Sir David Sassoon

Born: 1792, Baghdad, Mesopotamia (Iraq).
Died: 1864, Poona, India.

David Sassoon was born in 1792 in Baghdad into a family of Nasis, traditional leaders of the Jewish community settled in the city since the the twelfth century and bankers to the rulers of Mesopotamia. At that time the Jews were coming under pressure from the Muslim Turkish rulers of Baghdad. Fleeing a family with his wife and a small part of the family's wealth, Sassoon arrived in Bombay in 1833.

He started business in Bombay with a counting house and a small carpet godown. His business acumen soon made him one of the richest men in Bombay. He chose to follow the market, but he pursued all his enterprises better than his chief rivals, the Parsis. By the end of the 1850's it was said of him that "silver and gold, silks, gums and spices, opium and cotton, wool and wheat-- whatever moves over sea or land feels the hand or bears the mark of Sassoon and Company".

Although he did not speak English, he became a naturalised British citizen in 1853. He kept the dress and manners of the Baghdadi Jews, but allowed his sons to adopt English manners. His son Abdullah changed his name to Albert, moved to England, became a Baronet and married into the Rothschild family. All the Sassoons of Europe are descended from David.

He built a synagogue in the Fort and another in Bycullah, as well as a school, a Mechanics' Institute, a library, and a convalescent home in Pune. The Sassoon Docks in Colaba were built by his son.

David Sassoon was conscious of his role as a leader of the Jewish community in Bombay. The Bene Israeli and Cochin Jewish communities had almost been absorbed into the Indian society. He helped to arouse in them a sense of Jewish identity.

David Sassoon died in his country house in Pune in 1864.

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