This Week in History


"23 souls, big as well as little," arrive in North America

September 4, 1654

Early in September 1654, a group of Jews, described in the public records as "23 souls, big as well as little," arrived on the docks of the new world Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

We know about their arrival because on September 7, presumably quite soon after their arrival, the captain of their ship the St. Catherine sued them for the cost of their freight and food en route. Of the six names of this initial group mentioned in surviving court records, two were women. Historians have speculated that there may have been more women than men in this original group.

A number of Jewish traders had already found their way to the New World before September 1654, but the presence of women and children among the New Amsterdam 23 signaled that this group had come not merely to make their fortunes, but to make a home. Accordingly, later American Jews have dated the founding of the American Jewish community to the arrival of this group.

See also: "Still Lives" and the Women of the 23 Souls, Jewesses with Attitude.

Sources: Arnold Wiznitzer, "The Exodus from Brazil and Arrival in New Amsterdam of the Jewish Pilgrim Fathers, 1654," Publication of the American Jewish Historical Society, 44:1 (September, 1954): 80-97.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - "23 souls, big as well as little," arrive in North America." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.