In 1654, 23 Jewish refugees moved from Recife, Brazil to New Amsterdam (i.e., New York), after Portuguese retook some Netherlands colonies in South America. When these refugees arrived, they found an intolerant, hateful and intolerant governor in New Amsterdam called Peter Stuyvesant. Governor Stuyvesant, a fervent Dutch Reformed Church Member, was against the arrival of these Jewish refugees to New Amsterdam. Convinced that the rapid growth of non-Christian religions (as well as that of non-reformist Christians would outweigh the prevailing church and destabilize the young colonial society), the director-general and the council reinforced the position of the Dutch Reformist Church. This meant that religious liberty on the part of the Jews, Lutherans, Catholics and Quakers was not going to be tolerated.
However, religious plurality was already a legal and cultural tradition in New Amsterdam, just as it was in the metropolis. In a series of letters, the directors of the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam, Stuyvesant’s superiors, disavowed him for his intolerance, rebuked him and demanded that he revoke the measures taken by him and his council. Jews were allowed to be legal residents on the basis of “reason and equality” in 1655 under Stuyvesant’s government, despite the initial objections of some members of the Dutch Reformist Church, to which Stuyvesant belonged. In September 22, 1654 he wrote a letter to the India Dutch Company arguing that “[Jews] were very repugnant to the inferior magistrates” and that “such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ [should not stay in New Amsterdam]”.
As result of the pressure made by the Dutch Jewish Community, the Dutch West India Company rejected Governor Stuyvesant’s petition of forbidding Jews from entering and staying in New Amsterdam, and asked for equal treatment and freedom of religion (and worship). They considered “unreasonable and unfair” to not let Jews stay in New Amsterdam because of the considerable loss of the colonial Jewry in Recife during the taking of Brazil. Nonetheless, the three main reasons of why the Dutch West India Company decided to support the Jews were because: they held large amounts of capital invested in the Dutch West India Company, appreciation of the Jews allegiance in Brazil and the necessity of mercantilism to fulfill with its provisions.
Interestingly, the argument that the Dutch were very tolerant towards Jews is even strengthened by the fact that in 1651 Jews arrived for the first time ever to a Caribbean dutch territory (Curacao, Netherlands) This evidence is extremely important because it shows the Dutch’s commitment (regardless of their economic interests or real religion tolerance convictions) toward their Jewish compatriots. Because the 1600’s was a convulse time for the Jews in America (cases of anti-Semitism in Recife, Brazil; Coro, Venezuela; Barranquilla, Colombia; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) (Goldfish-Capriles), the Dutch West India Company’s decision of tolerating and accepting Jews in their colonies was something extravagant and fully advanced.
On the other hand, these letters show something hidden from all its meaning; it took seven months to the Dutch West India Company to make a clear and official statement of their position with regard to the Jews right in New Amsterdam. Therefore it seems that these twenty-three Jews were exposed to an extremely hostile environment for seven months (and maybe more after the Dutch West india Company real position was) because of the rejection by the main figure of this colonial entity. Gov. Stuyvesant’s letter not only appeals to racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and fear, but was against all the political moves and national initiatives that were done by the Netherlands to become a more inclusive country in this era. Moreover, Gov. Stuyvesant’s response to the second letter that was sent to him in March 13, 1656 by the Dutch West India Company, shows complete vagueness and lack of knowledge. It judges that his antagonism against Jews is just based in the “Jewish economic supremacy” over Christians.
This idea that “Jews are rich and want to control our markets” or that “Jews are blasphemers of the name of Christ” (as Gov. Stuyvesant clearly stated) was certainly a predominant believe among many Dutch and European (secular and religious sectors) about the Jews in this era. However, these high social level position and anti-Christ believes had ended up in massive killings, pogroms, lack of religious tolerance and persecution against the Jews through time.
In conclusion, these letters show that independently of all the progressive initiatives that were made by the Netherlands at the time to make its society a more inclusive one, intolerance and social stigmatization against Jews was a predominant concept. Sadly, biased racist and unsupported targeting ideas about the Jewish religion and its people in this time clearly shows the challenges that Jews had to face in order to exist. Exist not only as a religious or social group, but as human beings. Gov. Stuyvesant letters and the Dutch West India Company is an ideological fight of what rationality and ignorance really is. These letters are not only the base of what anti-Semitism, in its pure state, was at the time.
Gov. Stuyvesant is a reflex of an ideological, religious and political fight that still alive until today. With the rise of a new “populist-right” around the world, in the twenty-first century, minorities such as the Jews are constantly threatened. Independently that today this is not commonly spoken and that currently Jews are predominantly protected by constitutional systems in the West that respect their religious affairs, this does not prevent them from facing the horrendous face of intolerance, barbarism and bigotry like in those days.