BARBADOS, Carribean island. The uninhabited island of Barbados was visited in 1625 by Captain John Powel, who took possession of it in the name of James I, king of England. The first Jews reportedly arrived by the year 1628. Later on Jews arrived in three waves: (1) 1654 – after the Portuguese retook the province of Pernambuco in Dutch Brazil. The first official warrant of residence given to a Jew was to the physician from Dutch Brazil, Abraham de Mercado, and his son, the sugar production specialist David Raphael de Mercado; (2) 1664 –after the dispersal of the Jewish settlement in Remire on the island of Cayenne–French Guyana; (3) 1674 – when England surrendered Surinam to the Dutch and some Jews chose to leave with the English for Barbados.
In 1654 a Jewish community was founded in the capital Bridgetown and the Nidhei Israel synagogue was established. The Semah David synagogue was established in the second city, Speightown.
Jews, all of Spanish-Portuguese origin, also came from Hamburg and other Hanseatic cities in Germany, and from England, Guadeloupe, and Leghorn.
Jewish exiles from Brazil were needed in Barbados to help transform its lagging economy (its cotton plantations could not compete with the Carolinas; its tobacco was inferior to the product of Virginia) into a sugar-producing center. The Jewish newcomers introduced special modern methods of sugar refining and crystallizing sugar for export. The Jews, being Spanish-speaking, excelled in their commercial exchange with the Spanish colonies, mainly with Jews living in them as *Conversos.
The Jewish success and the support they received from the English governors Francis Lord Willoughby and his brother William Lord Willoughby stirred the envy and enmity of the local English colonists. This prompted the levy of special taxes on the Jews, disallowing them to employ Christians and limiting them to holding only one slave. This meant the Jews could not maintain plantations.
In 1739 the Jews left Speightown after a mob of English colonists attacked and destroyed the Semah David synagogue. As a result, a gradual abandonment of the island by the Jews began, with their new destinations being Nevis, Newport (Rhode Island), or England.
Jewish life was strictly Orthodox and distinguished owing to the prominent Hahams (rabbis) who served there: Eliahu Lopez, who was born in Malaga, Spain, as a Converso (1679); Meir Hacohen Belinfante (d. 1752), of a Dalmatian (Croatian) family; and Rafael Haim Isaac *Carigal from Hebron, who was in Barbados from 1774 to 1777. Jews only received full civil rights in 1820.
Nidhei Israel was finally abandoned in 1928 when the one remaining practicing Jew died. Led by Paul Altman, the synagogue, however, was rededicated by Jews from Trinidad and Eastern Europe, who reached the island in the 1930s. A group of Jews initiated the formation of a Caribbean Jewish Congress.
Israel is represented by its ambassador in Santo Domingo and an honorary consul in Bridgetown, Beny Gilbert. In the early 2000s the Jewish population numbered some 30 families.
M. Arbell, The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean (2002); E.M. Shilstone, Monumental Inscriptions in the Burial Ground of the Jewish Synagogue at Bridgetown, Barbados (1956); W.S. Samuel, "Review of the Jewish Colonists in Barbados, 1680," in: TJHSE, 13 (1932–1935, 1936), 1–112; P.A. Farrar, "The Jews in Barbados," in: The Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, 9:3 (1942), 130–34; "The Lucas Manuscript Volumes in the Barbados Public Library (Nov. 1946–Feb. 1947).
[Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.