Monday, July 3, 2017

The Jews of St. Estatius: A Story of the American Revolution

The story of St. Estatius, a small Caribbean Island, brings together a remote location, the American Revolution and Jewish history. It is one of those strange tales Jewish Treats loves to share.

St. Estatius (a Dutch holding) was a free port (no customs duty) and major shipping hub, as well as a notorious point for contraband. It was also the source for munitions-trading for the colonists. As a mercantile center, St. Estatius also had a significant Jewish population of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Their synagogue, Honen Dalim (“The One Who Is Charitable To The Poor”), was completed in 1739. 

Both the British and the Americans recognized that the St. Estatius supply line was critical, In 1781, after Britain declared war on the Dutch, Britain ordered Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney and Major-General Sir John Vaughan to attack St. Estatius and St. Martin. When Admiral Rodney appeared with 15 heavily armed ships, the island surrendered and the looting began. 

Immediately, Rodney confiscated all the merchandise stored in the island’s warehouses. He also ordered all foreign merchants to return to their native lands. All male Jews, however, were deported back to England with one day's notice and without their families. Rodney even had each man’s jacket torn open to make certain that no gold had been hidden in the lining. Additionally, Rodney burned down Honen Dalim, the synagogue--the walls of which remain standing to this day. 

Rodney remained on St. Estatius until the end of 1781. It has been suggested that he was so busy looting the island that he neglected to prevent the French Fleet from attacking the British Navy, which hindered General Cornwallis from receiving the support he needed at Yorktown...and thus we have a piece of history about a Caribbean island, the American Revolution and the Jews.

This Treat was last posted on July 5, 2010.

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