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23 January 2016

The Early Jews of Rhode Island

The Jewish history of Rhode Island is perhaps the earliest in all of North America. In Newport, the first members of the Jewish community started to arrive in the mid 1650's, over 100 years before the American Revolution. The first synagogue, known as Touro Synagogue was completed in 1763, and is still in use today, making it the oldest existing synagogue in North America.   The Hebrew Cemetery was open about a dozen years later in the mid 1670's. That makes it the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in America.
These early Jews were Sephardic, whose journey to Newport started in places such as Spain and Portugal, and like many of the early Jews in America, included stops in the Islands of the Caribbean. These earliest families in Newport, who had names such as Lopez, Rivera, Levy, Seixas and Touro, would one day be known as people who were very influential in the forming of early colonial history.
A few of these early leaders, included:
  • Rev. Isaac Touro, was the spiritual leader of the community. His family, originally from Spain, came to Newport after stops in Amsterdam and the West Indies, The synagogue was called the Touro synagogue in honor of all he contributed to the community.
  • Rev. Touro's brother in law, Moses Michael Hays, was a very successful  merchant. He introduced the order of the Scottish Rite Masonic Order to America. He was the first Grand Master of the Lodge in Massachusetts with Paul Revere and a good friend of Thomas Paine. He is also credited with being a founder of the Bank of Boston.
  • In 1763, Jacob Rodriquez Rivera, met with a group of locals and made the first plans to establish a college in Rhode Island. The school would eventually become known as Brown University.
Today, the community has over 350 years of history behind it and continues to be a strong Jewish community. The Jewish population of Rhode Island today is almost 20,000 people. FamilySearch has quite a few databases that include the records of the Jews of Rhode Island.

As with all FamilySearch databases, these records can be viewed free of charge at anytime.

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