LOOK: 11 Astounding Images of Jewish Settlers in Colonial America

With the presidential election at hand, and Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s a good time to remember that Jews have been a part of United States history since before there was a United States.

The New York Historical Society makes it easy in a new exhibit: The First Jewish Americans - Freedom and Culture in the New World.

Many people think the wave of German-Jewish immigrants who came in the 1840s were the first Jews to settle in America, but their arrival actually dates back to colonial times, co-curator Debra Schmidt Bach told DNAinfo.

People also don’t realize that “the first true Jewish presence in America was in New York,” she said.

The show “explores the paths taken by Jews who for centuries fled persecution in Europe,” said Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the NY Historical Society, in a press release.

Look at 11 Examples in This Slideshow

New York Historical Society

Rebecca Gratz, 1831. Painting by Thomas Sully. Oil on panel. The Rosenbach Museum and Library.

New York Historical Society

Suriname map, 1718. Nieuwe Kaart van Suriname vertonende de stromen en land-streken van Suriname, Comowini, Cottica, en Marawini, Amsterdam, 1718. Collection of Leonard L. Milberg.

New York Historical Society

Mrs. Jacob (Abigaill Levy) Franks (1696-1756. Painted by Gerardus Duyckinck I (1695-1746). Oil on canvas Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

New York Historical Society

Jacob Franks (1688-1769). Painting by Gerardus Duyckinck I (1695-1746). Oil on canvas Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

New York Historical Society

Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Interior, 1838. Painting by Solomon Nunes Carvalho.Oil on canvas Collection of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim.

New York Historical Society

Louis Moreau Gottschalk, one of the most famous pianist of his time. Locket with photo. The Historic New Orleans Collection.

New York Historical Society

Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas, 1856. Painting by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon Image courtesy National Gallery of Art.

New York Historical Society

Edward Petrie Map: Ichonography of Charleston showing the synagogue, 1790. Collection of Leonard L. Milberg.

New York Historical Society

Myer Myers Rimonim, 1765-1776. Silver and brass with parcel gilding. Congregation Shearith Israel, New York City.

New York Historical Society

Isaac Pinto, trans. Prayers for Shabbath, Rosh-Hashanah, and Kippur … according to the Order of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. New York, A.M. 5526 [1766]. Princeton University Library. Gift of Leonard L. Milberg, Class of 1953, in honor of his grandchildren: Beverly Allison Milberg, Ava Miriam Milberg, Emmett Nathaniel Milberg, William Nathan Milberg, Charles Bennett Milberg, Samantha Eve Shapiro, and Nathan Busky Shapiro.

New York Historical Society

Luis de Carvajal the Younger (ca. 1567-1596): Memorias autobiographical manuscripts , ca. 1595, with devotional manuscripts. Courtesy of the Government of Mexico.

The exhibit starts “with the little-known but remarkable stories of their experience in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Brazil during the colonial period” and then follows “their journey toward finding freedom and tolerance in the early American Republic,” Mirrer said.

The exhibit features over 170 objects, including rare early portraits, drawings, maps, books, documents and ritual objects that show the birth of a Jewish American tradition in the 18th- and 19-century.

Highlights include two landscape paintings by Sephardic Jew Camille Pissarro and a group of six portraits depicting members of the Levy-Franks family, prominent figures in New York City’s 18th-century Jewish community.

And for the first time ever, manuscripts relating to Mexican Inquisition victim Luis de Carvajal will be shown for public display. The manuscripts are considered the earliest extant Jewish books in the New World.

Jews were only a small fraction of the population in the newly founded United States, but they were heavily involved the cultural sphere and in negotiating the freedoms offered.

The New York Historical society has a history of its own in exploring early Jewish life in America. Last year, the museum featured “Lincoln and the Jews,” which traced the president’s support and friendship with Jews.

First Jewish Americans - Freedom and Culture in the New World is open until the end of February, 2017.


Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at maier@forward.com or on Twitter at @lillymmaier

Author

Lilly Maier

Lilly Maier

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. She is a graduate journalism student at New York University, where she studies as a Fulbright scholar. She also holds a B.A. in Jewish history from the University of Munich.
Contact Lilly at maier@forward.com, read her portfolio, or follow her on Twitter.

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LOOK: 11 Astounding Images of Jewish Settlers in Colonial America

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