Jacob-Rodrigues Pereire portrait

Biography of Jacob-Rodrigues Pereira

Jacob-Rodrigues Pereira, better known as Pereire, was born in Peniche, Portugal (or in in Berlanga, Spain, according to other sources) on 11 April, 1715. He was a descendant of a Marrano (Portuguese Crypto-Jews) family and was baptized with the name of Francisco António Rodrigues. His parents were Magalhães Rodrigues Pereira and Leonor Ribea Rodrigues. After his father's death, his mother fled with her son from Portugal to escape the Inquisition and the charge that she had relapsed into heresy, first to Spain, and then about 1741 they settled at Bordeaux, France.

In France Pereira family returned to Judaism, Francisco adopted the name Jacob and his mother Abigail Rivka Rodrigues. A lifelong devotee to the well-being of the Jews of southern France, Portugal, and Spain, beginning in 1749 he was a volunteer agent for the Portuguese Jews at Paris. In 1777, his efforts led to Portugal Jews receiving the right to settle in France.

Painting of Jacob Rodrigues Pereira with a deaf childJacob-Rodrigues Pereire had a deaf and dumb sister and trying to communicate with her, he formulated signs for numbers and punctuation. After ten years of study of anatomy and physiology and numerous experiments on congenital deaf-mutes, Pereire received on 19 January, 1747, the first testimonial for his labors from the Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres of Caen. Later on he adapted Juan Pablo Bonet's manual alphabet by adding 30 hand shapes each corresponding to a sound instead of to a letter.

In 1746 a wealthy French family, the d'Etavignys, hired Pereire to instruct their son. He taught the boy to speak through his method of fingerspelling, called dactylology. In 1749 he set forth his system in a memoir before the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris. Pereire was well compensated by this family and another who hired him, and dismissed Epee's methods when it became known. His remarkable achievement was even presented to the King of France, Louis XV, who granted him 800 pounds as a mark of esteem.

The memoir read before the Academy on the arithmetical machine which he had invented brought him a pension of 800 pounds annually from the King (26 October, 1751), while in 1753 he received honorable mention at a conference held by the Academy to determine the most advantageous methods of supplementing the action of the wind on large sailing vessels. In 1759 the Royal Society of London made Pereire a member, and in 1765 he was appointed royal interpreter for Spanish and Portuguese.

Pereira took his method with him to the grave when he died in 1780. He is therefore seen as one of the inventors of manual language for the deaf and is credited with being the first person to teach a non-verbal deaf person to speak (see the nearby image).

On 5 November 1766, Pereira married his kinswoman Miryam Lopes Dias. They had 2 sons: Samuel and Isaac (born 1767), and a daughter: Abigail (b. 1768).

Pereira was some kind of polymath. He was skilled in mathematics, physics, and designed and manufactured a calculating machine for his friend Baron Necker (see the calculating machine of Pereira). He had a thorough knowledge of ancient and modern languages. He successfully handled financial matters and discussed with Necker how to restore order in the finances of France.

Jacob-Rodrigues Pereire died in Paris on 15 September, 1780.

His grandsons, the Péreire brothers, Emile Péreire (1800-1875) and Isaac Péreire (1806-1880), were well-known French financiers and bankers during the second empire, who encouraged the construction of the first railway in France in 1835. In 1852, they founded the Société Générale du Crédit Mobilier.