Jewish Identity in a Slave Society: Suriname, 1660-1863


ACLS Fellowship Program


Judaic and Near Eastern Studies

Named Award

ACLS/NEH International and Area Studies Fellow named award


This project considers how Suriname’s Sephardim (Jews of Iberian origin) readjusted their definitions of communal belonging in a New World environment where people of African origin formed the majority and Jews enjoyed an extraordinary degree of self-determination and autonomy. There is evidence that enslaved women actively sought to bring their Eurafrican children, fathered by Sephardic masters, into the Jewish fold. Moreover, by the second half of the eighteenth century, the exponential growth of the mulatto Jewish class was principally due to unwed Eurafrican mothers. The transmission of Jewishness in Suriname’s Sephardic community thus became an increasingly matrilineal matter, endowing black, and especially mulatto women, with a pivotal role as determinants of community belonging.