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The Jews and Shipping[18]

While Curaçao's Jews had to vie with the WIC in international trade, they had the island's shipping sector essentially to themselves. In the earliest days, the WIC imposed some restrictions, aimed at protecting its trade monopoly; for example independent shippers in the eighteenth century needed the approval of both the WIC and the Dutch States General to conduct trade along the western coast of Africa and other WIC domains; otherwise they faced confiscation of both their ships and their merchandise.[19] Closer to home, however, the Jews found little competition apart from a few independent Dutch merchants.

If Curaçao's Jewish merchants quickly rose to dominate the island's shipping sector, there was solid historical precedent. From their first arrival in Amsterdam in 1581 the Jews had been active in shipping in this major European port; by the 1650s they had developed a well earned reputation as skilled seafarers. Just one year after the first group of Jews arrived on the island in 1651, they were using their own vessels to transport wares to and from markets around the region. By the early 1700s, almost all of Curaçao's shipping was in the hands of Jews, who by then owned over 200 boats. Already by 1721, "nearly all the navigation of Curaçao was in the hands of the Jews who even equipped the privateers,"[20] against the pirates.

Historically, Jews dominated all levels of Curaçao's shipping. On board, in addition to owning and captaining ships, they also served as clerks, bookkeepers and sometimes even sailors, although slaves and later free blacks usually manned the vessels (see below). Important Jewish families such as the Jesuruns and Maduros dominated ship building and controlled almost all the wharves, bunkering facilities and maritime insurance; later the same families became agents for international steamer lines. Shipping interests were closely linked to international trade, and the Jews' dominance of the former gave them an extra edge in the latter. As a testament to the importance of this sector, several old tombstones in the island's historic Jewish cemetery, Beth Haim, are engraved with a ship, particularly those of the Moreno family.

Throughout the eighteenth century schooners and sloops that were built, owned and operated by Curaçao's Jewish merchants crisscrossed the Caribbean. Jews owned most of the boats that conducted the contraband trade with South America, although they often rented them out. The crew was largely black: both freemen and slaves who were owned by Jews. Trade and dockside activities were often managed by the same firm. Most of the docks and storage houses were all privately owned. Government intervention was minimal; there were only government regulations concerning smuggling, loading/unloading hours, etc.

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