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Castro Sarmento, Jacob (Henrique) De


CASTRO SARMENTO, JACOB (Henrique ) DE (1691–1762), Marrano physician. He was born in Braganza (Portugal) to Francisco de Castro Almeida and Violante de Mesquita, both of whom were arrested by the Inquisition in 1708. He studied classics and philosophy at the university of Evora and in 1711 he began his studies of medicine in Coimbra. He completed his studies in 1717, when he began practicing. This period of his life is little known and we know nothing about his religious beliefs and practices. It seems obvious that he joined Crypto-Jewish communities in Beja and Lisbon. The circumstances that led to his flight from Portugal are rather obscure. He emigrated to London, where we find him with his wife Raḥel, whom he remarried in 1721 according to Jewish law. Soon he became renowned for his vast medical and scientific erudition. There, owing to a confusion of names he was falsely accused of having denounced some Marranos to the Inquisition, but was able to clear himself of the charge. In 1724 he published in Portuguese three sermons in a booklet entitled Exemplar de Penitencia. In the same year he also wrote a verse paraphrase of the Book of Esther for Purim, Extraordinaria Providencia quel el gran Dios de Israel uso con su escogido pueblo… por medio de Mordehay y Esther… (1724). In 1724 he was appointed the doctor of the Hebra of Gemilut Ḥasadim to take care of the medical needs of the poor in the community. Soon, however, he was dismissed from his post for having transgressed on a festival. He was supposed to publicly ask for forgiveness. Evidently he overcame this problem, for in 1728 he preached one of the memorial sermons on the death of David Nieto, Sermão Funebre…. His problems in the community never seemed to end. He also wrote poems. He built up a fashionable medical practice, and published numerous medical works in Portuguese, Latin, and English, especially on variolation (smallpox inoculation), on the tides, and on the Agua de Inglaterra, a derivative of quinine, which he introduced to England, apparently with considerable financial profit. His work on smallpox, published first in English and then in Latin, was widely appreciated. In 1730 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society after attempts by a Jewish fellow-doctor, Dr. Schomberg, had failed and was awarded a medical degree by the University of Aberdeen in 1739. In 1735 he wrote his most important medical work: Materia medica. The book was even well received in Portugal. In the late 1740s he was involved in establishing a Jewish hospital. His life was unhappy in many respects. The two sons born to his wife Raḥel died in 1724 and 1725. After the death of Raḥel, he married Sarah, who died in 1756. In 1758 he severed his ties with the community. For some years he had a Christian mistress called Elizabeth who bore him a son, Henry. By 1759 he had married his mistress. In 1758 his second son was baptized. He was among the founders of the Beth Holim, the first hospital in England. He was buried in a cemetery in Holborn.


M. Lemos, Jacob de Castro Sarmento (Port., 1910); A. d'Esaguy, Jacob de Castro Sarmento: Notas relativas sua vida… (1946); Solomons, in: jhset, 12 (1931), 83–88; Samuel, ibid., 20 (1964), 91–98; A. Rubens, Anglo-Jewish Portraits (1935), 265–6; H. Friedenwald, Jews and Medicine, 2 (1944), 457–9; Roth, Marranos, 268, 386; Kayserling, Bibl, 37. add. bibliography: E.R. Samuel, in: jhset, 20 (1964), 83–100; R.D. Barnett, in: jhset, 27 (1982), 84–114

[Cecil Roth /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]

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