Jewish arrival in New Amsterdam

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The Jewish arrival in New Amsterdam of September 1654 was the first organized Jewish migration to North America. It comprised 23 Sephardi Jews, refugees "big and little" of families fleeing persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition after the conquest of Dutch Brazil. It is widely commemorated as the starting point of New York Jewish and Jewish-American history. [1]


The Jews had sailed from Recife on the ship Valck, one of at least sixteen that left mostly bound for the Netherlands at the end of the Dutch–Portuguese War. Valck was blown off course to Jamaica and/or Cuba. [1]


According to account in Saul Levi Morteira and David Franco Mendes, they were then taken by Spanish pirates for a time. [2] In Cuba, the Jews eventually boarded the St. Catrina, called by later historians the "Jewish Mayflower", which took them to New Amsterdam. [3] [1]

New Amsterdam

The new Jewish community faced antisemitic opposition to their settlement from Director-General Peter Stuyvesant, as well as a monetary dispute with the captain of the St. Catrina, which required adjudication from the Dutch West India Company. They were aided by some Ashkenazi Jewish traders who had arrived just a month earlier, on the ship Peereboom, from Amsterdam via London. This group included Jacob Barsimson, and perhaps Solomon Pietersen and Asser Levy, who has also in earlier sources been claimed as one of the twenty-three. The new community founded Congregation Shearith Israel still endures as the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. [3] [1]

The primary source document for their arrival is as follows: [4]

Jacques de la Motthe, master of the Bark St .Charles, by a petition, written in French, requests payment of the freight and board of the Jews whom he bought here from Cape St. Antony according to agreement and contract in which each is bound in solidum, and that, therefore, whatever furniture and other property they may have on board his Bark may be publickly sold by order of the Court, in payment of their debt. He verbally declares that the Netherlanders, who came over with them, are not included in the contract and have satisfied him. Solomon Pietersen, a Jew, appears in Court and says that nine hundred and odd guilders of the 2500 are paid, and that there are 23 souls, big and little, who must pay equally. The Court having seen the petition and Contract, order that the Jews shall, within twice 24 hours after date, pay according to contract what they lawfully owe; and in the meanwhile, the furniture and whatever the Petitioner has in his possession shall remain as Security, without alienating the Same.

—  Court Minutes of New Amsterdam (1654), 1897 English translation


The 250th anniversary of the arrival was marked a year late in 1905, and the 300th anniversary was marked in 1954. [5] [6] The 300th anniversary was marked for an eight-month period, from September 1954 - May 1955. For this milestone, a Jewish Tercentenary Monument and flagstaff designed by Abram Belskie was placed on Peter Minuit Plaza in Manhattan's Battery, [7] and another Jewish Tercentenary Monument and flagstaff designed by Carl C. Mose with a wave-shaped relief bearing illustrations of the Four Freedoms as inspired by Hebrew Bible verses, as well as a conjectural image of the St. Catrina, was placed in St. Louis' Forest Park. [8] [9] [10]

Forest Park monument reliefs-


  • St. Catrina conjectural image
  • "Who Shall Ascend into the Mountain of the Lord" (Freedom of worship / Psalm 24)
  • "Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land" (Freedom of speech / Jubilee (biblical))


  • Dove and decorative vegetation
  • "And None Shall Make Them Afraid" (Freedom from fear / Figs in the Bible)
  • "For the Widow...For the Stranger...For the Fatherless" (Freedom from want / Deuteronomist)

The 350th anniversary was observed for another one-year celebration from September 2004 - September 2005, with exhibitions at the Library of Congress and the American Jewish Historical Society opening in September and May, and inspired the institution of the first annual Jewish American Heritage Month a year later in May 2006.


  1. ^ a b c d Hershkowitz, Leo (2005). "By Chance or Choice: Jews in New Amsterdam 1654" (PDF). American Jewish Archives. 57: 1–13.
  2. ^ "The Number of Jews in Dutch Brazil — Jewish Social Studies 16:107‑114 (1954)". Retrieved 2019-10-18.
  3. ^ a b Hershkowitz, Leo (2013-10-05). "History, Herstory, Ourstory: Asser Levy in New Amsterdam". Jewish Currents. Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  4. ^ Fernow, Berthold (1897). Minutes of the court of burgomasters and schepens, 1653-1655. Pub. under the authority of the city by the Knickerbocker Press. p. 240.
  5. ^ ROSEN, JUDITH FRIEDMAN (2004). "Earlier American Jewish Anniversary Celebrations: 1905 and 1954". American Jewish History. 92 (4): 481–497. ISSN  0164-0178. JSTOR  23887182.
  6. ^ "Pageants and Patriots: Jewish Spectacles as Performances of Belonging". 8 November 2018. Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  7. ^ "The Battery Highlights - Jewish Tercentenary Monument : NYC Parks". Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  8. ^ "Jewish Tercentenary Monument". Forest Park Statues & Monuments. Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  9. ^ EMERITUS, ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF. "Cohnipedia: The story of Forest Park's Jewish monument". St. Louis Jewish Light. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  10. ^ "Jewish American Memorial, Forest Park – St Louis Patina". 10 April 2014. Retrieved 2019-07-10.