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Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva
Born Luis de Carabajal y de la Cueva
Died 1590
Nationality Portugues
Other names Don Luis de Carabajal
Known for Governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon

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, Mexico. He headed a family of Jewish converts to Christianity. In order to attract settlers to the province, which was isolated and suffering attacks by Native Americans, the Crown exempted it from Blood Purity Laws, lifting the requirement that only Old Christians (for three generations or more) could settle there. It became a destination for other conversos, including kin of the governor.

Carabajal and his family did very well but the government wanted to discourage slavery of Indians in order to subdue their unrest. In 1595 the Mexican Inquisition charged and convicted Carabajal of heresy. He was condemned to six years' exile from the colony but died in prison before being sent away. His sister and all her family were burned at the stake for so-called Judaizing; a nephew committed suicide to avoid that fate.


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 thirteen years in Portuguese Cape Verde, as a royal accountant in the slave trade, Carabajal sailed to Seville, a major port. He married Guiomar de Ribera, a lady from Lisbon whose father was also in the slave trade.

First sojourn in New Spain[edit]

Shortly thereafter, motivated by financial losses and marital problems, Carabajal 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 Carvajal 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[edit]

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, Southwestern United States, 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 which was beset by attacks by indigenous tribes. This Northern Province therefore became a destination for migration by Iberian conversos, i.e. New Christians.

In consideration of the appointment of governor, Carabajal 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 from Spain 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 to occupy 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. Historians believe that a number of these early colonists were likely also Spanish Jews, who, as Marranos, had hoped to escape persecution and find prosperity in the New World. But, 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 conversos in Mexico.

Among kin who had accompanied Carabajal from Spain were his sister, Francisca Nuñez de Carabajal, her husband (his brother-in-law) Francisco Rodríguez de Matos, and their children. In the year 1590, while becoming prosperous and leading overtly Christian lives, they were seized by the Inquisition. Their daughter Isabela was tortured until she accused the entire Carabajal family of being Jews; with the exception of one son, Baltasar, they were all imprisoned. The latter succeeded in escaping to Taxco; he 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.[1] 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 Chichimeca cracked down on the slavers.[2]

Luis Carabajal was also accused of heresy by the Inquisition. He was condemned to a six-year exile from New Spain, but while waiting to be deported, 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, were burned at the stake in Mexico City. A nephew, Luis de Carabajal the younger, killed himself by jumping out a window to avoid further torture. He left a memoir, letters and an account of the Inquisition proceedings against the extended Carabajal family; his papers have been preserved.[3]

Monterrey still bears evidence of the Jewish presence: the cuisine (cabrito, roast goat kid; semitas, a sweet bread), popular Sephardic family names (such as Garza), and some local festivities.


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Powell, Philip Wayne. Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550-1600. Berkeley: U of CA Press, 1952, 197-198
  3. ^ [1], Jewish Encyclopedia, accessed Jan 23, 2011


  • Duaine, Carl L., 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
  • Landis, C.K. 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
  • Palacio, Vicente Riva. El Libro Rojo, Mexico, 1870.
  • Toro, Alfonso. 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.
  • Weddle, Robert S. 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 domainCyrus Adler and George Alexander Kohut (1901–1906). "Carabajal". Jewish Encyclopedia. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_de_Carabajal_y_Cueva — Please support Wikipedia.
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3 news items

Arutz Sheva

Arutz Sheva
Sun, 08 Feb 2015 07:26:06 -0800

About 40,000 Jews live in Mexico, mostly concentrated in Mexico city, with smaller communities in Guadalajara and in Monterrey, whose founder, Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, was persecuted in 1590 for practicing Judaism by the Spanish Inquisition.

Downtown: Birmingham/Bloomfield news magazine

Downtown: Birmingham/Bloomfield news magazine
Mon, 05 May 2014 11:11:15 -0700

Prior to that, a Spanish conquistador and converted Jew, Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, landed in what is now Texas in 1570. The first recorded Jew in Detroit was Chapman Abraham, a fur trader from Montreal who in 1762 traveled along the Detroit River.
American Muslim
Wed, 05 Sep 2012 07:25:11 -0700

Some people would argue that the first Jew was Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, a Spanish conquistador and converso, who first set foot in what is now Texas in 1554. ** Estevan of Azamor (or Estevanico) may have been the first Muslim to enter the historical ...

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