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Spinoza Doubt? The Sephardim and the Slave Trade

 

Spinoza Doubt

Working slowly along the edge of a soft hypothesis, one comes upon a curious aporia in history when looking into Brazilian and West Indies sugar, the Sephardim, and the slave trade. It is the movement away from share-cropping and indentured labor to imported, enslaved Africans that really fueled the dramatic rise of sugar plantation production; and the spread of these production techniques seems to fall heavily upon the same webbed, merchantile networks Sephardi Jewry had made in its New Christian, Marrano and Jewish forms, stretching across the Atlantic. Yet despite the thoroughly integrated place Sephardic Jews had in the sugar trade, during this document-rich time there is an absence of historical evidence of their direct role in the slave trade, at least for practicing Jews. New Christians, it seems, held the very lucrative slave licenses, and though a natural line of business would extend to family relations (unconverted), this was not the evidentury case. I look into this under the thought that Spinoza’s repulsion/explusion from both his community and the firm, may have had in some measure something spiritual-political-ethical to do with the firm’s sugar trade connections. This of course is very hard to assess from this distance, but like good 17th century telescopists, we have to make educated guesses at the specks seen through very poor glass, and it is worthwhile to at the least raise the question.

Below I post a lengthy selection from Bernardini and Fiering’s Jews and the Expansion of Europe 1450 to 1800. It sets the context of the question within a historical example. The relatively successful New Christian Slave trader Manuel Dias Henriques, as he returns to Amsterdam and Judiasm, once he arrives in Amsterdam apparently stops trading in slaves despite being well-connected to the sugar trade. 

From these sparse data alone we can glean that New Christians and SepharicJews appear to have played a direct role in developing at least 20 percent of Brazil’s sugar productive capacity. Substantial as that was, their role was greater still when we consider the New Christians’ financial of sugar cultivation through the slave trade. Slaves and slave labor were indispensable to the colony’s economy. Slaves not only cleared the land and planted, harvested, cultivated, and processed the sugar cane, but were also ubiquitous as domestic labor and were even represented in certain positions of skilled labor. In the early seventeenthcentury, Brazil’s merchants and sugar cultivators imported up to four thousand slaves annually. New Christians provided the bulk of these slaves. They contracted withthe Portuguese king to administer the slave licensing regime in Portuguese slave stations in Guinea and Cape Verdeislands, and in Angola. The contractor paid the Portuguese king a flat sum for the right to sell the licenses. Although New Christians certainly were not the only slave traders among the Portuguese, the evidence is conclusive that the contractors reserved the bulk of the licenses – and therefore the bulk of the slave trade – for their relatives and other New Christian associates.

At an average of 70 cruzadosa head delivered in Brazilian ports, the four thousand were worth 280,000 cruzados annually. Most would have been sold to lavradores and mill owers on credit. The parties typically drew up a bill of exchange or other evidence of debt providing for payment of the debt in Brazil at a certain future date when the year’s sugar production would have been available. Such financing enabled planters to expand cultivation and yet maintain the lavish lifestyles many were pursuing in the tropical colony.

It is noteworthy that there is little evidence that the Sephardim(what is, observant Jews) participated in the slave tradeof their New Christian relatives and associates, or did so on their own – at least not prior to the development of Dutch Brazil in the late 1630s and 1640s. This apparent lack of participation in the slave tradeis puzzling, since the New Christian role in the slave trade was so important and the Sephardim’scooperation withNew Christian merchants in trade was so intimate. This is particularly true when we consider that family ties were the only reliable vehicle for extended commercial operations and the only guarentee of reasonable transaction costs.

Take, once again, the example of Miguel Dias de Santiago and his couisn Manuel Dias Henriques. Bothlived for a period in Brazil as New Christians. Miguel resided in Bahia and traded with Portugal and Norther Europe between 1595 and 1615. Miguel’s account books from that period demonstrate his interest in the exchange of all manner of European and Asian commodities for sugar, but there is not one entry recording the exchange of slaves for sugar. When Miguel departed from Brazil, he settled in Antwerp and continguedtrading in association with Manuel Dias Henriques, who was established by the 1620s in Amsterdam and had assumed the name Matathias Aboab after he reverted to Judaism.

While still a New Christian, Manuel Dias Henriques had shuttled slaves between Angola and Brazil and had finally delivered slaves to Mexico and Guatemala in the early 1620s. He certainly acquired slaves under licenses obtained through another New Christian cousin, Duarte Dias Henriques, who held the slave contract for Angola from 1607 to 1614. Manuel departed suddenly in 1621, when the Mexican Inquisition initiated a manhunt for him in Guatemala. Manuel arrived in Amsterdam in 1626 (following his late cousin Duarte Fernandes, alias Josua Habilho, another associate in Atlantic sugar trading who had preceded him there by more than a decade). Once established in Amsterdam, it would have been natural for Manuel (now an observant of the “law of Moses”) to continue the slave trade he obviously knew from his earilierdays and to combine it with his cousin Dia’s sugar trading (now from Antwerp).

Why did Manuel cease slave trafficking when he arrived in Amsterdam? A personal moral aversion to slavery and the slave trade, after his experience in Atlantic slave trading, is possible in Manuel’s case. But why did other Sephardic merchants who has similar family commercial connections in Portugal, Spain and Brazil, and the Americas not participate in the slave trade? If the reversion to the Jewish faithwas a factor in the Sephardi avoiding the very profitable trade in human cargo, why did many of the Sephardim become slave owners and some SephardicJews become slave merchants later, beginning withthe development of the sugar industry in Dutch Brazil? Did the licensing regime for the introduction of slaves into Brazil precludeJews from the trade? If New Christians in Portugal and Brazil could includeJewish relatives in shares of sugar cargoes surreptitiously, why not includethem in licenses and cargoes for slave trading? Or did they obscure Jewish participation in the profitable trade so well that today no evidence has survived? We shall probably never have entirely satisfactory answers (476-477).

from Jews and the Expansion of Europe 1450 to 1800, Paulo Bernardini and Norman Fiering

History’s Aporia

For my part, Spinoza’s repulsion from slavery (given in the symptomatic dream-figure of the scabrous Brazilian) and his close proximity to ideal democratic and freedom solutions to the upheavals of the time (the tracts of his teacher Van den Enden are among the most radical in modern history), is suggestive. One cannot count out the idea that Spinoza in his break from his family firm was also from its likely, if only tangential, connection with sugar and the slave trade; his brother and partner Gabriel in a few years would move to trade in sugar in Barbados where he certainly would own slaves. This fit properly into a schism of consciousness within the Amsterdam Sephardic community itself. It was on the backs of human trafficking that wealth in the sugar trade was made possible, and a great number of Amsterdam Sephardim, or their relatives, lived the reality at Recife Brazil. Can one discount entirely that the rabbi that read Spinoza’s cherim(pronouncement of excommunitication), his boyhood school teacher Aboab de Fonseca, in Brazil must have been a slave holder, and the leader of that community which brought slaves? It is very hard to assess the feelings a community might have held regarding something as historically distant as the slave trade. Now, with it rightfully secured as the evil of that age, it is tempting and easy to project backwards and try to separate out the ethical wheat from the self-serving chaff. Sephardic Jews found themselves in a questionable, tenuous historical situation. Recently fled from physical and systematically psychological brutalities of the Inquisition which still actively shadowed them with spies to every corner of the world, their social standing in European communities was nearly entirely guaranteed through their successes in trade. They were a quintessential people of the margin, securing their place at the nexus-points of transit, while their own coherent identity rested upon the reclamation of the past religious, moral heritage. The messianic strain for fulfillment as millenarian Christians joined Kabbalists adventitious hopes, operated at the taut limit of these two factors: a horizontal spread across the globe, and a vertical ascension of the past. As Jews spread forth in an acceleration of the exile and fulfillment, the African followed them like their shadow, reminding them, manifesting their extreme subjection and near extinctionas a People. So as the Sephardim stretched out, so came with them their “Ethiopian” brothers, to whom it was nearly impossible to position themselves, either in embrace or rejection.

The absence of an evidentiary direct hand in the African slave trade by the Sepharidim is quite interesting in this overview. As the authors above suggest. At worse, it could have come from an imagined-to-be uniform, almost insidious, precision in cloaking their connection to slavery through name aliases and company share-holdings; at best it came from a natural aversion to human debasement, born from the Jewish conception of themselves as Jews, and their experiences in history. While Jews established their social efficacy by carrying for centuries the very serious stigma of money-lenders and interest chargers (a stain we cannot now viserally imagine), they would not do so as known slave traders.

There is something about this which is tremendous. To take an example: one can imagine the Sephardimdeparted across the Atlantic to fortify a tenuous Jewish community in Recife Brazil, built upon the onerous practices of sugar plantations. The numbers of Sephardim there would grow to nearly equal the number in Amsterdam. Their rabbi would be a Kabbalist. Their connections to Old Europe and their conditions of Self-identity must have fluctuated within a sphere of both moral and economic compass, thick with a sense of returning to a lost past and being on a literal cusp of civilization (how different Amsterdam was from remembered Portugal, or even cosmopolitan Amsterdam). There they would find Portuguese Catholics newly free from Spain’s yoke, Jews legitimately converted to Catholism, and practicing Jews. The encounter with the facts of African slavery must have been something of a morass, as realities of a Catholic embrace of slavery surely affixed themselves to the immigrants. But there seems to have been a split between a consciousness of working and living within a sphere of New Christian, Inquisition-fear, where slave-trading was a normative and indeed lucrative practice, and the social Jewish identity which distanced itself from such. As the authors above allow us to imagine, one might very well, even whole-heartedly, engage in such practices as a New Christian or a crypto-Jew, as an outright Jew this was to some degree shunned. As Jews shuttled between these two para-realities, so too their participation in slave trade seemed to.

What I suggest is that the question of slavery and sugar was not one that was unique to Spinoza, but rather part of an emblematic difficulty the entire Amsterdam Sephardic community struggled with, as again and again they had to position themselves between Empires that had every ideological reason to turn upon them. In a sense, the hands-off policy regarding slave trade (whether it be found only in book-keeping records, or in the conscience of the people), expressed the safe distance that needed to be kept from the moral ambiguities of trade itself. As Jews, perhaps, as the ultimate traffickers, it was necessary to keep clean of the ultimate traffic, so as to retain a moral and historical identity, for themselves, though as Brazilian colonists, they indeed bought and sold them at market (the market, I have read, closed on Jewish days of observance).

One wonders if, apart from so many other very significant factors, Spinoza in some way recoiled from the taint of what historical trade involved, both in its political manifestations, and is moral failures. The free exchange of ideas and reason that Spinoza would champion can be seen as abstracted from, and a rebellion to, the harsh actualities of what was traded, and as part of a merchant family, as a merchant himself, he knew this. He was excommunicated in an act said to be carried through the voice of the ex-sugar colonist and kabbalist rabbi Aboab, returned from Brazil. In a sense, it was out from the issue of Brazil that Spinoza’s excommunication came. The point certainly is not to frame Spinoza as a great moralist, or at that young age, as the great ethicist he would become, but rather to suggest that Spinoza’s excommunication from his community reads symptomatically upon it. One should not forget that he was a merchant, the son of a merchant, and that sugar, and thus the problematic of slavery, ran very deeply into the subsistence and psyche of that community, in particular as it came to grips with the ambitions and failures (political, economic, theological) of Recife Brazil.

When Spinoza writes in what is thought to be his earliest work,

I say “I resolved at length,” for at first sight it seemed ill-advised to risk the loss of what was certain in the hope  of something that seemed at that time uncertain. I could well see the advantages that derive from honour and wealth, and that I would be forced to abandon their quest if I were to devote myself to some new and different objective.

he sees his departure both from wealth itself, but also from the public esteem that stems from it. It is a break with the entire apparatus of human measure in which profit becomes symbolized instead of enacted. Spinoza seems to take the messianic and trade expansion in which his people were engaged in to entirely different magnitude of a universalized capacity to act, in which the incipient question of human slavery becomes broadcast large. It must be understood, I believe, not just metaphorically that Spinoza titles the Fourth part of his Ethics, “Of Human Bondage, or the Powers of the Affects”. It is on the question of Slavery and freedom that his entire ethical project turns. His divorce from wealth, for what he perceived to be another kind of wealth, must have in some sense come from a separation from the means of human wealth becoming proliferate at the time, certainly something he understood clearly as a merchant with ties to sugar and Recife. The distructive interventions of the Portuguese against Dutch and Sephardic interests in Brazil 1645 and 1654) were driving the community toward the British and with it, the West Indies, involving both slavery and sugar. His breach likely reflected a breach within the community itself.

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Spinoza Sugar Time Table

A Time Table of Events Juxtaposing Personal, Commerical and Colonial Interests Surrounding the Spinoza Family 

1524 Canary Island Jewish merchants as New Christians are trading with the West Indies, Castille, France, Flanders and London. In evidence of a moment in the islands, at least one family immigrated to Palestine to live again as Jews.

1593 Brazil. After the New Christian Diego Fernandez, the greatest expert in sugar plantations, was accused by the Inquisition of being a “judaizer.” The Inquisition dispatched an official inspector (visitator) for the purpose of seizing and confiscating the suspects’ possessions, and an inquisitional commission was established in 1593 in Olinda, the port of Recife.

1604 Mennaseh born on Madeira, an island once devoted to sugar, now to sweet wine. The wine will be a substantial export to Brazilian sugar colonies. 

1604 Peace between England and Spain gave stimulus to Canary archipelago crypto-Jewish sugar and wine trading.

1612 – 1630 Jewish immigration to the Canary Islands increases due to 47 Inquisition Autos de Fé  brought forth in Portugual’s major cities; these are distinctly marranos.

1614Lopo Ramiresmoves with his two sisters to Amsterdam.

1620 The number of Sephardi Jewish accounts at the Amsterdam Exchange bank number 144 (9.5%), risen from just 24 in 1609.

1621The Dutch are barred from trading withSpain, Portugal and their colonies. A tremendous number of Dutch Jews emigrate to Norther Germany. (Shipments will continue through Portugal, with Hamberg and other cities becoming a false point of origin or destination.)

1622 A council is called between the three synagogues to deal with excessive poor relief expenditures due to the renewed Spanish embargo against the Dutch. An imposta  (tax) is established on all commercial and financial transactions by all members. (Duarte Nunes de Costa may have been influential in this solution.)

1622/3 Michael marries his cousin Rachel. He has settled in Amsterdam.

1623 December 3 A child of Michael and Rachel dies.

1624 April 24 A prematurely born child buried in the Portuguese-Israelite cemetary at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel.

1625 Michael’s uncle and father-in-law Abraham, taken ill, grants him power of attorney at the Amsterdam Exchange Bank.

1625 Michael (alias Manuel Rodrigues Spinosa) agrees to tradeinalmonds with Antonio Martines Viega.

1625 The Inquistion is renewed in the Canary Islands, after 30 years of dormancy.

1627 Feburary 17 British ship carrying 10 African slaves and 80 British colonists, lands on the Western side of Barbados.

1627 Feburary 21 Rachel, Michael Spinoza’s first wife, dies with no surviving children.

1628 Michael marries Hanna Debra Senior, daughter of the merchant Henrique Garces.

1628 Jews fleeing the Portuguese at Recife Brazil, bring the first sugar and coffee to Barbados and set up trade just as the British are colonizing the island.

1629 Fifty slaves are reported on Barbados.

1629 Inquisition records that La Laguana of the Canary Islands is “full of Jews and [English and Dutch Protestant] heretics”.

1630 Febuary and March Hendrick Corneliszoon Loncq arrives at Pernambuco (Recife) with a fleet of 67 ships, 1170 guns and 7000 men. The Dutch take control of Recife, the best sugar colony in Brazil.

1630 By this year African slaves had replaced the native Tupani as the largest contingent of labor on Brazilian sugar plantations.

1631 July 15 Michael Spinoza and another holds the keys to a warehouse holding primarily Brazilian products.

1631 Michael pays only 20 guilders in the States of Holland 200th Penny Tax, showing his wealth in that year to be a rather moderate 4,000 guilders.

1632 The Crypto-Jewish congregation of about 30 families in Rouen France was denounced to the authorities and broken up by a Priest newly arrived. It is thought that this lead to the eventual immigration of Anthonio Fernandes Carvajal to London.

1632 November 24 Spinoza born.

1633 Michael trading in contraband raisins from Malaga Spain. The order does not arrive in good condition. (This may have been conducted through a German or Scottish vessel: Israel, Empires and Entrepots, 430)

1634 June 29 Michael and the merchants Woltrincx receive the full transfer of the ship Coningh David  come from Salle of Barbary, and all its goods, in a reduction of David Palache’s debts.

1635 Carvajal is already in London (testified to by his 1655 Patent of Denization which states that he had been in England “twentie yeares and upwards”).

1636 Kahal Zur Israel  “Rock of Israel” the first Synagogue of the New World is consecrated at Recife Brazil.

1636 The Barbados council addressing the length of a slave’s servitude declared, “Negros and Indians, that came here to be sold, should serve for Life, unless a contract was before made to the contrary”

1636-1645 23,000 African slaves shipped to Brazil.

1630s Despite a prominence of Jewish mercantile vocations in Brazil, evidence that New Christians develop, own and operate 59 sugar mills in Brazil, an estimated 20% of total production (Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 475).

1636 June 3 Michael through negotiation received the insurance for the goods of a shipwrecked delivery from Jacob Codde, a member of a prominent and liberal Dutch family.

1637 January 10 Michael, among several other merchants, serve notice upon the skipper of the ship Fonteyn, for goods come from Barbary’s Salle.

1637 January Disputes between Michael and his brother-in-law/cousin Jacob over a share in Barbary trading with Michael’s father-in-law/uncle Abraham.

1637 September 8 Michael and the merchant Abraham de Fonseca stand surety for the medical doctor Abraham de Mercado, upon his release from prison.

1638 November 5 Spinoza’s mother, Hannah Deborah, dies.

1640 December Portugal cedes from Spain, throwing open its ports to Dutch traffic.

1641 April 11 Michael announces marriage to his third wife Esther (confirmed April 28), on the same day that her sister Margrieta marries into the de Tovar family, the elders of which are living in Brazil. Abraham Farar, the cousin of the sisters is involved. Esther signs with an X.

1641 June 14 Duarte Nunes de Costa (Jacob Curiel) of Hamburg, brother of Lopo Ramires (below), made a knight and nobleman to the king of Portugual’s house.

1641 July In Amsterdam Lopo Ramires, Portuguesmerchant, signs an enormous order worth 100,000 cruzados with the Portuguese ambassador, for muskets, powder, shot, siege equipment and ship’s rigging, destined for the new King of Portugal John IV. In this year the name the then pro-Protuguese arms dealer, Lopo Ramires, also appears as a debtor on Michael’s credit ledger for 1,100 guilders. 

1641 Michael’s ledger at the Amsterdam Bank of Exchange reads him as a creditor of 28,052.88 guilders.

1641 Feburary 26 Articles of Impeachment brought against Archbishop Laud, beginning changes that would open opportunities for crypto-Jewish London merchants. 

1641 August 26 The Dutch take Luanda Angola from the Portuguese in an attempt to corner the slave market for Brazil.

1641 December 1 The Grand Remonstrance, a list of grievances presented to Charles I of England.

1642 The first rabbi of the New World sent: Amsterdamer and kabbalist Isaac Aboab da Fonseca. He had been Spinoza’s boyhood teacher of Hebrew and Gemara, a fellow chacham  with Menasseh Ben Israel.

1642 Feburary 1 Michael holds a credit balance of 1,323.11.

1642 August Michael with Isaak Montalto sends to Tetouan Morocco an Amsterdam ship full of silver bullion, and other goods meant to continue on to Livorno. 

1642 Dutch merchants (Sephardim?), introduce sugarcane as a cash crop to Barbados. This is accomplished through an extention of credit to the “most sober inhabitants” for slaves and planting necessities, in exchange for crop (the same system that was established in Brazil). This would expand heavily after the Portuguese planter revolt in Brazil.

1643 6,000 African slaves make up 14% of the population of Barbados, this will rise to 46,500 and 66% by 1684.

1643 January Old Christian Francisco Fernandes Furna (a pronounced shipper of Madeira wine to Brazil) and Gaspar Pacheo seek a license to send a ship to Mozambique to secure a slave source for Brazil counter to that of, now Dutch-held, Angola.

1643 May 9 All of Archbishop Laud’s good at Lambenth Palace seized.

1644 1,400 Jews in the Netherlands Brazil.

1644 Antonio de Montesinos meets Menasseh, testifies that he had conversed with over 300 members of the lost tribe of Rueben in the Quinto Provence of Ecuador, fueling messianic hopes.

1644 March 12 Archbishop Laud brought to trial before the House of Lords.

1644 April 25 Michael makes a contract concerning “various trading matters” with the cousin of his wife Esther, Abraham Farar, concerning the contact Antonio Fernandes Carvejal, an illicit Jewish merchant of London.

1645 -1654  A decade of migration of the most aristocratic (New Christian) Jewish families to Amsterdam, many of which ennobled by European monarchs, bringing investment wealth and an air of oppulence the Amsterdam community had not seen before: De Pinto, Pereia, Lopes Souso, Teixeria, Nunes Henriques, Bueno de Mezquita, Cortizos, Nunes de Costa and Montezino.

1645 January 10 Archibishop Laud beheaded.

1645 May Jerome Nunes de Costa (Moses Curiel) was appointed agent of the Portugues Crown for all of Holland (nephew of Michael’s 1641investment connection, Lopo Ramires). 

1645 August 3 At the battle of Tabocasthere was a costly revolt of the Portuguese planters against Dutch rule in Brazil. Successive battles through Semptemberleft the Dutch only with Recife, giving series losses to rabbi Menasseh and other important Amsterdam Sephardim investors in sugar, as they pulled their investments out (Martinez Dormido, claims to have lost 150,000 guilders.) This produced a first wave of departing Dutch Jewry, bringing cashcrop sugar to, among other places, Barbados.

1646 April 20 Jesuit Portugues preacher Antonio Vieira writes from The Hague to New Christians in Rouen France (where the Antonio Carvajal is most connected), that he is attempting to pursuade the king of Portugual to restrain the Inquistion in Portugal and its colonies to harness Jewish capital in the fight for Brazil and Africa. His central plan is for a joint-stock Brazil Company (1649) which will have is products immune from confiscation.

1646 Jerome Nunes de Costa reports heavily, from Amsterdam, in direct dispatches to Portugual ministers in Lisbon on political and colonial matters, no doubt much to do with the effect of events in Brazil. Made a knight and nobleman of the house of Portugal, like his father.

1647 Sousa Coutinho accuses Jerome Nunes de Costa of overstating the Dutch forces in Brazil to discourage military action against now Dutch Recife.

1647 A section of the Sephardic cemetary at Recife is reserved for “all Jewish blacks and mulattos”, i.e., only those of blacks and mulattos who were either born in Judaism, their parents having been married with quedosim (by Jewish law), or who married a white with quedosim.

1648 The bylaws of the Recife and Mauricia Jewish congregations stipulate an imposta (tax) of 5 soldos for each Negro sold, and that slave auctions be postponed on Jewish holidays, evidencing Jewish involvment in the trade.

1648 August 24 The Portuguese take Luanda Angola back from the Dutch (lost in ’41), resecuring the dominant slave source for Brazil. 

1649 September 24 Spinoza’s older brother Isaac dies.

1649 March 10 The Brazil Company established a month after the Portuguese John IV king grants protection from the Inquisition to Jewish goods, goods neither to be inventoried or confiscated upon an arrest.

1649 Jerome Nunes de Costa and his uncle Lopo Ramires, purchase the friate Fortuna from Amsterdam merchant Jerimiah van Collen, on behalf of the Jesuit Vieira and the king of Portuagal. Many other ships purchased by Lopos Ramires’ brother Duarte in Hamberg and Lubeck. 

1649 Duarte Nunes de Costa becomes the Brazil Company’s factor for Germany, and his son Jerome the factor for the United Provinces. Very lucrative rewards for the family’s service to Portugal.

1649/1650 The year of Michael’s greatest imposta community tax payment, 75 guilders. For a full list see below.

1650 June 2 Michael consents in the marriage of his daughter Marian to the 22 year old rabbinical student, Samuel de Casseres.

1650 December 2 Michael appointed the administer of the “Misvah do Espretino” the Synagogue pawn-shop. A note in the record, “That it may be to his benefit!”

1651 July 20 Michael grants power of attorney to two men in London. Both Jacob Boeve and Antonio Fernandes Carvajal are to recover the merchandise of pipes and small casks of Algerian oil seized by English Admiralty from a ship come from Portugal.

1651 August 21 to 1652 January 28 Michael did business with 48 firms, a total account running to 61,883.18 guilders.

1651 Early Summer “A Dutch ship sailing from Lisbon [the Enkhuizen ship Nachtegael ], loaded with Brazilian sugar, including ten chests consigned by the Spinozas to Michael’s correspondent in Rouen, Antonio Rodrigues de Morais, was seized by the George of London, and taken to England.” (Israel, Dutch Jewry, 133)

1651 September Michael loses a cargo worth an estimated 3,000 guilders from the ship ‘t Witte Valck, which is attacked by Barbary corsairs off Cape St. Vincent.

1651 October, The First Navigation Act passed by the Purged Parlament, barring Dutch trade with England or her colonies.

1651 November 27 Michael seeks to recover from Julian Lanson, an Amsterdam merchant, some expense of the reclamation of goods from the ship The Prince come from the Canary Islands. These expenses had been advanced by the same crypto-, London Jew, Antonio Fernandes Carvajal.

1651 Spinoza’s sister Miriam, the year after her marriage to Samuel de Casseres, dies, having given birth to Daniel de Caseres (Vas Dias).

1651 Several times the Dutch States General discuss going to war with Portugal and blockading Lisbon.

1652 Jewish refugees from Brazil begin to arrive at the British South American colony of Surinam.

1652 George Ayscue captures 27 Dutch trading ships for the English at Barbados. 100 Dutch ships otherwise captured Oct ’51 to July ’52, when war was declared on the tenth.

1652 April 27 States General in response to the Van der Donck mission issued a letter installing a  “municipal government” within the city of New Amsterdam, and for the present Director Peter Stuyvesant to return home, abridging the West India Company’s control of the colony; the latter part rescinded with the declaration of war upon against England in July, the First Anglo-Dutch War.

1652 June Michael loses “olive oil, figs and almonds” from the ship ‘t Vat, as it is marauded by Moroccan corsairs in view of the Portuguese harbor of Faro from which it had just received its load.

1652 August 3 Michael and Joseph Villa Real outfit the ship Estrella, borrowing of 600 guilders from his son-in-law Samuel de Casseres under the conditions of bottomry.

1652 November On the issue of a Jewish admittance to England, a negotiated safe passage to London is granted, but the trip is too politically dangerous for Menasseh to take. The same in the Fall of ’53.

1653 January London crypto-Jew Diego Rodrigues Arias, shipowner, landed in Santa Cruz of the Canary Islands. In the port, there to pick up a cargo of wine, he was denounced by a Cuban negro who had served him in London. After two months in secret Inquistion cells he was released on parole, only to escape to London.

1653 February 2 The municipal charter for the city of New Amsterdam is signed.

1653 October 14 Michael’s third wife Esther dies.

1653 December 20  Seventy-seven Portuguese ships appear off Recife to take it. When Recife falls this has dramatic impact upon the Jewish community in Amsterdam, and possibly directly upon the Spinoza family firm.

1653 After marrying Lelia Henriqes in the Amsterdam Synagogue, on visit, and returning to liquidate his property, the Canary Island local Treasurer Duarte HenriquesAlvares settles in London with his new wife, as a crypto-Jew.

1654 January 26, Dutch Capitulation at Recife signed, a sugar colony loss that sends waves of financial crisis through the Sephardic Amsterdam community.

1654 March 28 Spinoza’s father Michael dies.

1654 May The Treaty of Westminster ends the First Anglo-Dutch War.

1654 July 8 Jacob Barsimson leaves Amsterdam on the ship the Pear Tree for New Amsterdam, to assess the possibility of a Jewish migration from Brazil. He arrives August 22.

1654 September The 23 Jews (four couples, two widows, and thirteen children), on the French ship Sainte Catherine arrive from Recife Brazil in New Amsterdam to settle. The Dutch India Company allows them to remain, despite Stuyvesant’s petition.

1654 September Spinoza takes over payments for his family and firm.

1654 Upon another influx of Brazilian Sephardim, the first Synagogue Nidhei Israel, “The Dispersed of Israel”, is founded by Recife emigrant Luis Dias (Joseph Jesurun Mendes) in Bridgetown Barbados.

1654 Jewish refugees from Brazil being to arrive at French Martinique.

1654 Canary Island Inquisitors send a Memorial to the Spanish King, protesting restrictions on Canary exports of wine, as it is from the ground rents of vineyards that the Inquisition received their operational income. At this point crypto-Jewish Canariotes are not only made up of Portuguese immigrants, but now also those from France, England and the Low Country communities.

1654 November 20 Colony-founder David Nassi writes to Martinez Dormido, who is attempting in conjunction with Menasseh to persuade Cromwell on the question of Jewish rights, that he has contacted  the parnas Abraham Farar (the cousin of Spinoza’s step-mother Rachel, and former business partner of Michael Spinoza), who assures that the Amsterdam parnasim is behind the efforts in England, but could not take a public stand on the matter.

1655 War breaks out between England and Spain.

1655 Dr. Miguel Reinoso (a fellow associate of Spinoza’s) denounced by Baltazar Orobio de Castro, as a Jew in absentia, to the Spanish Inquistion.

1655-1657 The influx of both Portuguese Brazilian sugar, and newly that of the West Indies, crashes the Eurporean sugar market.

1655 March Spinoza, perhaps representing his firm or his father’s memorial gift, offers five guilders to a fund for Brazilian poor in Brazil. Perhaps a sensitivity to Brazil is indicated. 

1655 April 20 Spinoza subpoenas Antonij Alvares regarding an overdue debt taken on from the Jewelry dealer Duarte.

1655 April 20 The Council of State in Lisbon discuss Jerome Nunes de Costa’s March 30th dispatch which suggusts that the Dutch are more prone to negotiate a peace, than go to war over the seizure of Recife Brazil.

1655 September 2 Menasseh departs, without the official support of the Amsterdam Mahamad, but likely with tacit agreement from some of its members, to petition Cromwell for the admittance of Jewish “rights” in England, and in December Cromwell calls for a Council on the matter, no formal agreement being reached. No charter, no public practice of religion, no guarantee of trade.

1655 November Spinoza, acting as partner in the firm, “conveys a bill of exchange for 876 crusados to Joseph Francis, also a merchant of the Portuguese nation in Amsterdam” (Vas Dias).

1655 Carvajal submits his Patent for Denization, receiving protection of his goods and trade. 

1655 The British conquer Jamaica, Jewish refugees begin to arrive.

1656 March 23 Spinoza’s guardian (under a law that made Spinoza technically a “minor”), Louis Crayer, filed a brief declaring Spinoza an orphan, in an attempt to evade the inheritance of his father’s debts.

1656 July 27 The cherem read against Spinoza; Colerus says read by Spinoza’s former teacher of Hebrew and then Recife rabbi (13 years), Aboab de Fonseca, as he was presiding over the Beth Din.

1656 In London the price of insurance on trade is at 2.5% to Lisbon and 3.5% to Barbados. 

1657 Autumn David Nassi on behalf of Brazilian exiles negotiates a lucrative charter for Essequibo, Guyana, North of Recife, colonized for the production of sugar. Ravaged by British forces sent from Barbados in 1665.

1657 The purportedly English vessel The Pearl, a ship bound for Barbados filled with goods valued at the enormous sum of £120, 000, and 27 Dutch Jewish immigrants, was seized by an Irish privateer working for the Spanish. The Muhamad in Amsterdam had to come into the open as the rightful guardian of the Barbados community.

1657 February Solomon Dormido, son of David Abarbanel Dormido, and nephew of Menasseh ben Israel admitted to the Royal exchange as a licensed London broker. A first.

1657 July 17 The States General declares those of the Jewish Nation residing in the United Provences to be full subjects, accorded all the rights by treaty.

1657 September, 10 months after the death of John IV, Baron van Obdentakes a fleet to Lisbon to demand recompense for the Dutch loss of Recife territories of Brazil. With recompense denied, naval conflicts ensue until ’61. Johan de Witt has Jerome Nunes de Costa put under surveillance.

1658 The Amsterdam Mahamad decides that mulatto boys shall no longer be admitted for study at the yeshiva of the Sephardim. 

1658 April 8 Francisco Medina applies to the Dutch State Archives for settling Nova Zeelandia (Essequibo), “for passports for various persons of the Hebrew nation who wished to go to Essequibo”.

1658 May 29 London crypto-Jew and merchant Duarte Henriquez Alvarez was burned in effigy in the Canary Islands by the Spanish Inquisition. 

1659 December 12 The Dutch States General meet with the new Portuguese ambassidor Miranda, and in negotiations demand the right to sail directly to and from Brazil, Angola and Saint Thomas, by passing the Royal customs house in Lisbon.

1659 August 9 Spinoza is reported to the Inquistion, by the sea captain Miguel Pérez de Maltranilla, to have been frequently at the house of a Joseph Guerra. There Don Guerra, a weatlthy non-Jewish [?] Canary Island merchant was likely attended to by Dr. Reinoso as he was recovering from leprosy. He is in the company of de Prado, as well as the tobacco merchant Pacheco [sugar and tobacco are New World trade].

1660 March The Portuguese ambassador notes that most of the Dutch Jews, especially those expelled from Recife in ’54, support the West India Company, and oppose the drafted treaty.

1661 The Barbados Slave Code established, denying basic rights to slaves. The code will become the model for future colonial codes.

1662 May Portugal, putting an end to over 60 years of colonial conflict, radifies the 1661 Dutch-Portuguese Peace Treaty, providing the same trade rights as granted by the English. Published in The Hague and Lisbon in April and March of ’63.

1664 August 27 Four British frigates take New Amsterdam from the Dutch, which would help initiate the Second Anglo-Dutch War (March ’65).

1664 October 31 Gabriel Spinoza grants power of attorney so to leave Amsterdam and moves to British Barbados.

1671 Gabriel Spinoza, after the Spanish cede the island to the English by treaty in 1670, moves to Jamaica, another sugar and slave economy.

1679 (-1685) Spinoza’s half-sister Rebecca moves withher two sons to the island of Curaçao, an island withno plantation trade itself, but served predominantly as a depot and “seasoning” stop for African slaves destined for English and Spanish colonies. Nearly 1,000 arrivals a week by one estimate.

 

From Jonathan Israel’s article “Philosophy, Commerce and the Synagogue” in Dutch Jewry:

 

[All dates and descriptions of the above need to be checked, the list serves as an informal listing of research notes for the benefit of others who may have need of such comparisons]

The Buttle Principle

A Beetle in the gears of knowing and the notion of the Press of the Mind

Wittgenstein has a beautiful and striking analogy which he folds into his (No) Private Language argument. He compares any fact checking one would do in using a so called private language, to attempting to check for an error by buying several copies of the same edition of a paper. Such a process is cursed by its reflexivity. This analogy is specific to the example of an imaginary table of terms who’s check is only in the imagination:

If the mental image [recollection] of the time-table [for the departure of trains] could not itself be tested for correctness, how could it confirm the correctness of the first memory? (As if someone were to buy several copies of the morning paper to assure himself that what is said were true) (PI, section 265).

There are a few problems if we attempt to take this analogy as a knockdown argument for why one cannot have a recursive sense of rule-following and justification. Wittgenstein wants us to know that “justification consists in appealing to something independent”. You might have the feeling that you have remembered a train-time table right, but you cannot justify this feeling unless you appeal to some other, independent criteria (in which for him independent does not consist in another moment of recollection or thought process). Put another way, one can believe that one is following a rule, but one doesn’t know if one actually is until one is checked by an independent process. What seems to be missing from this appeal to outside criteria is that our memories, and our use of them, are not at all like a bunch of copies from the very same press (ones in which, if their are errors, they will simply be reproduced endlessly as the same). If there is a “press” of the mind, it is much more like one which is in print all the time, and one can watch the results of taking one “edition” as correct, and make provisional adjustments if a set of beliefs fail. That is, if one follows only one’s memory, and one misses the train, one might question if there were a better way of finding out when the train would be there. But checking by glancing again at the physical time-table may help with one’s accuracy, but not categorically so. For instance, how one read that time-table anew might not jibe with one’s strong recollection. One might make sense of this by reasoning that one saw it wrong this time, or that the time-table must be out of date, or even some rather odd conspiracies of the world, and one might choose to simply trust one’s memory all the same. There is no easy, conceptual way out to what is “independent”.

[One could say that checking the truth of a report by looking at the multiple products of a process, only occurs when the truth is of an nature where doubt is necessarily cast, where it is not readily believable.]

This is related to what can be called The Buttle Principle [I give immense credit to my wife here for pointing out the concept, and naming it]. Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil  opens with the bureaucratically automated typing out of the name of a man to be arrested. A beetle body lands on the typewriting mechanism and changes the printing process of a name of a terrorist from “Tuttle” to “Buttle”; in totalitarian justice the wrong man, an innocent shoe repairman, is arrested, tortured and executed. It becomes the “accident” which drives plot of the entire wistful and humorous critique of modern society. But now, given the metaphor of a printing press and editions of knowledge text, just where would the change from T to B lie? For instance, if you did as Wittgenstein parodies, after seeing in the small print of a newspaper that you, Buttle, were wanted for murder, it might do very well to check several copies of the newspaper to make sure it is so. Did a beetle simply fall into the mechanism at just that one moment of pressing the very copy one has in one’s hands? Suddenly (as is often the case with many of Wittgenstein’s otherwise convincing analogies) what sounds so ridiculous at first, when examined closely in real-world possibilities, is less so. 

One might ask, would the (mis)typing of the name “Buttle” in the movie Brazil  be part of the same press of an edition of knowledge? More exactly, are the given processes by which the name “Tuttle” had been inscribed in the system (an officer’s report, an original secretary’s typing), and the one where the name “Buttle ” is inscribed, to be understood as distinct or homogeneous? And in coordintion, would recalling again and again a train time-table in your mind really be simply running off more copies of the same edition of a newspaper? Would there be any sense of checking one aspect against another (what if you recall now that the time you thought that the train arrived was actually the date of your anniversary)? How much would all this self-referential conception of knowing be approaching what Wittgenstein called “a wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it” (section 271)? And when such a wheel turns, what is turning with it?

What is of interest here may be that the mechanism of inscription from the film is indeed tracking an alphabetized, rule-following procedure when it is “interrupted” by the fallen beetle. The name Buttle appears in a long string of T’s. To quote from the screenplay. :

The TECHNICIAN gets up and balances a chair on top of his
desk. He climbs up onto it attempting to swat the BEETLE
still buzzing about the room just out of reach. Beneath
him an automatic type-writing machine rattles away
compiling a typed list of names under the heading
“Information Retrieval, Subjects For Detention &
Interview”. The machine is being fed from a spool of paper
which is being rhythmically chopped by an automatic
guillotine which neatly leaves each name on a separate
sheet, with the title above each name, each sheet
following its predecessor into a holding basket. In CLOSE-
UP we see the names on the sheets of paper building up in
the holding basket: TONSTED, Simon … TOPPER, Martin F.
… TROLLOPE, Benjamin G. … TURB, William K. … TURNER,
John D. … Every name begins with T.

INTERVIEWER
Do you think that the government is
winning the battle against
terrorists?

HELPMANN
On yes. Our morale is much higher
than theirs, we’re fielding all their
strokes, running a lot of them out,
and pretty consistently knocking them
for six. I’d say they’re nearly out
of the game.

The TECHNICIAN is tottering on one leg on the chair on the
desk as he strains to swat the BEETLE. Swish, swash, oops,
WHAP! Gottcha!!

INTERVIEWER
But the bombing campaign is now in
its thirteenth year …

HELPMANN
Beginner’s luck.

The BEETLE’s career comes to a halt … squashed flat on
the brilliantly clean ceiling … or has it? As the
TECHNICIAN clambers down from the rickety heights, the
BEETLE’s carcass comes unstuck from the ceiling and drops
silently into the typewriting machine which hiccoughs,
hesitates and then types the letter “B” and hesitates and
then continues so that the next name is BUTTLE, Archibald.

The TECHNICIAN fails to notice this and the machine
continues smoothly TUTWOOD, Thomas T. … TUZCZLOW,
Peter…

What I suggest is that there indeed is a component of justification (though justification is not reduced to it) which indeed is like checking several copies of the same edition, a self-editing proof, whereby one could internally look at the inscription stages of “Tuttle” and the context of one copy of “Buttle” and say, there is an error there.  I believe that this is the case because even in intersubjective conditions the appeal to something “independent” only ends up being the causal nature of the world. That is, a group of people sharing criteria still have no “independent” appeal for their means of justification, other than the causal results of following them. (What is the ultimately “independent” criteria which is available to the totalitarian system of justice, concerning Mr. Buttle’s innocence?) As a consequence, part of the mechanism for justification is also the internal sense of cohesion betweencriteria events, the special rational character with which beliefs stick together and support each other. Buttle just should not be in the T’s.

In a certain sense, me checking whether I remembered a train schedule right by turning over my own recollections, is like the totalitarian beareucracy in Brazil checking over whether they arrested the right man. If indeed they did pay attention to the internal discrepancy of texts, the Tuttle to Buttle shift, and be self-critical to it, they might have an additional explanation for the constitutive pleas of innocence by Mr. Buttle. The wheel that so turns is always connected to the world, and it is experienced as having its turnings caused by events in the world. The recursivity of an internal cohesion, though not sufficient for intersubjective justification, plays as a grounding for its possibility. The “independence” is always relative to a dependence, which in the end is causal. And coherent self-reference is always open to self- (and therefore other) critique.

This calls to mind another analogy of the printing press, one used by Spinoza to explain Descartes “proof” of God.

For example, if someone were to ask through what cause a certain determinate body is set in motion, we could answer that it is determined to such motion by another body, and this again by another, and so on to infinity. We could reply in this way, I say, because the question is only about motion, and by continuing to posit another body we assign sufficient and eternal cause to this motion. But if I see a book containing excellent thoughts and beautifully written in the hands of a common man and I ask him whence he has such a book, and he replies that he has copied it from another book belonging to another common man who could also write beautifully, and so on to infinity, he does not satisfy me. For I am asking him not only about the form and the arrangement of the letters, which which alone his answer is concerned, but also about the thoughts and meaning expressed in their arrangement, and this he does not answer by his progression to infinity.

(Letter to Jelles (40), March 25 1667

I hope that you notice the comparison in printing press analogies. We have in Wittgenstein the “absurd” notion that if we only referred to our own sense impressions and our beliefs about them, we would be like someone who is looking again and again at multiple copies of the same edition of a newspaper. And we have in Spinoza the notion that if we simply refer to the recursivity of actions of the proliferation of copies of a book (rule-followings?), we really have gotten nowhere in answering the larger question for an “independent” (conceptually distinct) cause of their production. The causation, either in the case of a self-referential series of experiences which attest to facts of the world, or a proliferation of rule-following expressions taken as shared criteria which produces formal justification, is “the world” experienced as causing both our experiences and our beliefs, and the experiences and beliefs of others. And writing, as an inscription, is understood to be an affective process. That is, both our experiences and our beliefs cause and condition the inscription process itself. Part of having beliefs is understanding that self-regulation and critique takes in account The Buttle Principle. That is, our experiences of a fact may indeed be the result of non-intentional error (the “beetle” in the system). As such, their cause can lie within physical causation, and ignored. All the same, the The Buttle Principle also allows that errors can be re-inscribed back into the intentionality of the system (Buttle must be guilty if the system finds him so, the train must be late since my memory never fails me). In this way cohesion can, as an autonomic sense of “right”, overide any Intersubjective Critique or Reality Principle that might serve as a correction. This is part of the ballast that subjectivity provides to social forms of knowing.

For Spinoza, if one could encapsulate, this causation ultimately resides in an immanentive expression of a totality which is taken to be vastly causal, which from our perspective is bootstrapped largely through affective (Joy rather than Sadness) and imaginary (picturing what makes us more powerful) means. For Wittgenstein it is much more a case of an immanence of organization which bubbles up, games stacked on games, as criteria become shared and communicated, part of this dependent/independent differential which helps create the “public” nature of language. In the middle, I believe, the two meet.

It should also be of a happy note that the beetle of Terry Gilliam’s film conflates the Ungeziefer of Kafka’s Gregor’s subjectivity, and Wittgenstein’s own Beetle in a box. One could say, two isometric reflections of the same phenomena.