Some Notes on the Jews of Nevis, MH Stern

Tags: Nevis, Barbados, elementary education, Nevis court records, Alexander Hamilton, Mount Nevis, West Indian, MALCOLM H. STERN, Isaac Dagama, West Indies, West Indian island, South American mainland, plantation owners, Leeward Islands, American Jewish Historical Society, Isaac Pinheiro, Solomon Israel, Amsterdam Archives, Hamilton, church schools, New York, Lesser Antilles, Cardozo de Bethencourt, American Jewish Archives, Isaac de David Gomes, Isaac Pardo, Jacob de Piza, Mordechay de Lima, Sarah de Elias Burgos, Rebecca Abinun de Lima, Abraham de David de Piza, Mordechay Abinun de Lima, Haim Abinun de Lima, Uncle David, Haim Abiniern, Isaac Israel Nunes, Abraham Bueno de Mesquita, Abraham Gomes, Haim de Lima, son of Isaac, Moses Nunes, Sr., Jewish Historical Society of England, de Lima, Abraham Dias, Jr., David de Lion, Abraham
Content: Some Notes on the Jews of Nevis MALCOLM H. STERN The British West Indian island of Nevis is located in the Leeward Islands, approximately one-third of the way along the necklace of Lesser Antilles that stretches from Puerto Rico to the South American mainland. From the Caribbean side, Nevis presents the aspect of a giant green circus tent, approximately eight miles from north to south, and six miles from east to west. Mount Nevis, a longdormant volcano, 3,500 feet high, dominates the island, while two smaller peaks rise almost equidistant from this central point. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1498, Nevis was colonized by the British in 1628. The Puritan Rebellion in England sent many exiled royalists to the West Indies, and Nevis acquired a generous share of such families as Washington and Hamilton, whose scions soon became prominent and wealthy as plantation owners. Due to the fortuitous presence of health-giving mineral springs which are still in existence, Nevis had become, by the Eighteenth Century, a center of West Indian social life, rivaling in pomp and circumstance Bath and even London itself. Such an environment naturally proved attractive to the rapidly growing West Indian Jewish community of the seventeenth and EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES. T h e mid-nineteenth century brought a drop in the price of sugar that was to reduce the economic importance of the entire West Indies. T h e consequent depression led to a major exodus of onceprosperous families, among whom were many Jewish merchants and plantation owners. As for Nevis, the island went into a Rip Van Winkle slumber from which it has been roused by the current Dr. Malcolm H . Stem, genealogist of the American Jewish Archives, serves as rabbi of Ohef Sholom Temple, Norfolk, Va. H e visited Nevis on Sunday, February 3, 1957, while serving as Jewish Chaplain for the Virginia Jamestown 350th Anniversary Cruise, aboard the S.S. Ryndam. This was the first cruise ship ever to stop at Nevis, and the visit was commemorative of the fact that the 1607 Jamestown expedition had visited the island en route from England to Virginia. Dr. Stern, assisted by his wife, spent the major portion of their three hours ashore gathering the data for this article.
celebration of the bicentenary anniversary of the birth of Alexander Hamilton. T h e present population of Nevis is estimated at I 3,000, of whom barely twenty are white. None of the latter are indigenous to the island; they are mostly migrants from Britain in government or ecclesiastical service. The majority of the once-handsome plantation , homes are now vine-devoured ruins.' No official record of the Jews of Nevis exists, but two monuments remain on the island, giving evidence of the size, the importance, and the dating of organized Jewish life there: the cemetery and the synagogue. In the tiny capital town of Charlestown, barely three blocks from the wharf, is a large corner lot, reverently referred to by the natives as "the Jews' Cemetery." The lot, approximately too feet by 75 feet, is delineated by the remains of a wire fence. Sixteen raised graves, covered with flat stone slabs, are clearly visible, one in each corner of the plot, the remainder clustered together near what must have been the main entrance to the cemetery. T h e epitaphs range in date from I 684 to I 768, and vary from perfect legibility to complete obliteration. Except for one fragment of a slab bearing a Hebrew inscription imbedded in the earth, no other graves are evident. The tropical growth is low and easily moved aside, and while it is possible that later upright tombstones might have been carried away by natural forces or human hands, it appears that the community purchased or set aside a far larger plot than it came to require. For the record of those buried in the cemetery, see Appendix I. On the outer edge of Charlestown, on the main highway leading from the capital to the mineral springs and its hostelry, the Bath House, is a one-story stone ruin which the natives call "the Jews' I Derived from literature issued by the Nevis Chamber of Commerce, which quotes, among other sources, two historical novels by Gertrude Atherton, The Gorgeous Isle and The Cmqueror, the latter a fictional biography of Alexander Hamilton.
SOME NOTES ON THE JEWS OF NEVIS
'53
School." This is unquestionably the synagogue, whose existence in 1688 was discovered in the Amsterdam Archives by Cardozo de Bethencourt. An apparently established fact of Hamilton's boyhood is that he received his Elementary education in this building. Because he was the child of a common-law marriage, not recognized under British colonial law, Hamilton apparently was ineligible for the local Church Schools. He was, therefore, sent to a school "operated by a Jewess" (whose name has not been ascertained), where, by the age of ten, he had acquired his love of reading, his skill in mathematics, and the ability to recite the Decalogue in Hebrew.3
A "List of the Inhabitants of Nevis, with the number of their Slaves," appears in the third volume of Caribbeana.4 Dated March I 3, 1707, this census gives the following data about Jewish residents of the island:
1 See Publicatiom of the American Jewish Historical Society (=PAJHS), XXIX, 3? f. Cardozo de Bethencourt, "Notes on the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the Unlted States, Guiana, and the Dutch and British West Indies." Translated from the French.
3 I first heard the tale of Hamilton's schooling in St. Thomas, where the story was
apparently well-known, but was given the legendary addendum that the "rabbi" of
Nevis, attracted to the precocious lad, took him when the church schools refused him
admission, and gave him his elementary education.
I am deeply indebted to Mrs. Dorothie Bobbt, of New York, who is engaged in
B ~ ~ R ~ ~ writin the definitive biography of Hamilton, and has ainstakingly sorted out fact
from Ltion. In an article of scholarly content, "The
of Alexander Hamilton1'
~
(in American Herirage, June, 1955, pp. 4-9: 96-99), she writes (on page 7):
.. "Denied schooling, [his mother] sent hlm to the Jew~shschool, the only one. T h e Jews were respectable, and respected, in the islands. . His teacher liked to stand him
... on a table and make him recite the Decalogue in Hebrew. She fostered Alex's precious love of reading, and acquainted him with arithmetic. In 1765, when Alexander was
ten [the family moved] to St. Croix."
Gertrude Atherton's fictional biography of Hamilton, The Conqueror, originally
published in 1902, colored the story a bit by having the lad recite the Decalogue at
home, to his father's angry consternation, and this ended his schooling at the age of four.
Three recent biographies of Hamilton and the Dictionary of Americun Biography
ignore the story of his schooling, and the family's migration from Nevis to St. Croix
is put variously when Hamilton was age two or seven!
4 Caribbeana, a quarterly of British West Indian genealogy and antiquities, published by Dr. V. L. Oliver, at Antigua. Reissued in six bound volumes after 1919.
1 1 I WhiteMales White Females Blacks Isaac Lobatt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Isaac Pinheiro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Abraham Bueno de Mezqueto . . Ralph Abenduna . . . . . . . . . . . . . Solomon Israel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . From this evidence, and from other sources (see the Appendix), the absence of the head of the household in the census is symptomatic of the peripatetic activity of West Indian Jewry. The islands were too small in size, population, and economic opportunities for many of the Jews to concentrate their energies on one island. Hence we find them busily engaged in several areas. This fact is further attested by the will of Haim Abinun de Lima, who lists himself, in 1765, as a Nevis shopkeeper, but states that his wife resides in Curasao. In June of that year, he wrote a will in Nevis; in December, he wrote another in London, whither he had gone on business. H e mentions family, friends, and business connections in London, St. Kitts, Barbados, St. Eustatius, and Curaqao. (See Appendix 11.) T h e 1707 Census shows that the Jews were all slaveowners, and the number of slaves is an indication of the owners' comparative prosperity. The paucity of Jews can be attributed, perhaps, to the depredations of the French about a year before.5 By 1723 the Nevis Jewish community had grown to about seventy-five persons, according to the rather derogatory report of the local Episcopal minister to the Bishop of L ~ n d o nS. o~me civil rights were granted to the Jews, for Solomon Israel served as a jury foreman, and as a witness to wills for Christian friends. Intergroup relations are evident in his serving as executor for one estate.7 s PAJHS, XXIII, I 57 f. Will of Isaac Pinheiro. 6 PAJHS, XX, 160. 7 Nevis court records (noted by Mrs. BobbC) ; Caribbeana, V, 306; VI, I I , I 3-14.
SOME NOTES ON THE JEWS O F NEVIS APPENDIX I ABENDUNRAA, LPHU. nquestionably the same Ralph, or Raphael Abendana, who was endenizened at Barbados on March 9, 1694,~and was a resident of Boston in 1695.9 He appears as a slaveholder in the Nevis Census of I 707 (supra). ABUDIENTEA, BRAHAMa,lias ABRAHAMGIDEONH. is tombstone in the Nevis cemetery, giving the date of his death as "6 de Tisri do A0 5450" (September 27, 1689), confirms the existence in Barbados of two individuals bearing the same name. The other Abraham Abudiente died in Barbados on 4 Tamuz, 5457, July 3, 1697, at the age of eightyfour. The Nevis Abraham Gideon-Abudiente left Barbados in the ketch Phoenix, along with Rowland Gideon, on November 25, 1679, bound for Nevis' neighboring isle of Antigua.lo ABUDIENTEB, ATHSHEBAw,ife of REHIEL (alias ROWLANDGIDEON). Her tombstone, in Hebrew and English, is by far the handsomest in the Nevis cemetery. Her death date is given only in Hebrew as "Tuesday, the 28th of Ab, 5444" (August 20, I 684). Her husband's prosperity is evident in the elaborate decoration of the stone: crossed palms upon 8 Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (= TJHSE), XIII, 96. 9 David de Sola Pool, Portraits Etched in Stone (=Pool, Portraits), p. 442. I0 TJHSE, XIII, 36-37, 64, 68, 94, 96, 103. T h e discovery of this second Abraham Gideon-Abudiente explains why the Barbados sugar levy on the Jews for the years 1679-80 lists: Abraham Abudiente t 30 lbs. Abraham Obediente I ,044 lbs. The wealthier of the two is probably the migratory Abraham who left shortly thereafter for Antigua, since in 1680 an Abraham de Abudiente is one of the levy assessors and his tax is given as 236 lbs. I t is entirely probable that the sugar levy itself led the more prosperous Abraham to leave Barbados for an island where such discriminatory taxes were not levied. Which of the two Abrahams was endenizened at Barbados along with Rowland and Samson "Guideon" on August 19, 1688, it would be difficult to say. Lucien Wolf (in one of the Miscellanies of TJHSE) pointed to two Rowland Gideons on the West Indian scene at this time, but more research will be needed to ascertain which Rowland was in Boston in 1674-75, and which was endenizened in Barbados on July 30, 1679. and again in 1688, as mentioned. Which Rowland accompanied Abraham to Antigua (and probably to Nevis: vide infra), and which returned to England to become the father of the financial magnate, Samson Gideon?
a wreath at the top; lotus blossoms in the middle; and the winged hourglass with a sprouting lotus at the b0ttom.11 ALVAREZJ,ACOB.Endenizened at Nevis, where he listed himself as <December 26, 1693 (mid8 Bezris Marks Records 11, Ketubah Abstract #2 3), his second. As suggested in the preceding note, there were two Rowland Gideons, and Bathsheba may have been the wife of one; while Esther became the wife of the other. Quoting PAJHS, XVIII, 190, Lee M. Friedman, p. 400, points to the marriage in Surinam of Rohiel Obidiente to Rahel da Fonseca. H e faded to note that this Rohiel, or Rehiel, was the son of Simson (Samson) Obidiente (PAJHS, XVIII, 2 0 1 ) ~and that the marriage took place in 5489 (1729). This Rohiel was undoubtedly a nephew of one of the two older Rowlands heretofore mentioned. I2 PAJHS, XXIX, 38; XVIII, 153 f. 13 Mrs. BobbC. 14 Found by Mrs. BobbC in Diary of John Baker (London, 1931). Baker was the British Solicitor-General in the islands in 1755.
01ieof the Orhcr "Prec~ousSroncs" in rhe Curaqao Ccrnercr\r (scc p. 161)
Tombstone o f Abigail h b o a b Cardo7.o in rhe Curaqao Cemcterv \\'here She Was Buricd In June, I 74;
SOME NOTES ON THE JEWS OF NEVIS
'57
The following year, on the death of his brother, Joseph, in New York, Abraham received a Sejer Torah (a Scroll of the Law). He died at Nevis in 1715, intestate, leaving several children.15 GARCIAR, EBECCAM. entioned in Nevis court records in I 7I j.16 GOMES,ABRAHAMISQUIAODAVID.Buried at Nevis, in February - ? Perhaps his name can be read Abraham de Isaac de David Gomes. Isaac and Abraham Gomes were endenizened in Barbados, on December 14, 1694; and Isaac appears in the Barbados census of I 7I 5 as head o a household, consisting of two males, ages fifty and thirty. It could be that the younger of these was Abraham, the son of Isaac, who died subsequently at Nevis.17 ISRAELS,OLOMONH.e is mentioned as a resident of Nevis in the will of his kinsman, David Israel, of Barbados, in 1689. His was the largest Jewish household of family and slaves in the 1707 census. As mentioned above, he assisted in several legal functions between I 712 and 1720.1~ LOBATTOA, BRAHAMCOHEN.Endenizened in the colonies by Charles I1 of England in I 661, he was buried at Nevis in 1689/90.19 LOBATTOIS, AACH. e was perhaps the son of the preceding. The Nevis census of I 707 finds him absent from his household of two white females and twelve blacks. Nevis court records of 1713 mention him as a planter.'O LOBATTOR, ACHELLCAHANETT. his maiden lady was buried at Nevis, on September 2 8, I 70 I. Note the feminine form of the Hebrew word Cohen (priest). MANICHE-T, ER. Buried at Nevis, on February zo, 1679. MELHADOM. entioned at Nevis in I 7 ~ 5 . ~ '
Pool, Portraits, pp. 187 ff., 453; TJHSE, XIII, 14. '6 Mrs. BobbC. . 17 TJHSE, XIII, 96; "A Census of the island of Barbados .. taken in the months of October and November Anno Domini I 7 I 5" (a typescript extract of the Jewish listings, made by E. M . Shilstone, of Bridgetown, Barbados). TJHSE, XIII, 2 I , 76; vide Note 7, supra. 19 PAJHS, XX, 1 1 0 . 2 0 Mrs. BobbC. " Vide Note 14, supra.
MEN[DES?]-U, AS. Buried at Nevis, in November, 1768 (the last date recorded for Nevis Jewry). PAZ,ELIASand SOLOMONM. entioned in Nevis court records in 1 7 3 4 . ~ ~ PINHEIRA(PINHEIRO),ISAAC,ESTHER,and JACOB.Isaac and Esther Pinheiro's 1707 census record reads: z Wh. M.; 4 Wh. F.; 9 B1. From his will, written in the following year, we can identify the members of the family as Isaac and his youngest son, Moses; Esther, and their three daughters, Sarah, Rebekah, and Judith. Two older sons, Jacob and Abraham, seem to have been elsewhere. Isaac's will mentions his father, Abraham, of Amsterdam, and two sisters, Sarah, wife of Isaac Dagama, of Curaqao, and Rachel Pinheiro, of Amsterdam. Isaac served as the New York Agent of Abraham Bueno de Mesquita (supra). He was made a freeman in New York, on February z, 1695, and died there on February 17, 1710. His desire to be buried in Nevis evidently could not be fulfilled, for he lies buried in the Chatham Square cemetery of New York's Congregation Shearith Israel. His wife, Esther, had purchased a slave woman in New York on February 13, 1707, but returned to Nevis in time for the census, and was in the island at the time of her husband's death. She and her son, Jacob, appear in Nevis court records in I 7I z .=3 REZYAR, IBCALEVYand RACHELLEVY.Rachel was buried at Nevis, on 6 Shebat, 5444 (1684); Ribca died four years later. They were members of a family (spelled also as Levi Rezio) known in Brazil, Barbados, and England. RODRIGUEBSE, NVENIDCAOHENand -? COHEN.Miss Benvenida Cohen Rodrigues' epitaph, in Portuguese, English, and a remnant of Hebrew, yields the information that she died on 5 Tishri, 5445, December (sic!) 3, 1684, aged nineteen years. The other Cohen Rodrigues may possibly be deciphered as Abraham, but no data survive. SENIOR-,? This may be Jacob Senior, who left Barbados for Nevis on October 29, 1679, aboard the barque Dove. He may be the same individual who was in Brazil before 1654, and four years later sought to Mrs. Bobbk. a3 Pool, Portraits, pp. 453 f.; PAJHS, XXIII, 157f.; Mrs. Bobbk. 24 PAJHS, XLII, 395; TJHSE, XIII, vide Index; Bevis Marks Records 11, vide Index.
SOME NOTES ON THE JEWS O F NEVIS
I59
migrate from Hamburg, Germany, to Essequibo, Surinam. On March 7, 16&/~5,Jacob and sth her, his wife, sold two women slaves in Barbados. The Transactims of the Jewish Historical Society of England reports his death at Nevis, on February 9, 1710, but the epitaph seems to read "18 de [Felbrauro, I 7 0 9 . ~ ~ ~ 5
APPENDIX 11
Written at Nevis, 27 June, 1765. Haim de Lima, alias Haim Abiniern [Abinun] de Lima, of Nevis, shop- keeper. "My soul to Almighty God of Israel. T o be buried after the rites of the people called Jews." Mentions : Niece: Sarah de Elias Burgos, Barbados. Kinsmen: Jacob, son of Uncle David de Piza; Haim, son of kinsman Mordechay Abinun de Lima. Wife: Rebecca Abinun de Lima, of Curaqao. Kinswomen: Leah, wife of Mordechay de Lima; Sarah, daughter of Haim Abinun de Lima; daughters of Mordechay Abinun de Lima, of Curaqao, viz. : Rachel, Clara, Judith. Others : Isaac Pardo, merchant of Curapo, to pay his debts to the wardens of the synagogue; Jacob, son of Uncle Jacob de Piza; David de Lion, of St. Christopher, merchant; Abraham, son of Uncle David de Piza, of Barbados. Probated in London 1 2 December, 1766, by Moses Nunes, Sr., and Isaac Israel Nunes, of London, attorneys for the estate. Written at London, 2 December, 1765, at Mrs. Judith Dias' house. In case of death, Abraham Dias, Jr., of London, is to handle the estate. Executors : David de Lion, St. Kitts; Abraham de David de Piza, Barbados. Bequests: "Little Sepher [Torah] for St. Eustacia, Kodes for the Kaal"; "the great Sepher for my cousin, David de Abraham Piza, Sr." 2s TJHSE, XIII,33; PAJHS, XVI, 106;XVII,200; XLII,395. '6 "Abstract of Nevis Wills in P. C. C." (in Caribbeana, VI, 158f.).

MH Stern

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