Published On: Thu, Jul 6th, 2017

Family discord (2): The Jews of Statia and the American Revolution

dekker_0Just over one hundred years later, in 1776, the devil himself arrived on the Golden Rock in the shape of British Admiral Sir George Rodney.

Earlier that year, eighteen ships heavily laden with provisions and ammunition from Statia, ran the British blockade and reached rebel ports in revolting North America colonies. The British were furious.

When a small American Brig, the Andrew Doria, flying the Grand Union Flag, arrived in Statia’s Harbor, November 16, 1776, Statia was propelled into an international conflict.

Isaiah Robinson, Captain of the Andrew Doria, was looking to buy gunpowder and military supplies for the Continental army.  The Andrew Doria, fired a thirteen-gun salute, upon arrival at Statia, one for each former British American Colony.  According to protocol, Governor Johannes de Graff ordered an eleven-gun reply. Thus, Statia fired the first salute of international recognition of the American rebel government in the British colonies, a salute that echoed around the world.

When British Admiral Sir George Rodney received word of this historic salute, supposedly, he bellowed,  “The Cup offered by the Dutch was already brim full; this last insult caused its running over."  The British declared War on Holland, on December 20, 1780.

Admiral Rodney arrived on February 7, 1781, with fifteen British Ships of the Line, with over 1,000 guns. Note: A ship-of-the-line was a type of naval warship constructed for line battles at sea.

‘Rodney’s Armada was followed by support ships, five frigates, and smaller craft transporting 3,000 ground troops. The Dutch garrison of Ft. Oranje of only 61 men, surrendered. The British captured almost 200 ships in the port, the warehouse stores along the waterfront and the most of the population.’

The wealth that Admiral Rodney stripped from Statia was more than 15,000,000 pounds, an incredible sum. Admiral Rodney, who was entitled to a share of the loot,  pilfered the lucrative trading port.

As if that’s not enough, Rodney ransacked the Jewish quarters. ‘When noticing that the people were heavily dressed, he ordered slicing pockets and hems of their coats.’ The Jewish townsmen had sewn coins into the inseams of their clothing.

Rodney hated Jews in general and particularly those, he found on Eustatius, as reported in his log. "They (the Jews of St. Eustatius) cannot too soon be taken care of - they are notorious for the cause of America and France."

‘Rodney arrested 101 adult Jewish males, brutally locking them up in warehouses without food and water for days. He also deported the heads of over thirty Jewish families to neighboring Islands. From the Jews alone, Rodney confiscated over 8,000 pounds sterling, an enormous sum.’ That amount did not include Jewish goods, ships, and property. Rodney made sure to impoverish the Jews. Jews were easy prey; they had no army, no navy.

Admiral Sir George Rodney victoriously destroyed the synagogue and burned Jewish warehouses, homes and the property. Jewish graves were dug up when some tried hiding their wealth and possessions in the cemetery.

The Admiral happily wrote to his family “with promises of a new London home. To his daughter he promised, the best harpsichord money can purchase. He confidently wrote of a marriage settlement for one of his sons and soon to be purchased a commission in the foot guards for another son. He wrote of a dowry for his daughter to marry the Earl of Oxford. He noted he would have enough to pay off the young prospective bridegroom’s debts.”

Rodney’s orders were to destroy the supply depot of St. Eustatius. He was to return north to aid the British forces fighting the American Revolutionary armies. Those orders were ignored.

Almost two months after he captured St. Eustatius, Rodney diverted a significant part of his fleet to carry his fortune from Statia back to England. The delay cost the British the war. The war was lost, and the American Revolution prevailed.

Ironically, the Jews of St. Eustatius, lost to the anti-Semitic greed and hatred of a British Admiral, helped win the American Revolution.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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