A Jewish odyssey.
The Jews of Spain and Portugal had been subject to centuries of repression, including forced conversions in Spain in 1391 and Portugal in 1498. Many of these converts settled in the farthest reaches of the Iberian colonies to evade oversight by the state, church and Inquisition.
In 1630, the Dutch occupied the region of Pernambuco, which included Recife. Dutch tolerance allowed these converts to openly revert to the practice of Judaism. The Jewish community, which included new Dutch immigrants, formed a synagogue, Jewish schools and a Jewish cemetery. The community became so prominent it dominated the city.
In 1645 the Portuguese began the reconquest of Pernambuco. Converts who had reverted to Judaism were now heretics in the eyes of the church--potentially a capital offense. Most Jews fled to Dutch colonies.
Some Jews, fleeing to Holland, were attacked by Spanish pirates, who destroyed their ship. They were rescued by a French captain, who took them to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Twenty-three Jews petitioned for the right to stay. The colony's governor, Peter Stuyvesant, opposed their request, but he was overruled by the Dutch West India Company. This group of refugees from Recife became the first Jewish settlement in the territory that became the United States.
Bureau of Counsular Affairs