The Chosen Folks: Jews on the Frontiers of Texas

By Bryan Edward Stone | Go to book overview

ONE
Los JudíDos en la Frontera

By some accounts, the history of Judaism in the United States began in Texas. In 1579, nearly seventy-five years before the first Jews arrived in New York, the Spanish crown granted an enormous land charter in New Spain, including much of what is now northern Mexico and South Texas, to a Christian descendant of Portuguese Jews. Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva was born in Portugal to New Christian parents, Jews who had converted to Catholicism under threat of punishment by the Spanish Inquisition. In his youth, Don Luis traveled and worked throughout Portugal and Spain, but after a series of business setbacks he decided to sail for Mexico with a cargo of Spanish wine to sell there. With the proceeds, he purchased a cattle ranch near Panùco and soon entered naval service under the viceroy. In this capacity, Carvajal led an expedition against British pirates who had washed ashore after suffering defeat at sea against Spanish vessels. Outnumbered, he captured eighty-eight prisoners, whom he turned over to the Mexico City authorities. Soon after, Carvajal led attacks against the Chichimecan Indians of northern Mexico and quelled a native insurrection that threatened colonial settlement in the farthest reaches of the Spanish frontier. As a reward for these exploits, King Philip II made Carvajal governor of forty thousand square leagues of territory to subjugate and colonize with Spanish and Portuguese settlers.1 The New Kingdom of Leon (or Nuevo Reyno de Leon), as Carvajal titled his grant, was the first European polity to include portions of Texas, and its conqueror and governor came from a formerly Jewish family.

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