Latest update: September 4th, 2012
Note: This article is based on The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean by Mordechai Arbell, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2002. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from this source.
When Governor du Parquet of Martinique saw that he was losing a rare opportunity, he expressed his anger to the Jesuit fathers. The Father Superior went to Guadeloupe and tried to convince Governor Houel to expel the Jews. Houel told the Father Superior to mind his own business, and the Jews were allowed to stay. Shortly afterward, another ship carrying a number of Jewish refugees arrived in Martinique. This time Governor du Parquet received them with open arms.
One of the most prominent sugar producers was Benjamin d’Acosta de Andrade, a Jew born as a converso in Portugal, who had settled in Dutch Brazil and had reached Martinique in 1654. He was the owner of two of the largest sugar plants in Martinique (the site is still shown to tourists visiting the Island). D’Acosta de Andrade is known and remembered as establishing the first cacao processing plant in French territory. Cacao processing was started in Spanish colonies in America, but the processing in Martinique was advanced, modernized, and transformed into chocolate.
Discrimination and Expulsion
The prosperity of the Jewish community drew inordinate envy from the French planters of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The coalition managed to force the hand of Governor Prouville de Tracy to issue, in 1664, an act in which a paragraph is included saying that “those of the Jewish Nation must purchase and sell on the day of Sabbath, unless otherwise ordered by his Majesty….” The unhappy de Tracy wanted clearer instructions from France. He received ambiguous ones, namely “The King does not want to alter what has been practiced till now towards the Huguenots and the Jews…” De Tracy’s only recourse was to close his eyes to the transgressions of his own act. The Jews continued keeping the Sabbath.
The only religion officially permitted on Martinique was Catholicism. As a result, Judaism was not practiced openly. In 1676 the community acquired a Torah from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam.
The happy and quiet Jewish existence of the Martinique Jews continued until the death of Governor de Baas in 1677. His replacement, Count de Blenac, a devotee of the Jesuits, had served as confessor of [King] Louis XIV. His main aim was the expulsion of the Jews from Martinique.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine
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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