Slavery and the Jews 2, Faber Eli

Excerpts from:

Slavery and the Jews
A Historical Inquiry

By Eli Faber

“Eli Faber is professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal
Justice of The City University of New York. …This Sonia Kroland
Coster Memorial Lecture was delivered at Hunter College on May 11,

“A number of factors kept Jewish participation in the institution of
slavery to modest proportions. There were at least six such
identifiable limiting factors.

“First among these is that Jews were simply not present in many of the
most important places associated with slavery. Portugal is one
example, Spain is another. Prior to Portugul’s expulsion of her Jewish
population in 1497, Spain had expelled hers in 1492. Spain’s
prohibition extended to her vast empire in the New World, the
destination of approximately 15 percent of all of the people forcibly
transported from Africa. Similarly, Portugul’s edict against a Jewish
presence extended to Brazil, the destination of at least 21 percent of
all slaves shipped from Africa, and the site of the largest slave
population in any single country.

“Jewish colonists were also not present in certain English colonies
where great numbers of slaves were to be found. Virginia, site of the
largest slave population in North America during the eighteenth
century, had no Jewish inhabitants until the 1780s. Nor did Maryland
or North Carolina, both of which, like Virginia, relied heavily on
slave labor.

“Second, in some places where Jews were present, they were
insignificant in number and therefore did not play much of a role in
the economy. For example, before their expulsion in 1685 from France’s
Caribbean possessions, only 81 Jews resided in Martinique in 1680 and
only 94 in 1683. …

“In England’s North American empire, few Jews settled in South
Carolina and Georgia, colonies where slavery was central to the
economy. …

“Third, where present, Jews had other economic specialties. In two key
locations, France and England, Jewish merchants participated in the
slave trade only to a very limited extent.” (Ibid. 7)

“… In pursuit of [control of the slave trade] England established
the Royal African Company in 1672, granting it a charter that
empowered it to monopolize the African slave trade. … [None of the
stockholders were Jewish.]” (Ibid. 8)

“During the eighteen century, England amply realized its ambition to
dominate the slave trade. In the course of the 1700s, English ships
transported approximately 42 percent of all slaves shipped from Africa
to the western hemisphere, a total of approximately 2,463,000 slaves.
Three cities in England figured above all others in this lucrative
enterprise; in one, Jewish merchants had, at most, a small hand, while
in the other two they played no part at all.” (Ibid.)

“As for the all-important Dutch West India Company, that engine of
Dutch enterprise in the western hemisphere that held the monopoly to
the slave trade, all evidence points to a minuscule role played by
Jewish investors. When the Company was chartered in 1621, the
citizenry of Amsterdam purchased stock in the amount of 3 million
florins; of this, the 18 Jews who invested contributed 36,000 florins.
In other words, Jewish investors subscribed to only 1.2 percent of the
Company’s initial capitalization. Thirty years later, the Jewish
presence in the West India Company was still distinctly a minority
one. …The proportion of Jewish shareholders increased three years
later to 10 percent, but only one new investor was involved, as Jewish
shareholders grew from 10 to 11 in 1674…” (Ibid. 10)

Work Cited

Faber, Eli. Slavery and the Jews: A Historical Inquiry. The Hunter
College Jewish Social Studies Program; Occasional Papers in Jewish
History and Thought, #2. Hunter College of the City University of New
York. ISSN 1082-0175