The Search for the Gomez Past: Old Castile to Newburgh, N.Y.
Residents from 1772-1799
A Talk by Professor C. Saienz at the Spring Meeting of the Friends of Mill House - 1997
Luis Moses Gomez undoubtedly known in his lifetime as Luis Moysen is as major figure in the colonial history of New York and in the history and development of the Spanish Portuguese Jewish community of the first half of the eighteenth century. His many descendants are well aware of Luis Moysens and his sons historical contributions, but have long wondered about the family tradition based on an old family record written by Isaac Gomez, a great grand son of Moses through his sons Daniel and Isaac that Luis Moysens father was a member of the court the Spanish Court in Madrid and a particular favorite of the king who warned him of his impending arrest by the Spanish Inquisition in a way that only the two of them could comprehend.
My own interest in the Gomez family history comes from my research into my ancestors the Gomez de Castro, Marranos from Burgos, Spain, who emigrated to northern Mexico in the late 17th century to a city where a century earlier the Mexican Inquisition had taken the Carvajal family and burned them all in the Mexico City Autos de Fe of 1596 and 1601. Most of my ancestors descend from Marrano families brought to Nuevo Leon by the Carvajal family. Tracing the Gomez de Castro through Bayonne and Amsterdam, I stumbled across the family history of Diego Gomez de Salazar, Spanish magnate, controller of the treasury to Philip IV of Spain and administrator of tobacco taxes of Castile, Leon and also a secret Jew. Diego Gomez de Salazar had saved the Spanish Crown in 1652 with a tremendous loan of eight million gold Ducats obtained from Spanish and Portuguese bankers all Marranos and in l660 he was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition and spent over a decade in the secret cells of the inquisition before escaping with his large family to Bayonne, Bidache and Peryhorade in Southern France. Could this Diego Gomez de Salazar be the ancestor referred to in the tradition of Philip IV and the onions.
Writing to Michael H. Cardozo IV in Washington, I suggested this connection. Michael Cardozo passed my letter on to the renowned genealogist, the late Rabbi Malcolm Stern of Hebrew Union College. In our first conversation Rabbi Stern was dubious but in a second conversation he told me this is it ...I think weve found the ancestors of Louis Moses Gomez. We arranged a meeting in late 1993, which was postponed, rescheduled and then postponed on a Tuesday early in January 1994. That Friday I was saddened to see Rabbi Sterns obituary in the New York Times. Rabbi Stern was a kind and compassionate man. Although I spoke to him only twice, he offered me his best advice on life and career.
Rabbi Sterns judgment, as I interpret it from our conversation, as well as my own conviction that Diego Gomez de Salazar was Luis Moysens ancestor is based on what one might call a coherence theory of historical truth. It all boils down to the following question. How many Marrano confidants named Gomez could Philip IV have had who were his chief Financial advisors, who were arrested around the time of Luis Moysens birth (1660), who spent eleven years (the Gomez family bible says 14, but that is a minor detail) in the inquisition jails and who escaped with most of his family to southern France? An examination of the Spanish records of the reign of Philip IV, which are voluminous and clear, shows only one Diego Gomez de Salazar.
The Story: A Three Part Migration and The Escape to Southern France
The story of Diego Gomez de Salazar begins in the hamlet of Aldea del Obispo on the Spanish Portuguese border and nearby Ciudad Rodrigo the commercial center of Western Salamanca. It is the story not only of one family but of hundreds of other Spanish and Portuguese new Christians who struggled against the Spanish Inquisition between 1615 and 1660 and who fled finally to Bayonne in the second half of the 1600s. It is the story of one of the most amazing migrations in history a three phase movement from la raya de Portugal (the Portuguese border) through the major cities of Spain and finally to Bayonne, Bidache and Peryhorade in southern France.
The familys earliest known ancestor was Pedro Alvarez who lived in the hamlet of Aldea del Obispo on the Portuguese border in western Salamanca just across the border from Almeida, Portugal. Pedro Alvarez may have been one of the Portuguese anusim those Jews who left Spain in 1492, were forcibly converted in 1497 and who resumed to Spain after the unification of Spain and Portugal in the 1581, but his wife Isabel Mendez was, according of older Spanish Marrano families, who had maintained an estate house (estaban afincados) in Aldea from before the expulsion of 1492. One of Isabel Mendez and Pedro Alvarez sons Gonzalo Mendez was born around 1575 in Aldea and moved eventually to the citadel and regional market town of Ciudad Rodrigo where he married Leonor Gomez de Salazar. The move to Ciudad Rodrigo was undoubtedly caused by the collapse of trade in Aldea after Spain and Portugal were united in the 1581. There was money to be made in money changing and trade on the Spanish Portuguese border. This prosperity ended for the family of Pedro Alvarez in the 1580s and they moved on to Ciudad Rodrigo, the trade and commercial center for the western region of Salamanca.
Among some of the merchants and professionals of Ciudad Rodrigo today there is a strong cultural memory of a Jewish past. Along with a sense that many of them are of Sephardic descent, there are surviving legends including the belief that the Ark of the Covenant is buried nearby. The ruins and completely intact floor of the pre expulsion Synagogue is still preserved within the structure of a hospital built around 1598 and still in use. The nuns of the hospital seem strangely fascinated by this floor the only intact Synagogue floor in Spain.
The Dispersal: Antequera and Then Madrid
In Ciudad Gonzalo Mendez met and married Leonor Gomez de Salazar, of old Spanish Marrano families. Gonzalo and his wife Leonor maintained a store on the plaza mayor, selling linens, silks and other goods. Gonzalo and Leonors sons Diego, Pedro and Francisco would help set up the tables for the trade fairs held at festivals and would make trips to the great wholesale fairs of Median del Campo from where the ancestors of many new world Marranos lived at that time. The prosperity of Gonzalo and of other Marranos in the border cities of Ciudad Rodrigo, Cassares and Benavente caught the attention of the Spanish inquisition which began to move against them. This initiated the second phase of the Sephardic Diaspora to southern France the dispersal. In the 1620s the Inquisition of Cuenca brought charges against Gonzalo and Leonor, who were eventually imprisoned and when released in the 1638 fled to Bayonne and then Venice where Leonor died in 1648. Others Marranos from Ciudad Rodrigo, Cassares and Benavente suffered a similar fate.
With his family in prison and their business ruined the young Diego Gomez de Salazar fled to Andalucia, to the area of Malaga, where he married Donor de Espinosa, who was probably related to the family of the philosopher Spinoza. Diego used his maternal name Gomez de Salazar, instead of his fathers name Mendez possibly in an attempt to confuse the agents and spies of the inquisition. Diego Gomez de Salazar built an immense fortune by trading in various goods and commodities in Andalucia in southern Spain and in 1637 moved to Madrid and entered the court of Philip IV.
After one bad experience as a tax farmer, which landed him in debtors prison for a time, he began to rise in the court of Philip IV. According to inquisition documents his first residence in Madrid was in a hotel on the street of cloth sellers after which he moved into more comfortable housing first on the Calle de San Jeronimo and later to a villa on the Calle de Alcala. In the early I 650s he saved the Spanish Crown by obtaining an immense loan of 8,000,000 golden ducats, mainly from Marrano bankers.
Diego Gomez de Salazar was the leader of the crypto Jewish community of Madrid. Diego had a large family three sons and eight daughters and practiced the Jewish mitzhvas and fasts as best he could given the fact that he had been raised a Catholic. He lived the life of a patriarch of the Juderia, transplanted to Madrid, according to inquisition documents.
His plan, according to the testimony of family members before the inquisition courts had been to flee Spain for a safe harbor when he had accumulated enough money. He had already married his daughters to prosperous men, members of the court and secret Jews like himself . All where close to leaving when the Inquisition trap was sprung. Diego was taken prisoner in 1659 and by 1665 practically everyone except three daughters under the age of ten were in the secret cells of the Inquisition of Toledo. These somehow made their way to Bayonne, perhaps along with the infant Luis Moysen Gomez and other children of the arrested sons and daughters none of whom are mentioned in any documents.
The Escape to Bayonne, Bidache and Peryhorade
In 1669 almost everyone in the Gomez family had been paroled from the inquisition prisons and placed under severe discipline. At that point they bolted for Bayonne where Diegos brother Pedro Mendez, his son in law Gabriel (Daniel) Mendez Salazar and his daughter Isabel were living in Bidache within the principality of the Duke of Gramont just outside of Bayonne. Daniel was tax collected and controller of the Dukes estate. Both Gabriel and Pedro had become so culturally assimilated that they and cut their long black hair and wore chestnut colored wigs in the aristocratic French style.
It is presumably at the Mendez home in Bidache that the children temporarily orphaned by the inquisition were being raised. The young daughters of Diego Gomez de Salazar, all married local men of Spanish Sephardic descent and we know of them from their descendants family records in both Bayonne and Bordeaux. As Luis Moysen was only a young man at the time and left no descendants in Bayonne his historical trajectory is more difficult to establish.
The Madrid Auto De Fe of 1680
The Inquisition deprived of its victims, burned them in absentia in the great Madrid Auto de Fe of 1680. This was an immense show with forty victims burned in effigy, twenty two in person and hundreds penanced by abjuration and wearing of the shameful sanbenito.
Diego Gomez de Salazar, two of his sons, and two of his sons in law, were carried out to be burned in absentia in this spectacle. The effigies with baskets were those of Judaizers who died in the secret cells of the Spanish Inquisition. Those without baskets, including the Bayonne Five, had of course escaped with the* lives and had returned to Judaism in the safe haven of Bayonne. When they died they could die within their faith and be buried in consecrated ground.
In a 1992 exhibition at the Musee Basque of Bayonne France, the last decades of the seventeenth century the time of Louis Moses Gomez youth in Southern France was described as the Golden Age of the Jews of Bayonne, Bidache and Peyrehorade. The Jews of Bayonne, all raised as Catholics were able to return to the faith of their fathers in pre expulsion Spain. Rabbis, mainly from Amsterdam, taught them the prayers and sacred texts and mohels circumcised the men some of them in their seventies.
In Bayonne they were forced to live in a practically uninhabited suburb across the broad river Adour named Saint Espirit. There they engaged in international trade, between Spain, the Caribbean, England and Amsterdam. They increased the prosperity of their adopted home the Commune of Bayonne of which they formed one fifth of the total population and they built up their suburb of Saint Espirit with substantial multi story buildings and by the end of the eighteenth century a magnificent synagogue. Concluding Comments:
- On Diego Gomez de Salazar. Diego Gomez de Salazar, because of his age and Hebrew name (Abraham rather than Isaac) could not have been Louis Moses Gomez father. However through two of his sons and four of his daughters he may have been. Two of his daughters married members of the Spanish court named Gomez and of course his two surviving sons were also named Gomez. It is not impossible that the accomplishments of father and grandfather were merged in the historical memory of Isaac Gomez who wrote the old family document
- Concerning Louis Moses Gomez migration to Jamaica and then New York. Bayonne, a port and a free commune and a first class citadel, prospered mainly as a maritime trading center, and the Sephardic Jews of Bayonne, Bidache and Peryhorade were deeply involved in this trade. Diegos son in law, Daniel Mendez and Diego Rodriguez Cardozo, of Bidache were partners with the Duke of Gramont in the ownership of several trading ships. It is also well documented that Jamaica was one of the important destinations of the Bayonne maritime merchants.
Two important documents provide evidence that Louis Moses Gomez may have been in this trade between Jamaica and Bayonne, perhaps spending time on the high seas and in Jamaica while maintaining a permanent residence in Bayonne or Bidache. The first noted by Rabbi Malcolm Stern shows a tax record from a Moysen Gomez of Bayonne dated 1770. The second is a fragment of the record of Daniels Gomez marriage to Rebecca de Lucena in Barbados, showing that Daniel was born in France in 1695. It had been thought that Louis Moses Gomez had left France as a result of the expulsions of the Edict of Mantes in 1684 but this new evidence shows that he was mostly likely still in France towards the end of the seventeenth century. Hopefully, further inquiries into the records of Amsterdam and Bayonne and into the personal genealogies of the surviving Sephardic Jews of Bayonne will soon clarify this situation.
An early letter from a descendant for Gomez and this transcript of a recent speech differ in some small respects as to his ancestory. The search for the Gomez roots continues.