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Samuel Nunez - Ribeiro

Samuel Nunez - Ribeiro

The Life of A Marrano


You have surely heard of the 'Golden Age' of the Jews of Spain, almost a thousand years ago. - That was the time when Spain was ruled by the Arabs. Many, great and famous Jews, Talmudists, poets, philosophers and physicians, flourished in Spain in those days. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Rabbi Judah Ha-levi, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Rabbi Abraham ben Ezra, Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol, Rabbi Joseph In Migash are but a few of the famous people you have read about in our "Gallery of Our Great." Many Jews also occupied high positions in the affairs of State, as advisers or ministers of the Arab rulers, the Caliphs, such as Hasdai ibn Shaprut, Rabbi Samuel Hanagid, and others. Jewish statesmen and financiers, merchants and craftsmen, helped to develop the trade and industry of the land. There were famous Talmudic academies (Yeshivoth) in the Spanish Jewish communities, and Jews lived happily, materially and spiritually. This happy state of affairs lasted for about two hundred years, then came to a sad end. First there was a change in the Arab rulers, who were no longer friendly to the Jews. Then Spain gradually came under the rule of the Christians, who drove the Arabs out and became the new masters.

Strangely enough, the Jews helped the Christians drive out the unfriendly Arabs, but soon found themselves 'out of the frying pan into the fire,' as the saying goes. For no sooner were the Christian kingdoms firmly established in Spain, than terrible times began for the Jews: Fanatical, monks spread the fire of hatred against the Jews, who would not accept the Christian faith. There were bloody riots and attacks against Jews. Jews were faced with the bitter choice: the cross or the sword; and while many Jews chose to die for their faith, others had not the strength to do so and became 'Christians' in name only, secretly practicing their Jewish faith. They were called 'Marranos' (pigs) by the Christians, who despised them and hated them. The heads of the Church began to watch them, and established a secret court, the Inquisition, where suspected Marranos were tortured in order to be forced to confess their loyalty to their Jewish faith. Then they would be burned alive publicly, to drive terror into the hearts of the other Marranos.

Nevertheless, the Marranos showed wonderful courage, and secretly continued to practice their faith in the cellars of their homes. They married only among themselves, and remained faithful to the religion of their ancestors. As the persecutions against the Jews increased, the number of Marranos grew. The Inquisition decided that as long as there were Jews in Spain, the Marranos would not assimilate with the Christians, and anyway the Jews were no longer wanted in Christian Spain. And so it came about, that when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain united all Christians under their rule, they were persuaded by the Inquisition to drive the Jews out of their land. On Tisha b'Av, in the year 5252 (1492), the Jews of Spain were driven out of the country; only those who agreed to become Christians were allowed to remain. Some 150,000 Jews then left their homes and wealth behind, and wandered out of Spain. That was all that was left of the Jews who had once lived so happily in that country. Many of them found a refuge in nearby Portugal, but after five years they were even more cruelly expelled from that country.

The Marranos continued to lead their lives as before, and the Inquisition had its hands full for hundreds of years afterwards.

Here we give you the history of a famous Marrano family, some two hundred years after the Expulsion from Spain, and Portugal.

The Marranos, who lived in Spain and Portugal in constant terror of their lives, had but one hope: to escape to some friendly country in order to throw off their hateful disguise and become Jews openly.

Such a family was the Nunez family. For many generations this family kept up its Jewish faith in secret, and some members of it met a violent death at the hands of the Inquisition. (A Clara Nunez was burned in Seville, Spain, in 1632, and in the same year Isabel and Helen Nunez were also condemned to death for loyalty to their Jewish faith). One branch of the family, living in Portugal, was among the most distinguished of noble families. Although it was nearly 250 years after the Expulsion from Spain and Portugal, this family secretly still observed the Jewish religion. It was headed by Samuel Nunez, who was born in Portugal, and became a great physician. He was appointed Court Physician to the king of Portugal. In addition to his services to the Royal Family, all the nobility considered it a privilege if he attended them. Not only professionally was Dr. Nunez in demand, but he was invited to all the important society affairs. Also, when he arranged a banquet or a ball in his own beautiful palace on the Tagus river, the elite of Lisbon society would be among his guests.

Dr. Nunez was still quite a young man when he reached the dizzy heights of success in professional and social circles. This naturally created jealousy among his competitors, and the Inquisition gave them an excellent opportunity of trying to get him into trouble.

Although on the surface Dr. Nunez was as good a Catholic as any churchgoing Christian, the leaders of the inquisition took note of the warnings given them by the doctor's enemies. They managed to smuggle an "agent" into the household of the Nunez family, in the guise of a servant, so they would be informed on what went on within the family circle.

Finally the agent reported that the Nunez family was definitely practicing the Jewish religion in secret, for every Saturday, they all retreated to a synagogue in an underground part of the Palace, where they threw off their pretense of being Christians, and worshipped in true Jewish fashion.

Although the leaders of the Inquisition succeeded in getting the whole Nunez family arrested and thrown into prison, their joy was short-lived, for Dr. Nunez was a very popular man and had influential friends among the nobility. They talked the weak king into getting Dr. Nunez and family freed from prison and reinstated in the palace as the Court Physician. Usually the king was completely influenced by his "Father-Confessor" - a Catholic priest, but in this case he said nothing to him of his decision (backed up by the whole royal family) but gave orders that the Nunez family be freed immediately and allowed to return to their home in the palace on the Tagus River.

There was one condition, however, which marred the happiness of the Nunez family in their release from prison, and that was, that two officials of the Inquisition were to take up residence with the Nunez family to make sure they would not practice the Jewish religion. This, of course, made Dr. Nunez seek plans to escape, for himself and family. But how manage this under the ever watchful eyes of the Inquisitors?

Dr. Nunez hit upon a brilliant and bold idea. He arranged a Banquet and Ball and invited all the important people of the city. These included many high-ranking officials who, though they had him under suspicion regarding his faith, were only too happy to accept the invitation to his -Banquet at which it was considered a privilege to be present.

The banquet was over and the ball in full swing when Dr. Nunez stopped the orchestra and made the following startling announcement:

"My friends, I have a very pleasant surprise for you! You are all invited to follow me and board my yacht which has been prepared for your pleasure. The evening's entertainment will continue there, with the Captain all ready for you. This way, Ladies and Gentlemen!" Saying which, Dr. Nunez stepped out, and all his guests followed excitedly, delighted with the unexpected surprise.

They picked up their cloaks and, chattering animatedly, boarded the yacht which was gently rocking outside the palace.

What the guests did not know was that a not-so-pleasant surprise awaited them. For about an hour or so after they had boarded the yacht they suddenly became aware that they were moving! And judging by the speed, this was no yacht but a large boat. Yes, they were in fact sailing away from the shores of Portugal at full speed, heading for the friendlier shores of England. Friendlier, that is, for the Nunez family. For Dr. Nunez had every detail arranged with the help of his relatives, the Mendez family, one o£ whom married the lovely daughter of Dr. Nunez. He had secretly succeeded in selling part of his estates and possessions and had transferred the money to England through secret couriers. Thus he had been able to get a British captain to bring his brigantine to the Tagus River on the night of the banquet, and it was ready and waiting to receive its load of passengers.

Dr. Nunez quickly reassured his guests that, as soon as they reached the shores of England, the boat would immediately turn around and bring them back to their homes. As for himself, Dr. Nunez, his guests would have to admit that it was not his fault that he was compelled by the Inquisition to leave the country which had been so ready to accept his services and knowledge, but had not allowed him and his family to live according to their faith and conscience.

By arrangement, the Nufiez family transferred to another boat which was leaving England with another party of Marranos on its way to Georgia, N. America, to establish a colony there. In the summer of the year 1733, the party of Marranos, headed by the Nunez family, arrived in Savannah, Georgia. They were warmly welcomed on arrival there by the English governor, James Ogle­thorpe, a tolerant and understanding man.

When the trustees in London learned that Oglethorpe had granted the Jewish refugees farmland, and that they had built homes for themselves and were getting nicely established, they sent an indignant protest to Governor Ogle­thorpe, saying: "We do not wish the new land to become a Jewish colony!" The governor, however, was a fair-minded man who realized how fortunate the new land was to have such valuable refugees. Dr. Nunez would certainly makes himself useful in that semi-wilderness, for few professional people cared to come out into that pioneering country. The other refugees, too, had brought their skills and wealth with them, but even had they not done so, the kind governor had no intention of making these newly-arrived Jews suffer further persecution in this new country. They had suffered enough in the lands from which they had fled.

When the trustees in London continued to urge Oglethorpe to send away the Jewish settlers, he pretended, that he would give their orders his consideration. Yet the records of those days, still preserved in Savannah, Georgia, show that not only did he not send away the Jews, but that, on the contrary, he granted the Jews even more land and privileges.

History tells us that Dr. Nunez and his family later moved to Charleston, South Carolina. But some members of his family remained in Savannah, and cultivated the six rich estates granted them by Oglethorpe, for the valuable services to the colony given by the family of Dr. Nunez. Later, the son-in-law of Dr. Samuel Nunez moved to New York and became the spiritual leader of the newly-founded Portuguese community. A descendant of this-branch of the family of Dr. Samuel Nunez Ribiero was the mayor of New York; Dr. Manuel Mordecai Noah, one of whose projects was the establishment of a Jewish colony in America.

You will surely agree that the family of that fine, courageous, G‑d fearing physician, Dr. Samuel Nunez-Ribeiro, deserves a proud place in Jewish history.

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Jonathan Richards September 29, 2017

My name is Jonathan Richards. My great grandmother was a Luria. When I was doing some research, I discover that Raphael Moses son was Albert Moses Luria who fought for the Confederacy. He named him in honor of a relative named Luria.
When my niece did the DNA test, it indicated that we have Portuguese ancestory. Can anybody shed some light on any more information Reply

Anthoni Wildes Jones Key West, FL January 12, 2017

Samuel Nunez is my 8x great-grandfather. His 3x great-granddaughter, Sarah Nunez Wildes, married into our Wildes family in the mid-1800's. My name is Anthoni Wildes Jones. I'm very proud of my Jewish 'blood'.I live in Key West, FL. Reply

Brandon Reich Ft Myers fl January 14, 2018
in response to Anthoni Wildes Jones:

I am related to her son John Wildes and apparently because Samuel Nunez was famous his blood line has been done. Back to king David Reply

Tabitha Cziuzas pa October 29, 2015

Dr. Diogo Nunez Ribero (Samuel) is my 6 times great grandfather. Someone on here asked if they owned slaves yes they did. I know for a fact Moses Manoel Nunez did . After his first wife rebecca Abraham he married his slave mulatto Rose. Durning his marriage to Malutto Rose he had an affair with my 5 times great grandmother (unknown name) she was also mix of Native American & black. This is verified through an old court record where James son of mulatto Rose verifies that Charles Nunez(Nunes, Nunis) is his half brother. Reply

Hollie Wildt Grafton February 4, 2015

This is absolutely amazing! I am a descendent of Dr. Samuel Nunez. I never had a clue about this part of my ancestry. I will continue to research this great man and share this information with my family. Reply

Judith Moses Portland, OR April 5, 2014

1. Diogo Nunes Ribeiro (later known as Dr. Samuel Nunez) 2. Maria Caetana (Zipporah) 3. Sarah Machado (Nunes) 4. Israel Moses 5. Raphael Jacob Moses 6. Raphael Jacob Moses Jr. 7. Laurence Harry Moses 8. Laurence Raphael Moses 9. Laurence Guild Moses 10. me

Do I have some cousins out there?? Reply

Judith Portland, OR April 5, 2014

. I am a descendent of Diego Nunes Ribeiro (Dr. Samuel Nunez). His Daughter, Maria Caetana (Zipporah) had a daughter with Rev. David Mendes Machando. That daughter, Sarah, married Philip Moses and they had a son, Israel Moses. Israel married Deborah Cohen and they had a son (Major) Raphael Jacob Moses. Maj, Raphael J. Moses married Eliza and they had a son Raphael Jacob Moses Jr. Raphael Jr. married Georgina Samuel and they had a son, Laurence Harry Moses (Boppa as he was known to my Dad). Laurence Harry Moses married Maude Guild and they had a son, Laurence Raphael Moses (my dear Grandpa). Laurence Raphael Moses married Katherine Van Loan and they had a son, my Dad, Laurence Guild Moses. Col. Laurence Guild Moses married Madeline Mary Honan and they had two daughters. My sister, Lynn Mason Moses and me. So by my calculations Dr. Nunez (Nunes) is our 7th Great-Grandfather. So very proud of all of my family's accomplishments in this country, as well as in Portugal. Reply

Anonymous Brevard, NC March 29, 2014

I am a descendant of Dr. Samuel Nunez (Nunes). A family story, as I was growing up was that my grandmother came from the Nunez familty of Nunez Ga. My great-grandmothers supposed to be mom was a Nunez-Smith but her "daughters " name was Nunez. We did not know if this was because she was married before or an illigetimate birth. Research showed that she raised her brothers daughter. great-grandmother, Olivette Desmonia Nunez from Ga.

Genealogy research shows that Dr.Samuel Nunez was my 7th great-grandfather. My greatgrandmother was Olivette Desmonia Nunez..

Eliane Lawrence nevada January 3, 2014

nunes Ribeiro in the northeast of brazil does anybody Know if the nunes ribeiro from brazil are linked to Samuel nunes ribeiro? Reply

Tiago G. Lopes S�o Borja / RS, Brazil January 15, 2013

An excellent book about marrano's history is

AGUINIS, Marcos. The saga of the marrano (La gesta del marrano). Planeta Publisher, 1991. Reply

Rimmon Jacob Vela San Jose January 5, 2013

American slavery We're the Jews in Savanna slave holders? What was the roll of Jews in the American Civil war? Reply

Angeles Nunez San Antonio, TX July 29, 2011

Another Nunez returning to her roots This story only reafirms my determination to find out more about my Jewish ancestry. My father was born in Ocotlan, Jalisco in Mexico but was orphaned very young. He always refused to speak about his father or his family. I suspect because there was still much persecution of Jews in Mexico in the late 1800's/early 1900's. I a Nunez and I will be converting to Judaism very soon Im yertze HaShem. Anyone interested in comparing notes or sharing information please contact me via the moderators. Reply

Marcia Nunez Taylor Lake City, FL July 4, 2011

I am a descendent of Samual Nunez I remember my father speaking of this story frequently. If I remember correctly Samuel had a brother and they settled in a small area in Georgia named Nunez, GA. Reply

Jose Miami, Fl December 31, 2010

The Nunez family My family also kept the Marrano-Shabbos, which was a white clean table cloth 2 candle sticks,wine and nothing but fish. This tradition I heard from my mom that she sow her parents do every friday and saturday. Yet they were catholics in Peru. Her father also show it to me as a lil' boy. I have pictures of tablecloths that have the Jewish star. Pictures where they are sitting on a table with a white tablecoth. Our ancestors speak to us through this pictures. Yet modern jewry could care less. They want all the glory of Am Israel for themselves. Circumsicion was practised in my family. Now adays there are still Jews out there that are marranos yet all the attention is focus on European and Russian jewry who cares for the Benei Anusim? Who has funds to reeducate them or to schlap'em back from their catholic-judaica traditions and make it wholly Judaica? WHO? If you say Moshiach..that poor guy has so many resposabilities already. Why can we ourselves lightened up the load for him? Reply

Amanda Richey Bloomingdale, Ga November 17, 2008

My Family I am a descendent of Dr. Samuel Nunez Ribiero. Our family is desperately searching for any information that can lead us to knowing the whole truth and the path that was taken from Israel. I did not know this information until I read this article. Where did it come from? Our family lost track somewhere along the lines and we are now trying to go back to what our family originated as. If anyone can help we are still trying to fill it in. We are interested in any descendents, culture and stuff like that, that was lost. Thank You, Anyone with information can contact me at Reply

Kalev Zalman FL June 19, 2008

Outreach This is a great story, and it makes me very happy to see it on, but I wonder why Chabad doesn't do any Marrano outreach. I we really believe that the coming of Mashiach will be heralded by the return of the exiles, shouldn't outreach be done to find all possible Jews? Reply

Jessica August 4, 2006

What a fascinating story! Reading the "Gallery of Our Great" is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of visiting Reply

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