Saturday, October 24, 2009

Madeira Exile

Madeira Exile


Charles Francis

Emanuel Gonzalves began his life on the island of Madeira off the coast of Africa. Folks there called him Manny. That must have been inevitable; the diminutive would stick with him the rest of his life. Manny's life ended in Friendship, Maine. That's where he is buried. Manny's gravestone reads Captain Emanuel Francis and has the dates 1805 and 1883. The facts are cut in stone.

Manny Francis has good many descendants, after all he had three wives. Those descendants can be found all up and down the east coast, from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas, to the westward and, of course, in Maine. Some of those descendants bear the name Francis, others Duncan, Shoppee and Rushford to name but a few. It is relatively easy to trace Manny's descendants. As for his antecedents, that is something of a mystery, an intriguing one.

Manny Francis never said much about his parentage and where he came from. He was a secretive, not all that talkative man. The only family name that has come down from Manny's Madeira past is that of his mother. Manny said her name was Jaswin, a name which suggests India. Other than this one fact and the Indian inference, Manny's mother is a mystery.

Manny Gonzalves came to Maine as a youngster, thirteen or so. He came as a runaway. He came as a stowaway on a vessel that put in at Monhegan Island. That tale has been preserved by at least two distinct lines of Manny's descendants.

Manny was a Madeira Exile. Madeira Exiles are a recognized group of immigrants. They are recognized as a unique singularity, tagged to or identified with a particular time period and place of origin. Most Madeira Exiles fall into one of two general groups. The groupings are based on why they left their home. Many left for much the same reason that the Irish immigrated from their homeland at the time of the potato famine. For this group of Madeira Exiles it wasn't potato blight that brought about their migration but rather a blight that hit the island's all-important grape production. The other Madeira Exiles group left for reasons of religious persecution, persecution by the Catholic Church. The latter group were either Protestant or Jewish.

Today descendants of the nineteenth century Madeira Exiles can be found all over the Americas, in Brazil, Guyana, the islands of Caribbean and the US. Others can be found in Africa and India or wherever else the Portuguese established themselves. The descendants of Manny Francis are to be counted among these once displaced exiles.

Manny could have come from the town of Calheta or from Funchal, Madeira's chief port, or from any number of other coastal towns or villages. His description of his hometown could fit Calheta, at least one of his sons thought so, but it might be otherwise. Whatever the case, Manny somehow managed to hide on a sailing ship bound for America. Several days out from Madeira the vessel's second mate discovered him. The mate must have been a compassionate fellow for he didn't turn Manny over to the captain. Instead he smuggled Manny food and water for the entire Atlantic crossing. Then, when the ship dropped anchor at Monhegan, the mate spirited Manny ashore.

That Manny was an audacious youngster goes without saying. Only a youth possessed with more than a modicum of audacity would leave his home for a strange land, and Monhegan Island and Maine would certainly have been strange. To begin with Manny would have not spoken the language. In fact, language would be an issue all Manny's life. There are indications that even late in life he thought in Portuguese. His grandson Charles Murphy of Friendship thought he did. A Smithsonian researcher who came to Friendship when Manny was an old man described him as slow to answer questions and slower still to talk about himself. Reading behind the lines written by the researcher one has a sense Manny feared revealing too much of himself. So just what was it Manny feared and how did it relate to the reticence that dominated his dealings with others all his life?

A centuries old historic truism says that to be Portuguese in a foreign land was to be Jewish. Was Manny a Jew? Was he what is variously known as a crypto-Jew, a secret Jew, a Jew who hid his identity? Henry Russell Francis, a great grandson of Manny was adamant in his assertions that Manny was not Jewish. On a number of occasions he said “Don't ever let someone tell you Emanuel Francis was a Sephardic Jew.”

Henry Russell Francis and Charles Murphy represent two distinct lines descended from Emmanuel Francis that preserved stories about him. The stories support each other.

Manny Francis was not a church-goer. He did not like ministers and he especially did not like Roman Catholic priests. Manny fled Madeira to escape the Catholic Church. That seems clear. He became a Madeira Exile because Catholic priests were after his mother for money. The money was to pay for prayers to get her recently deceased husband out of Purgatory. Manny fled Madeira to get away from the priests he feared and circumstances he could not tolerate. When he came to Maine he changed his name to make it harder for Catholic authorities to find him. All his life he feared that priests would come looking for him. The two family traditions involving Manny corroborate each other on these points. They agree that Manny's fear would seem to have been something ingrained in him, a part of his basic identity.

There are a variety of terms used to identify or designate crypto-Jews with connections to the Iberian peninsula. They include converso, marrano and anusim. A converso was a Jew who converted to Catholicism. The term is often taken to mean New Christian. Marrano has a number of meanings, it was often used to indicate that conversos were regarded as swine by those born Catholic. Anusim were Jews who had been forced to convert. While forced to convert, anusim were usually thought to continue practising Judaism. Conversos and anusim were not regarded as true Catholics. The general understanding was that all New Christians practiced some form of Judaism to a greater or lesser extent.

Lest one think the above brief discussion of Portuguese crypto-Jews relates only to the period of the infamous Inquisition, Roman Catholic records for Madeira of the 1840s show the island's Bishop ordering all young people be confirmed according to Church rites. The Bishop also ordered that all island inhabitants attend Confession and Mass. Those that did not do so “were to be proceeded against for heresy and apostacy [sic]”. To be convicted of either crime meant imprisonment. These points are found in Record of facts concerning the persecutions at Madeira in 1843 and 1846 by Herman Norton.

The Church and born Catholics in general made things difficult for New Christians and Catholics suspected of being secret Jews. That priests demanded exorbitant amounts of money of New Christians to get the souls of deceased loved ones free of Purgatory was a commonplace. The Exiles of Madeira written by W. M. Blackburn in 1860 describes the latter practice. The book was put out by the Presbyterian Board of Publication. Many Portuguese converts to Presbyterianism fled Madeira to settle in Illinois and elsewhere in the US. They fled to escape the persecution of the Church on Madeira.

By 1800 the forced conversion of Jews was a centuries old practice in Portugal. Practically this meant that crypto-Jews had a long period in which to evolve methods for perpetuating their sense of who they were. What evolved was a strange mix of Judaism and Christianity, a mix created by intensive Catholic instruction and a lack of Jewish instruction. Crypto-Jews might elevate Old Testament figures to sainthood. Thus we have St. Esther. Studies of Portuguese crypto-Jews have revealed an elaborate culture of fraught subterfuge with highly developed congeries of masked identities and hidden phrases. One such phrase, once thought to be meaningless, linguists have determined to be a garbled Hebrew disavowing the rituals in which the worshipper is about to participate. Was this the sort of culture Manny Francis experienced in his formative years? If so it would help explain his conduct as an adult as well as the family stories that have come down about him.

There are a number of excellent resources on the nature of and character of the secret Jew that offer suggestions to determine whether or not one has Jewish ancestry of the cryptic kind. Eduardo Dias of UCLA is an expert on secret Jews and has written a number of books on the subject including Rituals and Secret Practices of the Crypto Jews of Portugal. Practices extend to but are not limited to avoiding a variety of dairy products, meats and shellfish, clipping the nails of the deceased and use of names predominately associated with New Christians. Dias points to the name Emanuel as one of the more common if not the most common masculine first name. He goes on to list family names like Duran, Lopez and Gonzales with all the latter's alternative spellings as Jewish. (A Polish Jew named Emanuel Gonzales is on record as coming to Calheta in the 1500s. He may have been the first of the Gonzales name in the community. The first explorer of Madeira was Joao Goncalves Zarco. It is generally accepted by historians of the great Age of Exploration that he was converso.)

Except for the fact Manny Francis had an aversion for Catholic priests, most of the above is circumstantial evidence as to whether or not Manny was a crypto-Jew. Manny is, however, known to have avoided eating lobster and clams. But then, both were regarded as beneath the dignity of any self-respecting coastal Mainer of the nineteenth century. So are there any provable facts as to Manny's origins?

There are no pictures of Manny Francis. There are pictures of his son Fernando. The old photographs show a small man of an exceptionally swarthy complexion. His dark eyes are piercing, suggesting competence to a rare degree. Fernando was a deep-water sailor. He was the captain of his own ship. He once held off a mutinous crew bent on eating his infant son Manville. This occurred when Fernando's ship was wrecked on the coast of Patagonia.

Fernando Francis once sailed to Madeira. He went specifically to find his grandmother Jaswin. He went looking for a Madeira seaport where there were a lot of boys swimming. The reason for this was that Manny, unlike most Maine fishermen of the nineteenth century, knew how to swim. Manny once offered to bet money that he could swim from Pemaquid Point to Monhegan. He couldn't get any takers. He was that good a swimmer.

There is one real sand beach on Madeira, at Calheta. Fernando found no evidence of Jaswin Gonzales there. Nor did he find any elsewhere on Madeira. Jaswin had disappeared. Where could she have gone?

As mentioned above Jaswin suggests India. In the West the name is a rarity, not European. Though not as common in India as it once was, it can still be found on the Asiatic subcontinent. Could Jaswin Gonzales have fled to India? Perhaps she did. Perhaps Jaswin explains why Fernando Francis had a swarthy complexion. Portugal had colonies in India. Portuguese and Indians intermarried.

It has long been established that there were enclaves of Portuguese Jews in India, The enclaves were in Madras and Goa. Perhaps there is where Jaswin Gonzales fled to escape the persecution of the Church on Madeira. Or, perhaps she fled to another area where there were Jewish enclaves, South America or the Caribbean. (Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Lesser Antilles. His Gonsalves ancestors came to the Caribbean from Madeira. The maiden name of the Prime Minister's mother is Francis. The Prime Minister is Catholic. Some members of this particular Gonsalves clan recognize the possibility of Jewish ancestry.)

Manny Francis lived on Monhegan Island, Muscungus Island and in Friendship. He made his living as a fisherman. Although his gravestone identifies him as “Captain” it is doubtful he was a deep-water sailor as at least two of his sons, Fernando and Henry, were. Manny chose to live much of his life on isolated islands well away from mainland society, not moving to the mainland until late in life.

Before closing it is necessary to deal with the statement of Henry Russell Francis that Emanuel Francis was not a Sephardic Jew. Henry Russell Francis was my father. He was born in 1900. His father Ronello Laurance Francis, a son of Captain Henry Francis, was orphaned as a youngster.

Ronello Francis had a fair degree of financial success. He owned a box factory in Everett, Massachusetts. He retired to own a Red & White store in North Whitefield, Maine. Henry Russell Francis was brought up appreciating the nuances of social mobility. His mother, the former Miranda Mary Russell, was Episcopalian. Henry graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in engineering. He once said he was the first Francis that did not look Portuguese. I would describe my father as possessing a retentive personality. He disliked his father and adored his mother. Henry's gratuitous disclaimer regarding his great grandfather Emanuel's possible Jewish heritage is telling, especially in so retentive a personality, of at least a retrospective resentment. Bearing this out is the fact that in choosing my middle names he opted for Laurance rather than the Portuguese Ronello of his father and Humphrey the family name of my great grandmother Esther, Ronello's mother.

The story of Emanuel Francis is significant for a number of reasons. It has meaning within the context of being one of his descendants. It has meaning within the context of being a descendant of a Madeira Exile. And it has meaning if one knows, suspects or is unknowingly a descendant of a crypto-Jew.

What does identity consist in? Is it biological, cultural, ethical, theological? Are there traits of outlook that define or explain identity?

The name Gonzales is a variant of Gonsalvo. It is as much Portuguese as Spanish. Its origin is Latin and means battle. It is a very common name: it ranks #94 in the US. Francis is a common name too. It is Latin in origin and ranks #112 in the US. It has two meanings, Frenchman and free man. That the youngster who was known as Manny Gonzales changed his name to Manny Francis seems somehow more than fitting. Manny, whether or not he was a crypto-Jew, was born in contentious times and in a contentious place, a time when and a place where survival was a struggle, a battle. It is something of a step to suggest that Manny chose Francis, meaning free man, deliberately when he came to Maine and America. Yet, when he arrived on Monhegan he did achieve a freedom, though he always harbored a degree of apprehension as to the possibility of his past somehow catching up with him.

1 comment:

claude gonsalves said...

My Father was a Gonsalves and my Mother was a Francis their parents/grandparents moved to St Vincent and the Grenadines from Madeira in early 19th century.Having now had my DNA results it shows that I have 11.1% Italian and 9.2 % Ashkenazi Jewish with 30.6% North/West Africa and 48.2% British/Irish so maybe that’s the Jewish line that runs through our family.