Nassy, David de Isaac Cohen

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NASSY, DAVID DE ISAAC COHEN (late 18th century), Caribbean physician, Jewish community leader, and publicist. Nassy, born in Surinam into its leading Sephardi family, was a descendant of David Nassy, who had founded the Jewish community there in 1664. The younger David first appears in 1785 as a signatory to a petition for a college of letters in Surinam. Shortly thereafter he became president of the Regenten (board) of the local Jewish community, and in this capacity was the first signatory of a communication to the German Christian advocate of Jewish rights, Christian Wilhelm von *Dohm. At the latter's request, Nassy played a leading role in compiling Essai historique sur la Colonie de Surinam (2 vols., Paramaribo, 1788), a record of the Jewish role in the history of the colony. Restrictions on Jewish freedom led him to St. Thomas for a time and subsequently to Philadelphia (1792), where he was the first Jewish physician to practice in that city. An outbreak of yellow fever the following year brought him into conflict with his foremost colleague, Dr. Benjamin Rush, over diagnosis and treatment. Nassy published his findings in Observations on the Cause, Nature, and Treatment of the Epidemic Disorder Prevalent in Philadelphia (1793), in which he pointed out his success in losing only 19 patients (11 of whom had already received Rush's treatment) out of 117 afflicted. Nassy's scientific work earned him election to the American Philosophical Society. In 1795 he returned to Surinam, where he went into business. Three years later he published Lettre Politico-Theologico-Morale sur les Juifs (1798?) with a Dutch translation, supporting the emancipation of Dutch Jewry.


Rosenbloom, Biogr Dict; J.L. Blau and S.W. Baron (eds.), Jews of the United States, 2 (1963), 459–64; ajhsp, 22 (1914), 25–38; H. Bloch, in: Journal of American Medical Association (Feb. 10, 1969).

[Malcolm H. Stern]