Enigmatic Judah Touro (1775-1854) was America's first genuine philanthropist. In his famous will, which contained 65 bequests, Touro left money to 15 Jewish congregations in 15 cities. During his lifetime he had provided the funds to rebuild the First Congregational Church of New Orleans and to build a free public library, the first such in the U.S.

 Early Facts


  Judah Touro    


  America's first

genuine Philanthropist

The following is a sampling of researched facts regarding Jews who have played a significant role in the development of America.

1.  Columbus' real name was "Cristobel Colon" - some historians believe he was a former Jew (his father fled to Italy and settled in Genoa in about 1390 - unsubstantiated).

2.  Columbus received a great deal of his information from Jewish voyagers and scientists before making his journey.

3.  The closest Jewish friends of Columbus and two of his greatest backers were two Marranos of Spain - both in high favor at the Court of Queen Isabella - Luis de Santangel, Chancellor of the Royal Household; and Gabriel Sanchez, Chief Treasurer of Aragon. Both saved their position and wealth by formal conversion to Catholicism during the Inquisition.

NOTE: Professor Herbert B. Adams, a great American historian has said, "Not Jewels but Jews were the real financial basis of the first expedition of Columbus."

4.  Abraham Zacuto, the learned astronomer, encouraged Columbus and provided the astronomical tables that guided the course Columbus steered.

5.  Luis de Santangel, (a Jew by birth) advisor to the Spanish throne, gave substantial sums of money to Columbus.

6.  Columbus studied the charts of Judah Cresques, an expert chart maker known as the "Map Jew," and used nautical instruments that had been invented by Levi Ben Gershon.

7.  Of the 120 men on the first voyage of Columbus, at least 5 were Jews by birth. Two were ship surgeons, 2 were seamen, and 1 was an adventurer who served both as a linguist and an interpreter.

8.  The first European to set foot in San Salvador in 1492, the first island reached by Columbus in the New World, was Luis de Torres, his interpreter and a Spaniard of Jewish origin.

9. Jews played a major role in the exploration and early settlements in the New World.

10.  In 1502, Queen Isabella issued her first license to trade in the New World to Juan Sanchez, a Marrano whose father was burned at the stake by the Inquisition.

11. The Inquisition persisted in the islands, as well as South America and North America.

12.  In Portuguese Brazil - New Christians or Marranos were trading in 1510. Recife and Bahia, Brazil's major coastal cities, were heavily Jewish. Sugar growing was introduced there in 1548 by Jewish planters from Madiera.

13.  In 1654, due to their persecution everywhere in the West Indies and Brazil, 23 penniless Dutch and Portuguese Jews arrived at the Dutch port of New Amsterdam, the first permanent Jewish settlement in America.

14.  Asser Levy was a respected businessman. He advanced the funds for the Lutherans to build their first church in New York (1660).

15. The wealthy Jews of New York were engaged in the fur trade as well as risky sea ventures and real estate. They supplied the incentive, capital and energy to bring the Port of New York to world prominence.

16.  In 1711 - 7 New York Jews contributed to the building of the steeple atop Trinity Church in New York.

17.  Heyman Levy, the largest fur trader in the colonies, helped open up wilderness lands that became Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Illinois. He was the first employer of John Jacob Astor, who was paid $1.00 a day for cleaning pelts.

18.  Roger Williams was a radical advocate of religious freedom and founded the colony of Rhode Island. In 1658, he founded Newport where he welcomed Jews. Newport prospered as did the Jews.