In early September of 1654, twenty-three Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in Portuguese colonies in South America or the Caribbean arrived in New Amsterdam on the ship St. Catherine. These men, women, and children made up the first Jewish group immigration to North America, although individuals had lived in earlier colonial towns including Roanoke, N.C., New England, and even New Amsterdam. The two Jewish individuals already there were Jacob Barsimson, an Askenazi trader, and Solomon Pieters or Petersen.
The arrival of this group is celebrated as the beginning of actual Jewish communal life in the future USA, as well as the beginning of Jewish enjoyment of the new tolerance that came to characterize the New World. Despite the efforts of Governor Peter Stuyvesant to expel them, they overcame prejudice and formed a lasting community.
Tablet Magazine recently wrote about the surviving cemeteries from the congregation founded shortly after their arrival. " From 1654 until 1825, Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New York City. In its long history, membership of the congregation has included Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, three founders of the New York Stock Exchange, and the poet Emma Lazarus, whose famous words from 'The New Colossus' are affixed to the Statue of Liberty."
The freedom to be a secular Jew is very important to me, and I see its roots in these early Jewish migrations.
References here and here.