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Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade

Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 386
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  • Book Info
    Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade
    Book Description:

    In the wake of the civil rights movement, a great divide has opened up between African American and Jewish communities. What was historically a harmonious and supportive relationship has suffered from a powerful and oft-repeated legend, that Jews controlled and masterminded the slave trade and owned slaves on a large scale, well in excess of their own proportion in the population. In this groundbreaking book, likely to stand as the definitive word on the subject, Eli Faber cuts through this cloud of mystification to recapture an important chapter in both Jewish and African diasporic history.Focusing on the British empire, Faber assesses the extent to which Jews participated in the institution of slavery through investment in slave trading companies, ownership of slave ships, commercial activity as merchants who sold slaves upon their arrival from Africa, and direct ownership of slaves. His unprecedented original research utilizing shipping and tax records, stock-transfer ledgers, censuses, slave registers, and synagogue records reveals, once and for all, the minimal nature of Jews' involvement in the subjugation of Africans in the Americas. A crucial corrective, Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade lays to rest one of the most contested historical controversies of our time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2797-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. A Note on Spelling and Dating
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In recent years interest regarding the extent to which Jews participated in the institution of slavery in the Americas has stemmed from allegations that they predominated in the slave trade and that they owned slaves well in excess of their proportion among the white population. This study argues that they did neither. To the contrary, their participation in the slave trade and in the ownership of slaves was quite small. When compared with their non-Jewish contemporaries, their involvement was one that had little impact.

    Despite assiduous efforts by historians since Philip D. Curtin published his seminal study of the size...

  8. CHAPTER 1 England’s Jewish Merchants and the Slave Trade
    (pp. 11-43)

    After an exile from England that had lasted almost four centuries, Europe’s Jewish inhabitants learned in the middle of the 1650s that they could once again reside in that nation. Expelled in 1290, they had been forbidden to return until Oliver Cromwell’s government quietly gave them permission to reenter the country after receiving a delegation sent by the Jewish community of Amsterdam to argue the case for readmission. Although a handful of Jews had previously entered and taken up residence in England during the 1630s, their presence was illegal until Cromwell gave the nod to Jewish settlement in 1656, thereby...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Jews and Slaves in Seventeenth-Century Barbados and Jamaica
    (pp. 44-56)

    British settlement on the island of Barbados began in 1625, and within five years the new colony’s population numbered 1,800 inhabitants. It increased rapidly thereafter, growing to 30,000 by 1650. At first the colony’s residents endeavored to raise tobacco as their cash crop, but by the middle of the century they shifted to sugar. Sugar made Barbados England’s wealthiest colony during the seventeenth century, which meant, accordingly, that the island relied extensively upon slave labor. It accounted, according to one estimate, for as much as 53.3 percent of all slave imports to Britain’s Caribbean possessions during the 1600s.¹

    As in...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Jews and Slavery in Jamaica, 1700–80
    (pp. 57-90)

    The ground at Port Royal began to heave and writhe in wavelike fashion shortly before noon on June 7, 1692, heralding a massive earthquake that in an instant destroyed much of the town. While many of its buildings toppled and crashed to the ground, others simply slid into the sea, sinking in thirty or more feet of water. Within minutes, a great tidal wave coursed over the devastation, raising the death toll to approximately two thousand, more than half the town’s population. As if to confirm Port Royal’s reputation as the Sodom of the western hemisphere, a wave of looting,...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Jews and Slavery in Barbados and Nevis, 1700–80
    (pp. 91-104)

    Considerably less information is available for the Jewish population of Barbados in the eighteenth century than for Jamaica’s. Nevertheless, Naval Office records, while sparser, do permit measurement of the extent of Jewish involvement in the import and export of slaves. A slave-tax list for 1729 documents the ownership of slaves in the parish in which the majority of the island’s Jewish population resided. Finally, a report from the colony’s governor to his superiors in England in 1727, a set of Treasury Office accounts, and records of slave deliveries by vessels from Bristol reveal the extent to which Jews served as...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Jews and Slaves on the Threshold of Abolition: Jamaica and Barbados, 1780–1820
    (pp. 105-130)

    The forty-year period between 1780 and 1820 was one of momentous change in Britain’s Caribbean colonies. Growing sentiment in England against the African slave trade culminated in its termination in 1807 byan act of Parliament. In the years that followed, opinion in Britain against the existence of slavery built inexorably, leading to its abolition in 1834, again by Parliamentary action. The antislavery movement led as well to the enactment of laws in the colonies requiring the registration of all slaves on a triennial basis, a census that permits accurate measurement of the extent to which the Jewish populations of Jamaica...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Jewish Merchants and Slavery in the Mainland Colonies
    (pp. 131-142)

    Settling first at New Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century, Jewish colonists on the mainland of British North America established five small communities of varying size before the outbreak of the American Revolution. The largest was in New York, which had an estimated thirty to forty Jewish families in 1773. In 1790, or shortly after the termination of America’s colonial era, between thirteen and fifteen hundred Jews resided in New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah, along with a scattering of individuals and families in locations such as Richmond, Baltimore, Lancaster and Easton, Pennsylvania, and Westchester County in...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 143-146)

    Jewish involvement in the institution of slavery in the British empire was thus exceedingly limited. Jews participated as investors, importers, exporters, factors, and owners, but in no segment of the business of slavery did they stand out, save for the exceptions of Alexandre Lindo in Jamaica and Jacob Rodrigues Rivera and Aaron Lopez in Rhode Island. However, even in those instances the overall impact of the Jewish population in the colonies was marginal. Lindo’s activity as a factor occurred during fifteen of the last twenty years of the slave trade, two-thirds of the time with a non-Jewish partner, while Rivera’s...

  15. Appendixes
    (pp. 147-254)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 255-329)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-359)
  18. Index
    (pp. 361-366)
  19. About the Author
    (pp. 367-367)