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The First Conversos in Latin America. Evidence that members of Columbus’ crew were conversos. One member, Luis de Torres, has been identified (Alice B. Gould) After 1509, imprisoned conversos could go to the New World rather than serve their terms

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The First Conversos in Latin America

  • Evidence that members of Columbus’ crew were conversos. One member, Luis de Torres, has been identified (Alice B. Gould)

  • After 1509, imprisoned conversos could go to the New World rather than serve their terms

  • After 1518 Charles V did not want criminals or conversos to travel there.

  • The Carvajal family, which occupied positions of authority in the Cape Verde islands, was appointed governor of New Spain (Mexico). Luis de Carvajal was arrested by the Inquisition there in 1589 because he had not denounced his niece as a judaizer, and was stripped of his authority and sent into exile where he died. In contrast, several relatives of Carvajal were burned at the stake. This family was atypical because it was linked to a politician of high stature, one who made him very visible.


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Portuguese Conversos

  • After expulsion of Jews in Spain in 1492, most went to Portugal.

  • Gaspar de Gama accompanied Pedro Cabral who discovered Brazil in 1500. De Gama had been forcibly converted.

  • After 1497 most conversos who made their way to the New World were also Portuguese or had lived there. Many made their way from Brazil to other parts of Latin America.

  • Most were more recent converts to Christianity.

  • By 1624 about 50,000 Europeans in Brazil


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How did the Portuguese get to Spanish Colonies?

  • Easier to go south than west

  • Only the coast of Brazil had been settled by the Portuguese, but you could easily go south by the Rio de la Plata and reach either Buenos Aires or go up river and head for Bolivia or Uruguay

  • No inquisition in Buenos Aires—Crown wanted it in 1610 but not carried out, nor were Jews expelled from the region.

  • Pope exempted Portuguese conversos in the New World from the Inquisition, which lasted until 1639, especially in Peru. Then the newly separated Spanish government used the Inquisition to control Jews and confiscate their wealth



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Brazil and the Babylonian Captivity

  • Between 1580 and 1640 the King of Spain also ruled Portugal and its colonies

  • Era called the “Babylonian Captivity”

  • Portugal’s relatively weak position offered opportunities for Protestant countries to attack its colonies

  • Also enabled crypto Jews to escape Portugal and head to Brazil, and for those already in Brazil to celebrate their faith under the Dutch

  • Dutch arrived in 1600 and constructed wooden forts and 24 years later arrived in Salvador de Bahia, the capital of early colonial Brazil, but the Portuguese managed to push them out




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The Second Dutch Effort to Capture Brazil

  • In 1629, the Dutch attacked the heart of the Brazilian sugar industry in northern Brazil—Pernambuco

  • Within 10 years they controlled most of the northern coast of Brazil although the Portuguese always mounted attacks to push the Dutch back. The area conquered by the Dutch was called Nieuw Holland, ruled by Johan Maurits, count of Nassau

  • In order to gain more support for his colony, he offered religious toleration to crypto-Jews and Catholics.



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Jews in Pernambuco

  • Jews established a Sephardic synagogue. Kahal Zur Israel(Rock of Israel) in Recife.

  • By mid-17th century, Pernambuco’s Jewish population supposedly outnumbered that of Amsterdam, the center of Sephardic Jewry in the diaspora.

  • They remained there until Portugal recaptured Pernambuco in 1654.

  • Many involved in the sugar industry-6 of 166 sugar mills owned by Jews.

  • Also involved in the African slave trade.

  • At height, about 1500 Jews in Brazil.


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The Meanings of Jewish Toleration in Colonial Brazil

  • The position of the Dutch government in Pernambuco did not imply an acceptance of Judaism or increased toleration of non-Calvinist groups

  • Toleration functioned as it did in Spain before 1492—a matter of practicality

  • Dutch Jews were the only inhabitance of Holland who spoke both Portuguese and Dutch—critical for trade and industry there

  • Economic problems in the Dutch West India Company led it to turn over key retail trading and supply of credit to planters to Jews, while the company controlled the slave trade.

  • When the Portuguese regained Pernambuco in 1645, Jews lost lots of money lent to planters—by then, more than 1450 Jews in Pernambuco.

  • Within Portuguese world, certain views of toleration also existed—examples of pragmatic relationships with the Jewish community in Portugal interrupted by persecution for political reasons.

  • Also a belief in the Spanish and Portuguese worlds of “salvation each according to his own law” often overlooked by the zealous nature of the Inquisition.

  • Even among the Portuguese and Catholics, including priests, evidence exists that the Portuguese tolerated cross-religious and cross-cultural contact in Northern Brazil

  • Away from Pernambuco, interfaith marriages occurred between Catholics and Protestants

  • When the Governor General of Dutch Brazil departed in 1641, many Portuguese and even slaves cried.


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The Fate of Those Who Returned to Portugal

  • Some, but not all, became victims of the Inquisition.

  • Isaac de Castro burned at the stake because he converted Conversos back to Judaism 1647.

  • 1773 royal decree protected all Portuguese conversos from the Inquisition.


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Conversos in Other Parts of the Americas

  • Conversos found in many other parts of South America including Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico.

  • The proximity of the Inquisition determined their safety. The strongest and most active Inquisition centers were Mexico and Lima, Peru.

  • Small pockets of conversos and/or Jews could be found, and persisted, in rural or small towns, rather than large cities.


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