Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straightby Eli Faber, Greta Noordenbos
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A conclusive reassessment of the long-standing controversy over Jewish involvement in the slave trade. Focusing on the British empire, historian Eli Faber's extensive research reveals minimal involvement in the subjugation of Africans by Jews in the Americas. Faber lays to rest one of the most contested historical controversies of our time.
-Peter Kolchin, Los Angeles Times
"A well-researched study that neither allocates blame nor exonerates the participants in the peculiar institution, but puts to rest a pernicious anti-Semitic libel of recent coinage."
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- Publishers Weekly
"Extremely thorough . . . convincing."
- Journal of American History
"The only way to set the record straight is to do what those making the claim [of Jewish domination of the slave trade and widespread slave ownership] have failed to do, namely sift through the entire body of evidence, with a view to determining the scale and nature of the Jewish contribution. This is precisely what Faber does."
-Howard Temperley, Times Literary Supplement
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Jews, Slaves, and the Slave TradeSetting the Record Straight
By Eli Faber
New York University PressCopyright © 2000 Eli Faber
All right reserved.
England's Jewish Merchants and the
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 inaugurating what is known in Anglo-Jewish history as the Resettlement. Whether prompted by economic calculation or by the Puritan belief that the conversion of the Jews would precede the advent of the millennium, the government disregarded opposition among the merchants of the City of London and unofficially assented to the return of the Jews.
By 1663, approximately 220 of them resided in London. Some, in flight from the Inquisition, came directly to England from Spain and Portugal.Others originated in the Canary Islands, France, and the German port of Hamburg, while still others came from Holland, a center of Jewish settlement dating only to the end of the previous century. Virtually all traced their origins to the Iberian Peninsula, as descendants of the thousands of Jews who had remained in Spain and Portugal after those nations had expelled their Jewish populations, Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497. Jews who decided to remain after the expulsions could do so only if they accepted Christianity. Those who stayed and converted comprised a distinct social group in the two Iberian nations called the New Christians, a category first created in Spain at the end of the previous century following a wave of massacres and forced conversions in 1391.
The New Christian label proved to be a term of opprobrium that passed from one generation to the next. Because many New Christians prospered as merchants, achieved eminence in the professions and in public office, or served as tax collectors, they frequently became targets of vilification. More terribly, many were accused of secretly adhering to Judaism and of transmitting it to their children. To root out the heresy of crypto-Judaism, the Office of the Holy Inquisition periodically unleashed fierce campaigns in both Spain and Portugal during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Arrest as a New Christian automatically meant the loss of one's property and, frequently, torture by the Inquisition as it sought to extract confessions. Some went mad in the Holy Office's dungeons, while hundreds were delivered after their examinations to the civil authorities for a public death by burning at the stake.
The objects of public obloquy and of Inquisitional terror, New Christians in the 1590s began to emigrate from Spain and Portugal (combined under a single crown at that juncture) to the Netherlands, then in the midst of its eighty-year rebellion against Spanish rule. Once safe in Holland, many New Christians reverted to Judaism. A thriving Jewish community consequently established itself in Amsterdam. Before long it grew to be Europe's largest, expanding from approximately two hundred individuals in 1609 to about two thousand at midcentury. While Holland's rigid Calvinist clergy opposed the Jews, Amsterdam's civil authorities were tolerant toward them. Although they were barred from retail trade and the artisan crafts, had to wait almost fifty years for the right to worship publicly in Amsterdam, and even longer to settle in many of Holland's towns, the prevailing atmosphere in their new home proved to be one of mildness and benevolence.
It was from the Jewish community in Holland that the Resettlement in England began. Coping at midcentury with a surge in Jewish refugees from Spain, Portugal, Brazil, the German states, and Poland, the leaders of Amsterdam Jewish community dispatched an emissary to London to propose to Oliver Cromwell that Jews be permitted to settle in England. The Resettlement was the result of his mission.
As descendants of Jews who had originated on the Iberian Peninsula, the Jews of the Resettlement in England belonged largely to the Sephardic branch of Judaism, one of the two major subdivisions of the Jewish people. Members of the other branch, the Ashkenazim, originated in central and eastern Europe, and they too contributed to the Resettlement, although in much smaller numbers. Pushed by poverty and by persecution, Ashkenazim had begun to migrate westward before 1648 from Lithuania and Poland to the German states, to the lands of the Hapsburg monarchy, and to the Netherlands. The numbers on the move increased at midcentury because of war, growing oppression, and deadly Cossack assaults. Ashkenazim reached England for certain by the middle of the 1680s and at first worshiped together with the Sephardim in their congregation. By 1690, however, traditional rivalries triumphed, and the Ashkenazim separated from the Sephardim and established their own congregation. Combined, the two groups in 1695 numbered between 751 and 853, roughly 70 percent of them Sephardim and 30 percent Ashkenazim.
Despite the community's small size and the poverty in which many of its members lived, the Jews of the Resettlement claimed that they contributed significantly to England's international commerce. When a proposal to impose a special tax on them surfaced in 1689, they drew up a petition for submission to Parliament in which they protested against discriminatory taxation by arguing that the English nation benefited from their mercantile activities. They "drive a considerable Trade," the petitioners wrote, with Jewish merchants responsible for "exporting great Quantities of the Woolen manufactures of this Nation, and importing vast Quantities of Gold and Silver, and other Foreign Staple Merchandizes, which do greatly Enrich the Nation, and encrease the Revenue of the Customs. ..." Moreover, they had eliminated the Portuguese as a factor in the diamond trade with India:
The Market for Diamonds in the East Indies was formerly at Goa (belonging to the Portugueze) and by the means and industry of the Jews the Market hath been brought to the English Factories, and by that means England has in a manner the sole management of that precious Commodity, and all Foreigners bring their Monies into this Kingdom to purchase the said Diamonds.
While underscoring their contributions to the country's commercial life, the petitioners pointed out that not all of England's Jews were successful merchants. If one-quarter had accumulated "Moderate Estates," another quarter had only "very indifferent Estates." The remainder, workers, consisted in part of "indigent poor people." The latter did not burden the English, for, as the petitioners were careful to point out, the Jewish community provided them with support and assistance.
At virtually the same moment that Jews received permission to resettle in England, the English government undertook to carve out a place for Britain in the slave trade as part of a policy to supplant Holland in international commerce. Openly challenging the Dutch in Africa, England established a series of forts along the coasts of West Africa during the early 1660s, and in 1663 dispatched a military force to capture the fortifications and trading posts held by the Netherlanders. Dutch counterattacks undid the initial successes of the British, in turn precipitating the second of the three Anglo-Dutch Wars the two nations fought between 1652 and 1674.
England relied not only on military action but also on its merchants to achieve its goals. In 1660, four years after the Resettlement commenced, Britain chartered the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa. Obtaining gold was initially its primary purpose, but in 1663 the slave trade became one of the Company's aims when the government revised its charter. It subsequently delivered slaves to Barbados and contracted to supply slaves to Spain's colonies. By 1669, however, it was clear that the Company's finances were in disarray, and plans to salvage it gave way to the creation of a new company. Continuing to count on private capital, the government established a successor by chartering the Royal African Company in 1672, endowing it with a monopoly to all commerce between England and the western parts of Africa, including the slave trade. Although the new company proved incapable of earning profits on a sustained basis, plunging toward bankruptcy by the early 1700s, it did succeed in penetrating the slave trade, transporting in excess of an estimated ninety thousand slaves to the Caribbean between 1673 and 1711.
Because many of them were merchants who resided in the City of London, the country's commercial and financial center, where they participated in international commerce, the Jews of the Resettlement might well have been regarded as likely to invest in the two slave-trading companies, although in the Iberian Peninsula, the region where many of them (or their ancestors) had originated, they had barely participated in the enslavement of Africans. As Salo Wittmayer Baron wrote of New Christians in Spain and Portugal who were accused of surreptitious adherence to Judaism,
We rarely hear of Negro slaves in the households of secret Judaizers. The inquisitorial records frequently offer the testimony of servants from the defendants' households, but these witnesses evidently were for the most part free Spanish or Portuguese proletarians. Nor did the great Marrano international traders appear to have played an independent role in the growing slave trade.... Occasional references like that to the purchase of a boatload of slaves by Manuel Rodriguez Lamego (a brother of the Rouen Jewish leader) are too rare to be typical.
Jewish law had certainly not precluded their involvement (no more than Christian theology precluded the involvement of non-Jews), nor would it have prevented their descendants who were now in England from investing in it. Biblical, Talmudic, and medieval Jewish law, the latter in the instance of Moses Maimonides, recognized slavery by prescribing regulations applicable to slaves and their owners. Shulhan Arukh, the definitive work of Jewish law compiled by Joseph Caro in the sixteenth century and accepted by the seventeenth century throughout the Jewish world as fully authoritative, recognized the existence of slavery and listed the rules that were to govern relations between slaves and masters. Furthermore, a variety of contemporary developments in which Jews in Holland and in the Americas participated in the enslavement of Africans also existed, serving as precedents for the Jews of the Resettlement.
Such precedents included New Christians from Portugal who reverted to Judaism when they settled in Holland during the 1590s. Some brought slaves to Amsterdam and tried to sell them prior to 1596, the year in which the city's authorities decided to bar the development of a slave market. Others must have owned slaves thereafter, for the city's Sephardic congregation made provision for the burial of servants and slaves in its cemetery in a regulation adopted in 1614. Between 1608 and 1621, a handful of ships chartered by Jewish merchants in Amsterdam transported slaves from West Africa to the Americas. And during the second half of the seventeenth century, Sephardic merchants in the Netherlands played a part in the transit of slaves to Spain's colonies, although the scope of their involvement is unknown.
Overseas, Jewish settlers became involved in slavery in Holland's colonies, beginning in Brazil. Seized by the Dutch West India Company from Portugal in 1630, Brazil attracted Jewish settlers in relatively substantial numbers. By the middle of the 1640s, approximately fifteen hundred Jewish inhabitants resided in the areas of northeastern Brazil controlled by the Dutch, where they established two congregations and employed the first rabbi in the Americas. Their numbers began to decline in 1645 when the Portuguese colonists rose in rebellion, raising the specter of renewed control by Portugal and the return of the Inquisition. Nine years later, in 1654, a Portuguese expeditionary force recaptured Recife, forcing the Dutch to abandon Brazil. When the Dutch left, the remaining Jewish population, approximately 650 in number, also departed, some returning to Holland and others emigrating to the Dutch colony at New Amsterdam or to the English one at Barbados.
While in Brazil between 1630 and 1654, a few of the Jewish settlers acquired sugar plantations and mills, and it is entirely reasonable to assume that they consequently employed slave labor. However, their contributions to the sugar industry were far more significant when it came to providing capital, exporting sugar, and advancing credit for slaves. As creditors, according to the historian of the Brazilian Jewish community, "they dominated the slave trade." To be sure, all slave imports from Africa were in the hands of the Dutch West India Company, which under the terms of its charter held the monopoly to the slave trade. But the Company sold the slaves it transported to Brazil at auctions where Jewish purchasers predominated, purchasing slaves and then selling them to plantation owners and others on credit. For the brief time that they resided in Brazil, therefore, Jewish settlers were an essential part of the fabric of the slave trade, although the actual number of slaves they might have purchased and then sold as middlemen amounted to a minute fraction of the huge number of Africans brought to Brazil over the course of more than three centuries.
Their communal regulations acknowledged their participation in slavery. The taxes the Jewish community imposed on its members included a levy of five soldos for each slave purchased from the Dutch West India Company. The regulations even made provision for slaves who converted to Judaism. (Later records of the Portuguese Inquisition suggest that conversions probably did occur.) The community decreed that they must first be freed before undergoing circumcision, in order to make it impossible for an owner to sell a slave who had converted. As the congregational minutes stated,
A slave shall not be circumcised without first having been freed by his master, so that the master shall not be able to sell him from the moment the slave will have bound himself [to Judaism].
Despite the Dutch debacle in Brazil in 1654, interest in settling in the northeastern part of South America remained high among Holland's Jews. In 1657, a group among them obtained a charter from the Zeeland Chamber of the Dutch West India Company permitting them to settle on the Wild Coast, a region defined as lying on the mainland between one and ten degrees north of the equator. The charter presumed that the settlers would use slaves to work the lands distributed to them by the new colony's commander, for it offered tax abatements as an inducement to settle, with the greatest reductions in rates going to settlers who established plantations with slaves:
The settlers shall be free from all taxes, customs, duties or any other similar fee for the space of seven years; those who establish a plantation of sugar with fifty negroes shall have twelve years of the same freedom; those who will establish a plantation of oxen, with thirty negroes, nine years, and if it be less, accordingly....
Moreover, the charter modified the Dutch West India Company's monopoly rights in the slave trade by permitting settlers to send their own vessels from Holland to Africa, to acquire slaves there, transport them to the Wild Coast, and reship them elsewhere, subject only to a payment for each slave to the Company.
Efforts to establish a colony at Essequibo, the site apparently chosen under the charter issued by the Zeeland Chamber, faltered and quickly failed, but a Jewish presence did take root almost simultaneously on the nearby island of Cayenne. The Dutch seized Cayenne in 1656 or 1657, a French possession vulnerable to attack because of incessant internal bickering. In 1659, the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West India Company issued a charter to David Nassy, formerly a Jewish settler in Brazil, authorizing him to establish a colony there. Under Nassy's leadership, a fairly large Jewish colony arose on Cayenne, with slightly more than 150 settlers emigrating to it from as far away as Italy. Like the earlier charter for the Wild Coast, Cayenne's made provision for slaves, with leeway for the settlers to engage in a piratical slave trade:
In regard to the slave trade, the aforesaid colonists, insofar as the need of the colony may [require], shall have such rights as are granted by the Council of the Nineteen. Their accommodations at all times shall be estimated as those allowed to the colony in [nearby] Essequebo under the Chamber of Zeeland....
They shall also be provided by the Company with such a number of slaves as shall from time to time be needed there ... but the slaves who are captured by the colonists on the sea may be brought into the colony, and they may transport them to any place that they see fit, on payment of a tax....
David Nassy's tenure as a colonial entrepreneur did not last long. In 1664, the French reconquered Cayenne, forcing its Jewish population out. Jews had been present in nearby Suriname as early as 1652, and it was to that destination that Nassy led his fellow colonists and their slaves. The colony was then in British hands, but in 1667 the Dutch acquired it in exchange for New Netherland, which the English had seized in 1664 and renamed New York. With the advent of the Dutch, some of Suriname's Jews left for Jamaica in 1677, preferring to live under the British flag. Ten Jewish families with 322 slaves reportedly did so, with individual holdings that ranged from a low of 2 to a high of 74, or an average of 32.2 per family. The names of the 10 who were willing to remove to Jamaica with their slaves had been reported to the English government in 1675, along with the name of a Jewish emigrant who actually did depart from Suriname that year for Jamaica with 33 slaves in tow. The name of another Surinamese Jewish slaveowner was also known in England, but his 15 slaves were transported to Jamaica by a Christian family.
It was in Suriname, nonetheless, that a Jewish presence on the South American mainland at last took permanent form. In 1669, the Dutch governor confirmed the privileges that Jewish settlers had enjoyed under the English, including permission for them and their slaves to work on Sunday. An all-Jewish town, Joden Savane, began to rise in 1682, and only three years later the new community erected a large brick synagogue. By 1690, Jews also resided in the town of Paramaribo. Around that year, 92 families and approximately 50 single men comprised the colony's Jewish population, estimated at between 560 and 575 individuals. Those who settled in Paramaribo turned to commerce, while others elsewhere turned to agriculture, relying, as we have already seen, on slave labor. Suriname's Jewish population therefore comprised another precedent for English Jews.
An even larger Jewish community than that in Suriname had already been established on the island of Curacao, a Dutch possession since 1634, and its members, too, utilized slave labor. The first dozen Jews to attempt settlement on Curacao did so in 1651, and at least one of them arrived with a slave. Inasmuch as this initial effort did not succeed for long, the establishment of a permanent Jewish community on the island did not occur until the end of the decade, when approximately seventy individuals emigrated to the colony from Amsterdam, including several who had fled from Brazil in 1654. The privileges granted to them by the Dutch West India Company included the right to purchase slaves, along with a directive to the colony's governor to sell them horses, land, and slaves. For approximately fifteen years, however, the Company sold them only sickly slaves, not permitting them to acquire healthy ones until 1674.
The most relevant precedent of all for Jewish merchants in London who may have contemplated investing in England's new slave-trading companies was the Jewish community in Amsterdam. There, the Dutch West India Company offered the opportunity to purchase stock in a slave-trading enterprise. When the Company was established in 1621 to challenge Spanish and Portuguese hegemony in the Atlantic, its charter empowered it to attack Spanish shipping, control the Caribbean salt trade, undertake military conquest of Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the western hemisphere, establish and administer new colonies there, and to monopolize the slave trade. During the 1620s, the Company consequently sent out privateering expeditions, established the colony of New Netherland with its headquarters at New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, and attacked Brazil in 1624 in its first attempt to seize it from the Portuguese. The Company did not, however, enter the slave trade during its formative decade.
It began to do so after its successful effort in 1630 to seize northeastern Brazil, followed in turn in 1637 by the capture of Elmina, a major slaving station in Africa. Brazil's settlers required slave labor from Africa in order to produce the great sugar crops that the colony exported to Europe. The Company's rule in Brazil lasted for twenty-four years, during which time it invoked its monopoly power over the slave trade to supply the colony with more than 26,000 Africans. After its expulsion from Brazil in 1654, the Company subsequently turned to supplying slaves to its colonies at New Netherland and Curacao. While New Netherland took few slaves, Curacao, seized from Spain by the Company in 1634, developed into a major entrepot in the seventeenth-century slave trade. Too arid for significant agriculture, it became a way station for the supply of slaves to the Spanish mainland. The Company transported at least 24,555 slaves to Curacao between 1658 and 1674, accounting for approximately 55 percent of the slaves it delivered to the western hemisphere during those years.
Because of setbacks in its other enterprises--the transfer of its privateering functions to another organization in the early 1640s, the loss of certain trading monopolies, the loss of Brazil, the conquest of New Netherland by the English in 1664--the slave trade emerged as the Dutch West India Company's primary underpinning. Few of Holland's Jews, however, invested in the Company. When chartered in 1621, Amsterdam residents purchased stock in it in the amount of 3 million florins; of this, the 18 Jews who participated invested 36,000 florins, or 1.2 percent. The percentage of stock owned by Jews thereafter is unknown, but the number who invested is. They remained a distinctly small presence. In 1656, when the Company had already been deeply committed to the slave trade for at least twenty years, 7 out of 167 of the stockholders, or 4 percent, were Jewish, rising to 11 out of 169, or 6.5 percent, in 1658. In 1671, Jewish investors numbered 10, or 5 percent of the Company's 192 shareholders. Three years later, 11 of the Company's "main participants," or 10 percent of all such shareholders, were Jewish. The 11 Jewish investors comprised substantially less than 1 percent of Amsterdam's Jews, who in 1674 are thought to have numbered approximately 7,500.
Deposits in the Amsterdam Exchange Bank reveal that an appreciably greater number of Holland's Jewish inhabitants did have capital and therefore could have invested in the Dutch West India Company. The Bank, an indicator of economic activity for twentieth-century historians, provided evidence of financial stature to seventeenth-century contemporaries. "To acquire prestige as a merchant or man of affairs in Amsterdam," according to Violet Barbour, "it was almost indispensable to have an account in the bank. The list of depositors is in the nature of a roll-call of Amsterdam capitalists." During the 1620s, when 18 Jews invested in the Dutch West India Company, Jewish depositors in the Exchange Bank ranged between 76 and 114. In the 1650s, when between 7 and 11 Jewish investors owned Dutch West India Company stock, the number with assets in the Exchange Bank fluctuated between 197 and 243. And in 1674, when 11 Jews invested in the Dutch West India Company, 265 deposited funds in the Exchange Bank.
Such, then, were the precedents and contemporary developments that served to inform the community of the Resettlement about involvement by Jews in slavery and the slave trade. Would they, however, choose to invest in the companies that England established as it sought to carve out a presence in the slave trade? Unlike the charter of the Levant Company, a corporation that traded in the eastern Mediterranean, the charter of the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa did not prohibit Jews from purchasing its stock. The Levant Company limited membership to the nobility, to gentlemen who had never been apprenticed or otherwise employed in commerce, and to the freemen of London. The Jews of the Resettlement did not qualify on any of these grounds, for they clearly did not belong to the nobility or the gentry, while admission to freemanship in the City required a Christian oath and Communion in the Anglican church. In contrast, the 1660 charter of the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa authorized the transfer of shares by the original stockholders "to any other person." Under the slightly altered name of the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa, its revised charter in 1663 permitted shareholders to transfer stock "to any person or persons whatsoever.
Jewish investors, however, did not elect to invest in the Company, whose stockholders numbered 32 in 1660, twice as many in 1663, and 112 in 1667. Members of the royal house, the nobility, and the City's merchant community figured in the roster of shareholders. Not a single Jewish individual was among those who acquired stock.
Nor were Jewish investors among the early stockholders of the Royal African Company, the corporation that replaced the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa at the end of 1671. The new corporation's charter, issued in 1672, did not preclude participation by them; in this it was identical to the revised charter of 1663 of the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa, which had permitted the transfer of stock "to any person or persons whatsoever." Nonetheless, the list of shareholders on July 1, 1674, two and a half years into the Company's existence, reveals that London's Jews continued to shun investment in the African slave trade. At that point, the Company's 203 shareholders held stock valued at 111,600 [pounds sterling], in amounts that ranged from the high of 4,000 [pounds sterling] subscribed by Robert Vyner and the 3,000 [pounds sterling] subscribed by the King, to the low of 100 [pounds sterling] invested by each of fifteen individuals. But the investors did not include any Jews.
Two years later, when the Company paid a return to its investors on September 21, 1676, a total of 194 individuals received dividends. Transfers of stock had occurred during the intervening two years, but Jewish investors had still not shown any interest in acquiring Royal African Company stock and therefore were not among the recipients of the dividends that were paid out.
The stock-transaction records for the subsequent fourteen years reveal that Jewish investors continued to refrain from investing any of their capital in the Royal African Company. The Company's books disclose, for example, that on January 4, 1677, Humphrey Edwin sold his stock to Benjamin Coles for 300 [pounds sterling]; that on April 25, 1681, "the Right honble George Earle Berkeley of Berkeley" purchased part of Richard Nicholl's stock for 300 [pounds sterling]; and that John Bull, a frequent dabbler in Royal African Company shares, sold 1,000 [pounds sterling] of his stock to Thomas Heatly on October 2, 1684. Women, too, purchased shares, as when the Earl of Berkeley sold part of his holdings to Widow Priscilla Baylie on September 22, 1687 and another part on January 11, 1688. A year later, on January 10, 1689, from exile in France, the deposed King James II divested himself of his holdings in the Company, valued at 3,000 [pounds sterling]. But for nearly the first full twenty years of the Company's existence, no Jewish investors stepped forward to acquire shares.
It was not a lack of financial resources that inhibited them, for members of London's Jewish community possessed sufficient capital for investment during the Royal African Company's first two decades. Fourteen accordingly purchased shares in the East India Company, well before the first investment by a Jewish businessman in the Royal African Company.
Nor was it as if the Royal African Company could not attract the interest of the investing public. Few opportunities for investment existed in late-seventeenth-century England, where joint-stock companies were few in number, small in size, and did not seek much capital. The East India Company, the largest by far, did not offer new shares between 1657 and 1693, preferring instead to take loans when it needed additional funds. Perhaps these limitations on the acquisition of shares in corporations help explain why trading in Royal African Company stock was brisk from the Company's inception. Of the 111,100 [pounds sterling] initially subscribed at the end of 1671, 18,700 [pounds sterling] worth of stock, approximately one-sixth of all outstanding shares, changed hands in 1672. An average of 16,291 [pounds sterling] of stock changed hands annually over the course of the next eighteen years, ranging from a low of 9,250 [pounds sterling] in 1685 to a high of 24,500 [pounds sterling] in 1675. And during the first seven months of 1691, Royal African Company stock transfers skyrocketed to 82,350 [pounds sterling].
It was during this last period of heightened activity in the Company's stock, a period of increased activity in stock trading in general, that a Jewish investor joined the ranks of the Royal African Company's shareholders for the first time. On May 26, 1691, Alvaro Da Costa purchased 500 [pounds sterling] worth of its stock. Born in Lisbon, Da Costa had arrived in England in the early 1660s as a refugee from the Portuguese Inquisition. Fashioning a career as a merchant, Da Costa became one of the small Jewish community's leading importers and exporters, sending woolen cloth abroad and importing, among other items, bullion, olive oil, indigo, and wine. An act of Parliament in 1667 made him England's first naturalized subject of the Jewish faith. Naturalization required that he take an oath as a Christian and receive Communion, but Da Costa appears to have floated between Christianity and Judaism, a not unfamiliar course of action for a refugee from the Inquisition who maintained trading ties with the Iberian Peninsula. It was a strategy followed by others as well, for this was an era in which agents of the Inquisition spied on Sephardic merchants. The latter consequently often employed aliases, including Da Costa, who used the Hebrew name of Jacob within the synagogue and Alvaro outside. As Alvaro, he never submitted to circumcision, but as Jacob he was buried in London's Sephardic cemetery, while all his children married Jews and lived openly as members of the Jewish community.
Da Costa had the wherewithal to invest in the Royal African Company well before 1691. That he possessed both the capital and the inclination to take risks is evident from the records of the East India Company. In contrast to his late entry into the Royal African Company, waiting twenty years before he bought any of its stock, Da Costa acquired shares in the East India Company within several years of his arrival in England. Presenting evidence of his naturalization by act of Parliament, he purchased 1,000 [pounds sterling] worth of East India Company stock in 1668. In 1674 he invested another 1,200 [pounds sterling], and in 1675 1,800 [pounds sterling]. Between 1675 and 1678, when the East India Company's records referred to him as "an adventurer in the General Joint Stock," Da Costa sold off 2,700 [pounds sterling] of his shares. Clearly, therefore, Da Costa could have invested in the Royal African Company long before he did so.
Subsequent to his initial investment in the Company, Da Costa acquired additional stock during the late spring and summer of 1691. Three other Jewish investors soon followed his lead, purchasing shares during the summer. Other members of the Jewish community later followed suit, and by April 20, 1693 the Company had 11 Jewish shareholders. Eight invested as individuals, 2 did so in partnership, and the remaining shareholder was the estate of a deceased individual who had purchased stock prior to his death. As a group, they comprised a small minority within the Company, which had a total of 301 shareholders and a general stock valued at 438,850 [pounds sterling]. The 11 Jewish newcomers amounted to 3.6 percent of the whole, and their 19,500 [pounds sterling] in holdings to 4.4 percent of all outstanding shares. After 1693, their presence in the Company continued to increase, rising by March 1699 to 29 shareholders out of 423, or 6.8 percent, whose holdings were worth 135,000 [pounds sterling], or 12.2 percent of the entire stock.
Between 1691 and 1701, the number of Jewish investors who all told acquired Royal African Company stock totaled 31, with possibly 1 more. The 31 investors represented roughly 10 percent of the Jewish households of England, which were comprised in 1695 of approximately 185 families and 114 single lodgers.
But while 31 members of the Jewish community joined the ranks of the slave-trading company's stockholders during the 1690s, most English Jews with capital to invest did not. A total of 80 members of England's Jewish community invested in various enterprises during the decade; the 31 who bought shares in the Royal African Company therefore comprised a minority of 38.7 percent of their number. At least 73 Jewish investors acquired shares in the Bank of England, more than twice as many as the 31 who invested in the Royal African Company. The number who acquired Bank stock may have been even higher, with perhaps as many as 10 additional investors.
Like their counterparts in Holland in earlier decades, England's Jews clearly preferred other investment vehicles to the Royal African Company, for slightly more than two-thirds of those who invested in the Bank (49 of the 73) did not own Royal African Company stock. Refusing to commit all their investments to the Royal African Company, the remaining 24, or about one-third, split their capital between the two corporations. In all, therefore, fewer than 10 percent of England's Jewish investors chose to entrust their capital exclusively to the Royal African Company. Of the 79 investors known to have purchased shares in either the Company or the Bank, or in both, only 6, or 7.5 percent, invested solely in the Royal African Company. The remainder, 73 individuals, or 92.4 percent, either invested nothing in the Royal African Company or lodged only part of their capital with it.
Still other investment opportunities absorbed more of their capital during the 1690s. Six Jews subscribed to the Tontine in 1693, the first long-term loan floated by the British government. At least two others, and possibly a third, invested in the East India Company between July 1691 and April 19, 1695, emulating the fourteen who had done so in earlier years.
In truth, the Royal African Company was a losing enterprise, which may (apart from moral considerations) account for the judiciousness the majority of London's Jewish investors exhibited by either dispersing their capital among more than one investment possibility or by avoiding the Company altogether. War, low prices for the sugar that it carried from the West Indies to Europe, and, above all, illegal slave trading by interlopers, the term for private merchants who persistently violated the Company's monopoly between 1672 and 1698, undermined its ability to earn a profit. According to K. G. Davies, historian of the Royal African Company, it was unable to do so even during the years of its unmodified monopoly, the quarter-century between 1672 and 1698. As Davies wrote, the 1690s, the decade in which Jewish investors first acquired stock in it, were "years of unmitigated disaster for the company."
Investment by London's Jews in the Royal African Company began, in fact, after the Company had attained its peak in the slave trade. While cautioning that data for the number of slaves it brought to the western hemisphere cannot be regarded as definitive, Davies calculated on a tentative basis that the Company delivered 90,768 slaves to the West Indies between 1673 and 1711. Sixty-five percent of those deliveries occurred before Alvaro Da Costa purchased his stock in 1691, for the Company conveyed 59,091 slaves to the West Indies in the eighteen years between 1673 and 1690. Deliveries fell by 54.3 percent during the subsequent seventeen years (1691-1707) to 26,975, which represented only 29.7 percent of all the Company's slave deliveries through 1711. In sum, Jewish investors appear to have invested capital in the Royal African Company as it relinquished its position in the English slave trade to the private traders who emerged as the dominant force. Between 1698 and 1708, for example, such merchants are reputed to have delivered 76,062 slaves to Britain's colonies in the Caribbean and North America, in contrast to the Company's 18,943. According to one contemporary account, the private traders delivered 35,718 slaves to Jamaica alone between 1698 and June 14, 1708, far in excess of the 6,854 delivered by the Royal African Company.
Not surprisingly, the number of Jews who invested in the Company declined as its prospects deteriorated, falling from 29 in 1699, to 16 (and possibly 2 more) in early 1708, still hovering at 16 or 17 at the beginning of 1713. The Company's records for early 1708 indicate that the relative amount of stock held by Jewish investors also declined from the 1699 level, although modestly. As noted previously, they held 12.2 percent of the Company's stock in 1699, but by 1708 their share had fallen to 9.3 percent. The latter was somewhat in excess of their 6.6 percent presence among the Company's shareholders, just as their ownership of 4.4 percent of the stock fifteen years earlier in 1693 had exceeded their 3.6 percentage of the shareholders.
The fact that Jewish investors owned proportionally more stock in 1693, 1699, and 1708 than their percentage as shareholders does not indicate any unusual interest on their part in the slave trade or any rush by them to own Royal African Company stock. The same occurred in connection with other contemporary opportunities for investment, and therefore appears to have characterized their activity as investors. Data compiled by P. G. M. Dickson show that Jewish investors between 1707 and 1709 exhibited the same tendency when subscribing to ventures in other companies (Table 1.1). Moreover, the factor by which their proportion of shares exceeded their proportion as shareholders in those ventures was higher in every case than it was in the Royal African Company in early 1708.
The tendency between 1691 and 1701 of most Jewish investors either to avoid the Royal African Company altogether or to refrain from committing all their investment capital to it continued, and characterized the strategies of new shareholders between 1702 and the end of 1712. During the course of that period, at least 86 Jewish investors acquired stock for the first time in the Company, in the Bank of England, or in both. Twenty-six, or 30.2 percent, acquired shares in the Royal African Company, a decline from the 31 between 1690 and 1701 (or 3 8.7 percent of all Jewish investors then) who did so. As in the earlier period, most Jews making investments preferred other avenues to investment in the Company. At least 72 individuals invested for the first time in the Bank of England over the course of the later period. This was 2.76 times as many as the number of those who acquired shares for the first time in the Royal African Company--a somewhat greater margin of difference between acquisitions in the two corporations than in the 1690s, when the difference was 2.35 times. Fully 83.3 percent of the new Bank investors (60 of the 72) did not purchase Royal African Company stock; and virtually none of them had owned any of it in the previous decade. As before, others refused to commit all their investments to the Royal African Company, for the remaining 12, or 16.6 percent of the 72, apportioned their capital between the two enterprises.
Only 14 of the 86 individuals who invested for the first time in one or both companies, or 16.2 percent, invested exclusively in the Royal African Company. Half, however, had invested earlier in the Bank of England, and they continued to hold its stock between 1702 and 1712. Another 2 had invested in the Bank during the previous period, but whether they continued to hold its stock in the later period is not known. In all, therefore, only 5 of the individuals who invested for the first time in either company between 1701 and 1712, or 5.8 percent, can be said to have invested exclusively in the Royal African Company when the entire period between 1691 and 1712 is examined. Why those 5 did so, in view of the fact that the Company failed to pay dividends, "plumbed the depths of joint-stock finance" during the first decade of the eighteenth century, was essentially bankrupt by 1708, and four years later collapsed in "a state of moribund somnolence" is not known. And matters did not improve after 1712. The Company continued to limp along, functioning in a tubercular fashion, defaulting, for example, when it contracted to deliver slaves to the South Sea Company in the mid-1720s.
As in the years between 1691 and 1701, Jewish investors from 1702 through 1712 turned not only to the Bank as an alternative to the Company but also to other investment opportunities, as indicated by the data in Table 1.1. By 1706, new investors in the East India Company included such individuals as Isaac De Valencia, Daniel De Mattos, Anthony Mendes, Moses Barrow, and Alvaro Da Fonseca. In early 1709, Jewish investors in the newly reorganized East India Company numbered at least 62, a group almost four times greater than the 16 who, less than a year before, had held Royal African Company stock.
A new opportunity to earn profits in the slave trade presented itself in 1714 with the assignment of the asiento to the recently established South Sea Company. England acquired the much coveted contract in 1713 in the Treaty of Utrecht, thereby obtaining the exclusive right to deliver slaves to Spain's colonies. Early the following year the Crown assigned the asiento to the South Sea Company, bypassing the nearly bankrupt Royal African Company. Established in 1711 as a vehicle for funding the government's growing debt, the South Sea Company held a monopoly to all commerce with Spain's American colonies; its charter empowered it alone to trade in the South Seas. It was therefore logical to designate the new company as the one to implement the asiento for the next thirty years, the duration of Spain's concession to England at Utrecht.
In unfortunate contrast to the Royal African Company, stock-transaction records for the South Sea Company no longer exist. There is, however, a published list of the voting shareholders, defined as those who held at least 1,000 [pounds sterling] worth of stock, on December 25, 1714, a date early enough to reflect the degree to which the investing public had some measure of confidence in the new company. Ominously, its first directors had no experience in commerce with the West Indies or Spanish America. On the other hand, its recurring difficulties with the Spanish government, war between the two nations, scandal, and its inability to earn a profit in the asiento trade all lay in the future.
The South Sea Company had a total of 2,039 voting shareholder groups on Christmas Day in 1714. Nearly all were individuals; only a very small number were either partnerships, in the main comprised of two or three people, or corporate entities like the Master and Wardens of Trinity House or the "Governour and Company for making hollow Sword-blades." The religious identity of two shareholders is unknown. Of the remaining 2,037 shareholder groups, 34, or 1.6 percent, were made up of Jewish shareholders. Thirty-three of these owned their shares as individuals, while the remaining Jewish shareholder group was a partnership consisting of three men, two of whom also owned shares on an individual basis.
The 34 Jewish individuals who were willing to invest in the South Sea Company at the end of 1714 in amounts large enough to qualify as voting stockholders were double the 16 or 17 who owned stock in the Royal African Company at the beginning of 1713, indicative of greater confidence in the new company than in the bankrupt older one. Yet they were fewer than the approximately 49 who, five years before, had held shares in the Bank of England and the 62 with investments in the East India Company. The prospects of the South Sea Company, predicated in part on the transport of slaves to Spain's colonies, evidently did not inspire as much confidence as the other two great corporations did.
On the other hand, Jews who chose to invest in the new enterprise were more likely to take greater risks than their non-Jewish counterparts. Five of the 34 Jewish stockholding groups, or 14.7 percent, each possessed four votes, indicating that each owned at least 10,000 [pounds sterling] worth of stock. Of the 2,003 non-Jewish stockholding groups, 132, or 6.5 percent, did. Six of the Jewish investors, or 17.6 percent of the Jewish shareholding groups, each qualified for three votes, indicating holdings ranging from 5,000 [pounds sterling] to 9,999 [pounds sterling]. The corresponding figure for non-Jewish shareholders was 237, or 11.8 percent. With holdings between 3,000 [pounds sterling] and 4,999 [pounds sterling], 5 Jewish shareholding groups, or 14.7 percent, could each cast two votes. Non-Jewish shareholding groups with two votes totaled 296, or 14.7 percent of all non-Jewish shareholding groups, precisely the same percentage as the Jewish investors in this category. Finally, 18 of the Jewish investors, or 52.9 percent of the Jewish shareholding groups, could each cast one vote, for they owned at least 1,000 [pounds sterling] in stock but not more than 2,999 [pounds sterling], while the non-Jewish investors who qualified for one vote apiece were 1,338 in number, or 66.7 percent of the non-Jewish shareholding groups.
If Jewish investors comprised a small segment of the stockholders of the Royal African Company and of the voting members of the South Sea Company, all available evidence leads to the conclusion that they had as little or perhaps even less interest in establishing direct commercial ties with Africa. This pattern was apparent by 1700, when thirty-nine merchants with interests in the African trade who petitioned the House of Lords included only one Jewish individual, Abraham Mendes. It persisted through the course of the eighteenth century.
England's Jewish spokesmen took credit in 1689, as described previously, for exporting woolen goods, importing gold, silver, and other foreign products, and for capturing the diamond market in India. They traded during the late seventeenth century with Spain, Portugal, and their American colonies, and with Holland, Italy, Flanders, the German States, France, the Canaries, the Azores, Jamaica, Barbados, and India. Whether they also had at least some commercial ties with Africa cannot be determined definitively, for interlopers, Jewish or otherwise, who violated the Royal African Company's trade monopoly with Africa obviously did so in secrecy. On the other hand, none of the interlopers involved in the slave trade whose identities are known was Jewish.
In 1698, the identities of the private traders became a matter of public record. Acknowledging the porousness of the Royal African Company's monopoly, Parliament that year authorized private merchants to trade with Africa upon payment to the Company of 10 percent of the value of all goods they exported to Africa, and 10 percent on goods imported from specified regions. Gold, silver, and slaves were exempted, no matter where they were procured in Africa. No fee had to be paid for these three commodities, thereby ending the Company's monopoly rights to them. This new arrangement, to remain in force until July 1712, gave a new name, ten-percent men, to merchants who until then had been dubbed interlopers. Time would prove that the Ten Percent Act of 1698 was actually the first step in the termination of the Royal African Company's monopoly rights. When the act lapsed as scheduled in 1712, Parliament chose to throw open all commerce with Africa to free trade rather than continue the arrangement or reestablish the Company's monopoly. Henceforth, English merchants who wished to trade with Africa were entirely at liberty to do so; they were no longer required to pay anything to the Royal African Company.
The identities of the merchants who traded with Africa under the terms of the Ten Percent Act are known from the records of their payments to the Royal African Company. In all but one case, the forty-one largest private traders with Africa between 1702 and July 1712 were conclusively not Jewish. The remaining one, Joseph Martin, had a name that could have been either English, French Huguenot, or Jewish. Martin was probably the prominent East India merchant of that name who served as English consul in Moscow between 1702 and 1705, as a director of the South Sea Company between 1711 and 1715, and as a member of Parliament between 1710 and 1715. On the other hand, the London Jewish community included a Jose [sic] Nunes Martinez, who married in the Sephardic synagogue in 1712.
Payments by private merchants other than the top forty-one to the Royal African Company under the Ten Percent Act demonstrate that Jewish merchants played a minuscule part in trade with Africa from 1698 to mid-1712. Of the many hundreds of cargoes imported from there into England, only six belonged to Jewish merchants, including one credited in 1701 to Abraham Mendes, signatory to the petition presented to the House of Lords during the preceding year by individuals involved in commerce with Africa. Export cargoes totaled only four, again out of many hundreds, with the largest of the four belonging to Abraham Mendes in 1712. The value of the exports by Jewish merchants totaled 2,573-7-0 [pounds sterling] (Table 1.2). With the value of all sworn exports by private merchants to Africa between 1702 and July 1712 amounting to 295,144 [pounds sterling], the Jewish merchants' component amounted to less than 1 percent (eight-tenths of 1 percent). By contrast, Jewish merchants were far more active in the commerce conducted by the East India Company. Unlike their near invisibility in the ten-percent accounts of the Royal African Company, the records of the East India Company document a greater Jewish presence in the commercial affairs of that company.
The paucity of exports sent to Africa by Jewish merchants under the terms of the Ten Percent Act suggests, in turn, that in the early eighteenth century England's Jewish community played hardly any part in the slave trade. Africa's rulers and merchants were paid in European and Asian goods for the people they brought to the coasts for sale as slaves. The negligible presence of London's Jewish merchants among the ten-percent men implies that they conducted little business exchanging European merchandise for slaves, with the exception of Abraham Mendes, who, as will be seen, is known to have participated in the slave trade between 1715 and 1719.
With the advent of unrestricted trade between England and Africa in 1712, Jewish merchants did not shift over to commerce with the African continent. No Jewish names appeared on the list of 48 "Merchants of London Tradeing [sic] to the Coast of Africa," who responded in 1726 to questions put to them by the Board of Trade about the advantages arising from free trade with Africa and the condition of the English trading posts there. By contrast, Jewish merchants appeared as signatories on petitions regarding trade with Jamaica. In 1722, a protest signed by 51 merchants against prevailing practices in Jamaica's courts included at least 7 Jews. When 92 "Traders to Jamaica and others" submitted a petition to the Crown in the mid-1730s against discriminatory taxation imposed by Jamaica's legislature on the colony's Jewish inhabitants, at least 41 London Jews, along with at least 49 non-Jews, were among the signers. Similarly, a 1723 petition submitted by 56 London merchants who traded with Portugal included 13 Jews, while another one nine years later, again from businessmen in the Portugal trade, contained 10 Jewish signatures among a total of 25.
At midcentury, Jewish merchants still did not figure in the African trade. In 1753, the anonymous author of a pamphlet published in connection with the bitter public debate that erupted when Parliament considered a bill to naturalize foreign-born Jews listed the contributions made by Jews to English commerce, but he included neither the general trade with Africa nor the slave trade in his discussion. If ever an occasion presented itself for England's Jews and friendly supporters to argue that the nation benefited from Jewish participation in the slave trade, this was it, for the controversy that swirled around the so-called Jew Bill required every possible argument to defend the reputation of England's Jews and their position in English society. Had it been possible to do so, the writer would no doubt have cited such trade by Jews as conducive to the "national advantage," the terminology he employed when describing their significance in the Spanish trade. The author of the pamphlet in question, whose title page assured readers that "the Utility of the Jews in Trade [would be] ... fully considered and proved," claimed that Jewish merchants handled 5 percent of the nation's trade, citing their activities as bullion importers, silk and cotton middlemen, insurance brokers for foreign shipping, and discounters of foreign bills of exchange. As for geographic regions, the writer specified that England's Jewish merchants traded with the East Indies, Jamaica, and Spain's American colonies.
Owing to their disinterest in commerce with Africa, Jewish merchants did not join the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, established by Parliament in 1749 to assume the responsibilities of the Royal African Company for British forts and trading posts there. Outpaced by free traders, displaced by the South Sea Company as the supplier of slaves to Spain's colonies, the Royal African Company had limped along as best it could after 1712. By 1730, the debilitated corporation required an annual subsidy to run the forts and trading facilities it operated in Africa, ironically for the benefit of the free traders who had always been its bane. Parliament allocated 10,000 [pounds sterling] annually beginning in 1730, but by 1746 the Company's debts were so high, its credit so low, and the forts in such a state of deterioration that other arrangements had to be made. The Company of Merchants Trading to Africa was the result.
Under the terms of its charter, nine directors were to administer the new company, three from each of the English ports that traded with Africa. It was not to issue stock; membership required payment of a mere 40 shillings rather than the purchase of shares. Under these terms, 480 merchants residing in the three English cities that traded with Africa joined its ranks by June 1758. London members numbered 146, while Bristol accounted for 245 and Liverpool for 89. None of the 480 was Jewish.
Almost thirty years later, in 1787, the number of Londoners who belonged to the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa had skyrocketed to 1,086, among whom were eleven Jewish individuals, or 1 percent of the total. Several of the eleven may have been the owners of vessels whose ships were listed in Lloyd's shipping registers for 1776 and 1790, although none gave Africa as the destinations of their vessels. Whether the eleven were actually involved in commerce with the African continent is not at all clear, for, as a pamphleteer who identified himself as "an African Merchant" wrote in the early 1770s, the Company's membership lists had long been padded with the names of hundreds of Londoners who had nothing whatsoever to do with the Africa trade. In 1771, 1,425 Londoners were members of the Company, and yet, he asserted, everyone knew that at most only fifty traded with the African continent. Since the Company's inception approximately twenty years before, no more than a hundred had ever been engaged in African commerce, yet hundreds of new members had enrolled in 1768 and 1770. The same occurred in 1771, when 274 individuals paid their 40 shillings and became members, but not even ten of them traded with Africa. The newcomers included barbers, cheesemongers, weavers, and shoemakers, and many were underage clerks who were enrolled as members without their knowledge. The reason for all this? To influence the election of company officers, although letters sent by the candidates in 1771 to approximately two hundred of the members went undelivered because they were not to be found at the addresses where they allegedly resided.
Uninvolved in the general trade with Africa, marginal at best to it at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Jewish merchants in England did not participate in the slave trade, with only a few known exceptions.
One, Andrew Lopez, is known to have been involved in the slave trade to Mexico in the late seventeenth century. Furthermore, he contracted in the late 1690s with Portugal's Royal Guinea Company, the holder of the asiento at that juncture, to deliver slaves to Spain's colonies. In fulfillment of his obligation, Lopez engaged two London Jewish shipowners to convey slaves from Africa across the Atlantic. But Jews who momentarily entered the slave trade through the doorway of the asiento proved to be a detriment. When the contract with the Portuguese company expired in 1701, the Spanish refused to renew it, in part because of the presence of Jewish merchants in its activities. In view of this, the assertion by one Isaac Pereira in 1703 on behalf of the small Jewish community at Jamaica that "the Jews before the present war by their industry and interest had procured the Assiento of Negroes to be established at Jamaica" is inexplicable.
At least one of London's Jewish merchants and quite possibly a second participated in the slave trade between 1715 and 1719. In 1715, Abraham Mendes received authorization from the South Sea Company to transport slaves to Jamaica and from there to the Spanish mainland on his ship, the King Solomon. The vessel subsequently carried 289 slaves from Jamaica to Porto Bello and, while it still clearly belonged to Mendes, 295 slaves on July 1, 1719 to Jamaica. Mendes, it will be recalled, had signed the African traders' petition to the House of Lords in 1700 and had functioned in the commerce between England and Africa during the ten-percent era. In the second case, Isaac Fernandez Nunes, one of the larger investors in the South Sea Company at the end of 1714, petitioned the Company in 1715 on behalf of the owners of the May Flower, a slave ship that had been seized by the Spanish in the West Indies with 200 slaves on board. Whether or not Nunes himself had a share in the vessel is, however, not known.
Two Jewish merchants who resided in London are known to have participated in the slave trade during the 1720s and 1730s. The number of slaves traceable to their efforts indicates, however, a negligible impact on the slave trade, one that was far below the capacity of the London slave fleet in 1726. One, Rodrigo Pacheco, had resided in New York as early as 1711, where in partnership with two non-Jewish and one other Jewish merchant he imported a slave from Curacao in 1716. Returning to London in the late 1720s or early 1730s, Pacheco was involved between 1727 and 1739 in the transport of 25 slaves to New York from various locations in the western hemisphere, 21 of them in partnership with non-Jewish investors. The second of the two, Isaac Levy, imported 117 slaves from Africa to New York in 1721 in partnership with three other merchants, two of whom were not Jewish. His remaining partner, Nathan Simson, was a Jewish merchant who at the time resided in New York. Simson returned to London by the summer of 1722, where he died in 1726. In the interim, he is not known to have participated again in the slave trade.
One additional Jewish individual in England, Gabriel Lopez Pinheiro, is known to have had a form of contact with the slave trade during the 1720s. An officer of the London Sephardic community, Pinheiro was a refugee from Portugal in 1706 who, using various aliases, traded primarily with his homeland after he fled to England, but also as far afield as Vienna, towhich he exported diamonds. Pinheiro became involved in 1726 in a transaction involving the sale of 51 slaves as attorney for the Marquis Govia, a Portuguese aristocrat. The owner of the island of St. Antonio off the coast of West Africa, the Marquis leased it to several Englishmen for a period of twenty-seven years, and subsequently permitted them to acquire 100 slaves on the island at a cost of 10 [pounds sterling] per person, payable in London. The lessees refused to pay, arguing that, inasmuch as only half the slaves had been delivered, the contract had not been fulfilled. Because the Marquis had meanwhile left London, the lessees found themselves dealing with his attorney.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, when London's West Indian houses functioned as bankers to merchants and planters in the colonies, one of London's Jewish firms is known to have provided financial backing in the slave trade. In keeping with the dependence of colonial slave factors, or retailers, on London's West Indian houses, the company of Lindo, Aguilar & Dias provided credit for two shipments of slaves sold in Jamaica in 1789 by Alexandre [sic] Lindo, a leading Jewish slave factor there. Lindo, Aguilar & Dias, later known as Aguilar, Dias & Son, provided "Guarantees" for Lindo, Lake & Co., a partnership in Jamaica that between 1796 and 1802 marketed slaves arriving from Africa. By extending such "Guarantees," the London house provided credit to the firm in Jamaica for slave cargoes. Aguilar, Dias & Son of London also provided support to Alexandre Lindo after he moved to England in the mid-1790s, where, along with his enterprises in sugar, coffee, cotton, and insurance, he lent funds to firms and individuals who participated in the slave trade.
With the eclipse of the Royal African Company, private traders in London, Bristol, and Liverpool consolidated their hold on the slave trade, with London playing the predominant role during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Britain's slave fleet numbered 171 vessels in early 1726 and was capable of transporting somewhat in excess of 49,000 slaves. Liverpool, its dominant position in the slave trade still a quarter-century in the future, had the fewest: 21 vessels, with a capacity of 5,200 slaves. Bristol had 63 vessels, able to carry 16,950 slaves. London, not yet overtaken by its rivals, had the most, with 87 vessels capable of loading slightly more than 26,990 slaves. Approximately 50 merchants were the primary owners of London's 87 slave ships. Thirty-three owned 1 vessel, 11 owned 2, 2 owned 5, 1 owned 6, and 2 owned 7, while the names of the owners of 2 vessels are not known. None of these owners of London's slave fleet in 1726 was Jewish.
However, lists of primary owners account for only part of the story. Although shipping in eighteenth-century England was at times owned by individual entrepreneurs, the more usual form of maritime ownership occurred through partnerships formed for a particular venture. Shares were at times divided as minutely as sixty-fourths; and the greatest shareholder usually acted as ship's husband, the term for the organizer and agent of the undertaking, who was therefore the individual usually listed as the vessel's owner.
It is highly unlikely, however, that Jews figured in any consequential manner as small investors in slave ships. The important pamphlet published in 1753 describing the contributions of England's Jews to the nation's trade made no mention, as we have seen, of participation by them in either the general commerce with Africa or in the slave trade. Nor was there any trace of them in the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa until late in the century, when their presence may in fact not be indicative of trade with Africa. Then too, Jewish merchants in England are known to have purchased shares in shipping, 39 of them doing so in 85 ventures between 1693 and 1798, but overwhelmingly in voyages bound for India and other locations in the Far East. Accordingly, the 1753 pamphlet emphasized the role they played in commerce with those regions. Finally, and most tellingly, the surviving Naval Office records of slave ships that arrived at New York between 1715 and 1765, at Georgia between 1754 and 1767, and at Barbados between 1782 and 1805 identify all the investors in such ventures. The records for these colonies therefore make it possible to retrieve not only the names of the primary owners but also those of smaller shareholders; and save for several instances in New York, the minor investors as well as the primary owners were overwhelmingly non-Jewish.
Ship registers compiled by Lloyd's beginning in the 1760s indicate that London's Africa fleet remained in the hands of the City's non-Jewish merchants after midcentury, lending support to James A. Rawley's assessment that, despite the "rich ethnic mix of the [London] commercial community ... native Englishmen, West Indians, and Scots seemed to preponderate in the slave trade sector. Lloyd's register for 1764, the first published, listed 74 London vessels with Africa as their destination; none of the primary owners listed therein was Jewish. The registers for 1776 and 1790 respectively listed 72 and 69 vessels, again with primary owners whose names were not Jewish.
Bristol edged ahead of London during the 1730s for leadership in the slave trade, and in the early 1740s it ranked first among England's three slave-trading ports. There, 124 merchants and 74 shipowners invested in the slave trade between 1698 and 1729. From 1730 through 1745, when Bristol led its rivals in the British slave trade, 68 merchants and 72 shipowners did so. None in either period was Jewish. But then, Jews did not yet reside in Bristol. They did not settle there until the 1750s, and when they did they functioned as modest artisans and shopkeepers; apparently not a single international merchant was to be found among them. Subsequently, none appeared among the 112 merchants and 74 shipowners who invested in the slave trade between 1746 and 1769. And after one to two generations of residence in Bristol, its Jewish inhabitants (nor London Jews with funds to invest) still did not participate in the port's slaving ventures. None of the primary owners of the approximately 520 slave ships between 1770 and 1807 that belonged to Bristol was Jewish, nor were any of the lesser investors in 134 of those vessels.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, Liverpool surpassed both Bristol and London, achieving and maintaining an unassailable position of supremacy until the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807. Here too, Jews did not begin to settle until the 1750s, and when they did so they made their livings as peddlers and small shopkeepers. Weak and inconspicuous, the congregation they established around 1750 faded away soon thereafter, and they proved incapable of organizing a permanent community or erecting a synagogue until the 1780s. In 1790, only nineteen recognizably Jewish inhabitants were listed in the Liverpool directory for that year, out of a population of 54,000. In marked contrast to their marginal position, the merchants of Liverpool who participated in the slave trade were usually men of wealth and, in James A. Rawley's phrase, individuals of "high standing."
As in London and Bristol, the Jews of Liverpool did not own ships in the slave trade. Peddlers and petty shopkeepers, none were on the list of 101 Liverpool merchants who belonged to the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa in 1752, nor, as noted previously, among the 89 who belonged to it in 1758. Nor were Jews to be found among the 66 primary owners of the 88 Liverpool vessels trading with Africa in 1752 that carried 24,732 slaves, or among the owners of the 80 Liverpool vessels listed by Lloyd's as trading there in 1764. Twenty-six years later, in 1790, the Liverpool slave fleet of 141 vessels was owned by forty firms, none of which was Jewish. And in 1807, the year in which Britain terminated the slave trade throughout its empire, none of Liverpool's seventy-odd companies trading to Africa was Jewish.
Further verification that England's Jewish merchants did not own the ships that procured and transported approximately three million slaves from Africa to the Americas during the eighteenth century comes from the ports where the vessels delivered their human cargo. Naval Office records reporting the arrival of slave ships survive to varying degree for such colonies as Barbados and Jamaica, Nevis and Dominica, Grenada and St. Vincent, New York and Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. Between 1710 and 1720, the information entered by the officials of the Naval Office began to include the names of the vessels' owners. In case after case, for ship after ship, ceaselessly, relentlessly, until the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire in 1807, slave vessels registered in London, Bristol, and Liverpool belonged to the non-Jewish merchants of those cities who were their primary owners and, as noted before, to the smaller investors who, where known from the Naval Office records, were in almost every case not Jewish. It is to two of the major destinations of their slave ships in the Caribbean, where Jewish communities developed, that we turn next.
Excerpted from Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade by Eli Faber Copyright © 2000 by Eli Faber. Excerpted by permission.
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"The only way to set the record straight is to do what those making the claim [of Jewish domination of the slave trade and widespread slave ownership] have failed to do, namely sift through the entire body of evidence, with a view to determining the scale and nature of the Jewish contribution. This is precisely what Faber does."
-Howard Temperley,Times Literary Supplement
"Extremely thorough . . . convincing."
-Journal of American History,
"A well-researched study that neither allocates blame nor exonerates the participants in the peculiar institution, but puts to rest a pernicious anti-Semitic libel of recent coinage."
"For anyone in search of ammunition to refute farfetched claims about Jewish culpability for the enslavement of Africans in America, this is the place to look."
-Peter Kolchin,Los Angeles Times
Meet the Author
Eli Faber is Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, and author of A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1828 , the first volume in the five-volume The Jewish People in America .
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