The islands that make up the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, while extremely small, still have a rich Jewish history.
After being expelled from Brazil in the 17th century, Jews began to settle
on this string of islands located about a third of the way from Puerto
Rico and Trinidad
and Tobago. At its height, the Jewish
community in St. Kitts numbered between 75 to 100 people and constituted around 25% of the islands' total population.
These mostly Sephardic Jews brought to the island the secrets of
crystallizing sugar, making Nevis the “Queen
of the Caribbees.
The Jewish community of Nevis erected a synagogue in
Charlestown around 1684 and established a
Jewish cemetery located on Government Road,
which contains graves dating from 1679 to
1768. There are 19 surviving markers in the cemetery which bear inscriptions in Hebrew, English, and Portuguese. At the end of the 18th century, most
of the Jewish population left the island
of Nevis, leaving the Jewish cemetery abandoned.
Today, a major archaeological effort is underway to preserve and uncover more of the Jewish cemetery. It is believed that researchers may find a still undiscovered Jewish school and even another synagogue.
There is still debate to this day about the heritage of American stateman Alexander Hamilton, who was born in Nevis and possibly had a Jewish father. Speculation that Hamilton was taught by a Jewish school-teacher and that he learned Hebrew has led archaeologists to believe there is a Jewish school somewhere located on the island.
Sources: Julie Kay, "Synagogues in the Sand." The Forward (March 2, 2012); “Exploring Nevis”; Resistivity
Survey of the Nevis Jewish Cemetery