JEWISH-AMERICAN HALL OF FAME • JEWISH MUSEUM IN CYBERSPACE
ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY AS CHRONICLED BY HISTORICAL MEDALS


 

Religious and racial bigotry in America was directed not only toward Jews but to other groups as well. North Carolina denied public office to all non-Protestants. Maryland banned non-Christians from holding public office or practicing law. Pennsylvania had laws preventing many business activities on the "Lord’s Day," i.e., on Sunday. These laws were passed despite the fact that much of the migration from Europe to North America in the seventeenth century took place because people were looking for more religious freedom. The Puritans and Pilgrims, for example, settled in the New World at least in part to pursue their own religious doctrines unfettered. Nevertheless, they showed marked hostility to other faiths, so much so that several religious groups were forced to establish their own doctrinal enclaves elsewhere. Many Baptists settled in Rhode Island and later moved to South Carolina, Quakers and Lutherans to Pennsylvania, Roman Catholics to Maryland, Anglicans to Virginia and Mormons ultimately to Utah. In most cases, the new settlers in turn forced out the established nations of Native American Indians, who had been living there for centuries (Weiss, 2012, 2013). The enormity of the issue of enslavement of African Americans and other Black Africans deserves a treatise of its own.

Some individuals of the period stand out as champions of religious liberty. Roger Williams, an early proponent for the separation of church and state, found he was unwelcome in the Massachusetts Colony because of his liberal religious beliefs. In 1636, he established the Colony of Rhode Island where a number of non Puritan colonists as well as others who believed in religious freedom joined him. His progressive attitudes regarding religious tolerance extended to Jews as well, for in 1658, the small colony of Newport, Rhode Island received its first Jewish residents, a group of fifteen families who emigrated from Barbados, where a Sephardi Jewish community had existed since the 1620s. Upon their arrival they formalized a new congregation in Newport (the second oldest Jewish congregation in America) calling themselves 'Yeshuat Israel'. It is now known as the Touro Synagogue; see medal below, issued by the Jewish-American Hall of Fame.

  Dreyfus Affair: General Auguste Mercier Medal
Figure 37A. Newport, Rhode Island Synagogue (aka Touro Synagogue)

Victor Ries, USA, 1977, Bronze struck medal, 49x47mm. (Image courtesy of Mel Wacks)

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