The Return – Exits and Entrances

–My heritage, part six

Polycarpo’s answers were examined by Inquisitors for  use in future prosecutions against other targets of theirs.. Even while giving Information  under torture or threat of torture  Polycarpo may have had the presence of mind to shape  replies  so as to mislead the Inquisition  about his relatives living in Portugal.  It is strange to contemplate  a scribe attended  Polycarpo’s inquisition  noting the questions, the torture employed and Polycarpo’s responses.

From the scribe’s records of this process via the book “At the end of the earth”, I  first learnt the  names of Poycarpo’s parents and that he had at least two siblings,  Jacob de Oliveira born in Vila Real  then living in Amsterdam and Antonio Luis Morais aka Abraham Rodrigues de Morais – both 8th great grandfathers of mine.

Antonio’s wife might  be a sibling of Polycarpo rather  than of Antonio himself but either way  Polycarpo now had close family back in  London in the form of António Rodrigues  de Morais who had made his exit from Rouen and was also  openly living  as a Jew ihere with his wife and their  many children. Whatever the verdict reached in his trial and any sentence given,  Polycarpo eventually was able to leave Portugal and return to join them to live in freedom in London. I  wonder if he paid a bribe  so substantial that it took much of his wealth.

The family were here in force but the family story is  about to  change from one involving  mega rich family members concluding mega-transactions after interaction with monarchs of either  Portugal, Spain  of France whilst risking death  and confiscation of their wealth because of the Inquisitions to one comprising far less elevated day to day activities but increasing religious freedom.

The Monarchy in the form of Charles ll was restored in England in 1660.  His marriage had been arranged with the help of Augustin Chacon Coronel who was to become  the first Jewish Knight. Augustin was descended from Abraham Senior who had been a financial  advisor to Ferdinand and Isabel  and who you may recall had chosen the option to convert in 1492 when aged over 80 with Ferdinand becoming  his godfather.

Partly  for this reason Charles was fairly  friendly towards the Jewish community.  Anti-Semite Thomas Violet who had helped Oliver Cromwell become rich via silver trading, now hoped to be able to  manipulate Charles and  create situations that would enable him to extort  money from Jewry.  When Thomas Violet came to  recognize that this expectation would never be fulfilled he  decided to commit suicide not wishing to face the future without Royal patronage.

The Jewish community decided to use the Amsterdam Synagogue as the model for religious organization  in London. In 1663  they set up the Mahamad – Overseers of the Jewish Synagogue. The first members were David Abrabanel  Dormido, Eliau de Lima and Moseh Baruh Louzada. To the former closet Jews this mundane task was a miracle some had not expected in their lifetime.

They  would still have some problems to tackle.  The Conventicle Act  in 1664 Act  banned  non – Church of England services and was aimed only at Catholics. Recognizing that it caught  Jewish services as well, the Earl of Berkshire tried to use this law in ways  that would enable him to extort advantages from Jewry. A timely  petition made by the Mahamad to Charles ll resolved the matter satisfactorily. That over Mahamad returned to  merely run the community.

Together with all of England,  Jewry faced the horror of the Great Plague raging in 1665 and 1666. Ancestor Abraham de Morais lost two of his  daughters. “Rahel filla de Abraham de  Morais” was the thirteenth burial on 10th April 1666  in the Bethahaim Velho cemetery to be followed soon with fifteenth burial on  13th April 1666 being of “Ester Filla de Abraham de Morais”. Abraham had “Filla”rather than “daughter” engraved on their tombstones because he was a member of a community considering  themselves to be Spanish and Portuguese  Jews. Those  two unfortunate Morais  girls together with fellow members of the community were part of the 15% of Londoners who fell victim to the Plague. This calamity was followed in  the next year by the Great  Fire of London in which some members of the community lost their homes.

Polycarpo now committed himself to working for the well being of the Jewish community. He decided that he should join the Mahamad so as to be at the centre of efforts to further strengthen the status of English Jewry Yet  another anti- semite emerged with the opposite aim in view ,Thomas Beaumont, who took out a  writ against Jewry for causing a “riot”. Polycarpo was there to defend his community against Beaumont  who had hoped to take advantage  of the woolliness in the wording of the verbal permission given by Charles to Jewry  to practice their religion.

After his experiences in Portugal this battle must have seemed tame. Polycarpo sent a petition to Charles II  on Feb 11 1673  on behalf of the community calling himself Abraham Delivera (alternative spelling of his family name) with Jacob Francomendis, Abraham de Porto and Domingo Fracio  as co signatories. It asked for clemency for the “crime”  of participating in what was not a riot but merely a religious service at the Synagogue. It was granted and that was that – for the time being!

In the positive atmosphere that now existed,  the community was able to continue to expand apace. With confidence in the future they decided in 1775  to rebuild  the Synagogue on the same site – large enough to accommodate 172 men and 84 women.

A few years later in 1680,  after the death of Charles ll,  the Mahamad did have to face another antisemitic  attack, spearheaded again by Thomas Beaumont. This time he took out writs against  48 Jews for failing under an old law to  attend church. This was resolved by a petition to the new king, James II sent  by  Polycarpo and others on behalf of the community  which happily  also achieved a successful outcome.

Polycarpo may have still been in business but only his community and personal matters have emerged during my research. All or most of his wealth may have disappeared with the crash in the Brazilian sugar industry , because of  the demise of The General Company of Commerce of Brazil or confiscated by the Inquisitors..

Five years later in 1885  Polycarpo successfully encourages his nephew, my ancestor, Abraham Lopes de Oliveira, to leave Amsterdam his birthplace in 1657 and move to London to live.

This Abraham is the son of “Jacob d’Oliveira” and his second wife, Ester de Oliveira.(born 1616). When Jacob ( widower of Rachel d’Oliveira) marries Ester in 1646 we learn that both bride and groom are from Vila Real in Northern Portugal.

Abraham is apprenticed as a young man to a master who teaches  him to be a skilled  engraver, silversmith and  goldsmith. In Amsterdam in those days Jews were excluded from membership of the Dutch guilds so, in order to be allowed the apprenticeship, Abraham has  to undertake to move abroad if he ever wishes to practice the skills he will acquire.

The story goes on that after Abraham emigrates  to London when, aged 28 and some years after completing his apprenticeship,  his first work is the routine task of cleaning the ceremonial silverware of the Synagogue.

I expected that he would be too busy making masterpieces. After he is famed today  as one of two leading silversmiths of Jewish religious objects of his age. How come then the Jewish Museum in London describes a “Rimmon” dated as made in 1716  as the earliest known example of his work. A Rimmon is  an ornament decorating a scroll which is  read in Synagogue each Sabbath during religious services.


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