- Permanent Link:
- Jewish historical development in the Virgin Islands, 1665-1959
- Paiewonsky, Isidor
- Place of Publication:
- Saint Thomas, V. I
- Publication Date:
- 1959 stamped: c1960
- Physical Description:
- unpaged. illus. 25 cm. : ;
- Subjects / Keywords:
- Jews -- Virgin Islands of the United States ( lcsh )
- non-fiction ( marcgt )
- Source Institution:
- University of Florida
- Rights Management:
- The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries respect the intellectual property rights of others and do not claim any copyright interest in this item. This item may be protected by copyright but is made available here under a claim of fair use (17 U.S.C. Â§107) for non-profit research and educational purposes. Users of this work have responsibility for determining copyright status prior to reusing, publishing or reproducing this item for purposes other than what is allowed by fair use or other copyright exemptions. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder. The Smathers Libraries would like to learn more about this item and invite individuals or organizations to contact Digital Services (UFDC@uflib.ufl.edu) with any additional information they can provide.
- Resource Identifier:
- 027269343 ( ALEPH )
ADT4108 ( NOTIS )
60003137 ( LCCN )
01186795 ( OCLC )
- F2136 .P3 ( lcc )
JEWISH HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT IN
SEPHARDIC SYNAGOGUE ST THOMAS
JEWISH HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT IN
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 126207355 098 9 2 3
This brief history of the Jews of St. Thomas
is dedicated to my parents
Isaac and Rebecca Paiewonsky
who were married in St. Thomas, November 20,
1904, and who celebrated their Golden Wedding,
November 20, 1954, in the Synagogue at St.
Photographs courtesy of
bob gelberg, inc.
Miami Beach. Florida
T HE SYNAGOGUE of St. Thomas, rebuilt in 1833 after fire
destroyed an older structure, is today one of the most charm-
ing sights of the Island, and an important architectural monu-
ment of the Jewish people in the New World. Visitors of all
faiths experience a moment of awe at the sight of the austere
Sephardic interior, the heavy hurricane-proof walls, the vaulted
windows, and the sand-covered floor.
This brief history of the Jews of St. Thomas has been writ-
ten in response to hundreds of requests by visitors to the famous
Synagogue. The author is by day a prosperous St. Thomian mer-
chant, Mr. Isidor Paiewonsky. By night and in his spare time he
is a skilled and passionate antiquarian. Here in his tale we find
the Jews of the West Indies supporting the American Revolution
so effectively that a special British naval expedition had to be
sent to wipe out their center on St. Eustatius; we see them com-
batting pirates, involved with Captain Kidd, supporting new
synagogues in the American colonies, recovering from fire and
hurricane. We learn with surprise of great statesmen and artists
who came from the tiny bands of Jews on these small islands. It
is a glimpse into an adventurous and colorful world that is gone.
In the great surge to the Caribbean following World War II,
the Jewish community has come strongly to life on St. Thomas.
The voices of children studying Hebrew are heard once more on
Synagogue Hill. Here, as everywhere else, there is a revival of
Jewish spirit and learning; and here, as elsewhere, the revival is
Mr. Paiewonsky's history tells the whole story sparely, au-
thoritatively, and well. The proceeds of the sale of his book go
to keep up the Jewish cemeteries as well as the Synagogue of
St. Thomas. It is a uniquely original souvenir of our Island, well
SAND PATTERNS AND OLD HINGE,
SYNAGOGUE. ST. THOMAS
T HE ISLAND of St. Thomas was officially settled in 1665 and
from the beginning there is documentary evidence that Jews
lived here. They came to St. Thomas as ships' owners, chandlers
and brokers, as participants in the lively slave trade between
Guinea and the Danish West Indies; as entrepreneurs in the
sugar, rum, molasses and general trade with Europe and the
American colonies. Evidence is available, too, that from the be-
ginning, Jews lived in St. Thomas as small shop-keepers and
peddlars. Evidently these small groups of Jews worshipped priv-
ately for there are no records of a Synagogue in St. Thomas
during this early period (1665-1795). Lose's list of church build-
ings in 1784 indicates one Jewish Synagogue in St. Croix and no
Synagogue in St. Thomas.'
The real growth of the Jewish population in St. Thomas
came after 1781 and as a direct result of the destruction of the
nearby Dutch West Indian Island of St. Eustatius. St. Eustatius,
or Statia as it was often called, is a small rocky island lying
southeast of St. Thomas. Its total area is not more than seven
square miles. During the period of the American Revolution, it
was of tremendous importance to the American colonies. As a
strategic free port, St. Eustatius had attracted a large population
of Jewish traders, mostly of Sephardic origin. The war between
'Brief Outline Danish Lutheran Mission History, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John.
Emile Valdemar Lose, Kopenhagen (1890-91).
Great Britain and her colonies gave St. Eustatius a great op-
portunity. The hard pressed American revolutionists were after
military supplies, and the Jewish and other merchants of St.
Eustatius had them in abundance. The flow of contraband to the
rebellious Americans was a constant source of friction between
England and Holland. Finally Great Britain could tolerate the
situation no longer and on December 20, 1780, declared war a-
gainst the Dutch. Admiral Rodney was ordered to attack St.
Eustatius with his fleet. Rodney caught St. Eustatius completely
off guard. On February 3, 1781, he struck, and captured the
island and destroyed it as a trading center. -A nest of vipers,"
he called the island. "They deserve a scourging, and they shall be
scourged." In a letter to Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Parker, Rodney
stated: "Had it not been for this infamous island, the American
rebellion could not possibly have subsisted." And in a letter to
Lady Rodney, he declared: "This rock has done England more
harm than all the arms of her most potent enemies." Rodney
acted with great severity. The Jewish merchants fled from his
wrath. Many of them came to St. Thomas, bringing their fami-
lies with them and whatever they could salvage of their fortunes.
In the year 1852, John P. Knox, Pastor of the Reformed
Dutch Church of St. Thomas, published a history of the Danish
West Indies. The author gave the following account of the Jews
of St. Thomas: "After the sacking of St. Eustatius by Rodney in
1781, the greater part of the Jews established there came to this
island. They held their private hours of prayer after their arrival
until 1796 when they formed a congregation and builts a Syna-
gogue under the appellation of "Blessing and Peace". In 1801,
according to a statement furnished to Mr. Nissen2 by the leader
of the congregation, the Jews numbered nine families only. In
1803 they increased to twenty-two families by arrivals from
England, St. Eustatius and Curacao. In 1804 their Synagogue was
destroyed by fire. It was replaced by another small building
erected in 1812. After this, the congregation increased yet more
and it became necessary in 1823 to take down the building and
erect one larger in size. The name given to this Synagogue was
'Nissen, *Reminiscences', 1792-1837.
. In 1824, the congregation
numbered sixty-four families. Again their Synagogue was laid
in ashes by a fire which occurred in 1831. Not disheartened by
these repeated calamitous events, in 1833 the present edifice in
which they worship as their Synagogue was erected, the Con-
gregation being assisted by the generous contributions of the
entire community of the island and by donation from abroad. In
1850 his present Majesty sanctioned an entire code of laws for
the government of the congregation which is well adapted to its
wants. The entire body of the Jews now number between four
hundred and fifty and five hundred persons. They live, as they
have always done in the island, under the same protection as is
extended to their fellow citizens. Many hold offices of trust and
honor and the most kindly feelings exist between them and the
rest of the community. The congregation has no minister at
present, the last incumbent having resigned his situation more
than two years ago; services are, however, conducted by a reader.
The Synagogue is supported by a system of taxation,which is
adjusted yearly. The government of the congregation is vested
in five members who are elected by the members taxed $12.00
or above. Only those are eligible to this government who are
taxed $32.00. Two of their number retire yearly..."3
'Historical account of St. Thomas, West Indies. John P. Knox. Charles Scribner
1684 On May 7, 1684, first Jewish Governor, Gabriel Milan re-
ceived his commission from Christian V. King of Denmark.
Fifty-three years old and an international soldier of for-
tune, Milan came of a reputable Jewish family which had
connections in Portugal, Flanders and Hamburg. His fa-
mily was related by marriage to the well known Portu-
gese-Jewish houses of da Costa and de Castro. Milan ar-
rived in St. Thomas October 13, 1684, aboard the Danish
warship Fortuna, 40 guns, accompanied by his wife, a
grown son Felix, 4 younger children and a faithful valet,
Moses Caille. Gabriel Milan served as Governor of St.
Thomas until 1686..."4
1685 Commercial arrangements negotiated between the Danish
West India Co. and the Prussian Brandenburg Co. to pro-
mote the slave trade between Guinea and St. Thomas. The
proposed union provided for control of military, economic
and civil affairs in the areas affected. Regulations gov-
erning religious matters are particularly interesting: "Cal-
vinists and Lutherans were to have free exercitium reli-
gionis on St. Thomas and Catholics and Jews were to be
tolerated and allowed to hold private services provided
they permitted no scandala..."5
'Personal Historisk Tidskrift. F. Krarup. Chief Secretary State Archives,
5Schuck, Richard. Kolonial Politik. 1647-1721. Leipzig.
1686 A Spanish-Portugese Jew, Moses Joshua Henriques, ap-
pointed factor in Gluckstadt for ships sailing in the slave
trade from Gluckstadt to Guinea and St. Thomas.6
1695 Moses Joshua Henriques, factor at Gluckstadt, petitioned
the Danish King for permission to have his special rights
to trade with Guinea and St. Thomas transferred to one
Jacob Cohen and his fellow investors.' The Directors of
the West India Co., to whom the petition was first refer-
red, advised against the project on the grounds that it
would bring in "outside capital.*8
1696 Piracy in the waters around St. Thomas reached a height
in 1696. French Captains holding commissions from Gov-
ernor Du Casse of Petit Goave (French West Indies)
swarmed like birds of prey around the mouth of St. Thom-
as harbor, seizing not only enemies' ships but vessels be-
longing to St. Thomas inhabitants. Governor John Lorentz
in a letter to the Directors of the Danish West India
Company dated September 6, 1696, mentioned the fact
that one Benjamin Franks, a Jew and Danish subject, had
his ship detained and his skipper maltreated and robbed.
With the solid support of Governor Lorentz, Benjamin
Franks issued a vigorous protest to France for the seizure
of his ship and the confiscation of its cargo. The French
Government disclaimed any responsibility for the capture
of the Jew's cargo and advised Governor Lorentz of St.
Thomas to hang any French pirate or rascal caught pi-
rating in or about St. Thomas harbor.9
1697 Benjamin Franks, Jew and merchant of St. Thomas, sail-
ed for India to join relatives and settle there as a "trader
'Rothe, Caspar P. Historian. State Archives Copenhagen Volume II.
'Jacob Cohen and his fellow investors mentioned were powerful financiers
of the period with large holdings in the American Colonies. I. P.
"State Archives Copenhagen. Correspondence Directors West India Co. to
King. King to Directors. 1695.
"State Archives Copenhagen. Letters of Governor John Lorentz 1696.
.- ~1 5~ '
INTERIOR OF SYNAGOGUE, ST. THOMAS
in jewels". He booked passage out of New York on the
Adventure Galley, Captain William Kidd, Master. It was
on this historic voyage that Kidd turned pirate and be-
came notorious. Benjamin Franks, not wanting to be an
accomplice, jumped ship in India, reported to the British
authorities at Bombay and swore a lengthy Deposition
describing the trip in detail and Kidd's actions. Franks'
deposition was one of the weapons used by the Crown in
the famous London trial and condemnation of Captain
Kidd for piracy.10
1734 In accordance with the terms of the treaty concluded at
Copenhagen on June 15, 1733, and ratified by Louis XV
of France 13 days later, the island of St. Croix was pur-
chased from France for the Danish West India and Gui-
nea Co. The Company ship Unity bearing the instructions
and order of the French King did not arrive at St. Thom-
as until June 11, 1734, almost an entire year after the
conclusion of the treaty. She had been obliged to put in
for repairs at a Norwegian port on her outward journey.
The Danish Governor at St. Thomas immediately dis-
patched a bark to Martinique to deliver to the General
and intendant there a copy of the orders of Louis XV.
The bark which sailed June 23, 1734, from St. Thomas was
in charge of skipper Patrick Laughlin and the business in
the hands of Mr. Emmanuel Vass, a Jew of St. Thomas."
1777 A traveller, writing in 1777 noted
the Danish Islands, especially in St. Croix... 12
1782 The Jews of Philadelphia on the occasion of the erection
of the first Synagogue building in that city appealed to
the Jews of the West Indies for financial help. Identical
'L. Franklin Jameson: Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period.
"Gardelin Manuscript. Letter book containing correspondence with of-
ficials in St. Thomas, April 22,1733 August 21, 1734. State Archives
"Oldendorp, C. G. A. Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brueder
(Leipzig, 1777) p. 233.
letters, written in English, were sent to St. Thomas and
St. Croix. The letters stated: "A small number of our
brethren, who during this calamitous war (American Rev-
olution) fled here from different Parts for refuge, in con-
juction with those in this City undertook to build a place
of Worship that we might meet to offer up our Prayers
to the Holy God of Israel, having hitherto substituted a
room for that purpose from which we were compelled to
move by the owner. Our ability to compleat the building
is not equal to our wishes, from many recent losses, we
are under the necessity to ask assistance of our absent
Brethren amongst them, we look up to YOU, and the rest
of our Brethren with you, not doubting but you'll readily
contribute to so laudable an undertaking. We pray the
Almighty Father of the Universe, the Lord God of Abra-
ham, Isaac and Jacob, to take you all under his Holy Pro-
tection and grant you Long Life, Health and Happiness.., 1
1799 In his Dairy covering the year 1799, Nissen comments on
an incident that occurred in St. Thomas: "There lived an
old Dutch Jew here who kept a small shop. Whenever any
Frenchmen came to him to buy any of his commodities,
he invariably used to quarrel with them for he hated the
French nation because they had killed their King. It hap-
pened once that several French sailors came to him who
all wore red caps, as it was then their custom. The old
Jew immediately commenced making sport of their caps.
The Frenchmen did not like this and a great dispute arose
between them. The sailors brought the Jew out of his
shop into the street and the noise assembled a great mob,
but fortunately the old man was rescued alive out of the
hands of the Frenchmen...>,"
1804 Synagogue completely destroyed by fire. Many valuable
relics, books and records lost. This was a most disastrous
fire. In the course of 10 hours more than 1200 buildings
were burned down in St. Thomas. Losses were estimated
at eleven million dollars."
13History of the Jews of Philadelphia. Wolf and Whiteman. Jewish Publi-
cation Society of America.
"Nissen, *Reminiscences-, 1792-1837.
"Nissen, -Reminiscences,* 1792-1837.
1810 David Levi Yulee born in St. Thomas, June 12, 1810. His
father, Moses Elias, made a fortune in St. Thomas in the
lumber business and obtained large tracts of land in Cen-
tral and East Florida. David moved to Florida at an early
age. He studied law in St. Augustine. In 1841, he was
chosen territorial delegate to Congress from Florida and
Senator when Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845.
He served in Congress from July 1, 1845, to March 3, 1851.
Later he was again elected Senator and served from
March 4, 1855, until his resignation on January 21, 1861,
following the secession of Florida from the Union. His
most important work in the Senate was done as Chairman
of Committee on Naval Affairs. He advanced'the building
of iron ships and the adoption of cheap ocean postal rates.
David Levi Yulee died October 10, 1886.16
1811 Judah P. Benjamin born in St. Croix August 6, 1811, son
of Philip and Rebecca Benjamin. Was Attorney General,
Secretary of War and State successively in the cabinet of
Confederate President Jefferson Davis. After the Civil
War, Benjamin went to Europe and gained prominence
in France and England in law. He received honors and
praise from Disraeli, Gladstone and other distinguished
leaders of his time. His treatises on law have been pub-
lished in many editions and were translated into several
1812 Jewish cemetery in St. Thomas became too small for the
growing Jewish community. A new one was opened.18
1814 By historic royal ordinance, March 29, 1814, Denmark be-
came the first modern nation to pass laws for the pro-
tection and liberation of the Jews.19
1830 Camille Pissarro, world-renowned painter and -father of
French Impressionism, was born July 10, 1830, in St.
Thomas to Abraham and Rachel Manzano Pomier Petit
Pizarro. Camille was an offspring of a "cause cel6bre,.
"Records, Public Library, St. Thomas.
"Records, Public Library, St. Thomas.
"Jens Larsen. 'Virgin Islands Story". Muhlenberg Press Pa. 1950.
"Jens Larsen. -Virgin Islands Story*. Muhlenberg Press Pa. 1950.
His mother had been widowed in 1824. Husband Isaac
Petit died leaving her pregnant. His child was delivered
in 1825. The baby was no more than six months old when
Rachel Manzano Pomier Petit married Abraham Gabriel
Pizarro, her dead husband's nephew. The Hebrew Con-
gregation in St. Thomas refused to recognize and sanction
the union. Notwithstanding, a son, Joseph Gabriel, was
born to the Pizarros in 1826; another son, Moses in 1829;
and Jacob (Camille) in 1830. Meanwhile, controversy
raged. The officers of the Hebrew Congregation of St.
Thomas, President Sarguy, Vice-President Wolff, and
Treasurer Pretto, sought support for their rejection by
submitting petition after petition to the Chief Rabbi of
Copenhagen,20 to the Danish Court, to the Chief Rabbi of
Paris. By the time a fourth son, Aaron was born in 1833,
a decision was reached and the marriage of Rachel Man-
zano Pomier Petit to Pizarro was declared legal and bind-
ing. Jacob (Camile) spent some of his early years in St.
Thomas. Later he moved to Paris. He changed his name
from Jacob Pizarro to Camille Pissarro. He dedicated him-
self to art and became one of the great artists of his time.
He died on November 12, 1903, at the age of 74.21
1831 A clear indication of the growth and strength of the
Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas are the birth records
for 1831. Seventy-six children were born into the Congre-
gation during that year, 74 males, 2 females.22
1833 Jacob Mendes da Costa, outstanding American physician
and author, was born in St. Thomas on January 7, 1833,
to Jonathan and Rama Mendes da Costa, and died in Vi-
llanova, Pennsylvania, 1900. He was the author of five
titles on medicine, of which Medical Diagnosis, Philadel-
phia and London (1900), went through nine editions and
was translated into several languages.23
20Archives Jewish Community Copenhagen, Register No. BN790.
"Records. Private collection Miss Enid Baa, Chief Librarian, St. Thomas.
2Nissen, 'Reminiscences-, 1792-1837.
23Records, Public Library, St. Thomas.
1834 A traveller to the West Indies in 1834 describes his land-
ing at St. Thomas: ,We had scarce reached the landing
place when we were accosted by a singular looking char-
acter in the person of 'Mosquito24 the Beievolent Jew'.
We were told to regard him as a . He might
have been taken for a being of another century who had
walked out of the catacombs; his reputed age, indeed,
considerably above a hundred years..., This singular char-
acter had been long known as an itinerant peddlar among
the islands but chiefly in the Dutch and Danish colonies...
and he was admitted as a privileged person into the houses
of the most respectable inhabitants.25
1836 Moses De Pinna killed by the kick of a horse on the Sab-
bath Day, June 1836.26
1837 A census showed 400 Jewish inhabitants in St. Thomas.
There were 4 marriages, 19 births and 6 deaths in the
Hebrew Congregation for that year.27
1843 An anonymous English author, writing from St. Thomas
in 1843, said: -the flock of Israel's fold is thick and fares
well at this place; however, one or two houses of eminence
are of this class, as also a large portion of the second rate
traders, those who keep stores of hardware, glass, porce-
lain and the dispensers of spirit and friperie...28
"Mosquito was undoubtedly a West Indian twist of the name Musqueto
Author's note: One wonders if by some trick of time and chance, this cen-
tenarian could possibly have been Jacob Musqueto. More than a half cen-
tury before, there had come to Philadelphia* one Jacob Musqueto with a
letter froin the President of Sheareth Israel in New York. He had ar-
rived there from the Dutch West Indian Island of St. Eustatius and had
thrown himself upon the mercies of the Synagogue Charity Fund asking
that he be sent back to the West Indies.**
*History of the Jews of Philadelphia. Edwin Wolf-Maxwell Whitman.
**Minute Book of Congregation Shearith Israel May 16, 1768, Lyons Col-
2"Trelawney Wentworth, West India Sketch Book Volume I, 1834.
26Synagogue records. St. Thomas.
"Nissen, 'Reminiscences*, 1792-1837.
"Letters from the Virgin Islands. London 1843 pg. 99. American Jewish
1844 A segment of the Congregation led by Judah Sasso and
Mashed Mara refused to attend Synagogue services. -Im-
mediately after the return of the Sefer Torah to the
Hechal,- they charged, 'Rabbi Carillon proceeded with
the wrong prayers and the Musaph was completely omit-
ted., J. Fidanque Act. President, Jacob Haim Osorio, J.
Levy Maduro, Moses Piza, and Jeudah Piza formed a com-
mittee to investigate. They reported that the charges
were well founded. Ritual was rearranged and harmony
was restored to the Congregation.29 Rabbi Carillon left
St. Thomas shortly afterwards for Jamaica.* In 1845, he
dedicated a temporary Synagogue in Montego Bay.**
1851 Membership of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas
numbered 372 persons.30
1852 "Jews, Gentiles and sects of various names are very alni-
cable in St. Thomas. Great good feeling prevails. Thou-
sands of dollars can be readily raised for any object of
1863 M. N. Nathan appointed Rabbi, Hebrew Congregation,
1867 This was a year of calamity for St. Thomas and the Jewish
congregation. On the 29th. of October, a terrific hurricane
passed over the island, which, in magnitude and destruc-
tiveness, surpassed anything ever known or recorded in
the island's history.33 Disaster and its consequences caused
Historical Society Volume No. 28, 1922.
"Records. Private collection Miss Enid Baa, Chief Librarian. St. Thomas.
*Records. Institute of Jamaica, Kingston.
**Private collection personal papers. Rev. Henry P. Silverman, Kingston,
"Jens Larsen. -Virgin Islands Story-. From the Lutheran Church records.
"Letter appearing in biography, Charles Porterfield Krauth, renowned
Lutheran Scholar and Professor Lutheran Theological Seminary, Phila-
delphia. A. Spaeth.
"Archives Jewish Community, Copenhagen.
"Virgin Islands of the United States. Luther K. Zabriskie. G. P. Putnam's
Sons. Knickerbocker Press 1918.
the Jews of St. Thomas- to look with interest and hope on
negotiations being conducted between the United States
and Denmark for acquisition of St. Thomas as a Naval
Base and coaling station. Negotiations failed because of
the havoc and distress left by the disasters of 1867, hur-
ricane and tidal wave..."
1868 Reverend David Cardoze began service in the St. Thomas
Synagogue as assistant to Rabbi Nathan in 1864. A few
years later, he became leader of the Congregation. He
served with distinction for fifty years until his death in
1914 at the age of 90. Reverend Cardoze was known and
revered throughout the West Indies. It was his lot to
serve during a difficult period that saw a marked decline
in the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas. St. Thomas
had grown to greatness in an era of sailing ships. A trans-
shipment center, free port and port of repair, Jews had
played a prominent part in all of these activities. Decline
began with the advent of steam. Neighboring islands
found it more convenient to meet their requirements
direct from Europe and America. There remained a pro-
fitable coaling industry in which the Jews of St. Thomas
played a prominent part for another 20 or 30 years. -A
typical coaling wharf at the time was that operated by
Messrs. Bronsted & Co. From 8 to 10,000 tons of coal could
be found piled up in huge stacks. This firm serviced from
fifteen to sixteen large steamers monthly and was agent
for no less than seven lines of steamers.>>35 Mr. Eduardo
Moron, a Sepharic Jew, was in charge." But one by one
the steamship companies with coaling headquarters in St.
Thomas withdrew. A particularly heavy blow occurred in
"Danish Islands. James Parton. Fields Osgood & Co. 1869
Author's note: American newspapers 1868-1869 were full of damaging
attacks aimed at Secretary of State Seward for his propensity to acquire
new territory. Bret Harte, famous American author and grandson of the
New York Jewish merchant, Bernard Harte* wrote a satirical poem called
*St. Thomas- which ridiculed Seward's attempt to purchase the islands. I.P.
*American Jewish Archives. June 1954 pg. 148
"Dr. Charles Edwin Taylor, Leaflets from the Danish West Indies. Wm.
Dawson & Sons, Publishers, London.
"E. Moron was one of the prominent mercantile figures of his time. He
lived in a magnificent residence overlooking the town, the site now oc-
cupied by Bluebeard's Castle Hotel. Parts of the original home are in-
corporated into the Hotel I. P.
1885 with the removal of the Royal Mail Steamship head-
quarters to Barbados. A short time later the French Line,
Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, removed its head-
quarters to Martinique. Many prominent Jewish families
connected with shipping departed from St. Thomas. An-
other factor that lured Jews away was the opening and
development of the Panama Canal. Numerous descendants
of the St. Thomas Jews are now living there. In 1890 a
census revealed the presence of 141 Jews in St. Thomas.
This number continued to dwindle and up to the time of
his death in 1914, Reverend Cardoze struggled coura-
geously to keep the Synagogue of St. Thomas alive.
1914 Moses D. Sasso became reader of the Synagogue at the
age of 20. Born in St. Thomas, he had been taken to Pa-
nama as a baby during that period of relocation when man-
y Jewish families left St. Thomas. In 1914, he returned
to St. Thomas to see his aged mother. Rabbi Cardoze, from
his sick bed, pleaded with him to stay. No other person
was available to head up the Jewish Synagogue which
was so poor at the time that the Congregation could not
afford to import a Rabbi. Young Moses D., who had been
trained by his grandfather and who had always been very
religious youngster, answered the call. Three years later
the Islands were transferred from Denmark to the United
States. Rabbi Sasso is the only living authorized minister
in St. Thomas who witnessed the transfer. Reverend Sasso
was ordained Rabbi Julyl, 1949. In 1959, the Hebrew Con-
gregation of St. Thomas conferred upon Rabbi Sasso the
title ,Negnim Zemiroth Israel- (Sweet Singer of Israel)
in observance of his 45th anniversary as head of the Con-
1950 Morris Fidanque De Castro became Governor of the Virgin
Islands. Mr. De Castro was born on February 5, 1902, to
David and Adah De Castro in Panama but registered in
St. Thomas, which was the established residence of his
"Profile. The Home Journal, St. Thomas, November 5, 1959.
"Notes on the Jewish Community of St. Thomas. A. A. Campbell. Jewish
Social Studies, April 1942. Volume IV, No. 2.
parents. He served well and received the Distinguished
Service Medal and award (gold) from the Department of
Interior in December 1952. Again in April 1954, he re-
ceived the Silver Meritorious Service Medal. His many
years of service in the Government of the United States
encompassed all assignments from Junior Clerk to Gov-
ernor. During a short period away from Government, Mr.
De Castro served as President of the West Indies Bank
and Trust Company. Mr. De Castro reentered Government
service January 12, 1959 as Budget Director for the Virgin
Islands in the cabinet of Governor John D. Merwin. Mr.
De Castro is now serving his second term as President of
the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas.
1957 Publidation in Copenhagen of 299 Epitaphs from the Jew-
ish Cemetery in St. Thomas, W. I.. 1837 1916. With an
index compiled from Records in the Archives of the Jew-
ish Community in Copenhagen, By Julius Margolinsky.
*Recently the Librarian of the Copenhagen Jewish Com-
munity, Julius Margolinsky, discovered a handwritten in-
dex of 299 epitaphs from St. Thomas. An unknown trav-
eller to the island seemed to have arranged this index in
a ten page notebook some decades ago and had forwarded
it to the Copenhagen Community Archives. The writer
obviously was unable to read and to copy the Hebrew ins-
criptions. Mr. Margolinsky's edition covers only the Eng-
lish and French texts of gravestones from 1837 to 1916.
This well done publication sheds light upon the St. Thom-
as branches of about eighty known Sephardic families and
a dozen Ashkenazic ones who belonged to the St. Thomas
community. We meet such names, for example, as Aben-
dana, Athias, D'Azevado, Benjamin, Cardoze, De Castro,
Da Costa, Delvalle, Fidanque, Fonseca, Henriques, Lindo,
Maduro, Moron, Pereira, Petit, Pissaro, Piza, Sasso,Tole-
dano and Valencia. Some tombstones mention the birth-
places of the deceased: St. Thomas, Curacao, Barbados,
Jamaica, as well as Amsterdam, London and New York.
Ashkenazic families hail from Hamburg and other cities
and towns in Germany. A certain Judith Valencia passed
away in Barcelona, 1856, and was interred in St. Thomas
two years later. Among the epitaphs we meet that of Sa-
muel Levy Maduro who was Reader of the Congregation
for a period of thirty years... Mr. Margolinsky's modest
and scholarly publication -- its index indicates both persons
named upon the tombstones and relatives of the deceased
-- can be obtained from the author and should meet the
attention of those interested in Jewish genealogical re-
search. It reveals source material for the history of the
Jews in the West Indies...39"
1959 The Third Legislature of the Virgin Islands, First Special
Session 1959, presented a citation to Bernard Paiewonsky,
member of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas,
,who already in his 26th year has achieved outstanding
scholarship and international recognition that has re-
flected great credit on his native land... Bernard Paie-
wonsky was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, March 3,
1933, son of Ralph40 and Ethel Paiewonsky. Bernard ac-
quired a B.S. degree in Mathematics, M.I.T. (1953); M.A.
in Mathematics, Indiana University (1954); M.S.E. in Aero-
nautical Engineering, Princeton (1959). From June 1955
to June 1957, he served as Lieutenant in the U. S. Air
Force assigned to the Flight Control Laboratory, Wright
Air Development Center. He was a Legendre Fellow at
Princeton (1957-58) and visiting lecturer in the Aeronau-
tical Engineering Department (1958-59). Presently he is
attached to the Aero Research Associates while comple-
ting his candidacy for the degree of Ph. D., also at Prince-
ton. In the summer of 1959, Bernard Paiewonsky was
selected by the Rocket Society of America to present his
scientific paper on the Guidance and Control System of
Space Vehicles before the International Aeronautical
Congress in London.
1959 The trend of the Hebrew Congregation, today is one of
growth. A recent census showed more than 125 Jews living
in St. Thomas, and the number is growing. Hotels, guest
houses, tourist shops, rum distilleries, bottling plants,
small industries have come into being and Jews are active
in all of them. Sephardic names that dominated the past
are yielding to an influx of second generation American
"Review by Dr. Kurt Wilhelm, Stockholm, Sweden, for the American Jew-
ish Historical Society, Publication Vol. XLVIII, No. 2 (December 1958).
"'Ralph Paiewonsky, father of Bernard and prominent businessman, served
in the Legislature of the Virgin Islands from 1936-46 as Chairman of the
Finance Committee, Chairman of the St. Thomas Municipal Council, and
Chairman of the Legislative Assembly.
and European Ashkenazim. Today's roll call includes such
names as: Bayne, Bernstein, Birch, Block, Bonzole, Dries,
Brauer, Fishman, Gross, Hoffman, Hoffstater, Katzin,
Kessler, Kimmelman, Kruger, Lilienfelt, Machover, Nath,
Morgenstern, Paiewonsky, Puritz, Rosenbloom, Schptner,
Saul, Schwartz, Solomon. With the development of ad-
ditional tourist facilities in the offing, with St. Thomas a
mere matter of hours away from metropolitan centers,
the prospects are for more and more Jews to settle here.
With growth comes a revival of activity. A Sisterhood
was formed recently that is making its weight felt in the
community. And there are signs of cultural stirring, too.
Among the Jews settling here is the family of the distin-
guished author, Herman Wouk. Through the efforts of
Mr. Wouk, a Hebrew teacher was brought to St. Thomas.
Already classes in Hebrew and Jewish history for the
children and adults have been started. It would gladden
the heart of the venerable and courageous Reverend David
Cardoze were he able to look down from his former pulpit
upon this reactivation; to see on Friday evenings, during
the season, his beautiful little Synagogue filled with Con-
gregation members and Jewish visitors to the island.
END OF THE SERVICE
SYNAGOGUE. ST. THOMAS
LITHO IN U.S.A.