CAYENNE or FRENCH GUIANA:
An island of South America, and a town of the same name situated on this island that lies at the mouth of the Cayenne or Oyaque river, in the Atlantic.
A band of Jews settled in Dutch Guiana as early as 1644. They were chiefly immigrants from Holland, who had arrived two years before from Amsterdam, under the lead of Isaac Aboab and Moses Raphael de Aguilar. After the capitulation of Recife Jan. 23, 1654, when all Dutch possessions in South America, excepting Dutch Guiana, were ceded to Portugal, the Jews having supported Holland in the struggle for supremacy (1623-54), were compelled to leave Brazil. Many of them returned to their native country, whither their conquerors accorded them a safe-conduct; others migrated to New York or the West Indies, and the majority of them, under the captainship of David Nassy, a native Brazilian and a cultured and influential man, settled at Cayenne, in French Guiana. The directors of the West India Company, alive to the possibilities of such a colony, and eager to encourage Jewish settlements everywhere, granted them, under date of Sept. 12, 1659, a most liberal Charter of Privileges ("Vrijheden onder Exemptien"), wherein freedom of thought, liberty of conscience, and political autonomy were vouchsafed to the new colonists headed by David Nassy, who was the accredited representative of the company. This document, one of the most remarkable in American Jewish history, numbers 18 paragraphs and has been published at various times (see bibliography). Attracted by these generous inducements, the colonists thrived, and encouraged their coreligionists in Holland and elsewhere to join them. In 1660 one hundred and fifty-two Jews of both sexes arrived from Leghorn, Italy (on the 9th of Ab = August), and among them was the famous poet, historian, and litterateur Don Miguel Levi de Barrios, who afterward visited the West Indies, where his wife Deborah died. The colony prospered for nearly five years, but owing to the constant wars between Holland and Portugal and to the frequent depredations of the French, the settlement was, on May 15, 1664, transferred to Surinam, Dutch Guiana, where it flourished for two centuries, with occasional interruptions. Among the "Articles and Conditions" of surrender, agreed upon and signed by the French and the Dutch, March 15, 1664, when the island was ceded to France, we read that the Jews stipulated, among other things, "that the expenses incurred by the patron (patroon) and individuals of the Hebrew colony shall be repaid them," and that they be given "the free and public exercise of their religion."
It was on the Ile du Diable, off the coast of Cayenne, that Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was imprisoned.
- Miguel Levi de Barrios, Govierno Popular Judayco, p. 28;
- Essai Historique sur la Colonie Surinam, ii. 113-122, Paramaribo, 1788;
- Geschieden Handelkundig Tafereel van de Bataafsehe West-Indische Colonien, ii. 41-42, 93-100, Amsterdam, 1802;
- Thomas Southey, Chronological History of the West Indies, ii. 49-50, London, 1827;
- H. J. Koenen, Geschiedenis der Joden in Nederland, pp. 283-284, 460-466, Utrecht, 1843;
- M. Kayserling, Sephardim, pp. 265-266, Berlin, 1859;
- Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, No. 2, pp. 94, 95, 99; No. 3, pp. 18, 104, 136-137; No. 4, p. 2;
- G. A. Kohut, in Simon Wolf's American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen, pp. 449, 454-455, Philadelphia, 1895. Full text of the Charter is given in the second, third, and fourth books in the above list.