Special Taxation of the Jews

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Special Taxation of the Jews.



The system of imposing a separate tax upon Jews proposed in England in the year 1689 was already in force in the West Indian Colonies. It seems to have been first imposed in Barbados. There these taxes were levied in kind (so many pounds of sugar) for local purposes.1

In the case of Jamaica we have more precise accounts available. In that island we know that when fresh taxation was imposed in 1686 the question was put in the Legislative Assembly " Whether Jews that are shopkeepers as freeholders pay ?5 or ?3. Voted ?3." At this time, therefore, it appears that the impost took the form of a poll tax not unlike the special poll tax upon Jews in force in England in the years 1689-91; but in 1688 it took the more obnoxious form of a lump sum levied upon the Jewish community, for in March of that year an entry is disclosed, " Whether Jews pay ?200 or ?300. Voted ?200." 2 The next occasion was in 1693, after the earthquake, when an attack on the island by the French was feared. A sum of over ?4000 had to be raised, and of this the Jews were ordered to find ?750 (to be increased by another ?250 if not promptly paid), and twelve of their number were appointed to collect and pay over the money. At the end of the same year, when a sum of between nine and ten thousand pounds had to be provided, a further tax of ?1000 was laid upon the Jews.3 From this time forward the imposition of a tax of a lump sum (generally ?1000) upon the Jews in addition to the ordinary taxation became a regular feature of the Jamaican system of finance, and was the cause of continual complaints and petitions


1 Pub. American J. Hist. Soc, No. 19, pp. 173?4, giving accounts of the tax from 1666 to 1677.

2 Ibid., No. 18, p. 149.

3 Ibid., No. 5, pp. 87-89.

by the Jews until it was finally, after a prolonged constitutional struggle, brought to an end in the year 1741.4

There was similar legislation in the Bermuda islands, but it seems to have been administered with less harshness and did not give rise to such frequent complaints.5


The document placed before you, though it may and probably does reproduce the substance, is by no means an authentic copy of the petition itself, for both the preamble and the final prayer are omitted. We are not even told the names of the Petitioners, but as it was pre? sented on behalf of the Jewish community as a whole, we may assume that the Petitioners were the Parnassim of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue according to the precedents of 1664, 1674 and 1685.6 We are incidentally given a large amount of information concerning the community at that time?information the more reliable because it

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