Luis de Carabajal y Cueva (sometimes Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva; c. 1539 – 1595) was a Spanish-Portuguese adventurer, slave-trader and governor of Nuevo León.
Carabajal was born in Mogadouro, Portugal, to Gaspar de Carvajal and Francisca de León, Jewish conversos (converts to Catholicism). When he was eight, his family took him to Sahagún, in the Kingdom of León (Spain). After his father died his tutor, Duarte de León, sent him back to Portugal. After spending 13 years in Portuguese Cape Verde, Africa, as a royal accountant in the slave trade, he sailed to Seville and married Guiomar de Ribera, a lady from Lisbon whose father was also in the slave trade.
First sojourn in New Spain
Shortly thereafter, motivated by financial losses and marital problems, Carvajal sailed for New Spain in his own ship as second in command of the Spanish Indies fleet. Upon his arrival he was appointed mayor of Tampico. In the fall of 1568, mayor Carvajal rounded up 77 Englishmen marooned on the Tamaulipas coast by John Hawkins, who had lost some of his ships in a fight with the Spanish fleet at Veracruz.
When this exploit was reported to Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza, he was so impressed that he commissioned Carvajal a captain, sending him to open a road between Pánuco province and the Mazapil mines. Later he was sent to chastise hostile Indian bands at the mouth of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande). He claimed to have punished the natives responsible for the massacre of 400 castaways from three ships wrecked on the coast en route to Spain — presumably the Padre Island shipwrecks of 1554. During the campaign, he crossed the lower Rio Grande into what is now Texas, becoming the first Spanish subject to do so.
He was accused of using his authority to trade in Indian slaves, and was summoned to Mexico City to defend himself. He soon left there for Spain, where in March 1579 he proposed to the Council of the Indies to develop all the ports from the Río Pánuco to Santa Elena on the Atlantic coast; to settle the area between Tampico and the mines of Mazapil and Zacatecas; and to extend exploration and settlement across Mexico "from sea to sea."
Second sojourn in New Spain
In 1579 Phillip II, King of Spain, granted him the title of governor and captain-general with the mission to "discover, pacify and settle" a new province in New Spain (commonly confused as modern-day Mexico, but really much larger and encompassing it, Central America, the Caribbean and the Philippines) to be called Nuevo Reyno de León, 200 leagues inland from the port of Tampico. Significantly, the charter allowed the Blood Purity Laws (Pureza de sangre), which stipulated that Spanish immigrants to the New World be at least three generations of Old Christian, to be lifted in an effort to encourage migration to this remote province beset by attacks by indigenous tribes. This Northern Province therefore became a target for migration by Iberian conversos, i.e. New Christians.
In consideration of the appointment of governor, he undertook to colonize the territory at his own expense, being allowed to repay himself out of the revenues. His original jurisdiction was to comprise a somewhat ill-defined territory, beginning at the port of Tampico, extending along the River Pánuco, and thence turning northward; but it was not to exceed 200 leagues either way. It would seem to have included Tamaulipas, as well as the states of Nuevo León and Coahuila, and parts of San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua and Texas.
Carabajal received his royal patent as governor of Nuevo Reino de León on May 31, 1579. He sailed on board the Santa Catarina with 100 families, most of them recruited from his own and his wife's kin. He arrived in Mexico in 1580, and began to prepare for his occupancy of the territory. He planted his colony on a site formerly called Santa Lucía, and named the place Cuidad de León (City of León). He also founded a settlement called San Luis Rey de Francia. His lieutenant governor was Gaspar Castaño de Sosa.
To pacify and colonize the new territory, Carabajal was allowed 100 soldiers and 60 married laborers, accompanied by their wives and children. It is safe to assume that a number of these early colonists were Spanish Jews, who, under the guise of Marranos, had hoped to escape persecution and find prosperity in the New World. In this expectation they were disappointed, for within a decade after their settlement a score of them were openly denounced and more or less severely punished for Judaizing. In 1590 there seems to have been an extensive colony of them in Mexico.
Luis de Carabajal brought with him to Mexico his brother-in-law, Francisco Rodríguez de Matos, and his sister, Francisca Nuñez de Carabajal, with their children. In the year 1590, while in the midst of prosperity, and seemingly leading Christian lives, they were seized by the Inquisition. Carabajal's daughter, Isabela, was tortured until she implicated the whole of the Carabajal family, who, with the exception of one son, Baltasar, were imprisoned. The latter succeeded in escaping to Taxco, and was condemned to death in his absence.
Carabajal was charged with Judaizing, but the lesser crime – in Spanish eyes – of slave trading may have also been a motive for his arrest and prosecution. He was said to have a gang of "more than sixty soldiers" and to have made a fortune capturing and selling Indian slaves. They raided north along the Rio Grande, capturing hundreds of Indians whom they sold into slavery. Slaving was common on the northern frontier of Mexico and was often tolerated – and even encouraged – by the government of New Spain. But in 1589, the government was attempting to find a peaceful solution to the long-running and bloody Chichimeca War. Enslavement was one of the grievances of the Indians and a peaceful solution involved protecting the Indians against slavers. All along the frontier two successive Viceroys promoting peace with the Chichimecas cracked down on the slavers.
Luis Carabajal was also accused by the Inquisition of heresy. He was condemned to a six-year exile from New Spain, but while waiting for the execution of his sentence, he died in prison. On December 8, 1596, most of his extended family, including Francisca and her children, Isabel, Catalina, Leonor, and Luis, as well as Manuel Díaz, Beatriz Enríquez, Diego Enríquez, and Manuel de Lucena, a total of nine people, died at the stake in Mexico. City. A nephew Luis de Carabajal the younger killed himself by jumping out a window to avoid further torture.
Monterrey still bears the customs of his Jewish heritage, particularly the cuisine (cabrito, semitas), popular Sephardic family names (like Garza), and some local festivities. His nephew, Luis de Carabajal the younger, left a memoir, letters and account of the inquisition proceedings against the extended Carabajal family.
- Hammond, George P. and Rey, Apapito, The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594, Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 1966, 297; Flint, Richard and Flint, Shirley Cushing, "Juan Morlete, Gaspar Castano de Sosa, and the Province of Nuevo León." http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails_docs.php?fileID=463, accessed Dec 19, 2010
- Powell, Philip Wayne. Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550-1600. Berkeley: U of CA Press, 1952, 197-198
- http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=138&letter=C, accessed Jan 23, 2011
- Carl L. Duaine, Caverns of Oblivion, Manchaca, Texas: Packrat, 1971
- Hammond, George P. and Rey, Apapito, The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594, Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 1966
- C. K. Landis, Carabajal the Jew, a Legend of Monterey, Vineland, N. J., 1894.
- Powell, Philip Wayne. Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550-1600. Berkely: U of CA Press, 1952
- Vicente Riva Palacio, El Libro Rojo, Mexico, 1870.
- Alfonso Toro, La familia Carvajal: Estudio histórico sobre los judíos y la Inquisición de la Nueva España en el siglo XVI (2 vols.), Mexico City: Patria, 1944.
- Robert S. Weddle, Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cyrus Adler and George Alexander Kohut (1901–1906). "Carabajal". Jewish Encyclopedia.
- (Spanish) Historia de Nuevo León by Israel Cavazos
- (Spanish) "Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva", by Raúl Cadena
- Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "Carvajal y de la Cueva, Luis de," (accessed August 17, 2007).
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