities and were held in prejudice for their beliefs, but the end to government persecution began with the victory of the American ideals over British tyranny.

    There were diverse perspectives in the Jewish community; Sephardic Jews were outnumbered in the Americas by the Ashkenazic (German) Jews by 1720. Reform synagogues took on some of the practices of the Christian religion in order to prevent conversion attempts. German speaking Jewish communities grew with increased immigration from Poland and Germany; many of those communities advanced west when the frontier opened.

    In 2019, the presence of Jewish Americans represents two percent of the population, 7.1 million people. This percentage, however, is much lower than in the middle of the last century. In 1940, the Jewish population was 3.7% of the American census. The population centers of today's, 2018, Jewish communities are the metropolitan areas of New York (2.1 million), Los Angeles (617,000), Miami (527,750), Washington, D.C. (297,290), Chicago (294,280) and Philadelphia (292,450). Image above: Drawing of New Amsterdam, 1664, Johannes Vingboons. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Jewish immigrant children waving U.S. flags while saying oath of allegiance at a school in New York City, 1906, drawing by E.V. Nadherny, illustration by H.G. Wells, Harpers Weekly. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: "The American Jewish Experience through the Nineteenth Century: Immigration and Acculturation," Jonathan D. Sarna and Jonathan Golden, Brandeis University, nationalhumanitiescenter.org; "Jewish Immigration to America: Three Waves," Joellyn Zollman, myjewishlearning.com; Wikipedia.

    Jewish Children in New York City

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