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Pardons by the Portuguese Government


Early History

1492 Admission of Jews Expelled From Spain

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Many Jews who had been expelled settled in 'hidden valleys' in the North away from the Inquisition. Captain Barros Basto claimed to have found 10,000 of their descendents in Northern Portugal.  The description below tells how such a valley was found and how those occupying it organised themselves. While this valley was in Northern Spain it also applies to settlements in Northern Portugal

Northern Portugal site descriptions are    
Belmonte, Braganza, Carcao, Guarda, Porto and Trancoso

From 'The Last Jew'  by Noah Gordon pp408 on

'We left Granada in a caravan, thirty-eight wagons all bound for Pamplona, the principal city of Navarre, which we reached after agonizingly slow and difficult travel.'

They had stayed in Pamplona two years. 'Several of our people married there. Including Ines Denia. She became the wife of Isadoro Sabino, a carpenter Benzaquen said delicately, for both men had unpleas­ant memories of their discussion concerning Ines Denia the last time they had met.

'Alas Benzaquen said, 'for those of us from Granada, our joyous times in Pamplona were vastly overshad­owed by tragedy.' One out of every five of the Granada New Christians had died in Pamplona of burning fever and bloody flux. Four members of the Saadi family were among those taken cruelly and swiftly in the terrible month of Nisan. 'Isaac Saadi and his wife Zulaika Denia died within hours of one another. Then their daughter Felipa sickened and died, and finally both Ines and her new husband, Isadoro Sabino, who had been married less than three months.

'The people of Pamplona blamed any newcomers for bringing death to their city, and when the pestilence had run its course those of us who had survived knew we must flee again.

'After much discussion we determined to cross the border into France and attempt to settle in Toulouse, although the decision was controversial. I, for one, was unhappy with both the route and the destination Benzaquen said. 'I pointed out that for centuries Toulouse had had a tradition of permitting violent acts against the Jews, and that we were separated from France by the high Pyrenees, through which we had to take our wagons, a prospect that seemed impossible.'

But some of Benzaquen's fellow conversos had scoffed at his fears, pointing out that they would come to France as Catholics and not as Jews. As for getting through the mountains, they knew that in the village of Jaca, which lay ahead, there were professional moun­tain guides, conversos like themselves, who could be hired to bring them through the passes. If the wagons could not get through the mountains, they said, they would take their most valuable possessions into France on the backs of pack animals. And so the chain of wagons had set out along the trail to Jaca.

'How did you locate this valley?' Yonah asked.

Benzaquen smiled. 'By accident.'

On the long, wooded mountain slopes, good camping sites for so large a party were hard to find. Often the travellers slept in their wagons, the vehicles strung out along the side of the trail. On such a night, between their sleeping and rising, one of Benzaquen's draft horses - a valuable animal, and needed - pulled its tether and wan­dered away. 'As soon as its absence was discovered in the first grey light, with four other men I set out to search, cursing the beast.'

Following flattened brush and broken branches, an occasional hoofprint, and droppings, they found them­selves on a kind of natural stony trail that dropped downhill alongside a rushing stream. Finally they emerged from the woods and saw the horse grazing on the rich fodder of a small, hidden valley.

'We were immediately impressed by the good water and grass. We returned to the caravan and led the others to the valley because it offered a safe and sheltered rest­ing place. We had only to widen the natural trail a bit in two places, and move several large rocks, and then we were able to bring the wagons down.

'At first we thought to stay only four or five days, to allow humans and animals to rest and restore their energy/ But everyone was struck by the beauty of the valley, and by the obvious fertility of the soil, he said. It wasn't lost to them that the place was wonderfully remote. To the east, it was two days of difficult travel to the closest village, Jaca, itself an isolated community that drew few travellers. And to the southeast it was three equally difficult days' travel to the nearest city, Huesca. Some of the New Christians noted that people might live here in peace, without ever seeing an inquisitor or a sol­dier. It occurred to them that perhaps they should go no farther, but stay in the valley and make it their home.

'Not everyone concurred,' Benzaquen said. After a great deal of argument and discussion, of the twenty-six families that had left Pamplona, seventeen decided to stay in the valley. ' Everyone pitched in to help the nine families who were going to Toulouse. It took the morn­ing and the better part of the afternoon to get their wagons back up to the trail. After the embraces and a few tears they disappeared over the mountain, and those of us who had refused to go with them went down into the valley again.'

Among the settlers were four families whose mem­bers had earned their living from farming. In arranging the transfers from Granada to Pamplona and then to Toulouse, these farmers had been abashed, leaving the planning and decisions to the merchants whose travel experience and sophistication had stood the group in good stead.

But now the farmers became the leaders of the settle­ment, exploring and plotting the sections of the valley, determining which crops would be planted, and where.

All over the valley grew rich, healthy fodder, and from the start they called the place Pradogrande, the High Meadow.

The men of each family worked together to divide the valley into seventeen equitable holdings, giving each plot a number, and drawing the numbers from a hat to establish ownership. Each man agreed to work coopera­tively in planting and harvesting, the order of work to be rotated each year so no owner would have a permanent advantage over any other. The four farmers suggested where houses should be situated to take advantage of the sun and the shade and exist well with the elements. They built the fincas one at a time, everyone working together. There was plenty of stone on the slopes and the structures were solid farmhouses with stables and barns either in the lower level or attached to the living quar­ters.

The first summer in the valley they built three fincas, and the women and children huddled in them commu­nally during the winter, the men camping out in the wagons. Over the next five summers they built the other houses and the church.

The four experienced farmers became the commu­nity's purchasing committee. They travelled to Jaca first Benzaquen said, 'where they bought a few sheep and some seeds, but Jaca was too small to satisfy their needs and in their next trip they went the extra distance to Huesca, where they found a greater variety of livestock for sale. They brought back to us sacks of good seeds, a variety of implements, fruit tree seedlings, more sheep and goats, hogs, chickens and geese.'

One of the men had been a leather worker and another man had been a carpenter, both skills that were blessings in the new community. 'But most of us had been merchants. When we decided to stay in Pradogrande we knew we would have to change our livelihoods and our lives. At first it was discouraging, and difficult to accustom tradesmen's bodies to the ruder demands of labor, but we were excited about the pos­sibilities of the future and eager to learn. Gradually, we toughened.

'We have been here eleven years, and we have broken the ground for fields and established crops and or­chards Benzaquen said.

'You have done well/ Yonah said, truly impressed.