Portuguese Jews and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

The Pirate Rabbi


(Original research and Dutch text by Fré Morel.)

Supported by the usual Marxists, a radical Black Lives Matter movement is rallying against white culture, ‘whiteness’ in general, and even removing statues of men perceived as white. But if we are going to right historical wrongs, perhaps we can stop attacking the pedestal of Robert E. Lee and, instead, have a first look at the role Portuguese Jews played in starting, financing, and profiting from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

It’s been a household secret, but every self-respecting Dutch historian knows “our national colonial past” centered around a small number of families from the province of Zeeland as well as from the Amsterdam area. Colonialism and slavery had by no means been a national effort but rather the doings of private companies such as the Dutch East India Company and their invested families. Who were they? Who were the families who started the Dutch slave trade?

Let’s take a step back to see the bigger picture. Since their arrival around the fourth century AD, when they settled near present-day Cologne (“colony”), Germany, European Jews had begun to colonize Europe’s riverside and coastal cities situated along the Rhine, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea. Of particular interest, due to their role in the Dutch slave trade, are Jewish merchants living in Antwerp during the sixteenth century, descendants of Portuguese immigrants, so-called Sephardi Jews or Sephardim.

When troops led by Spanish commander Parma next conquered the now Belgian harbor city of Antwerp in the year 1564, many of its Jewish merchants left for the Catholic province of Zeeland, in the Rhine delta. Having previously been expelled from the Iberian peninsula by the Spanish king, many members of this mercantile community settled in the towns of Vlissingen and Middelburg.

There, they set up trade blockades to try and disrupt Antwerp’s economic affairs as a way of getting back at the Spanish oppressor. Within a few years, some of these merchants moved on to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and another portion settled in Dutch Guyana, Latin America, now called Surinam.

The migrating Jews met with fierce competition from the natives. Northern Europe’s local traders had, for many centuries, been trading wood, grain, salt, and herring along a network of so-called Hansa cities. However, the Jewish-Portuguese merchants eventually won the upper hand as they introduced a new type of good, and they called it ‘living ebony’—slaves.

The Jews of Antwerp didn’t have to invent their trade, though. Slave trade had been an identifying hallmark of European Jewry ever since their arrival, often competing for market share against the Turks and Arabs. Pre-Islamic Arabs were the original inventors of black slavery almost a thousand years before pale-skinned men of the North set foot in Africa.

The West Indian Company

After their supplantation of the slave trade to Middelburg, the new Jews of Zeeland founded the West Indian Company (WIC) which later merged with the Middelburg Commercial Company (MCC). With the arrival of the slave trade also came the first introduction of the practice of black slave ownership in the Dutch provinces.

By the late sixteenth century, Sephardi Jews had already established themselves a popular slave market in Liverpool, England. And in the year 1596, a Portuguese ship arrived at the Dutch harbor of Middelburg, carrying a cargo of approximately one-hundred West-African slaves, the first in the region. When Jewish merchants intended to sell their human ebony, they shocked the Catholic Dutch natives.

The local mayor of Middelburg, Adriaan ten Haeff, was forced to shut down the Jews’ slave market. Ten Haeff officially declared that human beings could not be anyone’s property, and that the African subjects, therefore, could not be sold to anyone. On November 15th, 1596, the Dutch Provinces announced by decree that, coming Sunday, all churches across The Netherlands should declare from the pulpit that black slaves were to be released to freedom.

Alas, to no avail. The WIC’s slave trade continued, disregarding their host nation’s laws. By the year 1650, a small but criminal elite was making exorbitant profits off of slavery in North-Western Europe. And they didn’t just trade colored people. Slaves also included white political dissidents, prisoners of war, and Catholic Irishmen.

Regular transports of white slaves disembarked from French harbors of Dieppe, Le Hâvre, and La Rochelle, often “young people, barely out of childhood”, shipping the youngsters to the Dutch Antilles, where Sephardi Jews had set up a distribution center for sending slaves further on to the American inland.

By the year 1760, about 70,000 slaves were being traded each year on British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Arab slave vessels. At this point, the Jewish merchants from Antwerp controlled just about 9% of the total slave trade. A fairly meager score compared to England, which had made itself a global market leader.

The Pirate Rabbi Pallache

While the trans-Atlantic trade was operating in full force, a different breed of slavers was pirating the Mediterranean Sea. Scouring the coastal towns of Italy, Spain, France, and sometimes even England and The Netherlands, they kidnapped and enslaved any able-bodied men, women, and children they could catch.

Even the Irish town of Baltimore and the South-England cities of Devon and Cornwall were frequented by these slavers. With success. Compared to the approximately four million African slaves that ended up being brought to the Americas, up to three million white European slaves also fell victim to the robbers who traded them on the markets of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers in North Africa.

Interestingly, these capital cities are now the main points of departure for migrants coming to Europe today. But back then, many of the captured whites ended up living out their whole lives as slaves and as property of predominantly Semitic owners.

One of the most powerful traders in this region sometimes referred to as the Barbary Coast was Samuel Pallache, an unscrupulous rabbi born in the city of Fez, Morocco. He was a merchant, weapons dealer, spy, pirate, and slaver in one. Contemporary Jewish author Edward Kritzler called Pallache the “pirate rabbi”, and he was one of many Jewish pirates that had made the Mediterranean their hunting ground ever since early Roman times.

At the age of thirteen, a white Dutch kid named Jan Dekker (1701-1754), was working as a cabin boy on his first trip out to sea when pirates off of the Barbary Coast captured his ship and all aboard. The captives were brought to the Moroccan harbor of Larache and sold as slaves while under constant physical abuse by black Moors. Jan was put to work in a royal Moroccan arms factory for 28 torturous years before he, finally, on the brink of starvation, was sent home.

White Christian slaves such as Jan Dekker were often ransomed for large sums of money in order to fund the North-African slave economy. European slaves, in general, were not treated well. Most of them were kept as galley slaves, chained to benches and oars for several decades, forced to help their pirate masters in search of greater profits.

Thousands died in chains or simply lost their minds. Others were dumped in overpopulated barns as though they were cattle, fed two pieces of dark bread a day, and barely any water, to weaken them to the point they could neither escape nor revolt. White slaves too old for work were sold off. The least fortunate among them were discarded in the deserts and died of thirst like old dogs.

Unlike North America, which today hosts a thriving population of Negroes, North Africa shows no trace of the millions of white people once enslaved there, suggesting that none survived.

White Men’s Call for Ending Slavery

Now we know who the first slavers were—Jews and Arabs—but then who were the first to call for an end to slavery? Few people know that the mostly Dutch-speaking Boer community of South Africa, the Afrikaners, were the first to call for the abolition of slavery.

The Boer made concrete plans to abolish both the slave trade and slave ownership. In the year 1803, when Mr. Jacob Uytenhage de Mist arrived as Dutch Commissioner to South Africa, and Jan Willem Janssens became the new governor-general, the practice of importing slaves was banned. Thereafter, slavery would be slowly abolished by giving each newborn slave child the status of a free citizen.

But the ruling British classes soon put an end to the early abolition of slavery, and by the year 1806, the English commanded slavery’s reinstatement and the continuation of the slave trade between England and South Africa. This may confuse some, for only a few years later, in 1815, it was Britain, still the global market leader in slavery, that pleaded for the abolition of slavery in the Treaty of Vienna.

What, then, had suddenly changed Britain’s attitude toward slavery between the years 1806 and 1815? Answer: The English had now captured enough black slaves to populate all of its colonies with home-grown black offspring, and subsequently no longer needed to capture any more slaves from its African territories. Britain could thus move to abolish the slave trade, namely to prevent other nations from harvesting cheap African laborers.

On July 1st, 1863, the colonial nation of Surinam announced the abolition of slavery, firing 21 cannon shots. European nations had begun attracting paid day laborers from India instead—people forced to pay for their own trip across the oceans, and willing to work under conditions even black slaves wouldn’t accept. As a result, ethnic conflicts broke out between the African and Indian populations in the European colonies, while plantation owners were taking profits.

It is worth noting that, today, Mexican immigrants are rapidly replacing African Americans as the go-to low-wage labor force for what is, still, a white and Jewish-owned U.S. economy. Now as then, the transition came about for economic reasons. White Democrats are much less concerned with the fate of black Americans than they are with the two-dollars-an-hour rate they pay their Peruvian nanny.

“White-Washing” History

In the end, when the Dutch colonies did finally free the black slaves, the Dutch government agreed to compensate their former owners. Taking ordinary citizens’ tax monies, the Dutch state paid each plantation owner several hundred guilders per freed slave (much more than the slaves were considered worth).

White Dutch taxpayers of the nineteenth century paid for the release of the black slaves in Surinam whose ancestors had once been captured and brought there by Jewish slavers. Perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement can take some time out from rioting to appreciate this fact, and kneel down in honor of ordinary white folk who paid for some of their ancestors’ freedom.

And more, perhaps we can stop pushing Critical Race Theory that continues to portray Jews as victims of white aggression rather than as the planners, perpetrators, financiers, and profiteers of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

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