Frames /sing

kvond

Tag Archives: Sephardim

The Whiteness of Metaphysics: Colored Readings of the Same

The Murderer of Agamemnon

ἆ ἆ, ἰδοὺ ἰδού: ἄπεχε τῆς βοὸς
τὸν ταῦρον: ἐν πέπλοισι
μελαγκέρῳ λαβοῦσα μηχανήματι
τύπτει!..

Ah, ah, See, see! Hold off from the cow
the bull!  Within robes
blackhorned she seized, by a machina
striking!

Agamemnon (lines 1125-1128)

Ἀργεῖός εἰμι, πατέρα δ᾽ ἱστορεῖς καλῶς,
Ἀγαμέμνον᾽, ἀνδρῶν ναυβατῶν ἁρμόστορα,
ξὺν ᾧ σὺ Τροίαν ἄπολιν Ἰλίου πόλιν
ἔθηκας. ἔφθιθ᾽ οὗτος οὐ καλῶς, μολὼν
εἰς οἶκον: ἀλλά νιν κελαινόφρων ἐμὴ
μήτηρ κατέκτα, ποικίλοις ἀγρεύμασιν
κρύψας᾽, ἃ λουτρῶν ἐξεμαρτύρει φόνον.

Argive I am, my father – you fairly inquire -
Was Agamemon, the nautical Riveter of men,
With him you the Troad uncitied Illion city
Claimed. His end was not so fair come
Home; but he blackhearted my
Mother slew, in the dappled game
She hid, the witness of a bath’s murder.

Eumenides (lines 455-461)

[apologies if the Greek fonts don't come through]

Examples of Greek Otherness

I wish to briefly examine conceptions of othernessas found in the Greek notions of the world, so as to get a grip upon how deviant from these the modern appropriations of the same are in concept, with a particular eye upon Heidegger’s evocation of invisivibility and presence. Above are two descriptions of the method of Clytemnestra’s murder of the returning Agamemnon. The details of which will cue us unto the Greek otherness of “woman,” and relatedly (though she is not Eastern like Medea), the otherness of the East, Persia, Phrygia, and finally perhaps otherness itself: Same vs. Different.

The first from Aeschylus tells us that she smote him with a device, a machine, horned and smothered in a mantel.

Within robes
blackhorned she seized, by a machina
striking!

The second is even more interesting, for the wordplay is excelerated:

blackhearted my
Mother slew, in the dappled [poikilois] game [agreumasin]
She hid, the witness of a bath’s murder

We must see in these means and their characterizations the very nature of her own representational otherness, her exotic quality and powers. With grammatical ambiguity she cloaks either herself or her husband in ποικίλοις ἀγρεύμασιν, itself an intricate phrasing. The poikilois has multiple meanings all of which point to things varigated and potentially confusing. To quote the Greek lexicon, “”many-coloured, spotted, mottled, pied, dappled, of leopards, fawns; of robes, wrought in various colours, broidered; intricate; metaphorically changeful, various, diversified; intricate, complex; subtle; of persons, subtle, wily” (LSJ); and the agreumasin, can mean both the hunter’s snares used to catch prey, but also the game animal itself. With remarkable economy of words, Clytemestra hid within and struck by means of the very intricacy of her plans, and a garment, as a dangerous, even technological force camoflaged by the powers of its own complexity. Complexity, folded-in-ness was the mark of a power of otherness. For the Greeks intricacy, such as that which typified the craft skills of Asia Minor, bore in its very profound and natural interconnection the magical danger, the trap and the power of animal forces to both hide and kill. It was not so much the lack of transparency, to be understood in a fundamental binary of invisible/colored, but the actual production of confusion on the part of the viewer, a “how did they do that!” born of the very incalculable implications expressed in variegation itself. A tangle, if betwitching knot of things, labyrinth in need of a “poria” a ford in the river of it. The mention of the labyrinth is not accidental. What is forewarned against is the very Daedalus, work-man skill of the foreign hand, the mythological name taken from the verb δαιδάλλω:

[to] work cunningly, embellish, “σάκος . . πάντοσε δαιδάλλων” Il.18.479; “λέχος ἔξεον . . δαιδάλλων χρυσῷ τε καὶ ἀργύρῳ ἠδ᾽ ἐλέφαντι” Od.23.200; of a painter or sculptor, Opp.C.1.335, IG14.967:-Pass., to be spotted, marked, “σφραγῖσι” Opp.C.1.324.

It was the imported capacity to beguile through complexity that made the Greeks wary. And thus it was this very complexity, into which Clytemnestra as a woman folded herself and executed her action. The last line from the Eumenides above, “…the witness of a bath’s murder” leaves us to feel that it was the intricately woven robe (somehow both animate and inanimate) that alone stood as legal witness to the murder which was folded up into it. It is as if the very fibres and twistings make up the eyes of the action. Complexity for the Greek not only revealed itself in surplus of detail, but any hyper-complex manifestion also was read as its complimentary, a kind of fog, an obscuring haze out of which the unpredictably occurs. In a certain sense the Greek mind did see the world itself as dangerously manifest of variegated complexity, obscurely verging on the threat of a cacophony, much as how a coming storm is both richly folded in cloud-effects, but also fogging to human vision. It is for this reason they sought the harmoniously and to some degree unseen wholes behind it.

Translating “true”: from Greek ἀλήθεια (un-forgotten, un-escaped), to Heidegger’s Alêtheia (un-concealed)

Why do I bring these details of the description of Clytemnestra’s murdering under examination? Recently I have been weighing against the metaphysical inheritance of a fundamental white/colored, colonialist conception that has been passed down to Graham Harman through his continuation of a Heideggerian dichotomy: ready-at-hand  invisibility and present-at-hand  cloakedness. (I have promised to leave off this critique so I will only stay at its specific surface here.) Under Harman’s interpretation of Heidegger the invisibility of working tool-beings carries the purity of object essences, their very whiteness (what he terms as “retreat”), while the colored cloak of “presence” necessarily occludes by virtue of its very shaded deception that invisible white. It is enough to point out that the projections of magical powers of inter-connectivity upon the East did not begin with German Idealism, but as is well known, but in the rough cut of Western culture with the Greeks. Phrygia and the surrounding areas passing all the way to Persia embodied the feminizing dangers of excessive wealth, sensuality and deceptively intricate skill (and it is not without coincidence that the entire Amazonian inversion of Athenian society was projected to the shores of the Black Sea). This is not to lessen the idealizations of wisdom and wealth to the South, Egypt and Africa. Eastern projections, orientalizations, are as old as Western civilization as it is classically conceived.

So as metaphysics proper, as a certain kind of study of the the idea of the Same and the Different, Unitary and Multiple, takes its main root from Greek Society, upon which there can only be a partial mapping of a Anglo-Germanic notions of purity of essence, there is the duty of the tracking of the concept. When taking European metaphysics in hand, one has to ask the cultural question, in tracing the dichotomy of Greek Same-Harmonious/Variegated-Dangerous onto a largely invisible/visible, How White is Metaphysics itself? Can one currently metaphysize upon primary binaries of same/different within a primary optical metaphor of invisible/colored and not be caught up in the historical contrast between white/colored?

From Intrication to Shaded Color

The question otherness as variegation or coloredness is complex for Greek society, for their divisions of Same and Different did not meet the same racial and necessarily optical categories that have been privleged in modern European thought since the 17th century. As I have mentioned, for the Greek there is an emphasis on manifestation, but it is not so much as optical manifestation as a kind of textiled conception of plexity. The world is in a way woven together of elements, forces, powers, and even the Platonic notion of forms is misunderstood if it is only conceived of optically as invisible or hiddenly white. Those modern Europeans for instance were the recievers of a image of the Greek which did not realize that the Parthenon was painted. The plain Greek marble forms were not the full expression of their art. The painted Greek was something that the 19th century wonderful and brilliant Gottfried Semper finally told only to dulled ears.

 

So when German Idealists pursued the white invisibles of pure Greek perception, they were handicapped in a sense. Not only did they have a historically incorrect view of Ancient Greek concepts of whiteness and form (so prevalent and enchanting are those stripped-away statues and columns, weathered of their colored “accidents” which a Classicists imagined were never there), but the pure, white receding essence of things had to be also discerned within a cultural context imbued with valuations of color which were much more over-determined than any in the Greek city state. The confusions of color, variegation and pattern now had become more shaded. There was the Asian, the Moor, the Jew, the New World Indian; and each of these skins themselves were reconstructed by European poltical and economic dealings. This being admitted, the question remains. Are our own metaphysics spun from the categories of European metaphysics not caught in the very white/colored ethnic projections which include those euphanic eroticizing ones of Eastern idealization (their sensuality, interconnectivity, wisdom, attachments, transgressive gender forms, connection to the world); and are not these concepts additionally polarized by the often suppressed animalizing real of the concept “black”? Did not the 17th century’s rise of black slavery in historical terms re-mark what foreign and mediating color meant in severe economic and ideological terms such that mediations on opticality necessarily carry with them include mediations on race and color?

I am interested in this because I do see how Heidegger’s metaphysics (and its attachments to the East) embody a possibly virulent white/colored dichotomy, [ The White and the Colored In Heidegger (and Harman) ];  and thus I weigh criticism against all philosophies derived from Heidegger’s essential optical terms (including Graham Harman’s as I have outlined here and here). But still, I am an appreciator of metaphysics, and in particular that of the philosophy of Spinoza, and so I am curious as to how closely we can press this criticism to others of the modern metaphysics family.

I have said in the past the I find strong correlates between Heidegger and Spinoza, and that Substance in the latter speaks to Being in the former. Is Spinoza’s unity of Substance, its very invisibility like Heidegger’s, an invisibility of whiteness, an essential whiteness which lies behind colored deception?

The question of white and colored is an interesting one for Spinoza. As someone like Graham Harman would like to make the sensuous, interconnecting, enwealthed kinds, to be kinds of mediation, the 17th century Sephardim Jew serves as quite a likely fantasy space for just such a projection. The Jew, newly freed from really centuries of Inquisitional brutality at the hands of the Spanish, families having hidden within the Christian world as converted merchants, now became the ultimate vicarious mediators of European economics. And Spinoza’s family was part of an epicenter of growing Jewish commercial wealth, his father for a time a very prominent merchant of some standing in the community of Sephardim, who bore their Spanish/Moorish stain in the shade of their skin. It was the un-Christian Jew as the licentious, greedy other, the dirty human oil that helped the rising capitalist machine work. Long had they performed the marginal act of interest-charging usary, the unsaintly making of money on money, something out of nothing but relations. Come from such a mediating people and a merchant family, does Spinoza’s metaphysics also work with bias against the mediation of the colored and varigated? 

Spinoza’s metaphysics certainly keeps to a notion of the Imaginary which is marked by its confusing conflations of images and traces. The colored world of pictures for Spinoza certainly was a beguiling one, one that tricks you into not seeing the true causes of things. But we should temper; it was not so much for Spinoza that very the concrete complexity of the modal world was deceptive or dangerous, but rather that the profusion of inner imaginary associations that defrauded the “eyes of the mind” of greater power and self-determination.

Spinoza and Slavery

The question of color for Spinoza and his time is historically not that simple. In the 17th century not yet has “black” come to embody and polarize “white” such that all deviations from White became aspects of Blackness. Black was still “African” or “Ethiopian” and not yet a pure category, which does not mean that there was not an active white/colored binary informing social and economic structures. This complexity of color can be seen in the question of the role of Jews in the black slave trade, especially as it began to rise almost exponentially in the sugar trade, something the Jews of Amsterdam were thoroughly invested in. There is a notable historical absence of evidence of the direct involvement of Sephardim Jews in the Slave trade, but they were intimately involved the entire economic processes which relied upon it [ Spinoza Doubt? The Sephardim and the Slave Trade; Evidence for connection of the Spinoza family to the Sugar TradeSpinoza Sugar Time Table; The Hope of Israel, and What Spinoza Means by the “Ethiopian” ]. Was this relative abstention of contact with black and indigenous slave trade the respect the otherwise persecuted Jews had for people of color, or is it a sign of their careful buffering through New Christians. It seems history does not know. So there is no clear way to position the 17th century Amsterdam Jew within the white/colored dichotomy that was developing [Spinoza and the Caliban Question ]. In any case the question of clarity and invisibleness had not yet reached a polarizing limit, one in which black and white formed an entire spectrum of opacity and color.

So when investigating Spinoza’s metaphysics in terms of social color we are left without a solid place to stand. His family was likely involved in the sugar trade (a central investment of the Amsterdam Sephardim community), and it may have even been that trade that drove him to the pursuit of metaphysics and lenses (see, the collapse of the Recife colony). Both his brother and sister both later in life moved to Caribbean locals dominated by slave production. But, Spinoza was an excommunicate of his own Amsterdam Jewery; they were forbidden to even stand under the same roof as him. So he was twice removed from the “white” of Same.

Yet, this does not make him immune to the critique that metaphysics of invisible essence embody white/colored social dichotomies. In fact his ostricization may have further propelled him towards the dichotomy’s perfection, as he sought in letters to make himself a citizen of the world, quietly championing a radical democracy of freedoms. His ultimate appeal to the Same of Substance is difficult to assess. But it is notable that he very seldom appeals to metaphors of optical clarity or even to light itself, despite the naturalness of such an appeal. Not only was he a lens grinder and an telescope maker, but the Spiritual Collegiants with whom he had connections regularly used the trope of the light of God to forward their unitarian views. For some reason Spinoza found optical metaphors (in fact all metaphors) misleading. He wanted to speak of how things were, not what they were like, and even the notion of “hiddenness” was unhelpful. He even moved from Descartes’ optically inspired “clear and distinct” rather quickly, wanting to focus on bodily experiences of power and Joy, and the concrete connections between things and ideas. It was all of the body that had to be pulled into view, and not just its eyes. For this reason Spinoza’s is a philosophy of proximity I believe. Nothing is distant.

It is really this reluctance of Spinoza to engage in optical metaphors as the primary means for getting to the radical non-human truth of things that I believe keeps him from falling into the problematic of Same = White. Because most things in the world (objects) do not possess a visual cortex, while optical might make a good rhetorical/conceptual base for a metaphysics of purely a human realm like Heidegger’s, it is hopelessly distorting when trying to describe the dyanamic realities of things that cannot see. Once the colored veil is fully employed, historical notions of color find their anchor point. For the Greeks the notions of freedom and of color were not so determinatively overcoded, even for the Romans, and one might argue even for the 17th century (though I cannot help but see something quite “White” in Leibniz’s foundational reflective monads and his vision of universal rationality in response to the threats of democracy: Leibniz’ “optical” Response to the Theologico-Political Treatise ).

Further, insofar as Spinoza does accept a colored veil of confused “imaginary knowledge” he explicitly does not privilege this of foreign peoples, but sees it as explicitly constructive of the Jewish Nation, not to mention modern European society. The layering of the colored is a question of degree and isn’t one of mediation really. The colored complications of concrete manifestation and our imaginary states are the full-figured expression of God and Substance. Totality expressing itself to its limit. In this way Spinoza is much more in the “distaff tradition” (if I recall the Deleuzian term correctly), the tradition of weaving rather than of appearance.

Indeed it is the entire “veil of ideas” tradition that Idealism took up - carried on through Malebranche’s interpretation of Descartes, and then Reid’s of the same, that came to treat the opticality of ideas (or their phenomenal apperception) as object mediations between the self and the world. This approach to mental objects makes of actions of our minds an intermediary thing which might or might not pass us through to the world.

Distinct from this object-orientation, it is said that the very form of the Parthenon, its high lintel above subtly weightless columns, was readily understood by any Greek in the city to be of the form of the woman’s loom that dominated each and every hearth of the home. Perhaps it with this conception we should consider the internal play of colors and light, understanding that our mental actions not only knot and unknot things in the world, but also are cross-knottings themselves, expressions of the loom we find ourselves in.

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.

Dealings In London, Evidence for Spinoza Sugar Trade Relations

Brazil Revisited

To begin, I must make this clear that I am not a historian. It is only that I have combed the historical record looking for facets others may not have considered in the making sense of Spinoza’s historical context and life decisions. Among the things that have been curious for me has been Spinoza’s dream of the scabby Brazilian, recounted for both solace and explanation in the letter to his friend Peter Balling (Letter 17, July 20th 1664). I have written about some hypothetical, let it be said, imaginative considerations already here:  Spinoza the Merchant: The Canary Islands, Sugar and Diamonds and Leprosy. In recently composing a historical time-line (Spinoza Sugar Time Table ) to gain at the least a perspective on the issue of possible Spinoza family relations to the sugar trade, several additional features have come to stand forth, and it is these I would like to string together for the reconsideration of the influences that trade have have had on Spinoza’s experiences and ideas.

Antonio Fernandes Carvajal

Among the various seemingly mundane details of Michael Spinoza’s merchant dealings unearthed by Vas Dias are the traces of a substantial trade relationship with Antonio Fernandes Carvajal. Carvajal most notably is a Jew living and doing business in London, under the “cover” of being technically regarded as a Spanish subject, at a time when Jews are barred from the land (expelled in 1290, not be loosely readmitted until 1655-56). Carvajal is a covert but central figure of a small Sephardim community there, yet a man of notable power. 

We know him to have come the Canary Islands where there had been an enclave of refugee Sephardim families dating back before even 1492. There, these Jews lived the life a New Christians, for the most part outward Catholic practitioners, keeping for a time beyond the investigative grasp of the mainland’s brutal Inquisition. These small islands off the coast of North Africa proved to be an unexpected source of great wealth and opportunity. As the site of the first owned Spanish sugar plantations, they had suddenly been dominated by the sugar trade at the end of the 15th century, something which would eventually fatigue the land and nearly exterminate the native Gauche;but then as the price of sugar crashed due to the successes in the New World, the island exported its sugar plantation techniques, and turned to the production of sweet wine for the English; and all the while the European Canarians would benefit from the island’s stepping-stone place upon the transAtlantic sea-lanes, becoming not only an intermediary provision stop and intelligence exchange, but also a hub for pirate activities as they lucratively harassed Portuguese ships on their return from trade. The Canary Islands were of all things..connected.

This how Edgar Samuel describes Carvajal:

In 1635, Antonio Fernandes Carvajal (or Carvalhal) settled in London. He was born in Fundão in Portugal, lived for a long time in the Canary Islands and then settled in Rouen, until he was obliged to leave. He lived in London as a Catholic and built up a considerable business as the London agent of Jorge de Paz, Baron de Silveiraof Madrid, who was the largest contractor for shipping bullion to the Spanish army in the Netherlands. He was also a major importer of Canary Wine. In 1654, when war was declared with Spain, Carvajal renounced his Spanish nationality. He and his sons took English nationality and at the same time converted openly to Judaism. He was to be the founder of the first post-expulsion London Synagogue in 1656. – The Portuguese Jewish Community in London (1656 – 1830)

Cecil Roth in his book A History of the Jews in England (1949) reveals much more of Carvajal’sextensive trade practices and political heft. He is not just a wine importer, and agent, but a significant trader withthe East and West Indies, owning ships, conducting heavy arms dealings, bullion trade and having connections which make possessions immune to confiscation, despite his pseudo-standing as a Spanish agent.

 An impetus was given to the process in 1632, when in consequence of internal dissension; the crypto-Jewish congregation, which had sprung up, at Rouen was denounced to the authorities and temporarily broken up. One of its principal members had been Antonio Ferdinando Carvajal, a native of Fundão in Portugal, but long resident in the Canary Islands. He, with perhaps one or two others, had settled in London. Notwithstanding at least one prosecution for recusancy owing to his failure to attend Church, it did not take him long to establish his position in his new home. Before many years had passed, he was amongst the most prominent merchants in the City. He possessed his own ships, trading withthe East and West Indies, as well as the Levant, in a large variety of commodities. He imported gunpowder and munitions on an extensive scale, brought large quantities of bullion from abroad, and during the Civil War was grain contractor for Parliament. When in 1650 informal hostilities began with Spain his goods were expressly exempted from seizure by the Council of State, and he was given facilities for continuing his commercial operations.

These details drawn from this internet source.

So letus return to Michael Spinoza. There are multiple points of interesting contact between Michael and the powerful Carvajal. Firstly, it is reported by Vas Dias that in 1644 Michael with his wife’s cousin, the significant Amsterdam figure, Abraham Farar, forms a contract with Carvajal:

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 Carvajal, an illicit Jewish merchant of London.

But this may not have been the first substantial contact between Michael and Carvajal. As Samuel tells us, the gunpowder and munitions importer Carvajal established his buisness primarily as the “London agent of Jorge de Paz, Baron de Silveira of Madrid, who was the largest contractor for shipping bullion to the Spanish army in the Netherlands: (citing James C Boyajian, “Portuguese Bankers at the Court of Spain 1620-1650″). As I have pointed out elsewhere the credit records of Michael’s firm in the year of 1641possess as debtor the name of a prominent arms dealer LopoRamirez (for a sum of 1108 guilders), who had in that concluded an enormous deal for arms with the new Portugues King, John IV. On this same list is the name Jan de Pas (for a sum of 1,271 guilders), which bears close resemblance to Carvajal’s main buillioncontact, Jorge de Paz (aliases and spelling variations proliferate in merchant records). Perhaps this is a coincidence, but three years before his contract with the arms dealer Carvajal, MIchael Spinoza’s firm holds a credit bond with another substantial dealer of arms, and possibly Cavajal’s main Spanish contact in court.  

The Canary Island Connection

Michael Spinoza’s contacts with Cavajal proved lasting. Seven years after they have been officially recognized, we see Carvajal being given power of attorney twice in 1651 to reclaim goods seized by the English on Michael’s behalf:

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

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

Notably, in the second these the ship has come from Carvajal’s home territory, the Canary Islands. Whatever trade that Michael is conducting, whether it be from Lisbon solely, or the burgeoning sugar trade of the New World, his relationship to Carvajal seems more braided than it might appear at first glance. I believe that in the Canary Island connection, and the person of Carvajal, we have a firm touching point to the sugar of the New World. (I will leave the associations with arms dealing for others to uncover.)

In order to understand the value that a covert London agent would I will cite at length Jonathan Israel’s description of the state of Amsterdam Sephardi commerce in the years following the 1651 Navigation Act barring Dutch trade with English Colonies. Dutch Sephardim traders had to negotiate the ever-shifting alliances and wars that endangered the precious cargos come from the New World, and they did so through a cameleon strategy of national identites:

Before 1658, as far as the Sephardic Jewish community of Amsterdam was concerned, much the most important plantation colony in the Caribbean, owing to its pre-eminence at that stage in the production and exporting to Europe of sugar, was Barbados. And Barbados was English. Jewish settlement on Barbados had inevitably been a question of veiled direction from Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent Hamburg, seemingly initiated from London. This was essential if the cooperation of Cromwell’s government was to be won while avoiding adverse reproductions in the Republic itself. The Barbados Sephardic colony, as we have seen, originated in the late 1640s; it was much expanded by the influx of refugees from Brazil, in 1654, and then by further waves of immigration of refugees from Holland [of which Gabriel Spinoza was one]. Thus, the great bulk of the Barbados Sephardic community in this early period consisted of Dutch Jews, their economic as well as their social and cultural ties being withAmsterdam and not London. Nevertheless, in order to circumvent the English Navigation Act of 1651, one of the main purposes of which was to eliminate trade between Holland and the English colonies, the existence of a Sephardic community in London, however small and precarious, was indispensible to the Barbados-Amsterdam connection which had to be dressed up as “English”. Officially, the Barbados Sephardim, after 1651, were agents of London Marranos and (after 1655) Jews, though their basic function was to sell Dutch goods on Barbados and export sugar and tobacco to Holland. In 1657, an Irish privateer in Spanish service – Spain and England were at war in the years 1655-1660 – brought in to San Sebastian what purported to be an English vessel, The Pearl, carrying twenty-seven Dutch Jewish emigrants on their way to settle in Barbados, taking with them merchandise which was valued at 120,000 pounds, an immense sum for the time. The Spanish admiralty authorities were utterly baffled as to whether the ship and its contents were English or Dutch, finding that the Jews had official papers and passes from both London and Amsterdam. This incident forced the Mahamad in Amsterdam to come into the open as the true guardian and protector of the Barbadian community, assuring the Spanish crown, through the States General, that everything on board the Pearl was in reality Dutch. It was this intervention by the Sephardic Jewish leadership in Amsterdam which lead to the States General’s famous resolution of 17 July 1657, to the effect that “those of the Jewish nation who live in these provinces [i.e. the United Provinces] are true subjects and inhabitants of these provinces and must enjoy the conditions, rights, and privileges of the treaties of peace and commerce. 

- Jonathan Israel, “Menasseh Ben Israel and the Dutch Sephardic Colonization Movement of the Mid-Seventeeth Century (1645-1657)”, 150-151

Israel tells us that the first significant sugar trade with Barbados developed not in the 1650s, as is often assumed, but a decade earlier with the disasters of Jewish Brazilian investment come from the revolt of 1645, and the Barbados arrival of plantation-minded Sephardim. From this point forward, English Barbados sugar would become a tantalizing source for closer, easier to produce wealth. If we can assume that Michael’s1644 contracts with Carvajal may have been embroiled in a variety of investments, with his contacts with the Canary Islands and the English, and the substantial Amsterdam investment in Brazil’s Recife community (Baruch’s childhood teacher of Hebrew, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, since ’42 was its rabbi), it is hard to imagine that Michael did not evolve to participate in this trade.

The value of a strong English agent was that one could freely move in English trade circles, immune from the restrictions otherwise placed upon the Dutch, and the rise of Barbados sugar certainly would recommend this; this especially would be the case for the brothers Gabriel and Baruch when within a few months after word was recievedin 1654 that the Portuguese had retaken Recife, ending all Dutch investment there, and sending thousands of Sephardi refugees back across the Atlantic, their father Michael died. Of the wide hypotheses on the sudden decline of the once quite well-off firm, a too-generous Michael Spinoza being the most common, nowhere have I seen it pointed out that the collapse of the Recife community and the Dutch sugar marketmay be the simplest and most believable of answers. The firm that Baruch took over, I suspect, like many other merchant firms, was crippled by the 1654 Portuguese action.

There are suggestions that the Spinoza firm continued on with its sugar and Carvajal connection. Firstly, we have Spinoza presence in the home of a Canary Island physician, recovering from leprosy:

An echoing description was given to the Inquisition by Captain Miguel Pérez de Maltranilla, a day after Fray Tomás’s. The captain, visiting a Canary Islands physician convalescing from leprosy in Amsterdam, stumbled upon a discussion group at the sick physician’s home, where he distinguished two men “who had abandoned the Jewish religion” from two other, allegedly practicing, Jews (who should not, of course, have been “under the same roof or come within four cubits”) of Benedictus or De Prado (90).

- Israel Revah “Spinoza et le Dr. Juan de Prado” (1959),

This Inquistion report occurs in 1659, long after Spinoza had left the family firm. Yetit does suggest that Spinoza may have established, through his dealings with the Canary Island “native” Carvajal, and his associates, personal contacts that carried through to his Colligiant circle.

The second piece of evidence that points in the direction of sugar is that in 1664, a few months after Spinoza related to Balling his dream of the scabrous Brazilian, his brother Gabriel signed off power of attorney, and immigrated to Barbados, no doubt to begin a life related to the sugar trade. I don’t believe that this decision can be considered apart from Michael Spinoza’s long time connections with Carvajal, nor the community’s lasting closeness to the Recife community, and its diasporatic spread.

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]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers