The sad, often tragic, history of the secret Jews of Spain and Portugal began more than a hundred years before the Expulsion of the Jews from these countries, and continued for several hundreds of years after the Expulsion.

The bloody pogroms that started in Spain in 1391 forced many Jews to accept Christianity in order to save their lives. Many continued, in secret, to observe whatever they could of Jewish practices, in constant danger of being found out - a serious threat to their lives.

Their Christian neighbors despised these "Marranos" and gave them this objectionable title, which means "pig." The cruel Inquisition was ever ready to pounce on any convert who might be suspected of following anything that looked in the least like being Jewish observance. The Inquisition was happy to accept the slightest evidence from a servant or any other informer, such as that a Jewish family had been seen to put out a white tablecloth for the Sabbath, and had not gone to work on that day.

The suspect would then be arrested and tortured until he would confess to his sin of observing Judaism. This would result in his being burnt alive, and all his possessions and property confiscated and given over to the church authorities.

After the Expulsion of Jews from Spain (Tish'a b'Av 5252 - 1492) and, five years later, from Portugal, the number of hidden Jews increased, because many Jews did not have the courage to leave their homes and property and wander forth in complete poverty.

The Auto-da-Fe (public burnings) continued in many towns in Spain and Portugal for hundreds of years after the Expulsion, not only in these two countries, but also in their colonies.

The secret Jews dwelt under the watchful eyes of the Inquisition in constant fear of being caught and put to death. Nevertheless, many were the families who secretly kept their bond with Judaism. Their hope was that they might someday, somehow, escape from those accursed countries to a place of refuge in a free country, where they could openly live completely as Jews, without having to pose as Christians.

Such a family was the Nunez family from Portugal. The secret of their Jewishness had been handed down from generation to generation, and the Jewish spark remained deep in their consciousness.

Several of their members had, in fact, paid with their lives. In the year 1632 Clara Nunez was burnt in Seville, Spain, a victim of the Auto-da-Fe. And another two members, Isabella and Helen Nunez, were sentenced to death in the same year, for keeping the Jewish religion.

One branch of the Nunez family lived in Portugal and was reckoned amongst the highest nobility in the land. Though it was then already 250 years after the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal, the Jewish spark lived on in their hearts.

The head of this family was Samuel or, as he was called in Portuguese Ribeiro Nunez. He was born in Portugal and became a famous doctor. The King of Portugal appointed him to be the personal physician to the royal family. The highest in the land considered it a privilege to be counted among his patients and friends. He was always an honored guest in the homes of the Portuguese nobility.

Doctor Nunez was still a young man when he reached this distinguished position in the land, and there were more than a few people who envied him, and would have been glad to be able to cast suspicion on him and report him to the Inquisition. But, on the surface, Ribeiro Nunez was a loyal Catholic. He attended church regularly, and never showed any sign whatever that he had any connection with Judaism.

Nevertheless, the Inquisition kept a watchful eye on him. The fanatical priests succeeded in planting an agent in his house - a servant - who was instructed to report to the priests on everything that took place in the household of Ribeiro Nunez.

Finally, the Inquisition felt there was enough "proof" to show that the doctor and his family were observing certain Jewish customs, and denying Catholic faith. So, on a certain day, they were all arrested by the Inquisition. The church tribunal awaited their trial with gleeful anticipation.

The arrest of the famous doctor - a personal friend of the king - created a storm among his friends and admirers. Though, as a rule, the king did not interfere in the affairs of the Inquisition, this time, as it concerned someone who was so greatly admired by the entire royal family and nobility, the king decided to use his influence to see that the Inquisition would free Doctor Nunez and his family.

The Inquisition freed the prisoners on condition that two officers of the Inquisition should constantly be placed in the doctor's home to make sure that they did not, at any time, practise any Jewish customs.

The Nunez family then returned to their palatial home on the banks of the Tagus River. But the doctor felt that he could not be sure that the Inquisition would not again seek some excuse to have him and his family back in their clutches.


Samuel Nunez decided he must look for a way of escape to a place of refuge. This was no simple matter for such a well-known and famous family, particularly with the two agents of the Inquisition who watched their every movement.

But the clever doctor hit upon a brilliant plan. Dr. Nunez arranged a grand dinner in his home, inviting a number of distinguished guests. After the dinner he announced that he had a pleasant surprise for his guests! A banquet and entertainment were prepared for them on his yacht, which was anchored on the river near his house.

The surprise announcement was received by the guests with delight. And they all, together with Doctor Nunez and family, trooped onto the boat. Music was playing, and the guests were more than ready to have a "Ball."

The food and drinks were more than plentiful, and the guests ate and drank merrily to their hearts' desire!

The merriment continued 'till dawn, when the half-drunken guests suddenly realized they were far away from the banks of the river where they had embarked!

This was a surprise they had not 'bargained' for. An "Ocean Cruise" no less!

The "Yacht" was, in fact, a British frigate - a small, but well-armed battleship which Doctor Nunez had secretly acquired for the purpose of escaping with his family from the bloody threat of the Inquisition.

This dangerous plan had called for much careful planning and secrecy. Samuel Nunez had secretly sold part of his possessions, and had sent the money secretly to the Mendes family his relatives in England. With their help and that of some other good friends, Doctor Nunez had worked out every detail of this great plan.

Thus, on the night of the grand dinner, the British captain had arrived and was ready and waiting with his ship, by the dock of the doctor's house.

When the guests were sober enough to be aware of their plight, Doctor Nunez assured them they had nothing to worry about, for, as soon as they reached the shores of England, a boat was waiting to return them to Portugal.

He told them that he had done all he could to assure that they would have a comfortable and enjoyable voyage both ways. He also explained to them why he had had to undertake such a dangerous plan. He told them it was a matter of life and death for himself and family, who could not continue to live under the shadow of the infamous Inquisition, who chose to disregard his loyal service to king and country. He had therefore decided to seek a friendlier country where he and his family would have no further need to hide their Jewishness and Jewish way of life.


Soon after their arrival in England the Nunez family joined a party of Jewish refugees bound for the British Colonies of America. In the summer of 1733 the group of refugees arrived safely in Savannah, Georgia.

James Oglethorpe, the English governor, received the refugees in a most friendly manner. He gave them land for housing and possibilities for agriculture and other occupations, feeling that such educated and capable refugees would surely be a blessing for the colony.

When the trustees of the colonies in London learned that the English governor was helping the refugees to settle in America, they sent a sharp protest to him in a letter, saying: "We do not wish to make our American Colonies a Jewish Colony.

But James Oglethorpe was an honest, liberal-minded man, and he ignored the protest of the English politicians in London.

America was young, big and underdeveloped. The newcomers were capable refugees. who would bring much good to the land. They had suffered much in the lands they had left, and from which they had been saved. And, like other refugees who had come to America because they had been persecuted, they too deserved, and would enjoy, full freedom.

London continued to send orders that the governor should send away the Jewish refugees. The governor made a show of paying attention to the orders but, in actual fact, continued to show the new immigrants the same friendliness as before.

When James Oglethorpe called the attention of the trustees in England to the admirable qualities of the Jewish doctor Samuel Nunez they directed that he be paid for his professional services, but insisted that all grants of land should be withheld from the Jews.

Oglethorpe, however, obviously disregarded this, for the name Nunez appears in a deed that shows him to be a landowner in Savannah, six farms having been allotted to him.

The unfriendly attitude of the trustees in London towards the Jews and other unwelcome groups prompted Doctor Nunez and family to leave Savannah, though only for a time. They moved to Charleston, South Carolina, but some members of the family remained in Savannah.

A son-in-law of Samuel Nunez moved to New York, and some members were among the leading personalities of the Spanish-Portuguese Congregation in this city.

Among the descendants of the Nunez family was Mordechai Manuel Noah of New York, who made his name famous in Jewish and American life (That is a story by itself).

According to historical documents where the name Nunez is often mentioned, the pioneer physician Doctor Samuel Nunez returned to Savannah and resided there with his family until his death.

The name Nunez truly deserves a place in history.