CARIBBEAN JUDAICA – Manuscript letter signed ("Jb d Castro" and "David Cohen Henriq"), to Victor Hugues Special Agent of the Executive Directory on the Windward Islands, Curaçao, 8 September 1798.
In French, two pages, 391 x 240mm, (marginal chips and tears mostly clear of text, minor separations at some fold intersections).
A remarkable and early expression of Jewish defiance in the face of anti-Semitism in the late eighteenth century Caribbean. An eloquent letter from two Jewish merchants of Curaçao, strongly protesting the insulting remarks of a representative of the French National Assembly challenging Jewish loyalty to the Batavian Republic (and the French Revolution in general). Following the French invasion of the Dutch Republic in 1795, the new Batavian government prohibited merchants in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao from trading with Great Britain. Several Jewish merchants of Curaçao remonstrated by asserting their loyalty to the House of Orange and their opposition to both the Batavian and French Republic. The French representative to the Caribbean, Victor Hugues, responded to these slights in a letter which contained the line (among others): “We shall then see if those who conquered Europe and merit universal trust shall be insulted by that vile Jewish rabble, the scum of the entire people and universally despised.” The letter soon entered general circulation, prompting an immediate remonstrance from the island's governor attesting to the importance and loyalty of Curaçao's Jewish community. Several weeks later, Jacob de Castro and David Cohen Henriquez, two of the elders of the Jewish congregation of Curaçao, wrote their own response to Hugues, deftly leveraging the ideals of the French Revolution against him. The letter reads (translated):
"With regret, we see ourselves obliged to send you this letter in the name of the Jews spread around the universe to show our rightful resentment about the scandalous epithet that you have believed authorized to apply to them in a letter that circulates here under your name, and we can hardly recognize it as coming from you because of the anti-Republican feelings that it contains on this subject. You treat the Jews as the scum of all nations, feelings very much contrary to the principles of a nation of which you have the honor to be the representative, the conquering friend of liberty and equality which it has established everywhere its invincible arms triumphed and that has so wisely destroyed fanaticism, the scourge of the universe and preserve of the intolerant. Have you considered, citizen, that by using an expression so general you have offended your sovereign, the French people? [...] And who is the vile informer who has defamed us in front of you? Is it not in the interest of the Jews to devote themselves to a nation that prides itself on rendering men equal without distinguishing between religions? Because is one really more man, more citizen, worthier of consideration for having a particular belief? Isn’t it more in our interest, we say, to love and cherish a nation that promises us the end of our sufferings, and to abolish vexations unjustly born? [...] Thanks to great men! Thanks to high spirits! whom we have viewed differently from you as we reward and recognize a people which far from being the riff-raff of all nations has always, wherever it was admitted, contributed to public welfare, although without daring to raise their head under the yoke of despotism, has nonetheless produced great patriots, worthy of public confidence, and evidence of that fact are the eminent places that the citizens Lemon & Bromet occupy in the Batavian Convention, members of the nation that you denigrate. That could have sufficed for us and convinced us that entire nations renounce your feelings, but desiring to know who has so disgracefully abused his influence on you, we wish to see revealed that troubled man who disturbs the peace. Because if he loved the truth, if he were endowed with republican patriotic sentiments, he would never have let a people being collectively attacked which, as the attached declaration of our government makes clear, and we believe to be persuaded [?], wherever it has found itself since the Revolution has only given unequivocal proof of its peaceful sentiments and has shown how much it has wished, at the expense of it needs, to maintain its government."
The letter is the subject of a forthcoming article by Wim Klooster of Clark University to be published in Studia Rosenthaliana, and is the source of the above translation.