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Private Alleles Reveal Minor Ancestry

It is widely accepted that STRs are non-coding in nature and are therefore not implicated in gene expression. By the same token, scientists used to think that single variations in the number of repeats (STRs) in your autosomal profile could not be correlated with population or ancestry, that you needed at least four STR alleles to reach meaningful conclusions.

English Crypto-Jews Disappear into the American Colonies

English Jews Disappear into the American Colonies


Part 1: The First Wave


By Dr. Douglas Schar




Jeronimo Bassano: Musician in Henry VIII’s Court,  Venetian Jew, and ancestor of Colonial Americans. His family traced their lineage back to Makhir the Exilarch.



On a recent tour of the Coming Street Cemetery, in Charleston, South Carolina, I walked through a veritable who’s who of colonial Jews.


The families buried at Coming Street cemetery share a fantastic history.  They were forced to convert in 1492 Spain and Portugal, lived there as Catholics for a century or more, they then left the Iberian Peninsula and fully reclaimed their Jewish identity in London, Amsterdam and the New World. The names found at this cemetery can be found in the colonial Jewish cemeteries in Barbados, Jamaica, Savanah, New York or Newport.  Names like Cardozo, Carvalho, D’Costa, De la Motta, De Leon, Moise and more!


Lee Kamman, the docent giving us the tour of the cemetery, had something very intriguing to say. He mentioned he had given tours to families who had only recently discovered their colonial American ancestors were Jews. This got me thinking. How many Americans with roots in the early American colonies are unaware of their Jewish ancestry?


When you leaf through Malcom Stern’s book Early American Jewish Families, one thing becomes clear. Many colonial Jewish families disappeared into the Christian colonial world. Studying Stern’s meticulously crafted family trees, quite often you see something like “Solomon Nunes Caravalho/Judith Henriques Pimentel married 1769 London” at the head of the family tree.  By the time you get to the bottom you notice names like Baird, Jones, Peirce, Rollinson and Walker living in the 13 colonies.[i]


Today, do the Bairds and the Walkers know their ancestors’ incredible Jewish history?

My guess is probably not.


To quote Aviva Ben-Ur, in Sephardic Jews in America, A Diasporic History:


Malcolm Stern’s thorough genealogical research of the 1950s revealed so many Christian branches grafted onto the trunks of colonial Jewish family trees (some 40,000 individuals) that it made sense to title the first edition of his book Americans of Jewish Descent.


That’s a very thought-provoking statement!


Crypto-Judaic researchers have spent a lot of time studying the Sephardic Jews who melted away into colonial Central America, Mexico and South America. Crypto-Jews who disappeared into the American Southwest, Texas, New Mexico and the Colorado valleys have also gotten a lot of attention.


However, the Jews who disappeared into the first thirteen American colonies have not attracted as much interest. After thinking on cemetery tour guide extraordinaire Lee Kamman’s observation, I decided to investigate the phenomena of Jews disappearing into colonial American society. And, it turns out, quite a few did. Their stories are amazing, filled with characteristic twists and turns and finally, disappearing into American colonial melting pot.




England, Mother of the American Colonies


To begin with, as the thirteen American colonies were English owned and operated, many assume the colonists from England were English. “English” colonial family names like Abel, Adams, Andrews, Byrd, Talbot and Washington were presumed English.


In fact, all those families listed above were registered aliens from 1502 to 1626 who lived in London and paid a tax to reside there. They came from England but were not English.[ii] For example, the several Adams families were registered as aliens from “Spayne” and Holland and belonged to the French Reform Church. Not a lot of English going on with that particular colonial family.


All kinds of Spanish Jewish families, who lived as aliens in London,  got name changes that make them hard to detect in colonial family trees. Fraunces de Farias became Frances Faris, Gonsalvo Anes became George Ames, Antonio Brandao became Anthony Brandon, Isaac de Mullens became John Mullens. The name changes were not imposed on them, as often happened at Ellis Island, but of their own choosing.


It seems some of the basic assumptions we make about figures prominent in English and American history are off the mark. Many of the presumed English colonists were not English. They were in fact Spanish or Italian Sephardic or French, Flemish and Dutch Crypto-Jews.


My research reveals that Crypto-Jews making their way to the English colonies came in two distinct waves.


The First Wave:  Seriously Secret Jews


Between 1292 and 1656, Jews were not permitted to reside in England. No Jews in England would mean no early English Jewish colonists in the Americas. However, there were plenty of Crypto-Jewish colonists in the early American colonies. They were just seriously secret Jews.


I recently created a database of all registered aliens who lived in England from Angevin times around 1350 to the year 1656, when Jews were officially re-admitted to the realm. I carefully analyzed the 200,000 persons on the list, where they lived, where they went to “church,” or didn’t go to church, what they did for work, whom they married and where they were buried. Through this analysis, I concluded London was home to several Jewish communities throughout the 366-year ban on Jewish residence in England.  By necessity, they were secret Jews. And some of them did make their way to the early American colonies.


The ban on people of Jewish faith residing in England from 1290 to 1666 coincided with the expulsion and forced conversion of Jews in Spain and Portugal (1492). It corresponds to a time when a lot of Spanish Jews were moving out of the Iberian Peninsula. London, a booming trade center, with a large international business community, was an obvious place for them to go. Though they would have to live as secret Jews, professing all manner of safe beliefs, at least they did not have to fear the Inquisition. Hiding out in London was a cakewalk compared to the dangerous lives they lived in Spain and Portugal.


My research reveals “Spanyards and Portingales” (overwhelmingly Jews) came to London in waves that lined up with troubling events befalling Iberian Jewry. A few came when the Jews were first expelled from Spain. More came when persecution of converted Jews began in Spain, Portugal and their territories. This occurred episodically in Spain and Portugal. Not surprisingly, during periods of unrest, more Iberian Jews appear in London. When times were good, fewer Iberian Jews made their way to London.


For a while, the Spanish possession of Antwerp became a haven for Conversos (1392-1567)—the operative word being for a while. That golden age came to an end when the Duke of Alba, at the instruction of King Philip II, was sent to clear these Spanish lands of “heretics.” In 1567, Alba established the Counsel of Troubles, or as it was more popularly known, “Court of Blood.” Thousands of Conversos, Protestants and Conversos who had become Protestants were killed. Even more ran for their lives.


At about the same time, the Portuguese ruler King Sebastian ran into financial difficulties (1577) and began allowing Conversos to leave Portugal for a fee. As you will see, these historical events affected the number of “Spanyard and Portingale” immigrants to London.


Here is the number of registered London alien “Spanyards” and “Portingales” by year. Notice that in the years the Duke of Alba was murdering his way through heretics in Antwerp, Spanish Jews appear by the droves in London. When the King of Portugal let Crypto-Jews buy their way out of Portugal, Jewish immigration jumps in London. Coincidence? I think not.


1564:    130

1567:   323

1568:   1493

1577:   1992

1582:   523


Allowed or not, Spanish and Portuguese Jews dispersed into to the English metropolis. Sometimes more, sometimes less. They registered themselves as members of the French Church, Italian Church, Dutch Church or of “No Church.”  Unsurprisingly, they displayed little adherence to any of these churches and flipped between them. They baptized some children and forgot to baptize others. They worked as musicians, goldsmiths, precious stone cutters, physicians and merchants. They lived in the East End with all the other foreigners—often in Tower Hamlets, St. Katharine’s by the Tower, Aldgate, Stepney, Bethnal Green, Golders Green and Shoreditch. They did business and married with and amongst themselves. Their descendants heavily contributed to the early population of the English colonies.


The Nation Concept

To fully understand how the super-secret Crypto-Jews of Tudor England operated, it would help to have some historical background.


In the fourteenth century, international trade swelled in Bruges, and it became a European mercantile capital. As a result, foreign merchants came from all over Europe. These foreigners were organized by the city whence they came into what were termed “nations.” A nation was a group of merchants from the same city who lived together, worked together, socialized together, prayed together and married together. Importantly, they did not fraternize with other “nations.”


Within the city of Bruges, each nation had a home base where they met, usually with an attached warehouse. They lived around this center. Bruges harbored several Italian nations, Genoa, Florence, Lucca, Milan and Venice; two Spanish nations, Castilian and Catalan; a Portuguese nation, the Scottish and English nations and the Hanseatic nation. These nations were autonomous, evoking the modern concept of an embassy. They each had a consul, or head and a cabinet who supported the consul. The consul mediated between members of the nation and communicated with the local authorities. They key point is they were fully self-governing.


Thus, the autonomous “nation” operating in a foreign country was born in Bruges. However, the concept would be replicated elsewhere. The super-secret Crypto-Jews of Tudor England, in my opinion, operated much like one of the nations of Bruges.


To the casual English observer, these super-secret Crypto-Jews might appear random Italyans, Spanyards, or Portingales, living in the same London wards and parishes. But on closer inspection, they formed an interconnected web of related people who worked together, acted together, married together and were buried together. They had a central place they met, they lived around that place, they were self-governing and had a consul that acted as an intermediary between themselves and the local host.


The London Italian Church

As it was illegal for Jews to reside openly in London, most of the Crypto-Jews belonged to a church. Some were so bold to be recorded as being of “no church” but most belonged to a church of some sort. Though these secret Jews belonged to the Dutch, French and English church, their favorite was the London Italian church, which, to put it mildly, was a very odd institution. For one thing, it always lacked any large complement of Italian membership. Only 25% of its parishioners were Italian. More of them were Iberian Jews who may have sojourned in Antwerp for a time.


In 1568 the real Italians made up only one fourth of the Italian congregation… A small but interesting group of members of the London Italian church formed the Marranos. It should be noted that the first minister of the London Italian Church, Michelangelo Florio, belonged to a family of baptized Jews. Several members of this church did have Jewish roots, either in Italy or in Spain or in Portugal, where they or their ancestors were forced to leave by the Royal Edict of 1492. The Bassano family, for instance, which moved to London in 1539 to serve as musicians at Henry VIII’s court, was probably Jewish. Two of them, Agostino and Ludovico, are recorded members of the London Italian Church in 1582. At some time the Venetian violin players Ambrosio, Joseph and Peter Lupo belonged also to its congregation, as did Innocent Commy (de Coimbra) of Cremona and Francis )Kenny the Kellim) of Venice. Perhaps Giulio Borgarucci, physician of Leicester and Queen Elizabeth, also had a Jewish background. In 1567 he lived in the same house as Ambrosio and Joseph Lupo in Cripplegate Ward.[iii]


If the London Italian church seems specious, its first pastor, Michael Angelo Florio, is particularly suspect. In Frances Yates’ biography, John Florio, The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, we read lines that tell us much about the secret Jews of Tudor London.


The richest in biographical information of Michael Angelo Florio’s books is his Apologia which he published in 1557 to defend himself from an attack which had been made on him by one Bernadino Spada, a Franciscan Friar. The greatest part of this rare book is taken up with a rather angry theology, but as Spada’s had been a personal attack, Florio is obliged to speak sometimes of himself in his defense and some interesting points emerge.


Spada had evidently accused him of being a Jew and in his rambling reply to this charge he admits that he is Hebrew in blood but not in faith. “I was never a Jew nor son of a Jew but born of a father and mother baptized as Papists like yourself; and if you should say that my ancestors were Hebrews before baptism, this I will not deny.”


Like many Conversos, Michael Angelo Florio (also known as Paolo Antonio Flores) was in the employ of the Catholic church. He was a Franciscan Friar. However, also like many Conversos, when he encountered reform Christianity, he found it a more comfortable fit. The reform movement abolished idol worship, focused on the Old Testament, abhorred the Catholic church and often referred to the Pope as the whore of the Apocalypse.  The reform church was appealing to a people whose lives and culture had been viciously attacked by the Church of Rome. Predictably, Michael Florio threw the Catholic church aside for the reform movement.


John Florio (1552-1625), of a prominent Spanish Jewish family settled in London, virtually single-handedly brought Renaissance humanism to England, acting as tutor to Lady Jane Grey, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, Sir Philip Sidney and Queen Anne.


A later pastor, Antonio del Corro (1527-1593), came from Seville, carried a Spanish Jewish surname and preached in Spanish. A Converso preacher preaching to a Converso congregation in Spanish? If you review the membership of the London Italian church, it is clear many members were of “Hebrew blood.” Whether they were just dissembling and hiding out or had whole-heartedly accepted Christianity, we can often never tell.


Antonio del Corro: Preacher to the Italian Church of London who preached in Spanish.


To consider the careers of some of the members of this church from the time when Jews were banished from England to a time when they were permitted to live openly there, its membership went in wildly different directions. Some families returned to Judaism. The names Boaz, Lupo, Palma, Pavia, Sarazin, Tallofere (Talavera) and Trento, all members of the London Italian church, later appear as upstanding Jews in London, Amsterdam and in the colonial Caribbean. Some of them became Anglican and stayed in England. Some of them became Protestant colonists of different stripes in the American colonies—notably, Quakers. The Lupos, members of the Italian church, who descend from Ambrose de Abimelach, at times used the name Hitchcoke. If one read the colonial name Hitchcock, one would never guess behind it lay a Spanish Jewish family who re-invented themselves and disappeared into the fastness of the American colonies.




[i] Malcolm H. Stern, Americans of Jewish Descent: A Compendium of Genealogy, 1st ed. (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College. 1960), p. 24.


[ii] R.E.G. Kirk and Ernest F. Kirk. Returns of Aliens Dwelling in the City and Suburbs of London from the Reign of Henry VIII to James I, 4 vols., Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, 10 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1900- 1908.)


[iii] Owe Boersma and Auke Jelsma, “Unity in Multiformity: The Minutes of the Coetus of London, 1575, and the Consistory Minutes of the Italian Church of London, 1570-91,” Church History 67/3 (Sep.1998), pp 583-584.

Let’s You and Her Fight

As owners of DNA Consultants, and on behalf of our staff and customers, we wish to say something about the recent media coverage of legendary singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, who is 82 years old.