Fonseca, Alvaro da

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FONSECA, ALVARO DA (c. 1657–1742), English merchant. Da Fonseca, known in synagogue as Jacob Jessurun Alvarez, arrived with his family in England in about 1670 from Nevis in the West Indies, became a successful merchant, and was active in synagogue affairs. About 1682 he left for India. In 1683 he and two other Portuguese-Jewish merchants, Bartholomew Rodriguez and Domingo do Porto, were authorized, though they were originally interlopers, to settle in Fort St. George (Madras). During the 17 years that he was in India (1683–1700) Da Fonseca served the English East India Company in a variety of functions. In 1690 he was appointed alderman of the Madras Corporation, representing the Jewish merchant group of Fort St. George. He built a vast commercial empire in collaboration with other Jewish merchants and opened up new markets in Asia for the English trade. He invested great sums in commercial transactions to China, Burma, and Bengal. The major commodities in which he dealt were diamonds and precious stones, textiles, and timber, frequently transported on his own ships. In March 1700 he returned with a large fortune to London, where he acted on behalf of the Madras governor Thomas Pitt in the appraisal and sale of the famous Pitt diamond.


Diamond, in: jhset, 19 (1960), 180–9; Fischel, in: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 3 (1960), 78–107, 175–95. add. bibliography: odnb online; E. Samuel, At the Ends of the Earth: Essays on the History of the Jews in England and Portugal (2004), 248–49; G. Yogav, Diamonds and Coral: Anglo-Jews and Eighteenth Century Trade (1978).

[Walter Joseph Fischel]

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Fonseca, Alvaro da

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