by Seymour "Sy" Brody
The first Jewish settler who came to New Amsterdam, later to be called New York, was Jacob Barsimson, a Hollander who arrived on August 22, 1654. He was soon followed by others.
Jews came from the West Indies and Brazil because they were disillusioned with the religious and political situations that existed there. The Jews settling in New Amsterdam were seeking the equality of free men in a land of liberty where they could freely worship and have equal opportunities and obligations alongside the Christian citizens.
Jacob Barsimson and the other Jews found that New Amsterdam was no different from where they came. Govemor Peter Stuyvesant treated them as separate citizens, They couldn't engage in retail trade, practice handicrafts, hold public position, serve in the militia or practice their religion in a synagogue or in gatherings.
Barsimson and the other Jews presented a petition to Governor Stuyvesant for the right to buy a burial plot, which was denied because there was no immediate need for it. Later under pressure from Holland's Amsterdam Jews, Stuyvesant gave them the right to buy a burial plot.
Stuyvesant imposed many restrictions on the Jews in the colony. One of these was that Jews would be exempt from general training in the militia and guard duty on the walls of the fort on the condition that each male over 16 and under 60 years of age would contribute 65 stivers each month.
On September 22, 1654, Stuyvesant wrote to the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce to complain about the presence of Jewish refugees from Brazil who had recently arrived in New Amsterdam. He felt that they were blasphemers of the name Christ and that they would infect the colony with trouble.
Portuguese Jews, who escaped the Inquisition, had arrived in Holland in 1593. Some of them were investors in the West India Company which controlled New Amsterdam. They petitioned the West India Company to allow Brazilian Jews to remain in New Amsterdam as they would not be a burden.
In the meantime, Barsimson, Asser Levy, Abraham de Lucena, Jacob Cohen Henricques and other New Amsterdam Jews kept putting pressure on Stuyvesant for full citizenship rights. They insisted on the right to serve in the militia and do guard duty on the walls of the city to protect the settlers and cattle, which were kept inside the walls at night, from the raids and attacks of the Indians and the New England settlers. They continued their petitions and pressure until the Governor finally granted them full citizenship.
Barsimson and the other Jews proudly did their guard duty on the walls of the colony alongside of the Christian militia men. When the British conquered New Amsterdam and changed its name to New York, the Jewish settlers continued to have full citizenship. This tiny group of Jews displayed courage and bravery, under the leadership of Jacob Barsimson, to obtain citizenship for all Jews coming to the New World for the next three hundred years.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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