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A Timeline of Jewish Heritage in the Azores


This timeline, in its original form “Roteiro das Comunidades - Herança Judaica nos Açores”, is the scientific and research work of Professor Fátima Sequeira Dias, with the sponsorship of the Presidência do Governo Regional dos Açores, Secretario Regional da Presidência, Direção Regional das Comunidades.


Our English translation is as follows:


The Azores were dicovered in 1427 by Diogo de Silves


  • July 2, 1439 – Royal Charter from King Afonso V, authorized Prince Henry, the Navigator, to populate the then seven known islands (Flores and Corvo had not been discovered yet). 10 years later, on March 10, 1449, another charter was promulgated with the same intent.

  • 1496 – The expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, under the reign of King Manuel I.

  • 1497 – Portuguese Jews are forced to be baptized as they prepare to leave Portugal.

  • 16th Century – Numerous settlers arrived on the Azores from the kingdom and abroad, among them, many converted Jews who spread throughout the islands attempting to integrate themselves into the existing communities.

  • 1536 – Start of Inquisition Tribunal in Portugal, at the request of King Joao III.

  • 1555 - First reference to inquisitorial action in the Azores.

  • 1557-1802 – 112 Azorean residents were processed by the Inquisition Tribunal.

  • 1558 - Taxes were imposed upon the New-Christians on the islands. There were 14 couples living in S. Miguel, 28 couples in Terceira, six in Faial, and two in Pico.

  • 1580-1640 - Portuguese Crown merged with Spain.

  • 1591 - First Inquisitorial visit to the Azores.

  • 1818-1819 - The first Moroccan Jews with British citizenship arrived on S. Miguel from Gibraltar. Among the pioneers were Aarao Aflalo, Aarao Benayon, Abraao Bensaude, Salao Buzaglo, Jacob Matna and Isaac Sentob.

  • 1820 - Portuguese Liberal Revolution.

  • March 31, 1821 - The Inquisition comes to an end by General, Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portugal.

  • 1821 - The Jews submit a document to the Ponta Delgada municipality asking permission  to sell their goods in S. Miguel.

  • 1830-32 – The Regency Government settled in Terceira

  • November 22, 1830 - Aabrao Bensaude is naturalized Portuguese Citizen, having lived in S. Miguel, probably since 1818. He was one of the firs Jews to obtain citizenship. According to Pedro de Merlim, Aarao Ben Ayon had become a citizen three years earlier.

  • 1831 - The door-to-door Jewish merchants protest the non-renewal of their sales license in Terceira by the Regency Council. The merchants pointed out their adhesion to the liberal cause and their contributions to the island’s wealth through the payment of the numerous customs taxes, due to their important business practices.

  • September 24, 1831 - The land for the Jewish cemetery in Angra do Heroismo (Terceira) called Field of Equality was deeded, its first occupant was Fortunato Benjamim. The land had been purchased by Joaquim Zagory, per instructions in the will of Abraao Benaoim. The cemetery contains 53 burial sites.

  • 1832-1834 - Civil war erupts between the loyalists of Prince Miguel (Miguelistas) and the Liberals.

  • 1834 - Opening of the Jewish cemetery of Ponta Delgada, in the township of Santa Clara. It has 154 burial sites. According to Professor Alfredo Bensaude the date is not correct, because there is a burial site dateed of 1826.

  • July 23, 1834 - Attempt of a riot against the Jewish merchants in Ponta Delgada, immediately repudiated by the civil and religious authorities, calling attention to the British citizenship of the Jews.

  • March 4, 1835 - Jose Bensaude was born in Ponta Delgada, he became the most prevalent industrial entrepreneur of the 19th Century.  He was a son of Abraao Bensaude, pioneer of the Jewish immigration to the Azores.

  • December 5, 1835 - The first enterprise financed with Jewish capital was founded, Bensaude and Company, by the two cousins Salomao and Elias Bensaude, in S. Miguel.

  • 1836 - Measures against the business practices of the Jews claimed in Faial.

  • 1836 - The Azores were divided in three administrative districts; Ponta Delgada, Angra do Heroismo and Horta.

  • December 1, 1836 – Deed for the purchase of a building, to install the Shaar Hashamain Synagogue in Ponta Delgada. The founders were: Abraao, Elias, and Salomao Bensaude, Isaac Zafrany, Jose Azulay, Salao Buzaglo and Fortunato Abacassis, the property converted converted to a common temple on August 7, 1847.

  • 1846 - Again, measures against the business practices of the Jews claimed in Faial.

  • August 12, 1851 – In Ponta Delgada, it was deeded the partial purchase of the old hospital building to be used as Salomao Bensaude business office. Today, the building serves as the company’s headquarters on the Vasco Bensaude Square.

  • April 19, 1852 - Deeded the purchase of land, near the extinct Convent do Carmo, in Horta, Faial, to be used for the Jewish burial ground, having been the purchasers Salomao Bensabat, Salomao Sabat and Abraao Abisdid. The cemetery has 17 burial sites.

  • 1864 -First pineapples exported from S. Miguel, by Jose Bensaude.

  • 1866 - Founded the Fabrica de Tabaco Micaelense (Tabaco Factory of S. Miguel) as a partnership among  Jose Bensaude (managing partner) Clemente Joaquim da Costa, Jose Jacome Correia and Abraao  Bensaude. 

  • 1871 - Founded Empresa Insulana de Navegação (Islander Navigation Enterprise) acquired shortly after by Bensaude and Company, (1873) in operation until 1973.

  • 1896 - Birth of Vasco Bensaude, huge promoter of tourism industry in the Azores, namely through the Sociedade Terra Nostra.

  • 1930’s - Arrival of numerous German-Jews, escaping the Nazi nightmare that had descended onto Europe. Arrival in S. Miguel of(much admired) Medical Doctor Mowscha Friedman 1904-1989 and wife, Erna Ernestine Friedman from Latonia. They arrived in 1939 and 1940. At that time, several businessmen established themselves in Ponta Delgada and Horta, including Ruben Beck Gordon, Luzar Salles and Ismael Katzman in S. Miguel.

  • 1934 -Inaugurated the Tourism and Information Bureau, thanks to the creation of Terra Nostra Society by Augusto Rebelo Arruda, Agnelo Casimiro and Francisco Bicudo de Medeiros joined by Albano Pereira da Ponte, Francisco Machado Faria e Maia and Luis Bernardo Leite Athaide. With the addition of Vasco Bensaude to the capital partnership, the Terra Nostra Society diversified its investments: Casa Regional (Regional House) Terra Nostra Hotel and Furnas Casino in S. Miguel; Terra Nostra Hotel at Santa Maria Airport, O Bar Restaurante at Lages Airport, and Casa Regional dos Acores, in Lisbon.

  • March 20, 1935 - Inaugurated the Terra Nostra Hotel in Furnas, S. Miguel.        

  • 1936 - Acquired by the Terra Nostra Partnership Jardim do Tanque  (Garden of the Tank) in Furnas, created in the later part of the 18th Century by the former American Consul Thomas Hickling, which belonged to the family of the Marquees of Praia since 1848. The Yankee Hall appears, designed by the brothers Joseph and Henry Bullar in 1839, on the book “Um Inverno nos Açores e um Verão no Vale das Furnas”. (A winter in the Azores and a Summer in the Furnas Valley.) The Terra Nostra Park opened to the public on July 1, 1937.

  • August 16, 1939 -Inaugurated the Furnas Golf Course by Terra Nostra Partnership.

  • August 21, 1941 - Sociedade Açoriana de Transportes Aéreos (SATA) or Azorean Society os Areal Transportation, having as parners  Dr. Augusto Rebelo Arruda, Jose Bensaude, Augusto de Athaide, Albano de Freitas da Silva Oliveira and Bensaude and Co. The social capital was 24 thousand escudos, divided into equal shares of 4, 800 escudos. Its objective was to study the possibility of connecting by air the adjacent islands among one another, and each with Lisbon, and require from the Portuguese government the authorization to explore this venue.

  • June 15, 1947 - Official Inauguration of SATA, at Santana Field, with the arrival of a Beechcraft plane named “Açor”.

  • February 12, 1965 -Terra Nostra Partnership inaugurates Hotel S. Pedro in Ponta Delgada.




Some of the Surnames Found in the Historical Records of the Azores.


19th Century

Abecassis, Abohbot, Abudarham, Adrahi, Abisdid, Afallo, Allias, Aquinine, Athias, Azulay, Benayon, Benarus, Benchimol, Bemjamim, Benite, Bensabat, Bensaude, Benzaquim, Buzaglo, Cohen, Conquy, Delmar, Levy, Losquy, Matana, Mor-Jose, Nahon, Sebag, Sabat, Sentob, Zafrany, Zagory.


20th Century

Beck Gordo, Friedman, Katzan, Salles



Timeline of the Jewish Heritage in the Azores.

In the history of the Azores, we account for three periods when Jews arrived in the islands. The first is at the time of the settlement, after the forties of the 15th Century. The second comes about the middle of the second quarter of the 19th century, and the third encompasses the nightmarish Nazi period in Europe.  During the three periods, the Jews sought refuge in the Azores from the persecutions that targeted them in Portugal, in Morocco and Central and Eastern Europe. On the first two periods they were Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula or from North Africa, where they hid from the expulsions of the Catholic Jews (1492) and from King Manuel (1496). On the third period they were Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.


During the first period, the Inquisition, a religious institution that persecuted Jewish families for centuries, was responsible for the difficulties they encountered to remaining Jewish while living in the islands.    During the second and third periods, there are no registered problems of integration, and there are no violent episodes of xenophobia against the newly arrived. On the contrary, it was a sobering to see the outpouring of sorrow from the general population when the young Alegria Sabat Pinto died in 1875 in Faial; the normality with which it was seen the marriage of Jews into local families, in Terceira; and the social integration and economic success of Jewish families in S. Miguel.


Mercantile practices, were the main economic activity of the Azorean-Jewish community, but either because its business success, or by its failure, the islands soon became small for their ambitions. The new world had always been an attraction; that is why we find large numbers of Azoreans in Brazil and in North America, who claim Jewish ascendency.



The New Age

Among the first settlers in the Azores, naturally, there were Jews and Moors. After the 1496 Expulsion Edict, and force-conversion of Jews the following year, during King Manuel I, there were innumerous converts who came to the islands looking for anonymity. Yet, their presence doesn’t go unnoticed; therefore, the first Inquisition act in the Azores happened in 1555, with 22 people sent to Lisbon jails 1557. When the Actos de Fé, (humiliating public penance, with some of them being burn alive,) the first is dated at 1576, and it involved a woman born in Ponta Delgada accused of practicing Judaism. In 1591 and 1618 there were inquisitorial visits to the Azores, and during those moments of accusation and confession, innumerous suspected acts of practicing Judaism among individuals born, or resided in the Azores. Yet, according to studies made, between 1557 and 1802, the Inquisition only processed 112 residents of the Azores, an insignificant number in relation to the Azorean population. In the early 1800s, the estimated population of the Azores was 155,247.

According to some authors, there was a persistent suspicion, that the manuscript Saudades da Terra, by Gaspar Frutuoso, (written between 1586 and 1590) in the possession of the Marquises of Praia, for a long time, was kept from publication due to the author’s reference to the New-Christianity of the powerful and wealthy Gaspar Dias, an ancestor of the Marquises. The truth is that we lost track of the New-Christians, who were integrated into the population, either through marriage with older Christians, or by seeking refuge abroad, namely in the Canary Islands, Brazil, Caribbean, and North America. After all, similar to the rest of the Azorean population, the New-Christians, also took part of the great migration, especially to Brazil at the end of the 16th century.

Attesting to the mobility of the New Christian community, during the Spanish Inquisition Acts in the Canary Islands, there were 77 people born in the Azores and Madeira, of them, 52 were sentenced. There is no doubt that the highest period of persecution was during the time when Portugal was under Spain’s domain between 1580 and 1640. During this time several income taxes were levied upon the Azorean New-Christians, namely in 1558, 1604, 1606, and 1623. During the first census for example, there were 14 Jewish couples on Sao Miguel, 28 on Terceira, 6 on Faial, 2 on Pico, a number indicative of the dispersion of New-Christians throughout the islands. However, both integration and flight contributed for the progressive disregard of Moses’ Law.



Since 1818-1819

Arriving from several Moroccan cities, around 1818-1819 some Jewish families settled in Sao Miguel, and shortly after in Terceira and Faial. On the documentation of the time, these Jewish were classified as “Moroccan Hebrews”, with the explanation that they had obtained British citizenship in Gibraltar.

It is known that those Jews were part of a strong Jewish emigration that since the mid 15th century, had been going to Algarve and Madeira. With the Portuguese royalty and court settled in Brazil, the national economic fabric destroyed by the French invasions of Portugal, and the British occupational forces did create unexpected business opportunities for those recently arrived to the kingdom. After all, the Inquisition was no longer feared because of its loss of power since the Pombal’s administration.

As for the Azorean islands, the prosperity coming from the export of citric fruit to the United Kingdom opened new perspective lucrative business deals for the Jews with commercial connections to the London market, due to their familiar and religious relations with the Jewish community there. In fact, it was a common practice for businessmen established on the islands to go on annual business trips to London and negotiate credits and select new stocks.


The signs of Jewish presence in the islands are numerous until today, older retail stores, three cemeteries (each named Field of Equality) and a Synagogue. On Terceira, the construction of the Jewish cemetery dates to 1832, while on Sao Miguel, where the larger community was settled, the cemetery is dated 1834. The cemetery on Faial dates from 1852. Places of worship were scattered  throughout the islands, some of them, as referred in private residences, as on Rua da Sé at the home of Rabbi Mimon Abohbot, of Terceira’s community, and on Rua do Livramento at the home of Rabbi Mayer Pinto of the Faial’s community.   

Tradition tells us that there were five Synagogues in Ponta Delgada and one in Vila Franca, as recorded by Professor Alfredo Bensaude, on the a book dedicated to his father, titled “The Life of Jose Bensaude” (1936). The building that houses the Synagogue of Ponta Delgada, at former Rua Andre das Bucetas, now Rua do Brum, still standing, and where important restorations are projected by the city of Ponta Delgada, was purchased in 1836. The opening of the imposing Synagogue, named Shaar Hashamain, reveals how comfortable the Jewish community lived less than 20 years after their arrival. Of its desire to integrate themselves with the islands we note the purchase of real estate, the registration of businesses in Portuguese, and overall the adoption of Portuguese citizenship at the early part of the 1830s.


The Jews in the Azores were all business people, and soon redefined the commercial activities on the islands, not only through competitiveness among themselves, but also with the local businessmen with their long-ago established routines. They took over the fringed islands and least accessible places with a web of distributors, to rotate existing stocks, and offering credit, to secure the clientele and soon they reached an envied economic position. In their stores, the stocks were more varied and modern, all made in England and at a lower price due to the high stock rotation. Contrary to the local business people, they were disconnected from local aspirations and never looked to be of public service, therefore they were able to funnel their profits to the growth and diversification of their business and to the high business education of their children. It is interesting to note that the acquisition of agricultural land and fruit orchards rarely interested them, preferring instead the wholesale, retail and the leasing of ships that they would dedicate to the most lucrative routes: Orange shipping to England, from where they imported goods to retail at the islands; transporting emigrants to Brazil, from where they imported sugar and brandy, and would receive bill of exchange to cash them in London. The import businesses would finance mortgages of the local productions, that would be exported; and soon after, they entered the investments and representation of insurance companies and foreign banks; and on local commercial initiatives including tobacco, tea and pineapples production, the main export of Sao Miguel from the 18th to the 19th century.

The Azorean Jewish community adhered to a strong sense of endogamy, finding their spouses within their local members or abroad. However, since the mid 19th century, we find some marriages outside of the community, namely the first-born daughter of Rabbi Mimon Abohbot in Terceira, and a daughter or Abraao Bensaude in Sao Miguel. On the last quarter of the 1800s, not only did the islands stop receiving Jewish businessmen, but they witnessed leaving the islands their descendents from those who came during the 1820s, and who had been born on the Azores. The economic crisis of the orange decline contributed to the exodus of most Azorean Jews to Brazil, and North America, with only a few families remaining in the Azores. With the exception of the important Bensaude Enterprises, with businesses in every island, the remaining Jews abandoned all businesses activities.     





In 2004, according to a genetic study done at the Hospital Espirito Santo, at the department of pathology and molecular genetics, directed by scientist Luisa Mota Vieira, it was published a study of the Y chromosome, where it was proved that 13.4% of the islands population’s DNA is Jewish. This result proves unequivocally that until today the predominance of the Jewish genetic load on the archipelago.

We still can find descendents of families such as the Adrahi, Benarus, Bensaude and Delmar, but the genetic heritage of the Azorean Jews is even more pronounced in the Azorean Diaspora, namely in Brazil and North America.







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