Levy was an Ashkenazi Jew who arrived in Amsterdam in 1654, weeks before Sephardic Jews arrived from Brazil. He was a "sworn butcher" and was also involved in trade.
Episodes from the life of Asser Levy appear in the records of both the NYC Municipal Archives and the City of Amsterdam Archives. A selection of episodes is excerpted below.
As you read about Asser Levy, consider the following questions, then post your reactions in the comments on our blog:
- Levy, like most residents of New Amsterdam, is involved in a variety of cases before the Court of Burgomasters and Schepens. How would you describe Levy’s involvement in these different cases?
- What do these cases tell us about Asser Levy’s early business activities?
- Compare Levy’s voluntary contribution of October 1655 to his pledge in February 1664. To what extent can these records be used to evaluate Levy’s success during his first decade in New Amsterdam?
Asser Levy is in court to demand repayment of a loan made in Jamaica to Ricke Nounes. Levy claims to have lent her 8.5 pieces of eight and 15 guilders for a waistcoat and other items. Nounes acknowledgesthat she and her husband owe Levy, but claims she also lent Levy money for freight, so that the balance due is less than that specified by him. Levy rejects this account. The court refers the parties to arbitrators to settle the dispute.
Solomon Pietersen, attorney for Rycke Nounes, demands repayment of a loan of 105.18 guilders from Levy, which Nounes lent him to pay for his freight from the West Indies. Levy claims he is not bound to pay, and also that he is unable to pay. The court finds for Nounes, ordering Levy to pay the sum or otherwise come to some agreement with Pietersen within 14 days.
Director General Peter Stuyvesant summons a group of inhabitants to court for their “voluntary contribution and taxation” as authorized by a Resolution adopted at the Fort. Asser Levy’s tax amount is 6 guilders. Jacob Barsimon, another Jewish resident of New Amsterdam, is assessed at the same amount.
Asser Levy is involved in business on behalf of a client, Abraham Cohen of Amsterdam. Cohen lends 1,625 guilders to the Pluviers, a newly arrived married couple in New Amsterdam. Once they have sold enough beavers, Levy will see that they repay their debt to Cohen.
Cornelis Jansen Pluvier, burgher and inhabitant of the city, acknowledges and declares to be well and truly indebted unto “Asser Levy, a Jew, co-burgher and inhabitant here,” for the sum of 1625 guilders and 20 stivers. Pluvier pledges his house and lot on Heere Street near the City Wall.
Click here to read a translation of the mortgage. From The Early History of the Jews in New York, 1654-1664: Some New Matter on the Subject by Samuel Oppenheim (1909).
Levy is back in Amsterdam for a short time, where he gets into a financial conflict with a few other Ashkenazi Jews. Alexander Pollac, according to this attestation, has a debt with Compris Pos, while Levy has to repay 120 rijksdaalders to Pollac. Levy proposes to subtract the amounts from each other, but Pollac doesn’t agree.
Levy brings a case against Frans Janzen van Hooghten, alleging that he failed to complete construction of a house Levy rents from Wessel Eversen the Fisher. Van Hooghten claims that there was no deadline, and moreover he is waiting on roofing materials, but Levy asserts that the roof is long finished and that van Hooghten has just gone on to other projects. The court orders van Hooghten to finish the house immediately.
A group of 100 burghers and residents agree to make a loan to the city for the colony’s defense from the English, in exchange for the Director General and Council giving over the excise on beer and wine. It is specified that the loan must be repaid at 10% interest within five years. Asser Levy pledges 100 guilders for the loan.