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The Jews and the Great Plague

Wilfred S. Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">2. The Jews of London and the Great Plague (1665) In my paper on "The First London Synagogue of the Resettle? ment" I suggested that "the* Jews seem not to have fared as badly during the Plague as some other communities"1 and I instanced the six identifiable plague entries in the oldest burial register at Bevis Marks Synagogue. I added that the cemetery in rear of 253, Mile End Road, contains approximately fifteen unmarked graves (at the western end of Carera II.) which are believed to be those of plague victims. The total Jewish population of London in 1665 is unknown, but 250 souls seems a reasonable estimate. A friend (Major G. Goold Walker, the military historian) has now drawn my attention to a brief but highly interesting entry in the archives at Guildhall which throws further light on the matter. It is in the Lord Mayor's Waiting Booh (1664 to 1668), is headed "March 29th, 1666, Bludworth?Mayor" and is a plea made on behalf of Abraham Monday, described as a Jew. His name is quite new to students of the London Jewry of the period, 1 Transactions x, 40, 41 and 235. See also Walter G. Bell, The Great Plague in London in 1665 (London, 1924), pp. 180-181.</page><page sequence="2">8 MISCELLANIES. perhaps because he had separated himself from the community ten years previously by marrying Mistress Jane Ingram, a gentile, in a Bishopsgate church.2 This defection took place while Menasseh ben Israel was in London, and only three weeks after the Rabbi's petition (as to Jewish services and burials) supported by Carvajal and five other prominent Sephardi Jews had been received by Oliver Cromwell. But Abraham Monday is likely to have been a Jew of the humbler sort who did not move in quite such exalted circles. About seven years after the marriage, Sir John Robinson, Lord Mayor for 1662-1663, had made an order which obliged the rulers of the Portuguese Synagogue in Creechurch Lane to make Abraham Monday a weekly allowance of five shillings. Payment was discontinued when the Plague broke out, but an application by Mrs. Monday?according to the recently dis? covered entry?was made in March, 1666, to Sir Thomas Bludworth (one of Robinson's aldermen and now Lord Mayor) which led to the allowance being reinstated but at a reduced rate of is. weekly, i.e., a drop from ?13 to ?10 85. Od. per annum. The synagogue's account book3 contains no reference to these matters, for the book-keeping lacks detail during the months of panic. That observant Jews should be obliged by the magistracy to provide for apostate Jews seems most unfair, nor had it become the settled practice at that time, and, before we turn to consider Plague matters, I should like to give you the scraps of evidence I have collected, some of it conflicting evidence, as to the attitude of the authorities in seventeenth century England towards pleas for financial support from converted Jews. For example, in 1681 and 1682 the churchwardens of St. Katherine Creechurch were giving a series of doles to a renegade from Judaism ("given Aron Gabay the converted Jew p. order of Vestrie 00 05 00"),4 although the synagogue stood in their parish and the Jews were their tenants. Then twenty years later, and after much preliminary agitation, the House of Commons passed "a Bill for obliging the Jews to maintain and provide for their Protestant children"?an 2 A. W. C. Hallen, The Registers of St. Botolph Bishopsgate (London, 1889). Vol. i, p. 585. Marriages. 1656, April 16, Abraham Mondaie and Jane Ingrum. 3 L. D. Barnett, El Libro de los Acuerdos (Oxford, 1931). 4 Transactions x, 47, 82-83.</page><page sequence="3">THE JEWS AND THE GREAT PLAGUE. 9 indication that Parliament was prepared to go no further than to compel individual Jews, as distinct from the Congregation of Jews, to provide for those converts who, but for their conversion, would have been look? ing to them for support. It seems to me that this legislation can only have been provoked by many instances of Jewish converts receiving parish relief during the forty or fifty years preceding. The "last straw" was the order by the Lord Mayor of 1701 to the churchwardens of St. Andrew Undershaft that they must support a baptised Jewess whose father had turned her out.5 To return to the seventeenth century and to evidence of the opposite kind?there was a contemporary of Abraham Monday whose wife also obtained from the Lord Mayor an order compelling the synagogue to support her and her two daughters. This was Rabbi Solomon Franco, a synagogue official who had been displaced when Rabbi Jacob Sasportas was brought from Amsterdam to act as Chacham to the congregation.6 Franco had been resident in London prior to the Protectorate and he was teaching Hebrew to Elias Ashmole, a pioneer of freemasonry, at his house in Blackfriars at the beginning of 1652.7 He adopted Christianity in 1668,8 and two years later an allowance of ?12 per annum payable by the synagogue was granted by the Lord Mayor and the synagogal account book shows that the Franco family 5 H. S. Q. Henriques, The Return of the Jews to England (London, 1905), p. 120. 6 L. D. Barnett, op. cit. So much is deducible from a careful study and comparison of the synagogue's disbursements recorded on p. 19. 7 Lucien Wolf discovered this reference (Transactions, v, 9), but he was mistaken in stating that Franco was at Oxford in 1652. I give the following extracts from Wolf's authority Oxoniana, iii, p. 186 (Oxford n. d., probably 1807):?p. 185. 1650. Nov. 12th. "I agreed with Mr. Lyster for his house in Blackfriars where I afterwards dwelt." p. 186. 1652. Feb. 11th. "About this tyme I began to learne Hebrew of Rabbi Solomon Frank." Ashmole's Memoirs (London, 1717), p. 26, as well as The Lives of . . . Ashmole . . . and . . . Lilly (London, 1774), pp. 312, 314, 315 and 316, make it clear that Ashmole had become a Londoner, and this is borne out, too, by R. T. Gunter's edition of The Diary and Will of Elias Ashmole (Oxford, 1927), p. 47. In 1660 Solomon Franco was living in Fenchurch Street {Transactions, v. 7.) 8 His pamphlet first noted by Lucien Wolf, Truth Springing out of the earth that is The Truth of Christ (London, 1668) appears to have been issued soon after his baptism. According to the dedication addressed to Charles II it was "the wonder? ful Restauration of your Majesty to these your Kingdoms . . . {that) . . . was the first motive that inclined me towards the Christian religion." What effect the Great Plague and the Great Fire had upon his resolution is not stated!</page><page sequence="4">10 MISCELLANIES. continued to be a source of expense until 1675.9 "The agreement with Franco's wife" was considered by a far more august body than the City Fathers. It was also discussed by the Privy Council, "His Majesty being present"?and the Attorney General was directed to stay certain proceedings, the attitude of the Jews having favourably impressed the Government. The date of this occurrence has not yet been traced.10 Finally, the synagogue had another pensioner, an unnamed Mulatto, who also received ?12 0s. 6d. yearly (= 4s. l\d. weekly) from 1664, or earlier, until his death in 1668. It may well be that he, too, was one of the Lord Mayor's pensioners.11 Having now dealt with the converts and their sources of income, let us turn to the main subject of this paper?"The Jews and the Great Plague." It is clear from the balance sheets that have survived that the Jewish congregation did continue its activities during the Plague period. The levy collected on hasher meat brought in less; indeed, the impostas (tax on earnings) in which this levy is included came to only ?90 as compared with ?135 in the pre-Plague year. Another source of synagogal revenue, the promessas (offerings), realised only ?63 in lieu of ?82 previously garnered. On the total accounts for the Plague year there was a deficit of ?109 but special measures were afterwards taken whereby it was reduced to ?63.12 Mr. Walter Bell, the historian of the Great Plague, holds that the infection was spreading gradually between the months of December, 1664, and March, 1665, held in check, however, by the severe cold. The first big exodus from the City started during July, and by August the Plague was raging. It was in March, 1665 (Nissan, 5425), that two important pieces of domestic legislation were promulgated by the London synagogue. A constitution framed the previous October and 9 L. D. Barnett, op. ext., folios 9a, 22b, 25a, 27a, 39a and 48b. Guildhall Records, Lord Mayor's Waiting Books 5 and 6 (Starling to Ford, 1668 to 1671). 3rd Nov. 1670. "Rulers of ye Jewish sinagogue p. refuseing to keep the two children of Solomon ffrancoe a Jew." Guildhall Records, Sessions File for 7th December, 1670, slips 16 and 17. 10 L. D. Barnett, op. cit., p. 116. No. 5. 11 ibid., pp. 19, 30, 32 and 35. The outlay recorded on the two last pages totals ?24 0?. 6d., apparently two years' allowance. 12 ibid., pp. 18, 24, 25 and 31.</page><page sequence="5">THE JEWS AND THE GREAT PLAGUE. 11 made up of forty-two Ascamot (laws) for the governance of the congre? gants was recited from the reading desk by the treasurer.13 At the same time a constitution consisting of nine Ascamot was adopted by a congregational Society for tending the Sick and burying the Dead (the Brethren of the Holy Hebra of Bikur Holim and Guemilut Hacadim). This body had evidently been in existence for some time, and the presence of Plague may have led to its more formal recognition and to a clear definition of the obligations devolving on its members and officials.14 The two earliest Jewish plague victims of whom a record survives are Rachel and Ester de Morais, children of one Abraham de Morais, who were buried in the Mile End cemetery within a few days of one another, during Nissan, 5425 (approximately March, 1665). Another buried during Tebeth, 5425 (December, 1665), was Samuel (da) Vega, probably the great jeweller and banker.15 Chacham Jacob Sasportas, once the religious head of the London synagogue, concludes as follows a letter written from abroad during July,16 1666:? "These are the words of him who writes and signs here at Hamburg and who fled from fear of the destroying hand of the Lord which was against our community in London."17 The Rabbi had only reached London in the summer of 1664, and by August, 1665, he was 13 ibid., pp. 3, 13 (Art. 42) and 14 (Line 2). 14 That the Hebra functioned until 1677 is proved by the account entries re? printed in Dr. Barnett's work. (See Index under Hebra.) It is puzzling that the rulers of the synagogue should have been petitioned by congregants during the summer of 1678 for leave to found just such a Society, the words used being "up to the present this our most noble holy congregation has lacked ... a Hebra which shall practice the meritorious and urgent charity which is due to the sick and the dead" (Transactions, x, 258-260). I can only suggest that the Society had lapsed into a Charity Fund, and that the fraternal attentions to sick and dead congregants were being neglected. If this be so then history repeated itself for Ghacham D. Nieto published in 1709 a sermon called "Los Trionfos de la Pobreza" which was *"a panegyric preached on the solemnity of the foundation of the pious and sacred Hebra of Bikur Holim" (Society for tending the Sick). 15 Transactions, v, 6, 7, 19 and 23 and x, 56n. 16 Sasportas' letter was addressed to the Rabbis of Smyrna and is dated "in the week of the Portion 4 Vex the Midianites'." The Rev. M. Rosenbaum has obligingly worked out the date for me; it proves to be the 17th July, 1666. 17 Kizur zizat novel Zvi (a history of Sabbatai Zevi and of Jacob Sasportas' polemic against him, with additions by Jacob Emden, Odessa, 1867). I owe this reference and translation to the kindness of Dr. Cecil Roth.</page><page sequence="6">12 MISCELLANIES. out of the country.18 He had been accompanied here by his son, Samuel Sasportas, who was to displace as teacher the synagogue's first minister, Moses Athias, and as shochet and bodek (slaughterer and meat inspector) its original secretary, Benjamin Levy. Following hard on the heels of the Sasportas family came Solomon Lopes, a beadle from Amsterdam, who was to displace Samuel Levy, the congregation's first factotum ("a learned (Cracovian) Jew with a mighty bush beard, a great Rabbi," as his admirer, John Greenhalgh, had described him in 1662). All three Amsterdamers seem to have fled the Plague, the younger Sasportas accepting an assisted passage to Barbados,19 but he was back in London already by the summer of 166820 to become a Sworn Broker in October, 1670, until his dismissal from the Royal Exchange in October, 1681, "for trading and Merchan? dizing to his owne use," to which technical offence he had pleaded guilty.21 Samuel Levy and Benjamin Levy survived the Plague and were duly reinstated by the congregation, the latter as Reader, but Moses Athias had contracted the disease and had died.22 The two wardens of the synagogue, Isaac Barzilay and Isaac Azevedo, appear to have stuck manfully to their posts, remaining in office for two years instead of one, as did the gabay (treasurer), Isaac Israel Nunes, who had himself lost two children in the epidemic.23 The newly discovered entry in the Lord Mayor's Waiting Book throws a little further light on the state of the London Jews during and after the Plague. Let me now read it to you in full:? March 29th, 1666. "This day complaint was made unto his Lordshipp by Jane wife of one Abraham Monday a Jew, that the Synygough of the Jewes 18 The total salary paid to him covers the period March, 1664, to August, 1665, and includes 100 florins for the journey hither and apparently ?6 towards his passage back. (L. D. Barnett, op. cit.f pp. 19, 30.) 19 ibid., p. 30. 20 ibid., p. 39 and Guildhall Records, Repertories 73, fol. 245. 21 Lucien Wolf, Essays in Jewish History (London, 1934), p. 133, citing Guildhall Records, Repertories 86, fol. 234. Sasportas was subsequently prosecuted by "divers Merchants ... as they Alleadge they have bin greatly iniured." His admission as, a Sworn Broker is recorded in Repertories 76, fol. 70 and 302. 22 Transactions, viii, 99. 23 Walter G. Bell, op. cit., p. 180.</page><page sequence="7">THE JEWS AND THE GREAT PLAGUE. 13 doe refuse to pay and allowe him the said Abraham 5s. weekely which was by order of Sir John Robinson late Lord Mayor of the Citty graunted him. And forasmuch as severall of the said Synygough appeared before his Lordshipp who alleaged that severall of theire Synygough in the late Visitation went into the Country and severall others dead soe that the said Synygough is much diminished his Lordshipp doth therefore order that the said Synygough for the future shall pay and allowe him 4s. weekely to be collected by the officers belonging to the said Synygough. And if any Jewe in or about London refuseing soe to pay to be summoned before his Lordshipp and be dealt withall according to Justice."24 The reference to the Jews "in or about London" and "who . . . went into the Country" has led me to speculate as to their retreats, but without reaching any conclusions. Hackney, Highgate and Hamp stead could not have served as shelters, for all three places were plague stricken, and it was not until later in the century that they became the suburban retreats of well-to-do Jews. King Charles took refuge from the Plague at Oxford and Dr. Fernando Mendes, the Queen's Jewish physician, presumably accompanied the Court and was perhaps followed by some of his numerous kinsfolk?Da Costas, Gutteres, Mendes and Mendes da Costas. The poorer class of London Jews must have been in a sorry plight as a result of the Plague, since trading in any sort of secondhand goods would have been at a standstill and an itinerant vendor would be regarded with deep suspicion as a probable Plague carrier. Of the subsequent history of Abraham Monday?and, for that matter, of his earlier history?we know nothing; of his wife, Mistress Jane Monday, we know only that two different women bearing that name were buried in City churches in December, 1691, and in February, 1699, and it seems likely that they were the wife and daughter of Abraham Monday.25 24 Guildhall Records, Lord Mayor's Waiting Booh No. 3 (1664 to 1668, Bateman to Peake). March 29th, 1666. Bludworth?Mayor. 25 Hart. Soc. Registers, Vol. viii (London, 1883). Burials at St. John Baptist on Wallbrook, p. 193. 1699. Feb. 12. Jane Munday. Harl Soc. Registers, Vol. x (London, 1880). Burials at St. Mary Aldermary, p. 201. 1691 Dec. 30. Jane Monday died 28 Dec.</page><page sequence="8">14 MISCELLANIES. Following the Great Plague of 1665 came the Great?and cleansing ?Fire of 1666. Its historian (Mr. Walter Bell again), prints a letter from a contemporary Londoner which closes with the words "Little of the city remaynes, save part of Broad and Bishopsgate streete, all Leadenhall street, and some of the adjacent lanes about Algate and Cretchett Fryers."26 Fortunately for the Jews, this was the area which contained the synagogue and most of its members' homes, and so there is no reference to the Fire in the minutes of the congregation, nor is any extraordinary expenditure due to fire losses deducible from the account book. The converted Rabbi Franco alone has left on record a lament27:? . . . "Whereas . . . I do quote several passages out of the Talmud without setting forth the Books, Chapters and leaves; the reason for it is, because the late Fire has consumed all those Hebrew books where I could have found them and though I might have made use of some private Libraries which are still preserved, yet I lacked a Book which I earnestly searched for amongst all the Booksellers in London and the friends I knew, and could not find it. . . ." Another convert, Jacob ben Samuel, in a begging letter28 to the sixteen-year-old Earl of Huntingdon complains that having "ben hebrew Reader of Sion Colledge in the sity of London . . . that unhappy fire in London hath undone me . for my pleace . for my hebrew bookis &amp; for my Living." Although "1664" has been written in bold figures above the Earl's address I believe this to be a later addition, and that "the Hebrew schoolmaster," as he styled himself, had been a victim of the Great Fire of London in which "the College hall library, offices, almshouses, and students chambers?all were des? troyed."29 For the Jews, 1666 held bitter memories, being not merely the Hate of the Great Fire, but above all the momentous vear when 26 Walter G. Bell, The Great Fire of London (1920), p. 315. 27 Solomon Franco, op. cit., Dedication. 28 This interesting manuscript belongs to our President, Dr. Cecil Roth, who has obligingly lent it to me. The writer is beyond any doubt identical with Jacob ben Rabbi Samuel Augusto, who landed here in 1658 and spent two years in Oxford and Cambridge, and who in September, 1663, sought baptism?with the King as his witness (Cal. S. P. Dom, 1670, with Addenda 1660-1670, p. 684. The letter of September, 1663, to which this Calendar reference relates is in S.P. 29, No. 101). 29 Walter Bell, op. cit., pp. 167-168.</page><page sequence="9">medieval jewish mss. in library op st. paul's cathedral. 15 the Messianic Age was to supervene according to the widespread "revelations" of Sabbatai Zevi, the bogus Messiah, whose dupes included very many members of the London Jewry. Wilfred S. Samuel. Read before the Society, December 15, 1936.</page></plain_text>