(adapted from Lusitania.ca, by Manuel Azevedo)
Esther Brandeau-Canada’s first Jewess?*
Despite a French prohibition against non-Catholics from settling in its colonies, Portuguese names appear in New France (Quebec) in the early 1700’s; Joseph da Silva of Montreal, a creditor of the government (referred to as “the so-called Portuguese”), Maranda from Bayone (1711) and Jacob Coste (1744), and not to forget Canada's first letter carrier, Pedro da Silva** (1673), born in the heart of the Great Judiaria of Lisbon.
However, it is Esther Brandeau who arrived in New France in 1738 that was the first Jewess to immigrate to Canada. Except she was not a youthful twenty-year-old Esther who arrived aboard the ship, the St. Michel, but rather a young man named Jacques la Fangue, her alias. Esther arrived wearing boys clothes!
Brandeau was arrested and lacking an appropriate jail, was detained at the hospital. On September 15, 1738, she appeared before the Marine Commission of Quebec and declared her name to be Esther Brandeau, daughter of David Brandeau (Brandao?), a Jew of St. Esprit diocese, a suburb of Bayonne near Bordeaux in south west France, long known as a haven for “Portuguese merchants”, a euphemism for New Christians fleeing the Inquisition in Portugal.
The amalgamation of the Spanish and Portuguese crown in 1580 to 1640 facilitated the exodus of Portuguese Jews to France. The Governor of New France, a cousin of the King, reported to the Minister of Colonies that many attempts were made to persuade Esther to abandon her religion, but she refused. Intendant Hocquart reported, “Her conduct has not been wholly bad but she is so frivolous that at different times she has been both obedient and obstinate with regard to the instruction the priests desired to give her. I have no other alternative than to send her back.”
And so after spending about a year in Canada, Esther was deported back to France on the express orders of the King who also paid for her passage