250 Years in America


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The New-York Daily Tribune,  November 26, 1905.



Came Here as Refugees from Spanish Persecution.

By the Rev. Dr. H. Pereira Mendes.

What a romance! On April 30 the decree for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was published.

On the same day Columbus was ordered to equip a fleet for his voyage.

On August 2 the Jewish exiles left Spain.

On the very next day Columbus set sail.

Can we not recognize the finger of God in all these facts?

The hand of man wrote the story of that century with blood and tears, so far as the Hebrews were concerned. But the finger of God rewrote the story of the century to mean geographical activity and discovery which would result in havens of refuge for the stricken people. The hand of man wrote the history to mean the aggrandizement of Spain. The finger of God rewrote it to mean the aggrandizement of humanity by American ideals, American energy and American invention, with Spain's humiliation instead of her aggrandizement. In this aggrandizement of humanity Jews are destined to play an important part.

Was it the finger of God that so wrote history that the first American Jews were refugees from that very Spain, or descendants of refugees? Men talk of the irony of history. Let us in this instance call it the justice of God.

If American Jews are to be identified with the aggrandizement of humanity, under American auspices, it will be a fit sequel to the historic fact that Jews were identified with the discovery of America by Columbus, for, thanks to Kayserling, we know now that the expedition of Columbus owed its dispatch to two Jewish patrons, Sanchez, of Saragossa, and Leon de Santangel, controller general of the State of Aragon.


To quote the late Professor Herbert B. Adams, "Not jewels, but Jews were the real financial basis of the first expedition of Columbus," meaning that the assistance of these two Jews, and not the alleged pawning of jewels by Queen Isabella, fitted out Columbus's expedition.

It is said that at least five persons of Jewish blood accompanied Columbus upon his voyage. Among them was Luis De Torres, who was to act in the capacity of interpreter. De Torres is said to have been the first European to tread the soil of America.

In an essay called "Los Hebreos en el descubrimiento de las Indias," by Cesareo Fernandes Duro, attention is drawn to the name published in the bulletin of the Royal Academy of Madrid, Vol. XX, Cuaderno III, March, 1892, of the island Guanahani and to the statement of Don Francisco Rivas Puigcerver, published in Mexico, "que an las carabelas de Colon embarcaron marineros judios y moriscos"--that Jews and Moors embarked in the caravels of Columbus.

A quaint attempt is made to derive Guanahani from the Hebrew words Ana, Hen, Y, "where," "here" or "yes," "an island," and the story is told in a short poem or doggerel verse written in mixed Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew, thus:

At 2 o'clock in the morning
"Y, Y (An island! An island!) (said) Rodriguez de Frians

The Portuguese--Qual contes--

From the deck of the Pinta

"I see now that it is a shadowy thing!"
He answered "Veana?" (Where?)

Look, look--in that place--Hen y (yes, and island)

Veana? (And where?) "Hen, Y" (Yes, it is an island)

Then cried the first,

Loud, for he was a mariner,

"Sailors! Land! Land!"


Dr. Kayserling in his "Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries" says: "At that time neither Aragon nor Castile, nor Ferdinand nor Isabella had at their disposal enough money to equip the fleet. Santangel, who was always ready to oblige the crown, advanced 17,000 crowns, nearly 5,000,000 maravedis. The Queen's jewels were not demanded as security; all of them were not, in fact, in her possession at that time, for she had pledged her necklace during the late war. That he advanced this money out of his own pocket is proved beyond question by the original account books, which were formerly in the archives of Simances, and which are still preserved in the Archivos de Indias in Seville. In the account book of Luis de Santangel and the treasurer, Francisco Pinilo, extending from 1491 to 1493, Santangel is credited with an item of 1,400,000 maravedis, which he gave to the Bishop of Avila for Columbus's expedition. In another account book, that of Garcia Martinez and Fedro de Montmayor, there is the following item: 'Alonso de las Calezas, treasurer of war in the bishopric of Badajoz, by order of the Archbishop of Granada, dated May 5, 1492, paid to Alonso de Angelo for Luis de Santangel, the King's escribano de racion, whose authorization was presented with the aforesaid order, 2,640,000 marave3dis, to-wit, 1,500,000 to Isaac Abravanci (a Jew) for money which he had lent their majesties in the Moorish war, and the remaining 1,140,000 maravedis in payment to the aforesaid escribano de racion of money which he advanced to equip caravels ordered by their majesties for the expedition to the Indies, and to pay Christopher Columbus, the admiral of that fleet.' On May 20, 1943, on which day Ferdinand was particularly occupied with Columbus and his expedition, the King ordered his treasurer, General Gabriel Sanches, to pay 30,000 florins in gold to his beloved councillor and escribano de racion, Luis de Santangel. This sum certainly included the remainder of the loan."


We are not surprised that Columbus addressed his first and second letters announcing his discovery to Santangel and Sanchez. The coincidence of the great discoverer's departure at the very time when the Jews were expelled from Spain is curiously enough alluded to by himself. But how finely it is brought out by Castelar, Spain's great statesman, historian and orator, who writes, "It chanced that one of the last vessels transporting into exile the Jews expelled from Spain by the religious intolerance, of which the recently created and odious Tribunal of the Faith was the embodiment, passed by the little fleet bound in search of another world--a world whose creation would be new born, a haven to be afforded to the quickening principle of human liberty, a temple to be reared to the God of enfranchised and redeemed consciences. As though the sun were not to shine for all, as though the will of heaven had not made us equal, the accursed spirit of reaction was wreaking one of its stupendous and futile crimes in that very hour when the genius of liberty was searching the waves for the land destined to arise to offer an unstained abode for the ideals of progress. Following their narrow views, the powers of the Middle Ages denied even light and warmth to the Jews at the same time that they revealed a new creation for a new order of society, predestined by Providence to put an end to all intolerance and to dedicate an infinite continent to modern democracy."


The Hebrews settled in such Spanish speaking countries as Mexico and Central America long before they settled in the United States. Their first arrival in the latter was 250 years ago. In 1654 the good ship Peartree brought two Hebrews from the West Indies, and in 1655 the ship Caterina brought over a score more from Brazil. They probably found a few from Holland, where many Sephardim, or Spanish and Portuguese Hebrews, had found refuge from the Inquisition. Some had acquired or had carried their great wealth and some were stockholders in the Dutch company that owned New-Amsterdam. All were welcomed because of the financial help Holland received from Jews in her fight for independence.

In 1655 the first step was taken which showed that the New-Amsterdam Jews were an organized community, by their request to the city authorities for a burial ground. It was refused first. It was granted in 1656, for a death then occurred. The burial ground is still in possession of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of this city.

Governor Stuyvesant did not receive the first Hebrews kindly, but orders from the company in Amsterdam forced him to concede civic rights, the right to meet for private worship, etc. It was stipulated that the Hebrews should take care of their own poor.

A few weeks after their arrival, one of them, named Asher Levy, stoutly contended for the right to be enrolled as a member of the Train Band that was being mobilized by Stuyvesant's orders, and later he contended to be considered a burgher, for Stuyvesant was not the only intolerant official. This sturdy fight to preserve civic rights has always been maintained by the Hebrews when any opposition has been encountered. The Hebrews threw themselves heart and soul into American interests, and when the moment came to choose between British and American claims to patriotism, the bulk of the Hebrews enlisted on the American side.

The minister of the synagogue in New-York in the Revolution, the Rev. Gershom Seixas, even closed the sacred buildings rather than conduct services under British regime. An old man named Gomez demanded to be enlisted by an American recruiting sergeant. "You are too old," said the latter. "I am not to old to stop a bullet!" replied the stout hearted old patriot.

Colonel Wade Franks was prominent among the Revolutionary forces, and the sinews of war were largely supplied by Jewish merchants.


The loans of Haim Solomon to the United States government reached over $350,000. They have not been repaid. Isaac Moses, a merchant, also lent a large sum, which also has not been repaid. In the War of 1812, U. P. Levy, afterward a commodore in the United States Navy, distinguished himself. In the battle of New-Orleans, in 1915, Judah Touro was terribly wounded. Lieutenant J. B. Nones served with distinction in Decatur's expedition against Tripoli. In the War of the Rebellion thousands of Hebrews enlisted on both sides, and their record for bravery and fortitude cannot be surpassed.

The Hebrews were thus among the first comers to America. They have helped to build up its prosperity. They have shed their blood and made sacrifices on every occasion for the interests of the United States., the country of their adoption. They are here by right, not as an act of tolerance, and General Washington's letter stating his (addressed to the Jews in Newport), in the possession of a member of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of this city, which was founded by those first Jewish arrivals. Among its members are descendants of those first comers, and notably of the Seixas, Solomon, Lopez, Nones and Levy families already quoted as American-Jewish patriots. It worshipped originally in a private house near the Battery, then in a loft above a hill vacated by the first Dutch Reformed church, then in a hired frame building in Mill-st., a street no longer in existence. They erected their first regular building for a synagogue on the same street near South William-st. It was burned down in 1818 and rebuilt. In time hey have removed to Crosby-st., then to 19th-st. near 5th-ave., and now the synagogue is at 70th-st. and Central Park West.

The Jewish population of the city has increased from the perhaps fifty individuals of 1655 to 750,000 as it is to-day. For nearly 170 years the above mentioned congregation assumed sole charge of the poor of the Jewish community of the city, the sick and the orphans, and those worthy old Hebrews were the first to open a school for the religious and secular education of the poor. There is little doubt that the sacrifices they had to make were as large in proportion to their means as the huge sums of money spent to0day are to the many and large fortunes of the wealthy Hebrews of to-day.

To commemorate this 250th anniversary, the Hebrews in the whole country have begun a movement which has already advanced so far that its success is assured. It is to collect a fund to present a suitable memorial to the American people. In addition to this, special services were held in every synagogue in the country yesterday, and on Thanksgiving Day a representative meeting will be held at Carnegie Hall, when ex-President Cleveland, Governor Higgins, Mayor McClellan, Bishop Greer, Judge Sulzberger and others will speak.




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