The Return – Exits and Entrances

–My heritage, part six

The Dutch were eventually defeated  at Recife at the  hands of Portugal by which time  the price of sugar had fallen  substantially. The  Brazilian  industry would take years to recover. The Dutch West India Company had proved a bad investment. Plantations in Brazil had proved a bad investment. The General Company of Commerce of Brazil had proved investment because it had borne costs of the war. However the King of Portugal was able to celebrate that Brazil had been regained at no cost to the Crown.

With Portugal again in charge some  descendents of the 5,000 closet Jews in Brazil fled to the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. Peter Stuyvesant tried to stop them and  seized their money and imprisoned  two of them. He asked the Dutch West India Company for permission to expel the Jews but the Amsterdam Jewish community obtained a decision from them  that their fellow Jews could stay. The frustrated Governor continued to openly display  his undoubted antisemitic attitude towards them.  The Dutch colony was soon to be absorbed into the British American colony and New Amsterdam would become New York .Dutch imperial ambitions had been severely constrained.

Following the failure of the Brazilian project in 1654 Isaac  da Fonseca Aboab left Brazil and returned to Amsterdam rather than moving -as many Brazilian settlers did- to New Amsterdam. On his  return Isaac  renewed his  local community rivalry with Menassah. This acted as an incentive for Menasseh to seek  to move to England to put the English Channel between them. Menasseh finally  made  a visit to London in 1655. Oliver Cromwell could seriously seek to curry favor with influential  Sephardim now, with no loyalty to Spain and Portugal,  with the offer of another country for them to live in with religious freedom.  In return England  would benefit from both additional trade and  provision of military intelligence. The possibility of re-entry into England was very much on the table.

Menasseh approached these talks with a far more esoteric objective. In his 1650 book  “The Hope of Israel” he expresses his  excitement about  reports that New Christian explorer Antonio  Montezinos had discovered in Brazil one of the lost tribes of Israel – that of  Reuben. Menasseh  believed this discovery  presaged Jewry’s  return to Israel for the coming of the Messiah  which required, as a precursor, Jews to be  spread throughout the world.  In his view, readmission of Jews into England was an essential continuation of the spreading process. Millennial  Christians believed this too except that, for them, it would be the second coming of the Messiah.

Accompanying Menasseh to London was David Abrabanel aka Manoel Martines Dormido.  David’s  family claimed to be descended from Don Isaac Abrabanel, Don Isaac had advised   Kings of Portugal before fleeing to Spain where he then advised Isabel and Ferdinand. . Records  freely available today show several generations born in Amsterdam. so I would not be surprised if their claim were justified. David  came from Andalusia, then to France and then Amsterdam. His business activities were possibly  linked to the sugar related activities of  Mennasseh  Over the years he had supplied intelligence potentially useful to England for military purposes. By 1654 he already had a home in London.  In 1673 Clara Abrabanel married Joseph Cohen DE LARA whose family name of de Lara appears in my tree as the family name of an ancestor.

Another legal case assisted the process for readmission, Antonio Robles, in London – albeit born in Portugal and not Spain, had  his goods  seized. He petitioned  for relief with evidence given by  twenty London based Jewish families that he should not be treated as Spanish and Catholic but as a  Marrano refugee from the inquisition. He succeeds  and his goods are restored.

In1656 Menasseh ben Israel, David Abrabanel, Antonio Carvajal,  Abraham Cohen Gonsales, Jacob de Caceres, Abraham Israel de Brito and Isaac Lopes Chillon to Cromwell,  on behalf of all the Jewish families of the community, petitioned for  the freedom to fully practice their religion and to have their own burial grounds. Previously Cromwell had  allowed them to practice their religion but only in the privacy of their homes. By the end of the year they were given oral but not written permission to open a synagogue and to organize a burial ground. What more was there to wish for? It was with much rejoicing that a house purchased in Creechurch Lane in the City of London was put into use  as the community Synagogue and land in Stepney was bought to be Beth Haim –  the first burial ground.

Menasseh unfortunately did not live to see the full fruits of his efforts. He died believing that the results of the petition were  not really that  successful, meeting only worldly concerns. Disillusioned and with his only  surviving son dying,  he returned to Amsterdam where he also  soon passed away.

Polycarpo was very much enjoying life as part of the openly Jewish London   community. Then in 1658 some legal problems emerged that required special attention from him and which Carvajal tried to help  sort out. Polycarpo was the holder of  cash for the purchase  of fish by Antonio   ffernando  Carvajal and Antonio Rodrigues Morais and Jeronimo  and Raphael Rodrigues Morais  – a transaction also involving Jose Perera for Antonio Rodrigues de Oliveira , Jeronimo  and Raphael Rodrigues Lamego. Most of the parties bear  family names which are in my tree! I do not know whether or not Polycarpo  was at fault but I do know his attention was elsewhere!

If only I could peer into the mind of Polycarpo to find out why he  thought it might be worth his while to journey to Portugal and what a risk indeed  that proved to be ! On 9th June 1658  he was arrested by the “Inquisao de Coimbra” who proceeded to conduct the   “Processo de Policarpo de Oliveira”. That he was part of the reestablished   openly Jewish community in London ,was probably  well known to the Inquisition. Ironically with his given name of “Polycarpo”  being that of an early  Christian martyr perversely he was now  facing the definite possibility of dying a Jewish martyr.  In  the course of his  inquisition which took place in  Coimbra , his inquisitors sought  to establish all the names of his relatives and associates  and of  their Jewish practices whether or not they currently were  in Portugal or abroad. When I was in Coimbra amongst students celebrating their graduation I stood  outside the building now part of the University on a spot where  his screams would have been audible.


Clive Russell
Clive Russell
CLIVE currently serves as Joint President of Russell Business LLC (“RB”), which is the collective name for a community of synergistic and complementary activities and businesses encompassing the International Property Market. RB is engaged in business activities that combine cutting-edge structured finance and technology geared to maximize returns from various sectors, including residential and commercial property, hotels and energy-related assets. Over the years, Clive’s forte’ has been the ability to develop and/or identify “below the radar” concepts, strategies and opportunities ripe for leveraging and ultimate success.

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  1. Hi Clive,
    I hope you get this message as I believe we are related. Abraham and Simha are my 6th grandparents. They had four daughters, two of whom you mentioned, Esther and Leah, and the other two were Rebecca and child 5, Rachel. Rachel is my 5th grandmother. She married Benjamin Isaacs and their youngest son Lewis married his first cousin, Simelia, daughter of Leah and Lazarus Phillips. Rachel and Benjamin’s oldest son Abraham is my 4th grandfather.
    I was so interested to read your article!
    Thank you