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Jacob Benider, Moroccan Envoy, 1772

Cecil Roth

<plain_text><page sequence="1">9 Jacob Benider: Moroccan Envoy at the Court of St. James' (1772) The polyglot Levantine Jew was for a long time a prominent figure in the diplomacy of the Moslem countries of the Mediterranean. Com? mencing as financier, physician, or merely dragoman, he frequently rendered himself indispensable as the medium of intercourse with the European powers, with whose language he was acquainted and whose 6 This is an insertion between the lines.</page><page sequence="2">JACOB BENIDER, MOROCCAN ENVOY, 1772. 85 manners he could understand. The names of Joseph Nasi, Solomon Ashkenazi, and Israel Conegliano are sufficient to exemplify this as far as the Ottoman Empire is concerned.1 In the Barbary States, Jews were little less prominent, and their activities extended perhaps further, beyond the bounds of the Mediterranean world. Samuel Palache was the first Moroccan envoy to the United Netherlands. David Salom d'Azevedo was resident at Amsterdam for the Dey of Algiers, and extended his diplomatic activities as far as Sweden.2 It was not likely that England should have been neglected. At the close of the seven? teenth century, Hayim Toledano was sent by the Sultan of Morocco on a mission which included England as well as Holland:3 while in the reigns of George III and IV, no less than three Jews came to England on diplomatic errands from the same potentate.4 It is the first of these latter that attracted most attention. The Gentleman's Magazine published an account of the appearance of the envoy at Court, and reported his credentials at some length. They were couched in the following terms:? "The bearer of this Imperial letter is Jacob, the son of Abraham Benider, a person equally beloved of his sovereign and country, and who has your Majesty's interest to heart. I have entrusted him with full powers to treat, and from his knowledge of public affairs and his attention to our mutual affairs, I doubt not that he will conduct to a successful issue the negotiations I have empowered him to carry on with your Majesty's Government."5 Besides these bare facts, nothing has hitherto been known of the life and personality of this diplomatic pioneer: and, considering that the archives of Fez are not so accessible or so carefully preserved as those of Creechurch Lane, it would not seem easy to find out any more 1 See, for the whole question, Lucien Wolf, The Jew in Diplomacy (London, 1923). 2 For the activities of this individual in Sweden (where he was known as Henrik Azzeveda) see Eskil Olan, Judarna pa Svensk Mark (Stockholm, 1924), pp. 10-11. 3 Grsetz, Geschichte, x. 260: see also introduction to Hebrew translation to Menasseh ben Israel's Hope of Israel. 4 Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish Histo?*y, pp. 173-4. 5 Gentleman's Magazine, xlii, 433: reported verbally, and mostly indirectly, by Picciotto, ubi supra : haMeliz, 1902, n. 30: and Toledano, Ner haMaarab, p. 207.</page><page sequence="3">86 MISCELLANIES. details about him, apart from bis mission. But it so happens that, about the year 1784, Jacob Benider felt impelled to apply to the British Government for some assistance in recognition of his services. The War of American Independence was just over: and his petition accordingly came before the commissioners appointed by Parliament for the indemnification of the American loyalists. His petition is in consequence preserved among their papers?the most unlikely of all places where one would expect to find it. It forms, as will be seen, virtually an autobiography of this early Jewish diplomat. Jacob Benider was apparently an English subject, having been born in Gibraltar not before 1704, in which year the fort was captured. His commercial and family connections, coupled with his knowledge of languages, qualified him (like many other Jews of the same parts6) for a minor position in the diplomatic service: and he acted, probably as interpreter, in the British consulates at Tetuan, Tangiers, Mogador, and several other places (1763-1772). In this capacity, he assisted in the negotiation of a treaty with Morocco in 1766, and was in consequence granted a pension of ?100 by the Government. Two years later, he acted as principal in the settlement of a dispute: while in the inter? vening year, his services were loaned to the Venetian Ambassador for a similar purpose. It was no doubt in consequence of this activity that he was entrusted with his famous mission to the British Court on behalf of the Sultan of Morocco in 1772. From this date, he remained in England, attempting as it seems to obtain the payment of an account which he considered to be owing to him. At this stage, the element of tragedy entered into his life. The siege of Gibraltar (where he had left his family) was begun. His house fell a victim to the war, and was destroyed and plundered. A bomb? shell killed his only son and wounded his wife and daughter. It is known how the Jews of the Rock, fearing not only the dangers of war, but also the treatment they would receive in the case of capture by 6 e.g. Jacob Pacifico, similarly from Gibraltar, at Rabat, who is mentioned in Jacob Romanelli's Masa baArab, p. 56, and Don Aaron Cardoso, President of the Gibraltar community and Knight of the Legion of Honour, whose diplomatic career (in which he came into touch with Lord Nelson) bears a striking resemblance to the first part of that of Benider. (Report of the Anglo-Jewish Association for 1877-8.)</page><page sequence="4">jacob benidee, moeoccan envoy, 1772. 87 the Spaniards, escaped in large numbers to England, where their settlement seriously modified the Marrano element which had previously predominated in the Sephardic community. Benider's family, embark? ing only three days after their misfortune, were characteristically unfortunate. Their ship was captured by an American vessel and carried into a Spanish port. They arrived at last to join the father in London utterly destitute, and were forced to support themselves by copying and needle-work. When the war was over?in 1784, as it would appear, but the date is omitted,?Jacob Benider applied for passage back to Gibraltar for himself and his family, in the document here before us. Whether his request was granted or not, it is difficult to say: for it is obvious that his claims were not accepted at their face value by the authorities, setting thereby a salutary example for the historian. But in any case, the petition is interesting as a fragment of early Anglo-Jewish auto? biography, and as illustrating the antecedents, the background, and the activities, of a characteristic Jewish figure of the Barbary coast. Cecil Roth. APPENDIX PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE. (A.O. 13/79) The Petition of Jacob Benider, Late British Vice-Consul in the Dominions of the Emperor of Morrocco. Humbly Sheweth That the Petitioner is a Native and Inhabitant of Gibraltar where he always lived with his Family in Afluence, Repute and Esteem. That the Petitioner being peculiarly acquainted with the Customs and Manners of Barbary, he at the Request of the Late General Cornwallis, then Governor of Gibraltar, Accepted the said Vice Consulship in the Year 1763 in which Capacity the Petr Served Nine Years, (four of which without any Pay or Fee) faithfully discharging his Duty, not only by performing many Capital Services and often Exposing his Life for that purpose. But also Sacrificed his All to support himself and Employ with Credit, for the Truth of which the Petitioner has by him many Authentical Vouchers to produce if Required.</page><page sequence="5">88 MISCELLANIES. That the Petitioner Sensible that Your Ldship's Moments are precious, 'tis incombent on him to be Brief, and only begs leave to lay before Your Ldship the following out Lines of a few allegations and Facts that Motive this Address. That in 1766, the late Admiral Spry was sent to Barbary to settle Various differences then Subsisting between both Nations, and met with so many difficulties as made him despair of Success. But the Petitioner at the Hazard of his Life settled the Business so much to the Admiral's satisfaction and Honor of the Nation, that for this and other Essential Services, the Admiral Strongly Recommended the Petitioner to His Majesty who was Graciously pleased to grant him 100 Pounds ^ @, which was Regularly paid to him from the Treasury till the Year 1774. That in 1767 the Petr was ordered by Lord Irwin, then the Governor of Gibraltar, to Attend a Venetian Ambassador to Morocco and Transact that Nation's Business relative to a Peace, the Ambas? sador having brought Letters of Recommendation to Gener1 Irwin from the British Minister at that Republic for that purpose, which Transaction the Petr Effected by settling the Peace to their Satisfaction. That in 1768 the Petr was ordered by Gener1 Cornwallis and Admiral Spry then at Gibraltar to repair to Morocco, on a most material Dispute then Subsisting between the Emperor and the Governor, the Communication being Cutt off and the Garrison in the utmost Distress for want of fresh Provisions from Barbary, And at the very Time that the Consul-General Mr- Popham (to whom the Governor and Admiral applied first) refused to take the Journey unless the sum of one thousand Pounds was given him to pacify the Emperor, the Petr undertook this Arduous Task upon himself and performed the Journey without any Expence. That the Petr Acted As Vice-Consul at Tangier, Tetuan, Sale, Mogador, Saffi and Sta Cruiz, and often in the Consul-General's Absence remain'd with the Charge of the whole Public Business until the Consul's Return. That in the Year 1772 the Petr was sent to England by the Emperor with a Letter for His Majesty, and ever since he has been in England. 1That since the Petr came to England he interceded with the Emperor for the Liberty of nine English Captives that he had, which 1 Note in a different hand,?* Not True '.</page><page sequence="6">JACOB BENIDER, MOROCCAN ENVOY, 1772. 89 the Emperor granted, making a present of them to his Majesty in the Year 1773, without the least Expence to the Nation. That in the performance of Nine Year's Service the Petr was at Several unavoidable Expences thro' his being moved from Place to Place, his being Called several Times to the Emperor's Court and where the Service Called his Attendance, his deffending the Authority of his Majesty's Orders, And his maintaining the Aforesaid English Slaves Starving in Barbary, An Accurate Account thereof ammounting to 400 Pounds was transmitted and recommended for payment by Gener1 Cornwallis and Consul Gener1 Sampson to the Secretary of State's Office Since 1772. And notwithstandg it's being Approved of, Yet the Petr only received 150 Pounds on Account thereof And the remaining 250 Pounds is due to him to this Day. That the Want of payment of the said 250 Pounds detained the Petr in London, where he has been for these 10 years past labouring under the most distressed Circumstances, and Absent from his Family that was at Gibraltar. That during the Siege of Gibrr the Petitioner's own dwelling House was Destroy'd and plundered to the Bedding, And on the 24th Day of May, 1781, his only Son twenty years of Age, in whose Abilities the Petr entirely depended for the Comfort of his Advanced Age, Was killed by a Bomb Shell, and the Petitioner's Wife and Daughter Wounded. That three Days after this misfortune the Petitioner's Family was obliged to Embark for England and in their passage were taken by the Americans, Carried into Spain and striped of the little remains they had saved at Gibraltar. That it is now three years past that the Pet1'8 family Arrived in Lond11 where they have gone thro' all the Scenes of Necessities with Resignation, and Supported themselves by his taking in few Writings, and his Wife Needle Work. But even this little Comfort is Suspended since the Peace, by which they are now reduced to a total Distress. That the Petr finding himself and family under those unhappy Circumstances would wish to go with his family to Gibraltar where he believes he can earn a livelihood to support himself. But the Extream want of means to perform the Voyage put it out of his power, to his great Mortification. That Notwithstanding that the Petr has for some time past observed the Various Applications that many Individuals have made G</page><page sequence="7">90 miscellanies. to Government under different pretences for relief which has been generously Granted, the Petr could never have the presumption of Applying, Altho' his Services and Unhappy Circumstances have been publicly known, Until now that his Uncommon Distress and the desire of going to relief his family obliges him to do it, tho' with great reluctance. Therefore as Humane Generosity is the Characteristic Virtue of the British Nation, the Petr humbly Prays your Lord Ship to take his Case in Consideration, and that either in Consequence of his disburs ments, of his having got British Subjects out of Slavery without any Expence to the Nation, of his other Services and Sufferings, of his Losses and present unhappy situation, or by the faithful discharge of his Duty on all occasions, to grant him some Relief to enable him to quit England with his Family by the first ship for Gibraltar, And the Petr as in Duty bound shall ever Pray, &amp;c &amp;c &amp;c. Jacob Benider London ye. [Eridorsed]?Jacob Benider, Esqr. Memorial,</page></plain_text>