Luis de Carabajal y Cueva

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Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva
Born Luis de Carabajal y de la Cueva
c. 1539
Died 1595
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; died 1595) was a Spanish-Portuguese adventurer, slave-trader, and governor of Nuevo León, Mexico. He headed a family of Jewish converts to Christianity. 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 well but the government wanted to discourage slavery of Indians to subdue 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 circa 1539 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 Spanish Kingdom of León.

After his father died, his tutor, Seňor 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 a woman from Lisbon, surnamed Guiomar de Ribera.

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 late 1568, Carabajal 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 he commissioned Carvajal a captain, sending him to open a road between Pánuco province and the Mazapil mines. Later, Carabajal 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. Among those who had accompanied Carabajal from Spain were his sister, Francisca Nuñez de Carabajal, her husband Francisco Rodríguez de Matos, and their children. In 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 absentia.

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 reportedly had a gang of "more than sixty soldiers" and 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 but by 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 8 December 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, known as Luis de Carabajal "the younger", the first known Jewish author in North America, killed himself by jumping out a window to avoid further torture. Carabajal y Cueva left a memoir, letters and an account of the Inquisition proceedings against the extended Carabajal family; his papers have been preserved.[3]


  1. ^ Hammond, George P. and Apapito Rey. The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594, Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 1966, p. 297; Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint. "Juan Morlete, Gaspar Castano de Sosa, and the Province of Nuevo León"; accessed 19 December 2010.
  2. ^ Powell, Philip Wayne. Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550-1600. Berkeley: U of CA Press, 1952, pp. 197-98
  3. ^ Profile, Jewish Encyclopedia, accessed 23 January 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. 

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