Hispanic Division: Back to Whaling in Southeastern New England

Jewish Congregation in Colonial Newport, Rhode Island

Portuguese settlement in southeastern New England can be traced to Newport, Rhode Island, during the colonial period. In the 1650s, several Portuguese Jews moved to Newport from New York City, after seeking refuge in Holland and then Recife, Brazil, when the Dutch had control of that area. These exiles were joined by ninety Jews from Curaçao in the last decade of the seventeenth century and others directly from Portugal during the first half of the eighteenth century.

Among the latter immigrants was Aaron Lopez, who was born in Lisbon in 1731. He settled in Newport in 1752 and seven years later helped to construct the Touro Synagogue, the oldest extant synagogue in the United States. In addition, he and his associates introduced the sperm-oil industry to America. He built his own fleet of whalers and merchantmen that sailed the Atlantic searching for whales.

The busy and prosperous port of Newport is depicted on a Revolutionary War era map. Lopez's wharf is identified near the center of the harbor area, and the synagogue is marked with the letter "K".
A Plan of the Town of Newport in Rhode Island
Charles Blaskowitz. A Plan of the Town of Newport in Rhode Island. London: Faden, 1777. Hand-colored engraving. Geography and Map Division, G3774 .N4 1777 .B5 Am 6-5 (9).

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