Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Portuguese de Castro
families who escaped the
Inquisition and lived in Dublin

In the cloisters of the Sé Catedral in Lisbon … Isaac de Castro was burned to death by the Inquisition in Lisbon on 15 December 1647 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The de Castro surname is found among Sephardic families of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian descent. Soon after the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition, members of the family emigrated to Bordeaux, Bayonne, Hamburg, and various cities in the Netherlands.

Their descendants were later found in every continent, and I was interested to come across a de Castro family that prospered in Dublin in the 18th century, and that – like every other de Castro family – has descendants in every part of the world.

Although the name does not indicate Jewish origins, it was adopted by some Portuguese and Spanish Jewish families after the forced conversions introduced by the Inquisition in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Abraham de Castro was master of the mint and farmer of the coinage for Sultan Sulaiman, in Cairo in the 16th century. He secured a firman guaranteeing the liberties of the Jews in Ottoman-ruled Egypt, and is credited with saving them from oppression.

Balthazar (Isaac) Orobio de Castro, a philosopher, physician and apologist, was born in Braganza ca 1620, but was jailed and tortured by the Inquisition in Portugal when he was exposed as a secret Jew. He fled to Amsterdam and died there in 1687.

Earlier, in 1647, the Portuguese Inquisition in Brazil compelled Isaac de Castro to choose between his Judaism and being burned alive. Isaac, who had moved from Amsterdam to Recife at the age of 16 in 1641. He was sent to Lisbon, and at a second trial there he chose his faith and martyrdom on 15 December 1647.

So, I was interested to find a Sephardic de Castro family who had strong business and cultural connections with Ireland over three generations in the 18th century.

The Irish branch of the de Castro family can be traced to his contemporary, Dr David Rodrico Namias, who was born in Lisbon in 1550, managed to flee to Hamburg, and died there in 1627. His grandson, David Namias or de Castro (1651-1702), married Sara Levie-Ximenes (1653-1722) in Amsterdam in 1670. Their eldest son, Salomon David de Castro (1671-1740), who was born in Hamburg in 1671, was the first member of the family to move to Dublin.

In 1710, Salomon or Solomon de Castro married Rachel Bravo, daughter of the poet Abraham Bravo of Bayonne, France, who was also from a Spanish or Portuguese family. The marriage is registered in the Bevis Marks Synagogue, and he settled the sum of £20,000 on his wife when they married.

Solomon and Rachel soon moved to Dublin, and lived in Capel Street, then a fashionable street. They were the parents of at least 11 children, including four who died at birth or in infancy, and seven surviving sons, many of whom were born in Dublin, including Samuel, who was born in 1725 and Daniel, who was born in 1733.

1, David ben Salomon de Castro (1714-1761), born 1714, London, died 4 October 1761, London, aged 41.
2, Jacob ben Salomon de Castro (ca 1717-1779), moved to Amsterdam.
3, Abraham ben Salomon de Castro (1720-1779), born and died in London.
4, Samuel Salomon de Castro (1725-1779), born 17 June 1725, in Capel Street, Saint Mary’s Parish, Dublin, died 18 May 1779, London, aged 53.
5, Isaac ben Salomon de Castro (ca 1726-1779), born Dublin ca 1726, lived in Livorno, Italy, and died in London in 1779.
6, Moses ben de Castro (ca 1729-1761), born ca 1729, Dublin, died 26 March 1761, Curacao, Netherland Antilles, aged about 46.
7, Daniel Salomon de Castro (1733-1790), born 1733 Dublin, died 1 November 1790, London, aged 57 years.

Although Solomon de Castro had moved to London by 1732, his wife may have waited in Dublin to follow him until their youngest son Daniel was born in in 1733 in Dublin.

Solomon de Castro was the secretary of the Portuguese and Spanish or Sephardic Community in London from 1732 until he died in 1740. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Mile End in Stepney.

In his will, written in Portuguese, he asked to be buried near his wife. He left to his son David his Sefer Torah in the Synagogue to his son David, and he appointed this son David and Benjamin Mendes da Costa as guardians of his son youngest living Daniel.

Bevis Marks Synagogue, London … Solomon de Castro and his son Abraham de Castro were secretaries of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community for almost half a century, from 1732 to 1779 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

These seven surviving de Castro brothers worked closely together in business across the world.

The eldest son, David de Castro, worked from Bury Street in Saint Mary Axe parish, London, shipped coral to his brother Samuel in India. He married his cousin Judith, daughter of David Bravo, and died in London, and their only daughter, Sarah Judith (1752-1824), an artist, married her uncle Daniel de Castro.

The second son Jacob de Castro, lived in Amsterdam, where he was involved in cutting, polishing and selling diamonds imported from India.

The third son, Abraham de Castro, also worked from Bury Street in London, and succeeded his father as the secretary of the Spanish and Portuguese community at Bevis Marks Synagogue from 1740 to 1779. He was also the first secretary of the Deputados, later the Board of Deputies of British Jews. As secretary of the Spanish and Portuguese community, Abraham de Castro was involved in negotiating the purchase of the first Dublin Jewish cemetery at Ballybough in 1746-1748.

The fourth son, Samuel de Castro, was a merchant based in Fort St George in Madras (now Chennai), India, sending uncut diamonds to his brother Jacob in Amsterdam. He was also involved with the East India Company. He died in Islington High Street in 1779. He was the father of two sons, Samuel de Castro (1763-1822) and Daniel de Castro (1775-1840). The younger son, Daniel, married his first cousin, Rebecca Lara Lopez, daughter of Joshua Lara Lopez and Sarah Ximenes. They have descendants in England and New Zealand.

The fifth son, Isaac, moved in 1744 to Livorno (Leghorn) in Italy, a centre of the coral trade, to buy coral and send it to his brother David in London. He was the father of two sons, Solomon and Abraham, and two daughters.

The sixth son, Moses de Castro, worked first in Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, then moved to India, to take over from his brother Daniel. He built a new house for the firm of Daniel and Moses de Castro in Fort St George in 1768.

The seventh and youngest son, Daniel de Castro, moved in 1757 to Fort St George, to learn the family business from his brother Samuel. Daniel returned to London and in 1766 married Sarah Judith de Castro, the 14-year-old daughter of his late brother David.

Samuel returned to London in 1769, and in 1771 he married Sara Lara, whose sister-in-law was an aunt of the future Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

These Castro brothers were first cousins of Jacob de Castro (1758-1824), whose father was the headmaster of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ School in London. Jacob was supposed to join his cousin Moses de Castro at Fort St George, but instead decided to go on the stage in London, and became a comedian and an opera singer who also appeared on the stage in Dublin in various roles between 1793 and 1804.

Another Castro family living in Dublin in the early 19th century may have been of ‘Marrano’ or converso descent. Francis Castro was a grocer in Saint Andrew Street, and Henry Castro was a shoemaker in Aungier Street in 1804. Francis Castro’s daughter married Redmond Harte of Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, that year.

A contemporary of many of these de Castros was Felix de Castro, a Spanish physician who lived in Agramunt in the early 18th century. On 30 November 1725, he was jailed for life by the Inquisition for being a secret Jew. Similar sentences were passed on many other members of de Castro family who were doctors, including: Alvarez de Castro (25) of Pontevedra, 21 September 1722, at Santiago; Joseph de Castro (49) of Madrid and Simon de Castro (25) of Badajoz, 30 November 1722, at Llerena.

The Jewish cemetery at Ballybough, Dublin … Abraham de Castro was involved in negotiating its purchase (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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