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Columbus’ Converso Crewmates

October 11, 2017
Among Christopher Columbus’ crew members who made landfall for the first time in the “New World” (the Bahamas) on this date in 1492, six were Jewish conversos, including the doctor, the navigator, and the translator, Luis de Torres. De Torres had converted to Catholicism only the day before the expedition departed in order to avoid the Spanish monarchy’s expulsion edict, and he was probably among the 39 men who created a garrison on Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic) and were wiped out by a Native American attack after abducting native women; other sources hold that he established a small empire in the interior of Hispaniola in alliance with a local chief. Legend suggests that de Torres discovered the turkey and named it tukki (“parrot” in biblical Hebrew). Since Columbus believed he had arrived in Asia and expected to encounter descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, it is vaguely possible that the first words addressed to the natives of Hispaniola by Europeans were spoken in Hebrew. They should have been words of dire warning. “These people are very unskilled at arms... with fifty men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished.” —Christopher Columbus