The first Jews came to the island during the Spanish occupation of the Island, 1494-1655. These Jews came from Spain and Portugal. They fled because of the Spanish inquisition. To conceal their identity they referred to themselves as "Portuguese" or "Spanish" and practiced their religion secretly. At the time of the British conquest of the island in 1655, General venables recorded the presence of many "Portuguese" in Jamaica. The Jews were allowed to remain after the conquest and began to practice their religion openly. They were granted British citizenship by Cromwell and this was confirmed in 1660 by King Charles. They attained full political rights in 1831. The status of British citizenship enabled ownership of property by the Jews. Jamaica's Jewish population was never large. However their contribution to the economic and commercial life of the nation outstripped that of any other group of comparable size in Jamaica.
It was formerly believed that only 200 people were religiously practising Jews in Jamaica and that most Jews had migrated out of Jamaica. A recent study has now estimated that nearly 424,000 Jamaicans are descendants of Jewish (Sephardic) immigrants to Jamaica from Portugal and Spain from 1494 to the present, either by birth or ancestry. Jewish documents, gravestones written in Hebrew and recent DNA testing have proven this. While many are non-practising of Judaism, it is recorded that over 20,000 Jamaicans religiously identify as Jews. Common Jewish surnames in Jamaica are: Abrahams, Isaacs, Levy, Marish, Lindo, Sangster, Da Silva, Cohen, Barrett, Babb, Codner, Decosta, Henriques and Rodriques. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement opened a branch in Jamaica in 2014 servicing locals as well as a welcome center for international visitors. Books: Mordechai Arbell-The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica.