Sephardic Jewish Pirates and the Caribbean Connection

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Leeba Freund
Mrs. Cohen
Jewish History
December 17, 2010

Sephardic Jewish Pirates & the Caribbean Connection

If you plan on touring the island of Jamaica, you may be interested in visiting the oldest Jewish cemetery, Hunt’s Bay cemetery, near Kingston. Kingston has a Jewish community dating back to the 1600s. What you will find in this cemetery may astonish you: typical Jewish gravestones with a Hebrew inscription. But that is not the unusual part; in the corner of some gravestones, you’ll see carved pictures of skulls and crossbones. What are crossbones doing in a Jewish cemetery? What is the connection between the Jews of Jamaica and Piracy? [pic] [pic] [pic]

Hunt's Bay Cemetery - http://picasaweb.google.com/alonigi/HuntSBayCemetery#

HOW THE JEWS CAME TO JAMAICA
It was January 1492. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain had finally conquered the Moors and the royal coffers were empty. In return for Christopher Columbus’ courageous expedition to chart a new water route to India, King Ferdinand agreed to the condition that Columbus and his descendants would rule any new land he discovered on his way. The stipulation of hereditary rule for Columbus was crucial to Jews situated in Spain on the eve of the expulsion. Where could the Jews go; where they would be accepted and tolerated? If the Spanish Jewish refugees would not be welcome in China or India, then at least Columbus, as ruler of a new land, would be able to provide a safe place for them; not just for the Jews who were expelled, but also their Marrano brethren. With the Inquisition’s fires raging, and the Inquisitors hot on the trail of every Marrano, there was hope that Columbus’ voyage would discover new lands as a haven for them as well. It was then that Columbus, financed by Luis de Santangel, the Royal finance minister and a secret Jew, and his wealthy Marrano friends, insisted upon this condition. Due to the Crown’s great need of new lucrative sources of trade, King Ferdinand capitulated and agreed to Columbus’ terms. Though Columbus did not find the route to India, and did not rule any lands in his lifetime, Jamaica was given to his descendants to rule thereafter. The island was governed by his son Don Diego Colon and when he died in 1525, King Charles V of Spain bequeathed the title ‘Marquis of St Iago de la Vega’ to Diego’s son Don Louis Colon. The title then passed to Louis’ sister Isabella, who married Count de Galvez, a Portuguese nobleman of the Braganza family, which later became the royal family of Portugal. Under the rule of the Braganza-Colon family, Portuguese Marranos were able to settle in Jamaica alongside their rivals, the Spaniards. The Marranos were tolerated as long as they didn’t demonstrate their Jewishness publicly. Considering that they were the drive behind the growing commerce with other Spanish colonies, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V authorized the first documented Jewish settlement in the New World on the island of Jamaica in 1534 (Kritzler, 48). (This does not mean that they were allowed to practice Judaism, but rather that he knowingly consented to Marranos working the plantations in Jamaica.) Jamaica was foundering due to diseases which killed the thousands of natives who were slaves, as well as the lack of precious metals which would have helped the islanders prosper, and no one but the Marranos were willing to stay and cultivate the island. “For more than a century, [Columbus’] his heirs kept Jamaica off-limits to the hooded Inquisitors who were empowered to root out heresy in all Spanish territories… As long as their “Portugals” wore a Christian mask, no one might question the sincerity of their religious beliefs.” (Kritzler, 27) During the first century of exploration in the New World, Jews were officially forbidden to colonize the new land. Between 1530 and 1640, most of the Marranos emigrating to the New World were Portuguese subjects (many originally lived in Spain...
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