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15 November 2010

Dutch influence within the Jewish communities of the Caribbean

The history of the Dutch influence in the Caribbean begins far before the largest groups of settlers arrived. Because of the strength of their naval fleet in the late 1500's, the Netherlands became a major force in global commerce throughout South America and the Caribbean as early as middle of the 1600's. Through the Dutch East and West India Companies, the Dutch extended their territories wherever they could.

Another reason for their ability to become a strong player in extending their markets was the fact that because of the war with Spain, many money people, such as bankers and traders, had moved their businesses from Antwerp to Dutch cities, such as Amsterdam and Leiden. Having such great access to capital markets enabled the Dutch to move ahead with expansion.

In the 1590's the first two ships sailed out of Amsterdam headed for the spice markets of Maluku. Both ships returned having made large profits for their owners. The success of these voyage led to the establishing of businesses to further trade through Africa, South America and the Caribbean. All of this expansion put the Dutch in direct competition with other countries, which led to all countries invading possessions of each other, trying to keep control of their interests. Many of the Caribbean locations changed hands numerous times because of this.

Generally, the Dutch were very good to the Jews who settled throughout the Caribbean, they gave them freedoms and because of this the Jews were successful.
In Suriname, where the first Jews arrived in the late 1530's, they were allowed to own their own plantations, in fact by the mid 1700's they owned one fourth of the plantations. Where once it flourished, today the population of Suriname is small, perhaps only a few hundred.

Another Dutch controlled island, Curacao, was totally accepting of the Jews as well. The Jews began arriving in the 1650's, many coming from Brazil. The Jews were so well accepted that they were the only foreigners who didn't have to leave the city at night. By the 1800's, the island was home to the largest Jewish community in all the Americas. In Curacao, the Jews became successful businessmen and because of their language skills they were in demand as interpreters, which made Curacao a major port of commerce for both Europe and the Americas. Not all communities became established as Suriname or Curacao. Places such as Aruba or St. Maarten never became as big a player in the commerce. They however did have their own communities.

The influence the Dutch had did not stop with the Caribbean, it reached far greater than that. The Jews of Curacao and the other Caribbean Islands, were amongst the first Jews into North America. A search of the early records of places such as Newport, Charleston, New Orleans and almost all pre-1850's communities, will show how these Jews helped settle the early North American communities.
In earlier posts on this blog, I have discussed 2 resources available to researchers that would be most helpful in researching Dutch Jews in the Caribbean. On 20 Oct 2010, I wrote about AKEVOTH- The Dutch Jewish Genealogical Data Base (, which is home to the records of the Jews of Holland. Many of the early Caribbean families will be listed there. Also, on that same date I wrote of the website which house the photos of Jono David. He is "documenting the Jewish world, one photo at a time". In his collection, he has indeed preserved much of the visual history of these communities. Both of these sites would be very helpful for those searching for Dutch Jews in the Caribbean.

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