STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Antonio Fernandez Carvajal
(1590 - 1659)
The First Naturalised British Jew
Antonio Fernandez Carvajal (c.1590–November 10, 1659)—in Portuguese: António Fernandes Carvalhal—was a Portuguese-Jewish merchant, who became the first naturalized English Jew.
He was born about 1590, probably at Fundão, Portugal. He appears to have left Fundão on account of the persecution of the Inquisition and, proceeding to the Canary Islands, acquired much property there, made many commercial connections, which led him (about 1635) to London, where he settled in Leadenhall Street. In 1649 the council of state appointed him one among the five persons who received the army contract for corn. In 1653 Carvajal was reported as owning a number of ships trading to the East and West Indies, to Brazil, and to the Levant.
He dealt in all kinds of merchandise, including gunpowder, wine, hides, pictures, cochineal, and especially corn and silver, and is reported to have brought to England, on average, £100,000 worth of silver per annum.
In the early days of his residence in England, Carvajal used to attend mass at the Spanish ambassador's chapel, and in 1645 was informed against for not attending church; but the House of Lords, on the petition of several leading London merchants, quashed the proceedings. In 1650, when war broke out with Portugal, Carvajal's ships were especially exempted from seizure, though he was nominally a Portuguese subject. In 1655 he and his two sons were granted denizenship as English subjects (the patent being dated August 17 of that year); and when the war with Spain broke out in the following year, his property in the Canaries was liable to seizure, as he was a British subject. Oliver Cromwell made arrangements by which Carvajal's goods were transported from the Canaries in an English ship which passed under Dutch colors.
When Menasseh Ben Israel came to England in 1655 to petition Parliament for the return of the Jews to England, Carvajal, though his own position was secured, associated himself with the petition; and he was one of the three persons in whose names the first Jewish burial-ground was acquired after the Robles case had forced the Jews in England to acknowledge their creed.
Carvajal, besides advancing money to Parliament on cochineal, had been of service to Cromwell in obtaining information as to the Royalists' doings in Holland (1656). One of his servants, Somers, alias Butler, and also a relative, Alonzo di Fonseca Meza, acted as intelligencers for Cromwell in Holland, and reported about Royalist levies, finances, and spies, and the relations between Charles II and Spain.
It was to Carvajal that Cromwell gave the assurance of the right of Jews to remain in England. Under the date of February 4, 1657, Burton, in his diary, states:
The Jews, those able and general intelligencers whose intercourse with the Continent Cromwell had before turned to profitable account, he now conciliated by a seasonable benefaction to their principal agent [Carvajal] resident in England.
In 1648 a cargo of logwood belonging to Carvajal was seized by the customs officers. He assembled his servants and friends, broke open the government warehouses, and carried off his merchandise. The litigation to which this gave rise was interrupted only by Carvajal's death, which occurred in London.
L. Wolf, The First English Jew, in Transactions of the Historical Society of England, ii.14-16;
Epitaph given by D. Kaufmann, in Jew. Quart. Rev. i.92-93.
This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Carvajal, Antonio Fernandez", a publication now in the public domain.