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Specialists Books; Historical Documents and Manuscripts relating to Travel, Exploration and Voyages
Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts
Stand E15

Intercepted by Portuguese Suppressors - Delivered to the First Marquis of Pombal and Inciting Jesuit Expulsion from Portugal

1759 MSS Jesuit Letter - America

Gold in California , 1759

Lisbon, 5 June 1759. Fair copy manuscript letter, transcribed in 1760 by a scribe of the Portuguese royal court, with the original letter in hand, being correspondence from a Jesuit called Pietro Antonio Contarini, addressed to Pope Clement XIII, which was intended to apprise the Pope of the excellent works of the Jesuits in America in terms of global commerce and trade, with special interest being taken in California gold and pearls, to report on anti-Jesuit propaganda and scandals, and ultimately to augment the Pope's support in a time of persecution. According to the transcriber's final annotation, however, the letter was intercepted by the court of King Joseph I of Portugal, who only three months later officially expelled the Society from his kingdom and colonies. The final page consists of a poem honoring Saint Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Society of Jesus. All text is in Italian. Folio. 6 pages written on two double leafs laid watermarked paper measuring approximately 22 x 34 cm. A superlative primary source document, paramount to any Jesuit Americana library.

The timing and the content of the letter, together with surrounding political circumstances, are most significant. In September 1759, only 3 months after this letter was written, a letter in which a Jesuit noble who revealed economic activity in California and persecution in Lima, King Joseph I of Portugal and his minister the 1st Marquis of Pombal expelled the Jesuits from the Kingdom of Portugal and its colonies.

The Jesuits had been recently accused of having instigated a plot against the king's life, allegedly supported by theological justification, and for the purpose of covering up their rebellion in South America. The Jesuits were also accused of trying to set up their own fiefdom in South America, having allegedly seized royal territory and establishing the community through the mistreatment and toils of the indigenous people. Propaganda pamphlets were distributed, accusing the Jesuits of all sorts of misdeeds. The Jesuits were also persecuted, as described in this letter. The Jesuit Reductions, as they are also known, were a type of settlement for indigenous people in South America created by the Jesuit Order during the 17th and 18th centuries. Owing to some economic success, combined with the Jesuits' independence, the settlements came to be considered a threat by the secular Portuguese authorities. In 1758 the government of Joseph I of Portugal took advantage of the waning powers of Pope Benedict XIV and deported some of the Jesuits from America. The possibility of the Jesuit Order expanding their global commerce, and gaining economic power in New Spain was of immense concern. This letter, with its detailed descriptions of the opportunities in California, of universal trade, of gold found in abundance, and of pearls being secretly gathered and harbored, surely gave impetus to the Portuguese Marquis' unrelenting aim to eliminate Jesuit influence and power. No longer threatened by the Jesuits after their expulsion, the First Marquis of Pombal introduced many fundamental administrative, educational, economic, and ecclesiastical reforms, albeit it by autocratic means of suppressing opposition, furthering and controlling colonial economic exploitation, and print censorship. He is considered to be the most prominent minister in the history of Portugal's government.

The author of the letter is Pietro Antonio Contarini, a well-travelled Jesuit who was active in the Americas (New Spain) in the 1730s, and who descends from the ancient and noble House of Contarini, the most powerful of the twelve founding families of the Venetian Republic.

The intended recipient was Pope Clement XIII, a stalwart defender of the Jesuit order, born in 1693 as Carlo della Torre Rezzonico to a wealthy family of merchants from the Republic of Venice.

However, the letter's concluding remark, appended by a scribe, reveals that the original was intercepted by the anti-Jesuit Portuguese court, and put into the hands of influential Portuguese judge Ignacio Ferreira de Souta who was a member of the judicial council that ruled over the scandalous and pivotal Tavora affair, who in turn delivered it to a Portuguese noble, none other than the first Count of Oeiras and first Marquess of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), who effected the expulsion of the Jesuits from Portugal only three months later. The original letter, it is safe to presume, never reached the Pope.

The annotation reads as follows:
"Questa lettera e sonetto l'ebbe l'anno passato il Sig Ignacio Ferreira sotto per darlo a S.E. il Sig Conte d'Oeyra, ed il sonetto fu qui tradotto nel Portughese da un sacerdote claustrale." [This letter and the sonnet were given to S.E., Count of Oeyra, by Mr. Ignacio Ferreira last year, and the sonnet was translated from Portuguese by a cloistered priest.]

Ignacio Ferreira de Souta, mentioned in the above notice, was a leading Portuguese judge, assigned by Joseph I of Portugal as one of the nine judges in the supreme judicial council 'Junta de Inconfidencia' who presided over the trial of the rioters in the Tavora affair.

Still contested today, the Távora affair was a political scandal of the 18th century Portuguese court, an event which intensified rivalry between the Portuguese crown and the Jesuits, and was ostensibly the catalyst to the expelling of the Jesuits. It began with an attempted assassination of King Joseph I of Portugal in 1758, allegedly instigated by the Távora family and supported by the Jesuit Society, and culminating into the public torture and execution of the entire Távora family, and the subsequent banishing of the Jesuit order. Following the Távora affair, the new Count of Oeiras, first Marquess of Pombal, Dom Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, knew no opposition.

It was Dom Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal, 1st Count of Oeiras (1699-1782), who in fact received the letter, and who effected the expulsion of the Jesuits only three months later, through his Pombaline Reforms. He was a Portuguese statesman, Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs of the Kingdom (First Minister) in the government of Joseph I of Portugal.

With news of gold, pearls and rare medicinal herbs in California, and remarks of a calculated foothold over sea trade, this letter most certainly gave impetus to the Portuguese minister's fear of the Jesuits' rising political and economic power. Also being contemporary to the Tavora affair, it is no coincidence that the Jesuits were banished from Portugal three months later.

The letter is addressed to Beatissimo Padre" meaning "Most Holy Father," and being Pope Clement XIII who had been consecrated one year earlier, and who, in spite of incessant and dogmatic opposition, wished and earnestly attempted to support the Jesuit Society, rather than suppressing them.

[This Pope's pontificate was overshadowed by the constant pressure to suppress the Society of Jesus but despite this, he championed their order and also proved to be their greatest defender at that time. He was also one of the few early popes who favoured dialogue with Old Catholic Protestants. Shortly after Pope Clement XIII began his papacy on 6 July 1758, the reforming minister of Joseph I of Portugal, Marquis of Pombal, expelled the Jesuits from Portugal. The Order was civilly suppressed in 1759, and beginning 16 September 1759, nine voyages transported 1,036 Jesuits from Lisbon to Civitavecchia near Rome, as a "gift for the Pope." The Portuguese ambassador was recalled from Rome and the papal nuncio sent home in disgrace. Relations between Portugal and Rome were broken off until 1770.]

A positively fascinating surviving manuscript document, an intercepted manuscript letter which was addressed to the Pope but fell into the hands of the Jesuit fearing and autocratic Portuguese monarchy, Contarini's firsthand account now serves as a primary source testament to Jesuit wealth, to their early interests in California and America, and also to the persecution which they suffered. The fact that his letter was confiscated en route to the Vatican, also bears witness to the circumspect, if not devious efforts, of the Portuguese Crown to suppress any economic, political, or religions opposition.

Following a summary of his extensive travels and gleanings into universal trade, evidently to gain the confidence of the Pope, the writer discloses his observations in New Spain. He describes California as having abundant gold and precious stones, its sea having pearls and other marine life, which happens to be a secret closely guarded by Spain. Among other coveted agricultural commodities deriving from America, he specifically mentions rare medicinal herbs from California.

In 1734, Contarini had dined with Conde del Bena-Masserano (Guido Jacinto Ferrero-Fieschi y Saboya), Commander of the Spanish Fleet in Vera Cruz. He recounts a specific occasion where the Spanish commander had been asked by two Jesuit priests to transport a small casket containing rare medicinal herbs and unusual seashells from California, to the Jesuit College in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz. The casket and its contents were received with covetous appreciation.

Contarini describes being in Mexico in 1736 when Dr. José Cevayos, a student presbyter, discovered a rebellion which the viceroy Vizarrón (Juan Antonio de Vizarrón y Eguiarreta), commanded the Jesuits to quell. The Jesuits were obliged to disburse 684,000 Mexican pesos, to which the viceroy contributed.

He mentions a then very recently printed 100-page treatise condemning the Jesuits, now exceedingly scarce, and titled, "Riflessioni di um Portoghese Sopra il Memoriale presentado da' PP. Gesuiti alla Santtità di PP. Clemente XIII. Felicemente Regnante. Esposte in una Lettera ad un Amico di Roma Lisbon, 1758."

One page is devoted to significant events in Paraguay and Lima in 1731, surrounding the controversial execution of "Giovanni Antequeira" the de facto governor of the Spanish colonial Province of Paraguay, José Antequera y Castro (1689-1731), and his secretary Juan de Mena. [José Antequera y Castro had antagonized the Jesuits and also coveted their wealth. The Viceroy in Peru, Joseph de Armendáriz, Marques of Castelfuerte, ordered him to stand trial in Lima, where he was sentenced to death. Fearing an uprising by the populace who supported Antequera, the Viceroy dispatched soldiers with fixed bayonets to accompany him, riding a mule, to the scaffold. He ordered that Antequera should be beheaded as well as hanged. He then summoned Antequera's aged secretary Juan de Mena from the gaol, and accompanied him to the scaffold where he was beheaded.]

The Spanish Armada is also mentioned, "Armada de Barlovento" meaning "Windward Fleet." [The armada was important to Spanish politics in America, playing a crucial defensive and logistical role, particularly in protecting the trade and the coasts of the Spanish territories in America. The Armada was dissolved in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.]

Following are some excerpts from the letter [with rough translation]:

"Certa cosa é che per Le luoghi viaggi che ho fatto Europa tutta nella miglior e maggior parte dell'Asia, e nella due Americhe Spagnole, replicatamente [ripetutamente] a Mexico, mi sono trovato a portata d'essere instruitto del grande commercio, che li Padri fanno nella Costa Orientale in Manilla... in Portovelo, Panama, Popaian, Quito, Guiaichil, Lima o Los Reyes Capitale del Peru, e el Chille ed in tutta quella costa bagnata del Pacifico, come pure nella Nuova Spagna, Guatemala, Zonzonate... Havanna... e finalmente in tutti li luoghi dove hanno Collegii e Missioni con scandalo universale, non dico solamente de commercianti, ma di tutti li naturali di quelle regioni, che esageravano con qual morale / sendo sacerdoti, e contra tante censure e Bolle Pontificie / pottessero [potessero] fare questo Universale Commercio non solo in tutte le parit del mondo scoperto, ma in tutte le diverse specie de generi allo stesso Commercio pertinenti."
[Certainly by travelling places, the best of Europe and most of Asia, and in both of the Spanish Americas, repeatedly in Mexico, I found myself within reach of being instructed/informed in big business, by the Fathers on the east coast of Manilla... in Portovelo, Panama, Popaian, Quito, Guachichil.... Lima Capital of Peru... and in all that wet Pacific coast, as well as in New Spain, Guatemala, Zonzonate... Havana... and finally in all places where they have Colleges and Missions with universal scandal... not only from merchants, but also from all natives of the regions, who exaggerated by what morals (...) the priests, and against the many censures and Papal Bulls... potentially this universal commerce could not only be in all of the discovered world, but in all regions where the different types of (...) is relevant for commerce.]

"Qui devo fare una breve digressioner, perche nella descrizione e topografica che ho fatto di sopra ho lasciato La California, Peninsola grande e ricca sopra le molte scoperte quantunque Le di Lei richezze siano â pochissimi note separata della Costa della Nuova Spagna... hora questa California é abbondante d'Oro, & pietre preciose, ed il Mare di perle Coralli, èd altre rarità marine: Lé conseguirono a titolo di missione, Li Padri dal Monarca Cattolico, e furono loro Li primi a penetrarla, ed entratti, per cosi dire... alla riserva di quei pochissimi â cui é commesso il commercio..."
[Here I must make a brief digression because in the topographical description above I have omitted California, a large peninsula where many great riches have been discovered... a few separate notes on the Coast of New Spain... At this time California is abundant with gold, & precious stones, and with Coral Sea pearls, and other marine rarities: The Fathers of the Catholic monarch established a mission, and they were the first to penetrate, and extract them, so to speak... of the reserves, very few are committed the trade...]

"... di voler prendere nella Sua Nave Santo Antonio Capitana della Flottiglia chiamata los Azogues... una Cassetina per consegnarla al Collegio di Padri del Porto Santa Maria di Cadice. Rispose il Conte, Comparve finalmente... volle sapere cosa racchiudeva in se la Casset, e disse il Procuratore ch'erano bagatelle, conchiglie curiose, radici d'erbe rare medicinali che si coglievano nella California, e Corone o Rosari d'un precioso legno opèra de gl'Indj di quell'Isola... il Conte disse, che voleva uno de que Rosari... ripieni di perle di varie grandezze, di pietre preciose..."
[... taken in his ship Santo Antonio by the Captain of the fleet called los Azogues... a small chest to deliver to the College of the Fathers of the Port of Saint Mary in Cadiz. The Count, who finally appeared... wanted to know what was contained in the chest, and the procurer told him that they were trifles, curious seashells, roots of rare medicinal herbs gathered in California, and crowns, or rosaries of precious wood handcrafted on that Island... the Count said he wanted one of those rosaries... filled with pearls of various sizes... of precious stones...]

"Alteratosi il Conte, per l'inganno, parlo alto, e disse, che conseguirebbe La casseti al Signor D. Francesco de Varras Valdes Presidente della Casa della Contrattazione, ed Intendente Generale della Marina, e scriverebbe al Signor D. Guisepee Patigno Secretario di Stato, e del Dispaccio Universale."
[Count Alteratosi, for the deception, spoke up and said that the small chest would be sent to Mr D. Francesco de Varras Valdes, President of the House of Trade, and Intendant General of the Navy, and that he would write to Mr D. Giusepee Patigno, State Secretary and the Universal Dispatch.]

"che nel Paraguai... ad investogare il Loro procedere un Auditore del consiglio giustificato e dotto per nome D. Giovanni Antequeixa, Cavaliere dell'ordine di Calatrava, il quale, colâ giunto, venne di penetrare Le Tiranie dei Padri, e le richezze che accumulavano; E timorosi d'essere scoperti e privati del medesime riccorsero all Audienza Reale di Lima, querelandosi dell' Antequeira a cui formarono un processo tale, che fu chiamato dal ViceRe Don Joseph de Armendarez..."
[in Paraguay... the investigation proceeded with an auditorium of justified council and a scholar named John D. Antequeixa, Knight of the order of Calatrava, who came... to penetrate the tyrannies of the Fathers, and the wealth they had accumulated; And fearful of getting caught and deprived of the same appeal to the Royal Audience of Lima, of finding fault in (Joseph de) Antequera who had formed the process, and which was called by the Viceroy Don Joseph de Armendariz, Marquis of Castelfuerte...]

"Le maliziose calunnie ingiustamente accumulate all' Antequeira, fu sentenziato ad essere decolato, pero come le rare di lui qualita avevano captivate il populo tutto in di lui vantaggio... li Soldati del Pirhette che marchiavano con baionetta in canna le ammazzassero..."
[The malicious slander unfairly accumulated against Antequera, was sentenced to be dismissed, but as he (Antequera) possessed the rare ability to captivate the people for his total advantage... Pirhette's soldiers marched with bayonets to kill him...]

"... ad un librino... il di cui titulo e Riflessioni sopra l'espositione fatta del Padre Generale della Compagnie di IHS alla Santita del Regnate Pontifico sopra le colpe de Padri etc. tradotto dall Italiano e stampato nel Portughese... alla Santa Sede; e nella vita del Padre La Chaise... é una Velazione curiosissima d'un caso amoroso accaduto al medesimo confessore del Re in tempo di notte... nel 1735, da un Gesuita, che uscito della Compagnia, e rifugiatosi in Londra, si pose nel Commercio, e navigo meco dalla medesima Londra fini alla Jamaica."
[...a small book... Reflections on the Exposition made the Father General of the Society of Jesus to His Holiness the Pontifical Sovereign over the sins of the Fathers etc. translated from Italian and printed in Portuguese... to the Holy See; and in the life of Father La Chaise ... is a revelation of a curious event that happened during the night to the same confessor of the King... (the book received) in 1735, from a Jesuit, who came out of the Society, and fled to London, entered commerce, and sailed with me from London to Jamaica.]

End excerpts.

The writer is a Jesuit named Pietro Antonio Contarini, possibly a descendent of Italian diplomat, cardinal and Bishop Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542) of Belluno, who was one of the first proponents of the dialogue with Protestants, after the Reformation.

[The House of Contarini is one of the twelve founding and ruling families of the Venetian Republica, from which eight Doges emerged, as well as other notables. Considered the most powerful of Venetian families, and controlling the largest number of seats in the Great Council of Venice from the period before the Serrata del Maggior Consiglio to the end of the republic in 1797, among them are a number of important diplomats, cardinals and navy commanders, The Contarini led the Venetian Republic forward through ever changing eras commensurate with notable changes in trade, technology, trade, science, religion, art, banking and finance, diplomacy and war. Many wealthy Venetians, such as the Contarini, enjoyed the monetary and health benefits wrought from, for example, the spice trade, which facilitated longevity, a fundamental requirement for assumption of the role of Doge.]

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal, 1st Count of Oeiras (1699-1782) was Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs of the Kingdom (the equivalent to today's Prime Minister) in the government of Joseph I of Portugal from 1750 to 1777. He expelled the Jesuits from Portugal on 3rd September 1759, forcing Pope Clement XIII to make the order at his instigation. The Portuguese title of nobility Count of Oeiras (Conde de Oeiras) was a created by a royal decree on 15 July 1759, by King Joseph I, and first granted to Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Head of the Portuguese Government.

Other persons mentioned in the letter include:

Padre Pietro Nascimben, Venetian and his colleague in grammar, in Mexico in 1734 at the College of St. Peter & St. Paul ("responsible for introducing choral singing in California").

Conte del Bene, Turinese, brother of Prince di Massarane, one of the guards of the Spanish king circa 1729

Antonio Spinola, commander of the Barlovento Armada

Francisco de Varras y Valdez, Intendente de la Mariña de Indias, 1738, presidente della Casa della Contrattazione, Intendente Generale della Marina (president of the Consulado de Cadiz) e sciverebbe al Sig. D. Giuseppe Patigno (José Patiño), Secretario di Stato from 1726

Joseph de Armendariz, Marques de Castelfuerte & Viceroy of Peru (1724-1736) who restored order in Paraguay

Archbishop Juan Antonio Vizarrón y Eguiarreta - Viceroy of Mexico (1734-1740)

Some creasing and minor chips to edges, otherwise in very good condition, clean and bright