The first Jew in Texas — before it was Texas

Before there was Mexico, there was New Spain, formed by the conquests of the Indians by the Spanish conquistadors in the New World.
The names of Pizzaro, Coronado, Cortez, Verrazzano, DaVaca and Balboa are just a few conquistadors you may recall from your history classes.
You might not have read of Luis de Carvajal, an adventurer seeking to offer his ship, crew and services to New Spain’s growing Spanish government. Born Jewish, Carvajal claimed he was a “converso,” a Jew in 14th- and 15th-century Spain or Portugal who converted to Catholicism.
Carvajal made an impression on the Spanish viceroy by capturing more than 70 Englishmen who had been marooned on a beach after a shootout with the Spanish fleet. After he received his captain’s commission, Carvajal was sent to punish native Indians who had mistreated Spanish shipwreck victims on Padre Island. On this mission, he became the first Spaniard to cross the Rio Grande.
Each successful venture seemingly emboldened him further, eventually leading to a grand plan, presented in Spain to the king’s appointees overseeing the Indies.
Carvajal’s plan was to develop and build mines, and to connect ports across New Spain, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific coast. The crown, impressed with his plan, gave Carvajal a ship, manpower and supplies. He loaded the ship with many family members, who were also conversos.
Though Carvajal always sent glowing progress reports about village settlements, conflicting reports also surfaced of slave raiding and the sale of hundreds of Indian captives. Additionally, village, road and port development was not progressing as Carvajal had claimed.
Added to the charges of working with slave trade renegades, he was accused of heresy by not revealing that members of his family, conversos like himself, were secretly practicing Jews.
Carvajal was tortured, and confessed to being a Jewish heretic. He also named his mother, brothers and sisters, all of whom were eventually executed.
Carvajal, meanwhile, was imprisoned in 1590. Once he realized there would be no escape, he began to write a miniature religious memoir, titled “Memorias.” The 3-by-4-inch, 180-page treatise was completed before Carvajal was burned at the stake at 30 years old.
Though his morality was questionable and his life ended violently, Carvajal is credited with being the first Jew in Tejas (Texas), as well as author of the first book in the New World, written 20 years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.

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