|Creating Confusion in the Colonies: Negotiating Nationality across Imperial Boundaries|
|Throughout early modern Europe, Jews were routinely presumed to be aliens unless proven otherwise, and, thus devoid of many legal rights relative to property that were inherent to “legitimate” subjects. This struggle for the recognition of legitimacy, when transferred to the overseas possessions of England and the Dutch Republic in the Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries became, largely, a struggle over economic privilege– specifically, over the right to participate in developing markets that were beginning to focus ever more seriously on transatlantic exchange. In this scenario, the rules for determining the subject’s true allegiance and his claim to belong – indeed, the very nature of his subjecthood – became the means of demarcating economic turf: those who found themselves unable to prove their allegiance to the satisfaction of local authorities were economically disenfranchised. This paper, should it be accepted for inclusion in the ESSHC panel, will examine what distinctions of allegiance and subjecthood meant for the peoples that settled in the colonies or overseas trading stations of the Dutch and English in the Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most particularly, the paper will examine how transnational diasporic populations such as the Sephardim, who scrambled ideas of “national” allegiances, negotiated nationality across the imperial boundaries.
For instance, Royal Customs agent Samuel Hayne from Falmouth examined the cargo of the ship Experiment in October of 1680 only to find that goods entered under the name of the captain (and English Quaker) were in fact consigned to 35 different traders – all, according to Hayne’s account, allegedly Jews. It was Hayne’s accusation that, by falsely registering the goods, the merchants and the captain had attempted to cheat the Crown out of the £154 in customs duty that would ordinarily have been assessed as Aliens duty under the Navigation Acts, had the true state of ownership been declared upon the ship’s arrival. Hayne’s case hinged on the claim that the Jewish merchants were not entitled to conduct trade, either in England or its possessions, as English subjects. He was confronted by Antonio Gomesserra and Antonio Baruch Lousada, two Jewish merchants working together in partnership and based in London, who had been granted Patents of Endenization from the crown in 1672 and 1675, respectively. The Jury ruled in favor of Lousada and Gomeserra. Haynes proposed that Jews, whether endenizened or not, would always constitute a separate and unequal class of subjects. In a similar case filed in 1684, in Rhode Island by that colony’s surveyor general appears to underscore the general assessment of those charged with the enforcement of the Navigation Acts that Jews were not eligible to take advantage of the English subject’s license to pay duties at the lower rates, no matter how long the term of residence. His case, too, was rejected. All of which showed that the English law defined citizenship in terms of place of birth and/or of place of residence, despite popular repugnance at the idea that Jews could be Englishmen.
In contrast to the English, neither the province of Holland nor the States General of the United Provinces ever promulgated a uniform policy toward the Jews. Thus, the Jews [largely Sephardim], within a seemingly uniform Dutch Atlantic world faced a range of challenges and were welcomed in some places and not in others. The rights and privileges granted to them in Amsterdam always served as the model when Jews ventured to the western reaches of the Dutch empire. Jews wrote to the WIC and asked how the Company could justify restricting settlement of those “who reside here [in Amsterdam] and have been settled here well on to about 60 years, many also being born here and confirmed burghers.” Thus, they implicitly drew upon the English model of citizenship, and, thereby refused to accept themselves as in any way different from other settlers. In this sense, the Jews (at least in New Netherland) demonstrated a keen understanding of imperial rivalries in the mid 17th century by suggesting that the Dutch would fall behind the French and the English who allowed Jews to travel to their Caribbean colonies. To that end, Jewish settler Asser Levy claimed in 1657 that “burgherschap [in New Netherland] ought not be refused him as he keeps watch and ward like other Burghers . . . and he showed a burgher certificate from the City of Amsterdam that the Jew is Burgher here. “ Thus, for Levy and his fellow Jews, his rights and responsibilities should be equal in the colonies and in the home city. What happened in Amsterdam, however, did not necessarily dictate Dutch policies toward Jews in other cities, some of which were less welcoming than Amsterdam, and certainly did not dictate policies in the colonies, where the WIC operated semi-autonomously. Not surprisingly then, the Dutch had a much less centralized approach than did the British.
This paper will compare and contrast the entangled histories of the Dutch and English Atlantic empires through the lens of the (largely Sephardic) settlers and how they negotiated ideas of nationality across imperial boundaries.|