Caribbean Project: Jews, Slavery, and the Dutch Caribbean

African slaves in Dutch Curaçao toil for their Jewish masters

For much of the summer, I have focused intensively on the British West Indies and the French West Indies because of their strong organic ties to the culture of the Lower South.

We have seen how the type of race-based plantation slave society that emerged in South Carolina and Louisiana was pioneered in the British and French Caribbean and was brought there by settlers from the islands.

The Dutch Caribbean also played a crucial role in this story – it was Sephardic Jews operating through the Dutch West India Company that brought race-based plantation slavery from Brazil to Barbados in the 1640s which became the model for the spread of slavery throughout the whole Caribbean and the American South.

From the 1620s to the 1650s, Spanish hegemony in the Caribbean was on the wane as a consequence of the Thirty Years’ War in Europe and Spain began to lose its grip over much of the region and the entirety of the eastern Caribbean to Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

– England took St. Kitts (1624), Barbados (1627), Nevis (1628), Providence (1630), Antigua (1632), Montserrat (1632), and Jamaica (1655).

– France claimed Saint-Christophe (1625), Saint-Domingue (1641), Guadeloupe (1635) and Martinique (1635).

– The Dutch claimed St. Martin (1631), Curaçao (1634), St. Eustatius (1635), Saba (1640), and Aruba and Bonaire (1634).

The Dutch islands of St. Martin, St. Eustatius, and Saba are part of the Leeward Islands in the northern Lesser Antilles. Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire are small islands off the coast of Venezuela to the west of Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1630, the Dutch seized Pernambuco and Recife in northeastern Brazil where they heavily invested in the sugar plantations that would become the nucleus of the New World agro-industrial plantation complex. From 1630 to 1654, Dutch Brazil was known as New Holland.

It is important to keep this in perspective: American slavery was a sideshow in the larger story of slavery in the Americas, about 600,000 slaves were brought to British North America, 5% of the 12 million that were brought to the New World.

In contrast, 3 million African slaves were brought to Brazil to work on sugar plantations, 35% of the 12 million that were brought to the New World. Another 17% percent were brought to Spanish America by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French under the asiento system.

As previously noted, Jews were heavily involved in the slave trade in the Dutch and Portuguese colonies, and their trading outposts on these islands served as major hubs for supplying Spanish America and the British and French Caribbean with slaves.

The island of Curaçao directly off the Spanish Main played a key role in Jewish involvement in the slave trade:

“Though small in size, Curaçao’s Jewish community has a significant impact on history, as per their heavy involvement in the slave trade. Curaçao is home to the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas, dating to 1651. The Curaçao synagogue is the oldest synagogue of the Americas in continuous use, since its completion in 1732 on the site of a previous synagogue.”

According to The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples, Sephardic Jews outnumbered the Dutch in Curaçao and Suriname:

“In the seventeenth century, Curaçao emerged as an economic powerhouse based on legal and illegal commerce, not least the slave trade to Spanish America … Another social factor in the Dutch colonies that was largely absent from the French Caribbean was the presence of mainly Sephardic Jews in Curaçao and Suriname, where they actually outnumbered the Dutch.”

The Jew also brought race-based plantation slavery to the French Caribbean, not just to Barbados and the British Caribbean:

“Robert Louis Stein argues that the introduction of commercial sugarcane planting to the French West Indies was “the most significant single event” to occur during the 17th century. It was linked, he says, to the arrival of Dutch and Jewish settlers from Brazil, who were the driving force behind “sugar and slavery” there, as well as tobthe development of the regional market in enslaved Africans. (Stein 1979, 9-11).”

So, the Jew was the driving force behind the emergence of the nucleus of race-based, modern, agro-industrial plantation slavery in Brazil, and was the dominant force in Curaçao and Suriname, as well as spreading this model to the nearby British and French West Indies from where it was launched to North America.

“In Curaçao, a group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews with the necessary linguistic skills and good connections in the Atlantic became decisive actors. This model procured for Amsterdam an enormous quantity of precious metals during the middle decades of the 17th century, although in the long term it proved too fragile to resist competition from foreign countries.”

What do you suppose the Jews in Curaçao were trading for Spanish gold and silver? African slaves would be my guess. I’m feeling like I am getting a bite here. I can feel something big pulling on the end of the line.

Update: More on Curaçao as a center of the slave trade:

Although these laws dislodged the Dutch from the official carrying trade with these islands, illegal trade continued to flourish. More important, in 1662 the Dutch secured a new asiento to trade slaves in Spanish America – a trade made easier for them by the growing number of trading posts in Africa and an enterprise that signaled the tightening of connections between the Caribbean, Afeica, and the American mainland. The Spanish colonies of Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico were increasingly important in this trade, and Curaçao (and later St. Eustatius) emerged as its lucrative center. Despite formal trade prohibitions, the Dutch also supplied the French colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint-Domingue. Thus the Dutch continued to generate great wealth through legal and extralegal commerce and especially the slave trade.”

Note: How much truth is there in this video? We’re going to find out eventually.

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  1. Re” “Slavery in the North”: I found this interesting: “There is argument among historians about the economic role of Northern slaves. Some maintain that New England slaves generally were held in situations where they did not do real work, such as might be done by a white laborer, and that many, if not most, of the New England slaves were held without economic justification, working as house servants or valets. Even in Pennsylvania, the mounting Pennsylvania Quaker testimony against slavery in the 1750s and ’60s was in large part aimed against the luxuriousness and extravagance of the Friends who had domestic slaves.” Household pets, were they? The Germans were the ones at work outdoors, clearing Penn’s Woods.

  2. you are the one adding for medical use to the quote when the Bible itself doesn’t say for medical reasons. That is adding to Scripture and yet you claim yours is the one true interpretation on these things. What ever you don’t like in Scripture you have a reason to spin it your way.

    Way to cherry pick your states history

    Let us move on again to Pennsylvania

    The town magistrates of New Castle (in modern Delaware), then the major settlement of the region, petitioned “that liberty of trade may be granted us with the neighboring colony of Maryland for the supplying us with Negroes … without which we cannot subsist.

    Well I’ll be…. Seems like they thought getting negro slave labor was pretty damn important, as in they couldn’t live without it.

    The head Quaker of the state owned negros, and preferred slaves to White labor
    Penn himself owned slaves, and used them to work his estate, Pennsbury. He wrote that he preferred them to white indentured servants, “for then a man has them while they live.”
    And here is why slave labor feel out of practice in Pennsylvania; economics

    But by 1720, a wheat-based economy had sprung up, and the good reputation of Pennsylvania in Europe was luring Scots-Irish and German immigrants, who were willing to hire on as indentured servants in exchange for passage across the Atlantic. It’s estimated that half the immigrants to colonial America arrived this way, and in Pennsylvania about 58,000 Germans and 16,500 Scots-Irish sailed up the Delaware between 1727 and 1754. The Quaker farmers turned to these for work on their farms. On a relatively small farm growing grain, it was cheaper to do it this way than to own slaves.
    The Quaker’s would have stuck with slave labor if it was better for them fiscally, but since they had an influx of White labor and their farming was relatively small in scale they made the switch. Quakers were quick to return to slavery when it suited them economically
    Wars in the 1750s disrupted immigration patterns and cut down on the indentured servant pool. From 1749 to 1754, some 115 ships carrying almost 35,000 German immigrants reached Philadelphia. But in 1755-56 only three ships docked, and only one more arrived before 1763.[1] The French and Indian War also drew indentured male farm workers into the military. The Quakers again began to buy slaves.

    came from the other link I posted but the run down I made is at

  3. “The Quakers were a poorly disciplined, disuniform lot, many worshipping money rather than God.”

    And always quick to convert to Anglicanism for social climbing reasons once they had made their fortune.

  4. “(Y)ou are the one adding for medical use to the quote when the Bible itself doesn’t say for medical reasons. That is adding to Scripture….” My words were ABOUT the scripture. All exegesis/analysis/interpretation of scripture “adds words” not TO, but ABOUT scripture.

    “(I)n Pennsylvania about 58,000 Germans and 16,500 Scots-Irish sailed up the Delaware between 1727 and 1754. The Quaker farmers turned to these for work on their farms.” My ancestors were here well before those dates, and cleared their own forest and worked for themselves. They were not brought in as indentured servants, but Penn went to Germany to invite them to settle his “woods” to make it prosperous, and he was convinced they would — just as Catherine invited them into the Ukraine. Quaker farmers had some of the best land from the beginning, used slaves and Scots-Irish indentured servants (and probably employed some Germans, too) but were not especially successful.

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