Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History
Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried.
A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia.
According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the world,” was the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and amusement park ride.
Though today’s Jamaican Jewish population is fewer than 200, there are at least 21 Jewish burial grounds across the island, according to Travel and Leisure.
The trip to visit the graves of the Jewish pirates was organized by Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions (CVE), a non-profit that focuses on cultural preservation across the islands. The organization, established in 2007, promotes conservation of Jewish gravestones and has been transcribing epitaphs and compiling an inventory of Jewish grave sites. It works with New York-based architect Rachel Frankel to organize trips to the Caribbean.
Falmouth Heritage Walks in Falmouth, Jamaica — a hub for cruise lines — also offers tours of Jewish cemeteries, as does Anna Ruth Henriques, a descendant of “Jewmaicans,” through Jamaica Jewish Tours. Henriques launched the tour company in 2014 and offers customized itineraries that take tourists to iconic spots linked to the island’s Jewish identity. Tourists can also visit the once Jewish-owned Appleton rum distillery and the Serge Island, Good Hope and Hampden sugar plantations.
The first time Jews were recognized as a part of Jamaican cultural life was in 1655, when Britain took control of the island and welcomed Jewish immigrants, according to Travel and Leisure. Many worked as gold traders and sugar merchants, but some became thieving pirates.
Jamaica currently has one synagogue, called Shaare Shalom, adjacent to the Jewish Heritage Center, which houses exhibits connected to the island’s Jewish heritage.