First Settlement of Jews.

Island of the British West Indies in the Windward Group; colonized in 1625. It is probable that Jews were among the earliest settlers on this island. The statement is made by Sir Robert H. Schomburgk that their arrival dates from 1628. Some confirmation is given to this assertion by a letter from one Abraham Jacob to the earl of Carlisle, the proprietor of the island, dated London, Sept. 22, 1628, complaining that the island business was exceedingly unprofitable ("Publications Am. Jewish Hist. Soc." v. 46). As late as 1844 a tombstone was standing in the congregational cemetery bearing the date 1658, though the name was obliterated ("Occident," ii. 294). Upon petition the Jews were granted, on Aug. 12, 1656, the enjoyment of the "privileges of Laws and Statutes of ye Commonwealth of England and of this Island, relating to foreigners and strangers" (E. S. Daniels; see Bibliography).

From 1661 more definite data are available. On April 8 of that year Benjamin de Caseres, Henry de Caseres, and Jacob Fraso petition the king to permit them to live and trade in Barbados and Surinam. As their petition is supported by the king of Denmark, they were probably not residents of England, and were therefore prohibited by the terms of the Navigation Act from trading in the English plantations ("Publications Am. Jewish Hist. Soc." v. 47). It is more than likely that these Caseres were relatives of Simon de Caceres, one of the leading members of the Crypto-Jewish community in London, who, according to Lucien Wolf, had established a branch of his business in Barbados ("Transactions Jewish Hist. Soc. of England," i. 73).

Letters of Denization.

Though remonstrances were made by English merchants against granting the petition, the Council for Foreign Plantations advised that, inasmuch as the petitioners had "behaved themselves well, and with general satisfaction, many years upon Barbados," the desired privileges be accorded them ("Publications Am. Jewish Hist. Soc." v. 47). On July 24, 1661, Daniel Bueno Henriques is granted letters of denization (ib. p. 65); but in 1677 he and Manuel Martinez Dormido complain that their letters have never been issued to them. The residence of the former is given as in Barbados, and that of the latter as in London ("Calendar of State Papers, Colonial America and West Indies," 1677-80, p. 201, No. 556).

Upon the dissolution of the Jewish community of Cayenne in 1664, some of its members emigrated to Barbados ("Publications Am. Jewish Hist. Soc." ii. 95). About this time (March, 1664) Isaac Israel de Piso, and Aaron Israel de Piso, with his sisters and two brothers, "also Moses and his mother, sent thither by Abraham Cohen," are deprived of their letters of denization and ordered to be banished from the island, by reason of their failure to discover goldminesas had been promised. Isaac Israel de Piso is further punished by having taken from him a gold chain previously given him as a mark of royal favor (ib. v. 57, 90-92). In 1667 the Jews of the island are accused of carrying on illicit trade with the Dutch, then at war with England, and in January, 1669, the king issues orders to the governor that vessels which are reported to have sailed from Amsterdam on the account of certain Jews, shall be seized immediately upon their arrival (ib. v. 94, 95).

In 1668 the Jews are spoken of as extensive owners of sugar-works. On Oct. 23 of that year the grand jury includes among its presentments that no Jews be suffered to sell goods at retail (ib. v. 58). This would make it appear that the colony had increased considerably, and that the inhabitants other than Jews feared that the latter might be getting too great a control of the trade of the island.

Free Exercise of Religion, 1671.

In January, 1671, Moses Pereyra is made a free denizen, and shortly thereafter Lord Willoughby, the governor, is instructed to dispense with the administration of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in the cases of Jews admitted to denization, and to molest no man in the peaceable exercise of his religion (ib. v. 58, 59). Having become a community of considerable importance, the Jews now began a period of agitation for the admission of their testimony in courts of law. This privilege had been denied them hitherto, because of their refusal to take oath except upon the Five Books of Moses. Accordingly, on Oct. 29, 1669, they presented to the king a petition in which they stated that measures were taking to deprive them of the benefits of trade (referring to the above-mentioned presentment of the grand jury), and that their testimony was not admitted in the courts when the parties were others than those of their own race. This petition was signed by Antonio Rodrigues Rezio, Abraham Levi Rezio, Lewis Dias, Isaac Jeraio Coutenho, Abraham Perriera, David Baruch Louzada, and others (see Daniels, ib.). Upon its reference to the governor, he gave it a favorable recommendation, but for several years no action was taken.

Permitted to Take Oath, 1674.

However, on Feb. 14, 1674, a law was passed granting to them the privilege of taking oath on the Five Books of Moses, and of giving testimony in cases relating to "trade and dealings, and not otherwise." In 1675 the attempt was made without avail to have this law amended so as to admit their testimony in all courts and causes. Such an act passed the Assembly, but appears to have received no further sanction ("Publications Am. Jewish Hist. Soc." v. 59, 96).

In February, 1679, a levy of taxes "in pounds of Muscovado Sugar on the Hebrew Nation Inhabitants in and about Bridgetown toward defraying the charges of the Parish," produced from 59 persons 13,299 lbs. Some names already mentioned appear in this list. Those paying the highest amounts were: David Raphael de Mercado, 1,260 lbs.; Abraham Obediente, 1,044; Laodrel Obediente, 938; Anthony Rodrigues, 580; Lewis Dias, 580; Daniel Bueno, 383. The remainder was paid in quantities varying from 350 to 25 lbs. The names of fourteen women are to be found in the list, paying quantities of from 125 to 25 lbs. (Daniels).

Numbers in 1681.

In November of the same year complaint was made to the Assembly by sundry merchants that the Jews were procuring control of more than their fair share of trade; and in the same month the Assembly passed an act restraining them from keeping or trading with negroes ("Calendar of State Papers, Colonial America and West Indies," 1677-80, p. 446, No. 1190). In 1680 there were living at St. Michaels a Jewish population numbering 184, of whom 54 were adults, owning 163 negroes and indentured servants ("Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." i. 105 et seq.); and in June, 1681, the total Jewish population of the island was 260 ("Calendar of State Papers, Colonial America and West Indies," 1681-85, p. 72, No. 136). The latter year witnessed several petitions presented to the Assembly against the Jews, and a presentment of the grand jury in August "against the evil done to the island by vagrant and poor Jews" (ib. p. 102, No. 206). The falsity of this charge is proved by the large proportion of persons out of the total population who were able to and did pay taxes. On Aug. 9 Aaron Baruch Louzado, Daniel Bucino, and Jacob Founzeke (Fonseca) prayed for, and were granted on behalf of the Jews of the island, the use of the courts for their protection as traders, and the right to trade (ib. p. 99, No. 198). This indicates that though the act allowing their testimony to be taken in certain causes had been passed six years before, it was not until now enforced. In 1688 the Jews who were not denizens, residing in the seaport towns or islands, were restricted to the holding of one slave apiece, under penalty of the forfeiture of the slaves. This act continued in force until Sept. 30, 1706, when, by reason of the increased importance and influence of the Jewish community, it was unconditionally repealed ("Publications Am. Jewish Hist. Soc." v. 60).

In 1756 a special tax of £210 per annum was levied on them, apportioned so that those in Bridgetown should pay £190 of that sum, and those of Speightstown the remainder. This indicates the localities then inhabited by Jews. On Oct. 8, 1761, this additional burden was lifted, and after that date the Jews were rated and paid taxes on the same scale as the other inhabitants (ib. pp. 60, 61).

Period of Greatest Prosperity, 1761-1831.

From this time for a period of seventy years the Jewish community grew in numbers and became increasingly prosperous. By act of the local government in 1802, and of Parliament in 1820, all political disabilities were removed, and Jews were granted even greater privileges than were accorded to other inhabitants of the island; for by the terms of the latter act they were entitled to have five representatives from among themselves who were to determine what share of the taxation of the island should be levied upon them (Daniels, l.c.; and "Jewish Year-Book," ed. Jacobs, 5657, p. 129).

Communal Interests: Ministers of the Congregation, 1752-1834.

In common with all early Jewish communities, it is altogether probable that the first place of meeting for worship of the Barbados Jews was at the house of some member of thecommunity. Though the exact date of the erection of the synagogue in Bridgetown has not been ascertained, it is likely that one was erected before 1679. This continued in existence until destroyed by the hurricane which devastated the island in 1831. The ministers of the congregation were all selected by the vestry of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in London, and until 1844 all offerings and prayers for government were said in Spanish. For a time previous to 1752 Rev. Meïr A. Cohen Belinfante was the minister of the congregation (called "Kahal Kadosh Nidḥe Israel"). He died Sept. 25, 1752, and was succeeded by Rev. Raphael Haim Isaac Carrigal, who retired in 1772 and died May 5, 1777. His successors and their times of service were: Daniel Baruch Louzado, 1772; Israel Abbady, 1772 to 1794; David Sarfaty de Piné, till April 14, 1797, when he died; Emanuel Nunes Carvalho, March, 1799 to 1808, when he left for the States; Abendana, January, 1809 to 1813; Moses H. Julian, October, 1819, to December, 1820, when he died; Moses Belasco, November, 1824, to November, 1834. In the intervals between the elections of ministers members of the congregation read the services (Daniels).

Toward the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth, various grants were made by the Jews of Barbados in aid of suffering congregations and brethren in different parts of the world. The first of these was in November, 1772, to St. Eustatius, in the Dutch West Indies, for the rebuilding of the synagogue at that place. In June, 1792, they sent £25 for the building of a synagogue in Charleston, and in March, 1819, $500 for a similar purpose to the Congregation Mickvé Israel in Philadelphia. In 1791 they contributed £15 in aid of the Jews of Tetuan, and in 1798 the members of the congregation subscribed £1,152 to assist the home government in carrying on the war against Napoleon. In 1801 £25 was appropriated for the relief of suffering Jews in Tiberias, and in 1840 £50 to those in Damascus and Rhodes (see Daniels, l.c.).

Prosperity and Decline of the Community.

The period of greatest prosperity extended from 1792 until the hurricane of 1831. In the former year the congregation at Bridgetown had a contributing membership of 147 persons, with an income from dues of £116 perannum. Seventeen pensioners were then supported at an outlay of £18 per month. In 1831, previous to the devastation wrought by the hurricane, the total income of the congregation was £387. From that time dates the decline of the community; though a new synagogue was built and consecrated in March, 1833, in the presence of the chief dignitaries of the island, and in January, 1844, the first Jewish religious school was established, with Mrs. Judith Finzi as superintendent ("Occident," ii. 102). Many emigrated to the United States, principally to Philadelphia. In 1848 there were but 71 Jews in Barbados, 38 of whom belonged to the congregation. In 1873 they petitioned for the relief from taxation of property held by the congregation, the income of which was devoted to the support of the needy poor and the synagogue; and in the following year the petition was granted. In June, 1899, the number had dwindled to 17 or 18, including women and children. Through the activity of E. S. Daniels, the synagogue is kept open on Saturdays and holidays, though he is often the only person in attendance (Daniels, l.c.).

  • Robert H. Schomburgk, History of the Barbadoes, London, 1847;
  • E. S. Daniels, Extracts from Various Records of the Early Settlement of the Jews in the Island of Barbadoes, W. I., privately printed, Bridgetown, 1899.
A. H. F.
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