Friday, September 2, 2011

The First Jews in America

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.


  1. Thanks for this interesting blog. I was wondering if you know where I can find more information about Solomon Pieters who is mentioned in this post.

    Kind regards from the Netherlands,

    Sjef Pieters

  2. To Sjef Pieters,
    You did not say how to contact you, so here is the information that I have. There is more about Solomon Pieters in the first reference I mentioned in my last sentence in the blog post. Also, this:

    “Solomon Pietersen, described as a Jew, is noted in the court proceedings at the first hearing in September, 1654, as speaking for the Jews. In the original record the name appears as Pieters, and in further entries also as Pieters and Piers. He was apparently among the Jews who came on the St. Charles and familiar with the facts in connection with their number and pa}Tiients [sic] made by them on account of the freight charge. He later represented Eicke Nunes in her suit against Asser Levy, and also acted as spokesman for the Jews in obtaining an extension of time from the sailors on their claim. He does not appear again after this, unless he was identical with Solomon Pietersen La Chair, the notary, who apparently was not a Jew.”

  3. Thanks a lot for your ropmt response and this additional information, very interesting. Apologies for not leaving any contact information, I thought my e-mail address ( would be visible when leaving this post.

  4. There was another Solomon pieters listed in the land grants 1630 to 1664 this Solomon was a free negro who was granted a lot in new Amsterdam in 1659. He was also a sponsor at the baptism of Jan, son of grand Abrams van sales and lucretia dircks. The baptism was in 1686 Dutch reform church. Frans van sales was the son of Abraham van salee, the brother of my ancestor Abraham van salee. Are these 2 Solomons the same man? Or did the free negro take his name from the Jewish Solomon

  5. To the commenter earlier today: I have no additional information besides the two links in the blog post and the comments. I just checked, and both links are still active. Sorry I don't know any more to help with finding your ancestor.