Caribbean History: Remembering Jamaica’s Moses Delgado

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By David P. Rowe
CJ Contributor

Moses Delgado was as one of the leading businessmen in nineteenth century Jamaica as well as being a civil rights leader and pioneer in the commercial development of Kingston — and a major figure in the Jewish history of Jamaica.

Moses was born in London, England in 1789 and accompanied his parents as a child when they migrated to Jamaica in 1800.

His maternal grandfather had been the Chief Rabbi of the Bevis Marks Sephardic synagogue in London.

Initially, the family settled in Port Royal, which at the time had both a synagogue and a Jewish preparatory school, however the family moved after some time to the expanding Kingston the emerging commercial center of the island.

Moses was married at age 22 to Leah DePass from a Jewish family based in Port Royal. The couple had five children.

Leah died at the early age of 27 in 1818, and Moses remarried Marianne Nunes in Kingston in 1819. Moses had five children with Leah also, although one of these children died in infancy.

Moses was a merchant whose business was located on the waterfront in Kingston.

The name of his business was Moses Delgado and company. The business was very successful and he was known as a Merchant Prince of Kingston. Moses’ business provided colonial Jamaicans with dry goods and other products that were not previously available.

In the 1820s and 30s Moses acted as a lobbyist for the Jewish community in Jamaica petitioning the House of Assembly to give full civil rights to Jews including the right to vote and the right of Jews to serve in the House of Assembly.

In 1835, a Jew, Alexander Bravo was elected to the Colonial Assembly for Kingston.

Moses was also a very significant Mason. He rose to the positions of Senior Warden and Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Jamaica in 1828. Moses’ involvement in Masonry made him both politically significant and socially influential despite the prevailing anti -semitism of 19th century colonial Jamaica.

Moses became President of the Kaal Kadosh Shangar Hashamayim the Sephardic Synagogue of Kingston in 1829 and served as a director of that synagogue for a very long period, 1826 to 1842.

In recognition of Moses’ contribution he was awarded by the synagogue a magnificent silver tankard worth at the time of the gift 1000 guineas.

The tankard has an inscription that reads inter alia “presented to Moses Delgado Esq as a grateful testimony of the sense entertained by them of his manly and indefatigable zeal and honourable exertions in support of the rights and privileges which they have now the happiness to enjoy in common with all His Britannic Majesty’s Subjects.”

Moses was appointed as an Assistant Judge of Common Pleas for Kingston in 1835. He was also appointed a Treasurer of the City of Kingston in 1842.Moses died on July 18,1842 and is buried in the Orange Street Jewish Cemetery. His estate devoted his assets to the support of his widow and children. The tankard awarded to him is in the custody of the Synagogue in Jamaica, and is kept there in safekeeping for the Delgado family.

As a businessman, civil rights leader and religious leader Moses Delgado was one the most important Jamaicans of the nineteenth century. His efforts contributed to political change and constitutional change which eventually boiled over into the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

 

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