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Gabriel Spinoza: Jews in Barbados

The 1680 census of Bridgetown Barbados

In order to follow up on my thoughts on Gabriel Spinoza’s 1664/5 move to Barbados and any evidence it would provide for a New World Sugar trade investment for the Spinoza family firm, here is some history data on Jewish living in Barbados around this time.

The Bridgetown Jews show a rather different family pattern from their English neighbors. They owned almost as many slaves and appear to have had almost as few children but (as in Bristol) few of their households were particularly large or small. Most contained between four and seven persons, which may reflect a consistent middle range of wealth within the Jewish community. These people were Sephardic Jews who probably came from Portuguese Brazil in the 1650s. The site of their synoggue in Bridgetown is now occupied by the Barbados Turf Club, but the old burial ground, with graves dating back to the 1660s, still exists. They lived a ghetto existence on Jew Street and Synagogue Street, tolerated for their business skill, but even more ostricized than the Quakers. The Jews were not only listed separately on the census but taxed separately -and very heavily.

Sugar and Slaves, Richard S. Dunn

This account gives a more vivid sense of the kind of living Gabriel Spinoza may have found himself in. Though dated 1680, fifteen years after Spinoza’s arrival, the firm Sephardic, New World bonds to the sugar trade seem to belie any relationships and means Gabriel took advantage of to make his move to Barbados. While here the author states a primary accounting employment of Jews in Barbados, elsewhere in his book he records great disparity between the kinds of wealth a Jew could achieve, stretching from near poverty to some who grew their estates to quite large portions.

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