The Early Waves of Jewish Migration to Maryland
The state of Maryland is current home to over 235,000 self-identified Jewish
residents, making up over 4% of the total state population (JDB, 159). Today, Jewish
Marylanders live in an open, welcoming environment, but this was not always the case.
When the first Jewish settlers landed in St. Mary’s City, political equality was only a
hope for the distant future. The first wave of Jewish migration to Maryland was marked
by a trend of percolation rather then influx migration. Jews in the area practiced a quiet
observance rather then an open profession of faith. After the Revolutionary War,
urbanization increased and wave two of Jewish migration began. But it wasn’t until
1826, the year the “Jew Bill” was passed, and the begging of Wave 3 that Jews in
Maryland could truly experience political equality.
Migration Wave One:
The first record of Jewish settlement in colonial Maryland appears as early as the
1630’s. The individual who is credited as being the first Jewish colonist, a Portuguese
itinerant salesman named Mathias de Souse, is recorded to have moved to the area in
1633 (Schwartz-Kenvin, 130). De Souse’s arrival to the region marks the beginning of
the first wave of Jewish migration. This wave begins in 1633 and ends a decade before
the revolutionary war, in 1765. When comparing Jewish migration in the Chesapeake
region to migration patterns in surrounding areas, the lack of movement to the area best
defines this period. Large Jewish communities were forming in New York, Newport,
Savannah, and Charleston, yet Maryland remained relatively free of Jewish settlement.
On a local scale, Schaefersville and Lancaster, both prominent Jewish communities in
Pennsylvania, seemed to have little effect on any settlement found across the border in
Maryland. This suggests that there was either a deliberate avoidance of the area by Jews
or there was a strong absence of pubic avowal of the Jewish religion.
One factor that kept Jews from moving to the area was that in the 1630’s
Maryland was still made up of small farming communities. Traditionally, Jews tend to
live, both for religious and professional reasons, in urban areas. An observant Jewish
male is required to attend daily prayer sessions with twelve other Jewish men. In
addition, on Saturdays, all observant Jews must walk to synagogue to observe the
Sabbath. This geographic constraint is one factor that has lead Jews to traditionally live
in urban areas. These residential restraints have also lead to Jews traditionally working in
secondary and/or tertiary industries. It was very difficult to find work in these sectors in
Maryland in the late 1600’s because the region focused mostly on primary sector jobs due
to the low density settlement patterns.
There were many factors that shaped Jewish migration in the area that kept
settlement levels to a minimum but one major limiting factor in the area was...