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TUCACAS, a town on the northern coast of Venezuela, surrounded by two rivers making access from the interior of Venezuela difficult. In 1693 a large group of Jews originally from Leghorn left Curaçao for Tucacas. With the settlement of Jews there, the place became a lively commercial center. The Jews built houses, grew cattle, erected a fortress, and built a synagogue. They began to purchase cocoa beans from the interior of Venezuela, and mule trains carrying cocoa from Colombia and Ecuador would arrive in Tucacas, sell their produce to the Jews, and purchase textiles and other European goods in return. The attempts by Spanish forces to attack the settlement failed, owing to the protection of Dutch naval units, the local Venezuelan population, and the defense by the Jews themselves. This Dutch enclave was under the command of Jorge Christian, Marquis of Tucacas, and Samuel Hebreo (Samuel Gradis Gabai), under the title Señor de las Tucacas. Samuel Hebreo was also president of the Hebrew congregation called "Santa Irmandad" (the Holy Brotherhood).

The Spanish provincial authorities collaborated with the Jews, since they saw them as an outlet for export and the suppliers of much-needed European goods, since the over-extended Spanish fleet could not meet the demands of all its American colonies.

At the end of 1717, the province of Venezuela became part of the viceroyalty of "Nueva Granada," which also included Colombia and Ecuador. The Viceroy Jorge de Vilalonga, because of complaints from the Catholic clergy and from Spain, decided to eliminate Tucacas. Pedro Jose de Olivarriaga was nominated commissioner against the so-called Jewish "contraband trade." With special army units and 40 ships he attacked and captured the town in 1720. According to eyewitnesses the synagogue was destroyed, the Jews burned their own houses, and left for Curaçao on 30–40 ships.


C.A. Arauz Monfante, El Contrabando Holandes en el Caribe, Durante la primera mitad de Siglo XVII (1984); M. Arbell, "Rediscovering Tucacas," in: American Jewish Archives, 48: 1 (1996), 35–43; C.F. Cardot, Algunas acciones de los Holandeses en la region del oriente del Venezuela (primera mitad del siglo XVII) (1962).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.