First settled by the French in 1604, French Guiana
was captured several years later by Dutch authorities. Jews arrived
in French Guiana by way of the Dutch West India Company. The Dutch relied
on the Jewish settlers to carry out their plans and settle the newly
claimed colony. Their objective was to attract Jewish farmers and merchants
experienced in managing tropical products. On September 12, 1659, a
group of Portuguese Jews first arrived in French Guiana from Brazil.
The Company appointed David Nassy, a Brazilian refugee, patron of an
exclusive Jewish settlement on the western side of the island of Cayenne,
an area called Remire or Irmire.
From 1658 to 1659, Paulo Jacomo Pinto began negotiating
with the Dutch authorities in Amsterdam to allow a group of Jews from Leghorn, Italy to settle in the Americas. On July 20, 1600, more than 150 Sephardic Jews left Leghorn and settled in Cayenne.
The Jewish settlers negotiated with the Dutch authorities
a grant of liberties and exemptions from laws placed on other colonizers.
The Jews established sugarcane plantations, a sugarcane mill, and indigo
dye workshops. The Jews also improved relations with the local natives
and utilized their knowledge of the country. The Jewish community isolated
itself from other inhabitants of the island by constructing a protective
fort. The community developed an organized communal life with its own
rules based around Jewish tradition. By the early 1600s, the Jewish
population in Cayenne had grown to approximately 450 people.
On February 26, 1664, a French fleet of five vessels
and 1,200 settlers arrived in Cayenne. The Dutch Jews surrendered without
a fight, so long as they could continue to freely practice Judaism.
The French agreed to those terms, an exceptional policy that was not
common among the French colonies. Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of
the population left for the English colony of Suriname.
Over the decades, the Leghorn Jews of Cayenne immigrated to Suriname.
In 1667, the remaining Jewish community was captured by the occupying
British forces and, moved the population to either Suriname or Barbados
to work in sugarcane production.
Since the late 1600s, few Jews have lived in French
Guiana. In 1992, 20 Jewish families from Suriname and North Africa attempted
to re-establish the community in Cayenne. A chabad organization exists
in the country and maintains Jewish life within the community. Today,
80 Jews live in French Guiana, predominately in Cayenne.
French Guiana maintain diplomatic relations.
Israel is represented in French Guiana by
the Israeli ambassador in Caracas, Venezuela.
Pilo Sav 19, Av D'estrees
Cayenne 97300, BP 655 Cayenne
Guyane Francaise CEDEX 97335
Tel. 594 30 39 34
Fax 594 31 78 93
Sources: “Leghorn: Center of Immigration of the Sefardic Jews to America, 17th century”; World