Today in History

Today in History: January 26

The Capitulation Protocol

Map of Brazil
Accuratissima Brasiliæ tabula.
[Inset of Pernambuco.]
by Hendrik Hondius, 1630.
Map Collections

According to the terms of the capitulation protocol of January 26, 1654, Portugal decreed that Jewish and Dutch settlers had three months to leave Brazil.  Approximately 150 Jewish families of Portuguese descent fled the Brazilian city of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco. By September,  twenty-three of these refugees had established the first community of Jews in New Amsterdam.

Known as Sephardim (Jews of Spanish-Portuguese extraction), theirs was a complex saga. In December 1496, King Manuel I of Portugal decreed that all Jews leave Portugal by October 1497, causing many to flee to Holland where a climate of acceptance prevailed. From there, some migrated to Pernambuco, a colony of the Dutch West India Company in modern-day Brazil. The community flourished until the Dutch eventually surrendered Pernambuco to the Portuguese and the Sephardim were again forced to flee.

After being driven ashore in Jamaica by Spanish ships, twenty-three members of the community, along with a group of Dutch Calvinists, made their way to New Netherland (New York)—another colony run by the Dutch West India Company. Peter Stuyvesant governor of New Netherland, feared that the indigent newcomers would burden the colony but when he motioned to eject the Jewish newcomers the Company refused his petition (many of the company's shareholders  were Jewish).

Shearith Israel cemetery
Old Cemetery, Shearith Israel,
New York, New York,
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, November 7, 1952.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America, 1935-1955

Shearith Israel Cemetery dates from the 1600s and contains the tombstone of Benjamin Bueno de Mesquita, a member of both the Recife, Brazil, and New Amsterdam Jewish communities.

The immigrants settled in the colony and soon formed Congregation Shearith Israel although the first synagogue was not built until 1730. Their community maintained traditions of Iberian origin  and contributed richly to the growth of the colony.  Around 1734 Isaac Mendes Seixas, born in Portugal,  arrived in New York from London. His son, Benjamin Mendes Seixas, was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, it is estimated that there were several hundred Portuguese (from every small town of the Azores Islands, Madeira, and the Portuguese mainland), both Christians and Jews, in the colonies. A number fought in the Revolution, including Jacob and Solomon Pinto, Jewish brothers who settled in New Haven in the 1750s. About fifteen percent of the enlisted personnel on board the first warship to fly the Stars and Stripes, the Bonhomme Richard, captained by John Paul Jones, were Portuguese.

While Hebrew was the language of prayer for the Congregation Shearith Israel (popularly known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue), Sephardic rites of worship were used during its first decades. Synagogue accounts were kept in Portuguese. By the middle of the 1700s, however, both Portuguese and Spanish gave way to English. Nevertheless, the group's unique synagogue architecture, liturgical music, and lifestyle remained strong.

Amongst the nearly thirty million immigrants who poured into the U.S. between 1880 and 1925 were some 30,000 Sephardim. Many settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During that same period nearly two million Ashkenazim—Jews mainly of Russian, German, and Polish descent with different religious and cultural traditions—also arrived in the U.S. Another wave of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi peoples emigrated at the time of World War II.

During the twentieth century both groups saw their old world languages and many of their folkways blend into the English-speaking American mainstream. Nevertheless, when the congregation assembles in the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue at 70th and Central Park West in New York it represents an unbroken line from the  from the community that originated in 1654.

Michigan Joins the Union

Birds eye view of Port Huron, Sarnia & Gratiot, St. Clair Co., Michigan 1867 & Point Edwards, Lambton Co., Canada west.
Birds Eye View of the City of Port Huron, Michigan,
drawn and published by A. Ruger, 1867.
Panoramic Maps, 1847-1921

Michigan entered the Union as the twenty-sixth state on January 26, 1837. More than two hundred years earlier, when French explorer Étienne Brulé visited the region in 1622, some twelve to fifteen thousand Native Americans lived there. Sault Sainte Marie, the state's oldest town, was founded in 1668 at a site where French missionaries had held services for two thousand Ojibwa in 1641. The Ojibwa, along with the Ottawa, helped the French establish a thriving fur trade in the Great Lakes region.

Great Britain acquired control of present-day Michigan in 1763 and administered it as a part of Canada until 1783, when it was ceded to the United States under the provisions of the Treaty of Paris. Organized as part of the Northwest Territory in 1787, Michigan became a separate territory in 1805.

Bishop Frederic Baraga
Bishop Frederic Baraga,
Bishop of Marquette and Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan,
circa 1844-circa 1860.
America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1862

With French Catholics as its first European settlers, Michigan maintained its strong Catholic identity in the early nineteenth century, attracting a large number of Catholic immigrants. Dioceses were established at Detroit (1833), Marquette, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Saginaw, Gaylord, and Kalamazoo.

The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 prepared the way for a great influx of settlers between 1830 and the Civil War. Michigan made a significant contribution in that conflict. Some 90,000 Michigan soldiers fought for the Union and 14,000 gave their lives.

Lumbering, mining, and agriculture defined the Michigan economy in the nineteenth century. After 1910, the automobile industry emerged as the dominant economic engine in the state. Manufacturing jobs attracted newcomers, many of whom left homes in the rural South and migrated to Michigan's urban areas. Today, approximately half the state population resides in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Riverfront panorama
Riverfront Panorama,
Detroit, Michigan, 1908.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

The American Memory collections feature a wide variety of material highlighting the history of Michigan: