A short history

By Jeffery Henriques

By the end of the first century A. D. there were Jews all around the
Mediterranean Sea and with the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the persecution of the Jews began. In the Iberian Peninsula the Visigoths pushed out Roman rule in the 6th and 7th centuries and were converted to Christianity at the same time. In the late eighth century the Mohammedans (Moors, Muslims) invaded Spain from North Africa and defeated the Visigoth kings driving them almost entirely out of what is now Spain and Portugal. The Jews of Spain flowered under Moorish-rule. Because of their shared religious heritage, Jews served a valuable role as cultural intermediaries between Moslems and Christians. Many rose to high places under their Mohammedan rulers; many became very rich and powerful; others became poets and physicians. In fact, medicine in Spain during the Middle Ages was entirely in the hands of Jewish physicians.

As the Middle Ages were ending, the Crusades were beginning and things took a turn for the worst for the Spanish Jews. First, the Christian kingdoms of Aragon and Castile began to reconquer the peninsula bringing the zeal and intolerance of the Christian faith of that time. The bubonic plague was sweeping across Europe at the time and the rulers needed a scapegoat upon whom to blame this disaster. The Jews were accused, among other things, of poisoning wells to bring on the black plague. Since most of the physicians were Jewish and helpless against this unknown onslaught, they and the rest of the Jews took the blame for the thousands of deaths from this dreaded disease. There is no indication from historical records that the Jews survived the black plague any better than their Christian brethren. It was also fashionable at the time -- and for several centuries thereafter -- to accuse the Jews of kidnapping Christian children and sacrificing them in some sort of "black mass". In Spain, this gathering resentment against the Jews -- no doubt exacerbated because the Jews were rich and controlled commerce and banking -- burst into flame with a massacre of four thousand Jews in Seville in June of 1391 followed by similar pogroms in Barcelona and other Spanish cities. Throughout the Iberian peninsula, Jews were given the choice of death or conversion. Castille in particular was rocked by anti-Jewish rioting that rampaged across the kingdom. When order was restored one year later, it was estimated that 100,000 Jews had been killed, another 100,000 had converted to Christianity, and another 100,000 had survived by going into hiding or fleeing to Muslim lands. (J.S. Gerber, (1992), The Jews of Spain , New York: Free Press)

While some conversos accepted Christianity (some even became zealous anti-semitics), there was a significant minority of "New Christians" the Marranos, who continued to practice Judaism secretly. Once these Jews converted they were able to assume positions of wealth and power that had been denied them by the Christian authorities. While the church at first did not distinguish between Old and New Christians, this rapid economic ascension bred resentment amongst the "Old Christian" populace. In 1469, Ferdinand and Isabella were married, and at first they protected and supported the Jewish population. However, they also took their religious responsibilities quite seriously and were disturbed by rumors of Judaizing amongst the converso population. The royal couple instituted the Spanish Inquisition, which began operating in 1481 with an auto-da-fé in Seville in which dozens of conversos were burned at the stake. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 30,000 conversos were killed before the century ended.

In 1492 an event occurred which sealed the fate of the Spanish Jews and it wasn't Columbus discovering America. Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada and completed the reconquest of Spain. In March of 1492, the royal couple issued a decree ordering all Jews to depart from Spain by the end of July. It is unclear what exactly motivated the expulsion. Some have argued that Ferdinand was motivated by economic reasons: He had borrowed heavily from Jewish lenders to pay for the reconquest of Granada and the expulsion allowed him to renege on his debt while at the same time confiscating Jewish property. Ferdinand even decreed that the special taxes the Jews had been forced to pay should be prepaid prior to the expulsion for the next several years, also all debts due to Jews were transferred to the crown. Others have argued that the royal couple was pressured by their religious advisors to issue the decree.

The major problem facing the Sephardim was finding a country to emigrate. England and France had banished their Jewish populations in previous centuries. Many German towns had expelled Jews or destroyed their communities in the hysteria surrounding the Black Plague, and most of Italy refused to accept the refugees. Most of the Jews from Castile, about 120,000, set off for Portugal. There King John II allowed them a temporary entrance permit in return for a hefty sum. Those who could not pay for the permit were sold off into slavery, and in the end 600 affluent families were permitted to remain in the kingdom. At the end of the eight months, the king changed his mind about giving the rest passage and gave them the choice of conversion or being handed over as slaves. In a further act of cruelty, the king ordered many of the children of parents who refused to convert sent to the virtually uninhabited island of So Tomé, where they perished.

In 1495, John's death provided a short lived relief to the conversionist pressures. His successor, Manuel I ordered all enslaved Jews freed. However, Manuel wished to ally himself with Spain by marrying Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter. As a precondition to the marriage, Ferdinand and Isabella wanted the Jews expelled from Portugal. On December 5, 1496, Manuel issued a decree of expulsion that gave the Jews until the end of 1497 to leave. On a practical level, Manuel did not want the Jews to leave because there would be no middle class left after the expulsion. Manuel's solution was to try and eliminate Judaism without eliminating the Jews, i.e., forcing all of Portugal's Jews to convert. During Passover of 1497, he ordered that all children between the ages of four and fourteen be seized and converted. Furthermore, these children were to remain separated from their parents until their parents had converted. Jews who wished to leave Portugal were told they could only leave from Lisbon. Upon arriving in Lisbon, these Jews found that their children too were taken away, and there were no boats waiting to take them into exile. Instead an army of priests awaited them; the Jews were dragged off and baptized en masse. Thus, the decree of expulsion was no longer necessary because all Portugal's Jews were now Christians. I would not be surprised that this was the time our ancestors took the name Henriques, which in Portuguese means the son of Henry.

Manuel agreed not to inquire into their religious practices for the next twenty years so that they could adjust to their new identities. Manuel's unfounded hope was that over time the former Jewish population would forget their old religion and become stalwarts in "our holy faith". The fact was that Portugal's Jewish population had entered Portugal in the first place because they wished to avoid conversion in Spain, and they remained a Jewish community in spite of their baptisms. As in Spain, conversion allowed Jews to rise to prominence, and this breed resentment among the populace. In 1506, two Dominican friars led a mob that killed more than 2000 New Christians in Lisbon. In response to pleas from the survivors, the king allowed the Marranos to emigrate, and many did to Jewish communities around the Mediterranean until the ban on emigration was reinstated in 1521. This was when Manuel's son, John III, succeeded to the throne.

John III was quite different from his father. He is portrayed in most histories as a religious fanatic who was on a holy mission to purge his nation from the stain of backsliding Judaizers. There is some evidence, however, that the reactionary. John was more interested in eliminating the middle class or which the vast majority of the Marranos were members. In any event beginning around the time of his accession to the Portuguese throne, John began a campaign to establish an Inquisition in Portugal patterned after the Spanish model. The grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella pursued his goal zealously trying to obtain the Pope's permission to set up an Inquisition under his control. The Marranos fought back at the Papal court in Rome and by means of entreaty, propaganda and bribes managed to hold off the effective establishment of the Inquisition for almost 20 years. In the end, however, intolerance and greed triumphed, and the first Portuguese auto-da-fé was held in Lisbon in 1540. The struggle to establish the Portuguese inquisition is narrated in Herculano's book "The origins and establishment of the inquisition in Portugal" a fascinating but overly long tale of intrigue and deception.

"Over time, a new religion, neither wholly Jewish nor wholly Catholic, evolved among the secret Jews of Portugal. It was a belief that combined secrecy with fear, partial memory with substantial loss. Its observances included much fasting, abbreviated prayers in which only one Hebrew word ("Adonai," or God) was retained, shortened festivals that could be covertly observed at home, and a special set of rituals reserved primarily for women. The forced converts would remain courageously loyal to this new faith even in extremis, as is evident from literally tens of thousands on Inquisition dossiers.

Although the Marranos were explicitly proscribed from emigrating after 1521, many of them escaped Portugal during John's reign and thereafter. The trickle became a flood after 1540 as all the crypto-Jews that could bribed their way out of Portugal. During the 16th century - in 1580 to be exact - the Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms were united under one ruler and the Dutch broke away from their Spanish rulers and set up an independent state which is now the Netherlands. Since many of the Marranos engaged in commerce with the Low Countries, they had reason to travel there on business--and many of them took advantage of the opportunity to escape Portugal and settle in the tolerant new Dutch republic. I would not be surprised if that was the route our ancestors took to leave since we know that there were Henriqueses on the rolls of the Jewish synagogue in Amsterdam (founded 1598) in the early 17th century. The earliest reference to a Henriques that I can find is the record of the marriage between Ines Henriquez and Emanuel Sanchez in 1613. Note. D. Verdooner & H. Snel in Trouwen in mokum [Jewish marriage in Amsterdam 1598-1811] used uniform spelling rather than list all variants found in the civic records.

Other Henriques Families of the New World
We can only surmise how our forefathers reached the
New World. The most probable path is from Portugal to Holland to England to Jamaica to New York with many peregrinations back and forth across the Atlantic. The Jews returned to England in the mid-17th century during the time of Cromwell and the London synagogue at Bevis Marks was established late in that century. Among the signatures to the Ascamot (or code of laws) for the Bevis Marks synagogue of 1677 is a P. Henriques, el Moco (junior). The earliest listing of the members of Bevis Marks dates back to 1682 (5442) and includes eight Henriquez. Among them: Abraham Mz. Henriquez, Jaacob Israel Henriquez, Jaacob Bueno Henriquez, and Joseph Henriquez (junior). There are also records of a prominent Jewish family named Henriques in Curacao Dutch West Indies, in the 1700's. In the "New York Public Library there is a book - in Danish, no less - called "Stamlaven Henriques" by a man named Margolinsky which traces the ancestry of Henriqueses of Scandinavia and Germany back to Portugal. As the reader might be starting to suspect, the name Henriques is fairly common amongst Sephardic Jews, and this is one of the difficulties we face in trying to trace our ancestors. Civic marriage records from Amsterdam between 1598 and 1811 list well over 200 Henriqueses. The name Henriques appears throughout Sephardic communities in the New World. A baker named Jacob Cohen Henriques is mentioned among petitioners for a Jewish cemetery in New Amsterdam in 1655. Issac Nunes Henriques came to Georgia in 1733 with his family, including his wife Abigail Nunes and son Shem., and they were amongst the first Jewish settlers in that colony. England allowed Jews to become naturalized citizens by the act of 13 George II, c. 7 (1740), and over the next ten years there were 17 Henriqueses in Jamaica who applied for naturalization including Jacob Nunes Henriques, Moses Nunes Henriques, and two Rachel Henriqueses. Applying in New York for naturalization on October 28, 1741 was the above mentioned Issac Nunes Henriques. Issac died in July, 1767 in Philadelphia.

Another difficulty in trying to track ancestry among the Sephardic community is that many of the Jews who settled in Amsterdam from the late 16th century emigrated from the Iberian Peninsula where they had hidden their Jewish identities behind Christian names. Once these crypto-Jews were beyond the reach of the inquisition they adopted Jewish names. However, in the course of their business dealings they continued to use their former Christian names, especially if they were engaged in trade with Spain or Portugal. To give a concrete example: Albert Hyamson in his book The Sephardim of England (1951) notes that Duarte Alvares Henriques (otherwise Daniel Cohen Henriques) married Leila Henriques, in Amsterdam. However, the record of this marriage, in 1656, lists the groom as Duarte Henriques Alvares and the bride as Beatris da Veiga, the daughter of Phillipa de Lisveda. As you can see this makes tracing families quite difficult. I should add that, after their marriage, Duarte and Leila moved to England. "This was the first appearance in England of the well-known Sephardi family of Henriques." The earliest direct ancestor we have a definitive record of is Jacob Nunes Henriques, mentioned above, who applied for naturalization in Kingston on February, 26, 1744. Jacob, according to "Americans of Jewish Descent", died in Kingston, Jamaica in 1758. He is listed as being born in Spain. Jacob's father is given as Abram Henriques Quixano and his mother's name was Sarah. Quixano, by the way, means Cohen in Portuguese. A Cohen is a member of the priestly class who are descendants of Aaron, and the Kohanim have special rights and privileges among the Jews.