Colonial Jews

Mikveh Israel’s burial ground – Philadelphia, 1740

Image of the inside of Mikveh Israel, including central bima, ark, and separated, gender-based seating on different levels.

Although Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia’s first synagogue, was not founded until 1782, the land for its cemetery has an earlier history. A burial plot was first bought by Nathan Levy in 1738 when he suddenly needed a burial place for one of his children, and land was made available to him by Thomas Penn, the son…

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Jews arrive in the New World

Artistic rendition of the arrival of Jews to New Amsterdam. Depicts a ship arriving at port, with wood-built buildings behind ocean waves and a cloudy sky.

The first known Jew to arrive in America was Jacob Barsimson on August 22, 1654, and he was joined by twenty-three more Jews four months later, although most of them stayed in New Amsterdam only for a short time. Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of New Amsterdam, was not happy about having a Jewish population in the…

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A Visitor from the Holy Land – Shavuot Sermon, 1733

Haim Isaac Karigal - A Sermon preached at the Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island called the "Salvation of Israel." (Newport, R.I.), 1773. Document reads: A Sermon preached at the Synagogue in Newport, Rhode-Island called "The Salvation of Israel:" On the day of Pentecost or feast of weeks, the 6th day of March Sivan The year of Creation, 5333: or, May 28, 1773. Being the anniversary of giving the law at Mount Sinai: by the venerable Hocham, the learned rabbi, Haym Isaac Karigal, of the City of Heron, near Jerusalem, in the Holy Land."

The first Jewish sermon preached and published in North America was delivered at Newport’s synagogue by an emissary from the Holy Land, Haim Isaac Karigal. The sermon was delivered on May 28, 1773, to celebrate Shavuot. According to Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, in The American Jew, “He [Karigal] spoke in an Iberian patois that at…

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One Jew’s Financial Support for the Revolutionary War

Black and white portrait of Haym Salomon in formal attire with a landscape background.

Haym Salomon (1740-1785), a Polish immigrant and New York City financial broker, was one of the largest Patriot financiers of the Revolutionary War. During the war, he was arrested by the British as a spy and forced to work as a German translator. Salomon used his position to convince German mercenary soldiers to disband and…

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Two 19th-century ketubot

Two 19th-century ketubot. The first is from 1857 and is for the marriage of Solomon Joseph and Rebecca Abraham, both of Charleston, S.C. The other is from 1873 and is for the marriage of David Nieto and Esther Belasco—residents of Kingston, Jamaica.

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Black and white image of the Touro Synagogue, undated.

December 2nd, 1763, Members of the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest standing synagogue building in the United States. It is the only synagogue to survive from the colonial era. The synagogue was designed by Newport citizen Peter Harrison. At the onset of the American Revolution,…

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Emma Lazarus: Writings and Philanthropy

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) wrote these words memorialized on the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus was born to a Jewish family in New York, near Union Square, on July 22, 1849. She held a strong classical education along with fluency in German and French.…

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The First Jewish Senator: David Levy Yulee 

Image of David Yulee Levy with the caption: "David Levy Yulee former U.S. Senator and Confederate Congressman."

David Levy Yulee (1810-1886) was born to a Sephardic Jewish family in St. Thomas, West Indies, before relocating to Florida where he studied and practiced law in St. Augustine. When Florida became a state, Yulee was elected to serve. In 1841, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, though his position was disputed…

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Abigail Minis and Jewish Settlers in the Georgia Colony

Portrait of the life of Abigail Minis including a family portrait, depiction of the Minis family tavern, and her plantation.

Within six month of the founding of the Georgia Colony by James Oglethorpe in 1732, a ship carrying 42 Jewish settlers landed off the coast of Savannah. These Jews sailed from London, England, though most of them had Portuguese Jewish descent (refugees of the Spanish Inquisition), though there were among them two German-Jewish families, as…

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