History of the Jews in Barbados

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The Jewish dispora in Barbados has existed almost continually since 1654. The Jewish arrival in Barbados is a direct consequence of the Spanish Inquisition, specifically the Alhambra Decree. In 1492, Some Sephardic Jews had fled the persecution in the Iberian Peninsula for Brazil where there remained until the 17th century. They were forced to flee once again from what was formerly Dutch Brazil (especifically Recife where there existed a large Jewish community) after it was captured in 1654 by the Inquisitorial persecuting Portuguese colonizers who were consolidating their hold over all of Brazil.

The early population was increased from 2 other sources. In 1664 the Jewish settlement at Cayenne was dissolved and a few moved to Barbados[1]. In 1674, number also moved from Suriname following its surrender to the Dutch, the majority of these being deported to Jamaica, but a few managed to stay in Barbados[1]. They established 2 communities over time, the first being centered around the Nidhe Israel Synagogue in the Capital, Bridgetown, and a smaller one in northerly Speightstown. In Bridgetown, out of a total of 404 householders, no less than 54 were Jews[1].

Historian on Jewish affairs;Wilfred S.Samuel complied a very insightful report titled; "A Review of the Jewish Colonists in Barbados in the Year 1680" which is a worthwhile read.

Economic success, the resulting Discrimination[edit]

Unlike the case in Suriname, very few of the Barbadian Sephardim were plantation owners. Given the small size of Barbados, all the arable land was already occupied by the 1660s. Many Jewish settlers engaged in sugar and coffee cultivation. While the British government considered Jews to be good businessmen and tradesmen. The British Merchants accused them of committing illegal business transactions. Jews were accused of trading more frequently with the Dutch than the British merchants. In 1661, three Jewish traders in Barbados requested to establish trade routes between Barbados and the British Colony of Suriname; through this enterprise the Jews gained much wealth, but further irritated the British Merchants.

By 1679, nearly 300 Jews lived in Barbados.[2]

On October 23, 1668, the Jews of Barbados were banned form all forms of trade. Jews were forbidden from purchasing slaves, and were forced into living in a Jewish Ghetto in Bridgetown.

All the discriminatory laws were removed by 1802, by the colonial government of Barbados and in 1820 the British Parliament also repealed the discrimination laws.

During the 18th century, the Jewish community of Barbados continued to grow and become financially successful, although the Jewish congregation in Speighstown closed."[3]

Contribution to the sugar industry[edit]

The Jewish refugees brought with them expertise in the production and cultivation of sugarcane and coffee, expertise which contributed to the development of Barbados as a major producer of sugar.[4] They brought with them the benefit of new technological methods in the sugar industry, and helped the Island to become economically established. It has been suggested that the momentum of the technological drive in the sugar industry shifted to Barbados in preference to more politically volatile South American colonies.

Synagogue in Belleville, Barbados

Decline, Revival[edit]

In 1831 the Island was devastated by a Hurricane which devastated the economy and by 1848 the Jewish population had seen a significant decline in numbers.

Emigration and assimilation eventually took their toll on the original Jewish population of the island; the Jewish population it is believed vanished by 1929 when it is said that the last of the practising descendants of the Brazilian Jews left the island. As a result, the community's synagogue fell into a state of disuse.[4] A Jewish presence returned to the island in the aftermath of World War II, in the form of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. In1968 there were about 80 Jews out of a total population of 251,000.[5]

Although small, the existing Jewish community has taken steps to preserve its heritage; for instance in maintaining a functioning synagogue, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, in the capital city Bridgetown.[4] In January, 2008, the Nidhe Israel Museum was opened. The museum tells the story of the Barbadian Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities using inter-active displays. In 2008 as well, the archaeology of the yard of the seventeenth century synagogue is being investigated by historians/archaeologists and students from the University of the West Indies. Though the focus is on the long destroyed rabbi's house, excavations have revealed the intact 17th-century mikveh which was constructed over a still-running freshwater spring.


As an examination of the Barbados telephone directory will show[6][citation needed], several of the original Jewish last names from the Brazilian Jews can still be found in Barbados, either held by the white or mixed race descendants of the various Sephardic families or adopted by the original slaves of the Jewish families which held them in bondage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "A Review of the Jewish Colonists in Barbados in the Year 1680" (PDF).
  2. ^ "Barbados Virtual Jewish History Tour". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  3. ^ "Barbados Virtual Jewish History Tour". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  4. ^ a b c JewishJournal.com - Barbados' Nidhe Israel: Torah on a tropical isle
  5. ^ "Jewish Community of Barbados". Beit Hatfutsot Open Databases Project, The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  6. ^ Barbados White and Yellow pages

External links[edit]