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This webpage reproduces an article in
Jewish Social Studies
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Apr. 1954), pp107‑114

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p107  The Number of Jews in Dutch Brazil (1630‑1654)

By Arnold Wiznitzer

The statement that in 1654 more than 5,000 Jews lived in Dutch Brazil has been accepted and repeated by historians without any of them citing the source.1

This figure was first given by the Portuguese historian, Dom Luis de Menezes, Count of Ericeyra (1632‑90).​2 According to him, the explanation for the capitulation of Recife after slight Dutch resistance is to be found chiefly in the fact that in January 1654, the 5,000 Jews who lived there accused the Dutch officers and soldiers of planning to plunder the Jews before surrendering the city to the Portuguese. The Jews therefore anxiously implored the Dutch government to capitulate. Menezes uses this tale in order to characterize the Jews as an eternally vulgar and fainthearted nation, to whom money is the most important thing in life.3

It is true that according to the rumors in Recife on January 22, 1654, soldiers had been heard saying that they would rather pillage the houses in the city, and especially the home of the Jew, Joseph Frances. These rumors caused great alarm.​4 But the decisive reason for the capitulation by the Dutch was the simple fact that a large Portuguese fleet had been lying before Recife since December 20, 1653, while the city was besieged by land and the Dutch had no ships for  p108 defense. Because of the first Anglo-Dutch War of 1652‑54, the Netherlands needed its entire fleet in Europe and could spare no ships for Brazil. "With the command of the sea now gone, Dutch hopes for relief sank to zero."​5 The commander of the Portuguese-Brazilian land army of liberation, General Francisco Barreto de Menezes, took advantage of the arrival of the Portuguese fleet to launch a general attack on the outer fortifications of Recife on January 15, 1654. Within a few days he conquered the forts of Rego, Altenar, and Amelia; on January 22, Menezes bombarded the fort of Cinco Ponto, threatening to cut off the city from its supply of drinking water.6

In the afternoon of January 22, a meeting was called of the military and civilian authorities of Recife. (At an earlier meeting, on the 19th, two Jews, Aaron de Pina (Sarfatti) and Jacob Navarro, had participated in the deliberations and decisions as representatives of the Jewish population.)​7 The unanimous decision of the meeting was that an understanding should be reached at the earliest possible moment, in order to obtain "the best possible terms" (de favorabelste conditien) and avoid the shedding of blood of many women and innocent children. Discussions of the terms of surrender were initiated the following day, and the agreement was signed on January 26.8

It is a well-known fact that the Jews of Dutch Brazil were always loyal to the Dutch, who had granted them religious freedom in Holland and in the colonies; and that the Jews sacrificed their lives and their possessions to help the Dutch maintain their rule in Brazil. Nevertheless, Menezes had no qualms about falsifying history at this point, obviously in order to underscore for the Catholic world the significance of the successful expulsion of the Dutch from Brazil. By this act, he was saying, Recife was simultaneously liberated from 5,000 hated Jews. But documents are available which prove this statement is a tendentious invention.

When some 3,000 soldiers of the Dutch army and navy, a part of the expedition forces, landed on the Amarelo beach near Recife on February 16, 1630, one of their principal guides in this unknown territory was Antonio Dias Papparobalos, a Jew. Papparobalos had been  p109 engaged in business in Pernambuco for many years and left Brazil for Holland shortly before 1630.​9 Another Jew in the army of occupation was the adelborst (non-commissioned officer) Moyses Navarro. After his contract expired, he, like many other soldiers, remained in Brazil as a civilian.​10 He was a broker and in time became the biggest tax-farmer​11 and the owner of the largest sugar plantation and sugar factory, Jurisseca, in the captaincy of Pernambuco.12

The 7,180 men in Dutch army and navy were mercenaries: Dutch, British, Scotch, French, German, Jewish, and other. They did not understand Portuguese, which was the language of Brazil. But the Dutch were fortunate to have in Holland Sephardic Jews, refugees from Spain and Portugal, (many were actually born in France or had arrived in Holland only after a long sojourn in France) who spoke Ladino, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Dutch, and could serve therefore as interpreters. Some had even been in Brazil as Marranos, and were available as guides. In fact, the number of Dutch Jews in Brazil was increased by the accession of Marranos who now, under Dutch rule, openly professed their Jewish faith.13

During the seven-year period of prosperity and security, under the rule of Moritz van Nassau as governor of Dutch Brazil (1637‑44), Jewish immigrants arrived continually. In a letter sent to the administrators of the West India Company on December 5, 1637, the Chamber of Aldermen (jurors, Escabinos, Scheppens) of Olinda, near Recife, complained that Dutch Brazil was being flooded with Jews arriving on every boat.​14 A month later, the Classis (governing body of the Reformed Church in Brazil) complained that the Jews were publicly holding divine services in two places in Recife.​15 Documents show that in 1638, two ships  p110 brought 200 rich and poor Jews from Holland, under the leader­ship of Manoel Mendes de Crasto, who died soon after.​16 Another large group is said to have arrived in 1642, accompanying the Hahamim (Sephardic rabbis), Isaac Aboab de Fonseca and Moses Raphael de Aguilar.17

Undoubtedly the Jewish population of Dutch Brazil reached its peak in 1645, before the outbreak of the rebellion against Dutch rule. The government's census of that year can be broken down as follows:18

Army personnel


Native Indians (called Brazilians)


Negro slaves


Wives and children of employees of the West India Company


Vrijluyden: civilians — white Hollanders, Portuguese Jews, free persons not in the service of the West India Company




The 2,899 "civilians" were distributed as follows:

Recife 855 men
452 women
397 children
Maurícia 685
Itamaracá 150
Paraíba 160
Rio Grande 200

In terms of percentages, the distribution in Recife was roughly 50% men, 26% women, and 24% children. There were two reasons for the strikingly small proportion of women and children: relatively few women migrated to Brazil (or to overseas colonies generally) and there was a very high mortality rate, from scurvy, dysentery, liver ailments, syphilis, and all kinds of fevers.​19 The Dutch physician, Willem Piso, who accompanied Moritz van Nassau, reported the prevalence of womb diseases among the Dutch and Jewish women in Brazil.20

 p111  It is obvious that in a total white civilian population of 2,899, there could not have been 5,000 or more Jews in the year 1645, as one modern Jewish historian asserts.​21 The figure of 1,450 Jews, which is about one-half of the total civilian white population, is probably truer.

With the beginning of the rebellion in 1645, not only did immigration into Dutch Brazil practically come to an end, but there was an emigration of Jews and Christians to Holland, insofar as ships and exit permits from the Dutch​22 and Jewish authorities were available.​23 In the nine-year war of liberation that followed (1645‑54), the population was decimated by famine (food supplies from the hinterland were cut off by the rebels and few supply ships came from Holland), disease, capture and death in battle. The Jewish population also declined.

For the years 1648‑53, a Jewish census list has been preserved in the Pinkes (record book) of the Congregation Sur Israel of Recife. Revised Haskamot (regulations) of 1648 provided that all Jews residing in the "State of Brazil" as well as newcomers would automatically become members of the Jewish community and they had to inscribe their names in the Pinkes as a mark of their acceptance of the regulations.​24 No Jew of Dutch Brazil could afford the luxury of disobeying the regulations of the Jewish Community, for the latter was a state within a state, imposing duties upon its members and at the same time giving them protection and representing them before the government of Brazil. We can be certain, therefore, that all the Jews accepted the new regulations and signed the Pinkes.

The record book contains the signatures of about 180 heads of Jewish families.​25 Since in 1645 the ratio of men to women and children in Recife was approximately 1:½:½, an optimistic calculation with regard to the Jews, assuming that each male family head represented three additional persons, we can surmise that in 1648 the total Jewish population of Dutch Brazil did not exceed 720 persons.

 p112  After the capitulation of 1654, the Dutch administration prepared and submitted to General Barreto, at his request, a census of the Jews then in the district. Unfortunately the original document has disappeared and no copy is to be found in Dutch archives. Only a reference to it is to be found in a document dated February 21, 1654.​26 However, there is a manuscript of the period 1654‑60, in which we find the statement by a contemporary that, at the time of the capitulation, there were more than 600 Jews in Brazil, all of whom returned safely to Amsterdam. The manuscript is an unpublished book by the Chief Haham of Amsterdam, Saul Levi Mortera (d. 1660), entitled Provvidencia de Dios con Ysrael, y Verdad, y Eternidad de la Ley de Moseh y Nulidad de los demas Leyes (The Providence of God with Israel, and the Truth and Eternity of the Law of Moses, and the Nullity of the Other Laws).​27 The pertinent passage reads as follows:

In the years past, on three occasions referred to below, our Lord whose name be blessed, lavished our people with miracles in His immense providence. The first case concerns the spirit. The events in Brazil are known to everybody. The Portuguese, by natural inclination the greatest enemies of the Jewish people, are particularly hostile towards those whom they compelled to be converted to become Christians. It is their custom to subject the latter to the most cruel autos-da‑fé, where with as much obstinacy and joy as in the offering of a sacrifice, they make human victims of this persecuted people. Portuguese people with the above mentioned disposition formed an army of soldiers, Negroes, mulattoes, escaped convicts, poor, starved, and barefooted individuals who tried to improve their fortune and hoped to do so through the perdition of the nation they hated. But Almighty God in His infinite power protected His people and saved it from all imminent dangers by influencing the heart of Governor Barreto. The latter prohibited any person of the Hebrew nation from being touched or molested, and provided severe penalties against those acting contrary to this prohibition. And  p113 not only this, he also agreed to let the Jews sell their merchandise and he permitted them to embark for Holland, the more than six hundred persons of our people who were present there. Since Dutch ships were not available in sufficient numbers, Barreto placed Portuguese vessels at their disposal, so that they embarked on sixteen ships. By divine grace and providence, all of them saved themselves and escaped many tortures and other misfortunes. One of these ships was captured by the Spaniards, who wanted to surrender the poor Jews to the Inquisition. However, before they were able to carry out their evil intentions, the Lord caused a French ship to appear on the scene, which freed the Jews from the Spaniards and took them to safety in Florida, or the New Netherlands, whence they arrived peacefully in Holland. It would lead too far afield to tell the story of this journey in all its details and to recall all the incidents of the journey in all its details according to the reports of each passenger who arrived. It is sufficient to say that all of them arrived well and that the Lord saved their spirits and their conscience from the hands of those whose practice it was to fight the Hebrew nation with so many tricks and cruelty.

This witness must serve us as a substitute for the lost census list of 1654. There is further documentary proof that twenty-three Jews from Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam at the beginning of September, 1654;​28 and that another group, who left Recife for the French island of Martinique, was forced by storms to land on Jamaica, then under Spain, and that they were prisoners there in November, 1654.​29 Mortera's figure can therefore be increased by 50 at the most.

The conclusion is obvious. On the basis of the documents cited, it can be proved that the number of Jews in Dutch Brazil increased steadily from 1630 on and reached the high point of about 1,450 souls in 1645. Thereafter the number decreased to about 720 in 1648 and about 650 in 1654. This was nevertheless a very large Jewish community for the seventeenth century. The Amsterdam Jewish community numbered 1,800 souls in 1655, after the Brazilian refugees' arrival.30

Appendix I. Census List of the Population of Dutch Brazil 1645‑46

Liste van alle het volck dat in de conquesten van Brasilien hem onder de regieringe van haer huchmogende sijn hucheyt de Prince van Oraingen ende de Westindiensche Compangie bevinden.

 p114  Soldaten volgen de monsterrollen gemaeckt op December 1645 ende 4 January daer aen volgende tsamen


Treijns persoonen en maratime


Brasilianen waer van ontrent twee hondert in dienst sijn en de ander alleijn rantsoen ontfangen, liggen so hier oft ontrent Recyff Itamarica Pariaba en Rio Grando tsamen


Negroes in dienst


Vrijluyden opt Recyff volgen de listen daer van gamaecktº in October 1645, bestaende in 855 mannen, 452 vyrouwenº en 397 kinderen tsamen


Mannen, vrouwen en kinderen in Mauristadt


Compangie negroes en negerinnen die in dienst van diversche comysariussen forten werden gebruckt ontrent


Negros van particulier so op Recyff in Mauristad daer onder begrepen haer vrouwen en kinderen


Op Itamarica vrijluyden bestaende in mannen, vrouwen en kinderen ontrent


Aldaer Brasiliaensche vrouwen en kinderen, de mannen daer niet onder gereckent also die int bovenstaende getal sijn ontrent


Tot Pariabaº vrijluyden bestaende als voren


Brasiliaensche vrouwen en kinderen, de mannen daeronder niet gereckent, om reden als boven ontrent


In Rio Grandoº vrijluyden bestaende also voren gereckent op


Brasiliaensche vrouwen en kinderen, de mannen daer onder niet gereckent ontrent

11753 coppen.

Het getal bedracht hier op dander sijde tsamen

11753 zielen

Noch tot Itamarica Pariabaº en Rio Grandoº bij gissinge negroes vrouwen en kinderen

450 zielen

De vrouwen en kinderen van de persoonen, die in dienst van de compangie sijn, ontrent oft bij raminge

500 zielen
12703 zielen.

Hier van moet gaen het volck dat met Zeelandia in December verleden is vertrocken. En is mede een goet aental vrijluyden seders October overleden en veel negros verlopen Van die in compangie dienst sijn, is mede een goet getal seders de gedaen monsteringe gebleven en gestroven hier tot memorie.

(Algemeen Rijksarchief, 's Gravenhage.
Oude west-Indische Compagnie 61).

Appendix II. Excerpts from Mortera's Testament

En estos tres sugetos se fundan los casos los quales los años pasados mostro el Dio bendito su ymmensa prouidencia por Milagros encubiertos hechos con nosotros, el primero tocante al Alma, es notorio a todos lo que sucedio en el Brasil por los portugueses ynimicissimos por naturaleza del nombre judayco, y en particular de los que forcaron aser Christianos acostumbrados a los cruelissimos actos de la fee a donde con tanta obstentacion y regozijo como quen haza sacreficio lo hazen ellos de victimas humanas deste perseguido pueblo acrecentandose al ser portugueses de dicha ynclinacion el ser vn exercito de soldados compuesto de negros, mulatos furigidos, pobres, descalcos, hambreintos,º y deseoso de mejorar fortuna esperando tenerla de la perdicion de la nacion dellos tan odiada, y con todo el poderoso seńor Dios con su ynfinito poder lo euito y saluo a su pueblo de todos estos eminentes peligros y fundiendo en el animo del gouernador barreto que mandou echar pregon con graues penas que ninguna tocase ni molestase aninguna persona de la nacion hebrea y no tan solamente eso pero les consentio vender sus mercadurias y les dio embarcaciones pare venir a Olanda para mas de seycientas personas q auio de los nuestros, y faltando embarcaciones olandesas les dió de las portuguesas de modo que se embarcaron en diez y seis nauios, y todos por gracia y prouidencia diuina llegaron asaluamiento escapandolos de muchas tormentas y otros naufragios, y tanto assi que siendo tomado uno destos nauios por los espanoles, y lleuado a los pobres judios ala ynquisicion antes q pusieses en efecto su malauado yntento los aparecio el senor un nauio frances que se los quito d sus manos y llos lleuo a saluamento a la Florida o nueua nederlant de donde vinieron en pazaº a Olanda. Larga y dilatada historia seria referir todas las particulridadesº y cosas de lo sucedido deste viage polo que cada uno de los q ueº llegaron contuaua, bastara solo dezir que todos llegaro bien, y que los escapo el senor sus almas y consciencias de mano de los que con tantas tracas y cruelda deslos combaten de hordinario.

The Author's Notes:

1 Cf. Beauchamp, Alphonse de, Histoire du Brésil, depuis sa découverte en 1500 jusqu'en 1810, vol. III (Paris 1815) p317; Huehner, L., in The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. X (1905) p343; Eisenstein, J. D., in Otzar Yisrael, vol. III (London 1924) p178; Rosa, J. D. Da Silva, Geschiedenis der Portugeesche Joden te Amsterdam, 1593‑1925 (Amsterdam 1925) p565; Schappes, Morris U., A Documentary History of the Jews in the United States 1654‑1875 (New York 1952) p565; Pool, David de Sola, Portraits Etched in Stone; Early Jewish Settlers 1682‑1831 (New York 1952) p5.

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2 Menezes, Dom Luis de, Historia de Portugal Restaurado, vol. I (Lisbon 1710) p839.

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3 The passage reads: "Hua das causas principaes de entregarem os Olandezes o Arrecife com tam pouca resistencia, foy o tumulto, & o medo dos Judeos, que assistiaõº naquella Praça em mayor numero que o de sinco mil Almas: por introduzindo‑se nos animos daquella Nação, eternamente vil, & medrosa, o receyo da morte, & perda dos cabadaes, que costumaõº ser nos Judeos a melhor vida, começáram a perturbar com desconcertadas vozes os animos dos Ministros do Supremo Consecho, & a publicar falsamente que Sigismundo, os Officiaes, & soldados determinavam antes de entregarem a Praça, roubarlhes as fazendas a titulo de sediciosos."

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4 Cf. Notulen van Brazilië (Notes from Brazil) of January 22, 1654, in the State Archives, The Hague. Joseph Frances was a member of the mahamad (executive committee) of the Congregation Sur Israel of Recife in 1649‑50 and 1652‑53; he was hatan bereshit in 1650‑51; cf. Wiznitzer, Arnold, The Records of the Earliest Jewish Community in the New World (Philadelphia 1954) p49‑50.

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5 Boxer, C. R., "Padre Antonio Vieira, S. J., and the Institution of the Brazil Company in 1649," in The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. XXIX (1949) 474‑97, especially p495.

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6 Varnhagen, Francisco Adolfo de, Historia Geral do Brasil, Antes da sua Separação e Independencia de Portugal, vol. III (São Paulo 1931) p101‑03.

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7 Cf. Notulen van Brazilië of January 20, 1654. Jacob Navarro was a member of the mahamad of Congregation Sur Israel in 1648‑49 and 1652‑53, and Aron Sarfatti (de Pina) was a member as late as January, 1654; cf. Wiznitzer, op. cit., p48‑49.

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8 Cf. "Het Dagboek van Haendrik Haecxs, Lidy van den Hoogen Raad van Brazilië (1645‑1654)," in Bijdragen en Mededeelingen van Het Historisch Genootschap (Gevestigt te Utrecht), part XVI (1925) 126‑311, especially p298‑99.

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9 Albuquerque Coelho, Duarte de, marques de Basto, Memorias diarias de la Guerra del Brasil, por discurso de nueve años empeçando desde MDCXXX (Madrid 1654) p18: "Por su guia principal traian a Antonio Diaz Paparrobalos, de la nacion Hebrea, que con la mercancia avia estado años em Pernambuco, i particularmente en la villa, i de pocos se avia huido a Olanda."

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10 Notulen van Brazilië, May 24, 1635.

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11 Ibid., July 30, 1636; August 12, 1638; August 11, 1639; July 31, 1642; July 31, 1645.

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12 Cf. Dussen, Adriaen van der, Relatório sobre as capitanias conquistadas no Brasil pelos holandeses (1639). Suas condições económicas e sociais (Report Concerning the Captaincies in Brazil Conquered by the Dutch in 1639; its Economic and Social Conditions), translated from the Dutch MS. by José Antonio Gonsalves de Mello, net (Rio de Janeiro 1947) p36, note 34; cf. also "Sommier Discours over den staet van de vier geconquesteerde capitanias Pernambuco, Itamarica, Paraiba, ende Rio Grande inde Noorder deelen van Brazil (1638)," translated into Portuguese and published in Revista do Instituto Archéológico e Geográfico Pernambucano, vol. V, no. 34 (Recife 1887) 139‑94, especially the appendix, "Relatorio dos Engenhos confiscados que foram vendidos em 1637."

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13 Calado, Frei Manoel, O valeroso Lucideno e Triumpho da Liberdade (Lisbon 1648) p54.

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14 Varnhagen, Francisco Adolfo de, Historia das Lutas com os Holandeses no Brasil desde 1624 a 1654 (Vienna 1871) p316‑23.

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15 "Classicale Acta van Brazilië," in Kroniek van het Historisch Genootschap Gevestigt te Utrecht, ser. VI, pt. IV, vol. XXIX (1874) 329.

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16 Cf. Mello, Joséº Antonio Gonsalves de, neto, Tempo dos Flamengos (Rio de Janeiro 1947) p57‑58.

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17 Mendes, David Franco, "Toledot Gedolei Yisrael," in Ha‑Measef (Königsberg Tishre םײַממםº 1784‑85) p15‑16.

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18 Cf. Appendix I. The original document is in the Algemeenen Rijksarchief, 's Gravenhage: Oude West-Indische Compagnie 61.

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19 Mello, op. cit., p148‑49.

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20 Piso, Gulielmus, Historia Naturalis Brasiliae, book II (Amsterdam 1648) p33: "Affirmare ausim nostratium ut & Judaeorum (quae intempestivis balneis ex religione obstrictae) ne quidam dimidiatam partem profluvia uteri evadere. Quod, vel ex pudore vel negligentia dum occultare student, pallidae, exsangues, tristes & viris ingratae, tanto temporis decurso, conduplicare malum solent. Hisce morbis, partim ex institutis authorum, partim methodo, incolarum remediis nativis occurereº oportet." ("I venture to state that no less than half of our women and of the Jewish women (who are compelled by religion to take unseasonable baths) miss their menstrual flow. They are eager to conceal this, either from shame or from negligence; they become pale, feeble, sad, and disagreeable to their husbands, and, as time goes on, they customarily multiply the evil. It is necessary to resist these diseases, partly by rules of the authorities, partly by practice, with the primitive remedies of the natives.")

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21 Bloom, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Williamsport, Pa. 1937) p141.

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22 Cf. Notulen van Brazilië, no. XIV (copy in the Oppenheim Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, New York).

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23 Wiznitzer, op. cit., p30.

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24 Ibid., p11.

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25 Ibid., p45‑46.

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26 Notulen van Brazilië, February 21, 1654.

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27 Cf. Appendix II. The manuscript contains 71 chapters. Two copies are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, one in the Hamburg Stadtsbibliothek, and an extract of the third part in the Biblioteca Saraziana in Madrid; cf. Kayserling, M., Biblioteca Española-Portuguesa-Judaica (Strasbourg 1890) p74‑75. Mortera's manuscript was the source of Mendes' much-quoted article on the exodus of the Jews from Brazil in 1654 (see note 17). Mendes, writing some 130 years later, published his article in Ha‑measef without mentioning his source, and it remained unknown until discovered by the present writer, who found a photostat of the Mortera MS. in the Oppenheim Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society. The late Samuel Oppenheim wrote on the cover page, "Bodleian MS. (IV) Brazil: Prayers MS. Opp. Add. Q 49." We have personally verified in the Bodleian Library that the photostat was taken from the copy written in 1664 by Jehuda Machabeu. From the rarity of the name, it is probable that Machabeu was the former member of the Congregation Sur Israel of Recife who signed his name on page 10 of the record book in 1648; cf. Wiznitzer, op. cit., p52, 76. Oppenheim obviously did not understand Spanish and he therefore did not know that the MS. was a historical work or who its author was, as is evident from the inscription, "Brazil: Prayers." Hence in his article, "The Early History of the Jews in New York, 1654‑1664," in Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, no. 18 (1909) 39‑40, he did not cite the source, Mortera's manuscript, but David Franco Mendes' plagiarism, from which he quoted in translation. Misled by Oppenheim's inscription on the photostat, Anita Libman Lebeson, Pilgrim People (New York 1950) p. xiii, thought she had discovered "the earliest extant Brazil Prayers," Dios Con Ysrael. But how could she hold to the opinion that Mortera's manuscript contained prayers after she had it translated into English by Dr. Butler?

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28 Cf. The Earliest Dutch Records of New Amsterdam in the Minutes of the Burgomasters and Schepens of New Amsterdam, book I, meeting of September 7, 1654, p268 (record book I, meeting of September 7, 1654, p268). The record book is in the City Clerk's Office, Municipal Building, New York City.

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29 See the letter of the States General of the Netherlands to the State Council of the King of Spain, Madrid, November 14, 1654 (photostat in the Oppenheim Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society), published by the American Jewish Historical Society with a wrong date (1658 instead of 1654) in Memorable Documents in American Jewish History (New York 1946) p13.

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30 Bloom, op. cit., p31.

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