Sunday, December 26, 2004

Back from the Dead

I can't believe it's been nearly seven weeks since I last posted here! No spectacular excuse--just temporarily brain-dead. Well, I'm back . . . .

Hanuka in the Islands, Mon?

Yesterday (Christmas) I went to dinner at the home of a long-time colleague. She had her daughter visiting from college and a neighbor woman and her son present also. The neighbor woman, I quickly learned, is a naturalized citizen originally from Jamaica. Curiously (to me, anyway), this black Caribbean islander is surnamed "Levy." Apparently, this is a curiousity to a lot of the unwashed masses, she explained. The brief history is this: Ferdinand and Isabella, doing the work of the Inquisition, kicked the Jews out of Spain and Portugal. Jews were banned from Spanish territory in the New World, as well. Fast-forward to 1655: the British seize Jamaica, and other territory from the Spanish. The British begin importing Africans as slaves to operate the sugar plantations and the British, either purposefully or through benign disregard, permit Sephardic Jews to immigrate to Jamaica, starting in about 1663. The Jews made tremendous contributions to the civic and cultural development of Jamaica and remain a strong element of the community to this day. [Our dinner companion remarked on the similarities that she had perceived between Mandeville and Granada]. The African population eventually outnumbered the Europeans and following some considerable violence, the British abolished slavery in about 1820. Meanwhile, many black Jamaicans had adopted or acquired European names. In the case of the apparently Jewish names, how this occurred is not completely clear, but the possibility of some intermarriage cannot be gainsaid. Following the abolition of slavery, black Jamaicans began coming to the United States. The 1850 census shows a 51 year-old black barber, John Levy, a native of the West Indies, living in Palmer, Massachusetts. The same census also shows Ellen Levy, a black 13 year-old, in the household of a white family, headed by Gilbert Creed, Sr., in Jamaica, Queens, New York.

In the next post, what this discovery of Jews in the Caribbean might have to do with the family history of Sanford Gines Bowie III.

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