By Paul Foer/JNS.org
MARLBOBO, N.Y.–The oldest Jewish site in North America is not Newport’s famed Touro Synagogue, or any other synagogue. Rather, it is a stone structure tucked away on the west side of the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of Manhattan.
Due to its multiple uses and inhabitants over the centuries, the Gomez Mill House–built in 1714 in Marlboro, NY–is one of the best-kept secrets in American Jewish history, and also holds a unique place in greater American history. With its 300th anniversary approaching, its story may very well become familiar to a much broader audience.
“Most Jewish visitors [to the Gomez Mill House] are surprised that the story is not about the Jewish religion or about being Jewish, but about the story of Jewish pioneering success in American and Jewish contribution to the founding of America,” says Ruth Abrahams–executive director of the Gomez Foundation for Mill House, a group of historic-minded citizens and descendants of the families that have owned the property–in an exclusive interview with JNS.org that serves as the first public announcement of the house’s tercentenary celebrations.
Luis Moses Gomez came to the Hudson Valley wilderness from Manhattan with two of his sons to expand his trading and commodities business. He built a trading post and a mill next to each other on a fast-flowing creek. Today, visitors can marvel at the original blockhouse trading post’s two-foot-thick stone walls and huge fireplaces at each end. While that original structure has been built up many times with oak floors, massive roof beams, a second story, and an attic, it’s not so much the building itself as what went on there throughout the generations that captivates visitor and historian alike.
Click photo to download. Caption: The mill, dam, and bridge at the historic Gomez Mill House. Credit: Paul Foer.
Gomez, born circa 1654, is believed to have been the grandson of Gomez de Salazar, Comptroller of the Treasury for Spain’s King Philip IV. His father, Isaac, also a royal adviser, was forced by the Inquisition to leave Spain and moved to France, where religious liberty was guaranteed through The Edict of Nantes. Gomez married in France and moved to London with his father and other members of the extended family. After his first wife died, he moved to Jamaica, where many Sephardic Jews had settled, and married his second wife. Five of his six sons eventually married women of the West Indies and lived in America.
Records show that Gomez–trader, merchant, and possibly ship owner–became quite wealthy, and by 1703 he paid taxes in New York City. Papers of “denizenship” granted from England’s Queen Anne in 1705 provided special privileges for him as a non-Christian resident of the colony, including that of owning land without an oath of allegiance to the Crown sworn in the name of …read more