Foreign Trade of London Jews in the Seventeenth Century*

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In any study of the mercantile activities of London Jews in the seventeenth century full consideration must be given to the data contained in the London Port Books.

These books, preserved in the Public Record Office,1 contain the particulars of cargoes imported and exported by denizens and by aliens, together with the owner's name and in most instances with the port of origin or destination and the amount of duty or subsidy of tunnage and poundage charged. In some of the early seventeenth-century entries the actual value of the shipment is given.

The Port Books, unfortunately, do not form an unbroken sequence and moreover some are damaged and, in parts, illegible. It is, therefore, not an easy task, and for some purposes impossible, to extract reliable statistics.

In any case, widespread smuggling together with the dishonesty of some Customs officials are two further reasons why we must view with reservations any analyses or conclusions that have been drawn solely from these books. In this particular essay neither the books covering the outports?that is to say, Liverpool, Bristol, Southampton, and the like, nor those confined to coastal trade have been examined. They could well contain valuable Jewish material and should provide a basis for another study.

Cargoes in and out

In spite of the imperfections and reservations mentioned, the London Port Books yield an enormous amount of factual material that gives a day-to-day picture of cargoes coming and going and although we have long had some knowledge of the leading Jewish merchants in seventeenth-century London, we can fill in

* Paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society of England, 9 June 1971.

1 Public Record Office [hereafter referred to as P.R.O.] E.190.

many gaps and by so doing obtain a clearer picture of the extent and nature of their trade and their problems, the variety of their mer? chandise, and their growing significance, within the national context, as a trading force.

As we know from Lucien Wolf's 'Jews in Elizabethan London,' published in Volume XI of our Transactions, there was at the dawn of the seventeenth century a handful of Marranos living and trading in the capital. Of these we can find four in the early seven? teenth-century Port Books: Gomez d'Avila, Gabriel Fernandez, Jeronimo Lopez, and Fernando de Mercado.

Brazilwood Monopoly

The first entry of interest to us2 is dated 24 September 1600, when Jeronimo Lopez, who, according to Lucien Wolf, was a cousin of the ill-fated Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, physician to Queen Elizabeth, is shown importing a cargo of fourteen hundredweight of brazilwood. Brazilwood, a red dye-wood, was imported throughout the seventeenth century from Portugal and the Azores and by the 1660s, as we shall see, became the near-monopoly of Fernando Mendes da Costa and his son Alvaro da Costa. Brazilwood, or, more speci? fically, Pernambuco, is today the wood used for making violin bows. Incidentally, the country of Brazil takes its name from the wood and not, as might be supposed, vice versa. 'Terra de Brasil' means 'Red dye-wood land'.

On 27 September 16063 we find

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