Latest update: September 4th, 2012
The first expedition of settlers, headed by Cecilius’s younger brother, Leonard, arrived in Maryland in 1634. It consisted of both Protestants and Catholics, and Cecilius Calvert hoped the two groups would live together amicably. Initially this was indeed the case – though it didn’t last long.
The amity between these two groups, with their long tradition of animosity, lasted only a short while, as might have been expected. During the first fifteen years of the colony’s existence, both groups did occupy one chapel in Saint Mary’s, where the original settlers landed. Meanwhile, though, Puritans were entering the colony in large numbers. In addition, they were becoming more powerful in the mother country. The Catholics in Maryland were now in need of a law that would guarantee them religious freedom. Calvert was still strong enough to push such a law through the legislature. In 1649 the Act concerning Religion, popularly known as the “Toleration Act,” became the law of the province. [The Making of an American Jewish Community: The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920, by Isaac M. Fein, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1971, page 5]
While Maryland’s Toleration Act provided for religious toleration for Christians, it clearly did not provide religious freedom for those who practiced other religions. The Act was not aimed specifically at Jews, because at the time of its passage there were no Jews living in Maryland. However, it was clear to any Jew that if he settled in Maryland, his life might well be in danger.
Dr. Jacob Lumbrozo
Dr. Jacob Lumbrozo, a native of Lisbon, Portugal, settled in Maryland in 1656. He is the first Jew whose presence in Maryland is recorded and the first Jewish physician in North America.
In his deposition Lumbrozo stated that such a discussion did, indeed, take place. It was also true that he was asked by the witnesses to give an opinion on the subject and that he, by profession a Jew, answered to some particular demands then urged but sayd not any thing scoffingly, or in derogation by him whom Christians acknowledge for their Messias. [Making of an American Jewish Community, pages 7-8]
Lumbrozo’s trial showed how precarious it was for Jews to live in Maryland. Indeed, no Jew settled permanently in Maryland for the next 100 years.
True Religious Freedom
Finally, in 1826, after considerable effort and debate, the Maryland Legislature passed what became known as “The Jew Bill.” It did away with the requirement to take an oath professing belief in Christianity and guaranteed religious equality for Jews.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at email@example.com.
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