Luis de Torres (b. - 1493) MP

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Death: Died
Occupation: Christopher Columbus's interpreter
Managed by: Ilana Burgess
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About Luis de Torres

Luis de Torres (died 1493), perhaps born as יוסף בן הלוי העברי, Yosef Ben Ha Levy Haivri, ("Joseph the Son of Levy the Hebrew") was Christopher Columbus's interpreter on his first voyage and the first person of Jewish origin to settle in America.

While still a Jew, de Torres served as an interpreter to the governor of Murcia due to his knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and Portuguese. In order to avoid the expulsion edict against the Jews of Spain, de Torres converted to Catholicism shortly before the departure of Columbus's expedition. Columbus hoped that the interpreter's skills would be useful in Asia because they would enable him to communicate with local Jewish traders, and he may also have believed that he would find descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

After arriving at Cuba, which he supposed to be the Asian coast, Columbus sent de Torres and the sailor Rodrigo de Jerez for an expedition inland on November 2, 1492. Their task was to explore the country, to contact its ruler and to gather information about the Asian emperor described by Marco Polo as the "Great Khan". The two men were received with great honours in an Indian village, from where they returned four days later. They did report on the native custom of drying leaves, inserting them in cane pipes, burning them, and inhaling the smoke: the first European encounter with tobacco.

When Columbus set off for Spain on January 4, 1493, Luis de Torres was among the 39 men who stayed behind at the settlement of La Navidad founded on the island of Hispaniola. Coming back by the end of that year, Columbus learnt that the whole garrison had been wiped out by internal strife and by an Indian attack, which had occurred in retaliation to the Spaniards' abducting native women. The Indians remembered that one of the settlers had spoken "offensively and disparagingly" about the Catholic faith, trying to dissuade anybody from adopting it. According to Gould, this man may well have been de Torres, who had probably not converted voluntarily. wikipedia