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The Portuguese in New England
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

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          Portugal is the mother that gave me my birth and America is the mother that adopted me and nurtured me and brought me up to what I am today. And I love them both very dearly.
                                                 - Portuguese Immigrant Woman, late 20th century(1)

          New England has provided a home for many immigrant groups, but none rival the volume and cultural impact of the Portuguese. Portuguese immigration to New England is both old and new, beginning during the colonial times and continuing into the twenty-first century. The roots laid down by the first Portuguese settlers in the 18th century created a legacy of chain migration that has lasted for over 200 years. More Portuguese have settled in southern New England than in any other region of the United States. New England has become a hub for other Portuguese-speaking cultures as well, including Brazilians and Cape Verdeans. The heavy Portuguese influence drew these Portuguese-speaking people, even though they maintain their own distinct cultures. New England has the country's largest population of Cape Verdeans, and Brazilians are the region's third fastest growing immigrant group.(2) The Portuguese have a fascinating relationship with New England that began with the explorers of the 16th century and continues with the modern Portuguese, Cape Verdean, and Brazilian immigrants of the 21st century.

          Many Portuguese explorers sailed the Atlantic and explored the New World during the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular the area near Newfoundland. Some historians even believe that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover America. This belief is based on the discovery of a nautical map that dates back to 1424. A. Davies, a British historian, believes that a Portuguese sailor named Dualmo reached the Americas in 1487, five years before Columbus.(3) Another theory places Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real as the first Europeans to set foot in New England. The story begins when the two brothers sailed from Lisbon to Greenland on an exploratory mission in 1501. They couldn't reach Greenland because of ice, so they modified their route and sailed to Labrador. They continued south to Cape Harrison, Sandwich Bay, and Newfoundland. Miguel sailed back to Lisbon with two of the three ships while Gaspar remained to explore. Gaspar did not return to Lisbon, so Miguel set out to find him. Two ships were sent out in different directions, in search of Gaspar, with plans to rendezvous at a later time. No sign of Gaspar's ship was ever found, and Miguel's ship never made it to the rendezvous point. Both brothers had been lost. The Dighton Rock in Massachusetts is believed by some to contain communication from Miguel. The rock, which is covered in pictographs and inscriptions, was uncovered in the 17th century. In 1928, Edmund B. Delabarre, claimed that the inscriptions were in a cryptic Portuguese script that read, "Miguel Cortereal by the will of God here chief of Indians, 1511."(4) His hypothesis included the belief that Miguel was shipwrecked in New England and became chief of a Wampanoag tribe and a crewmember inscribed the words on the rock. If Delabarre is correct, that would mean that the first European to set foot on New England soil was Portuguese.




          Regardless of who the first person to land in New England was, it is true that the Portuguese had frequent contact with the area. Fishing expeditions were sent to Newfoundland in the 16th century to bring cod back to Portugal. A company was founded in 1521 with the intentions to create a fishing colony on Newfoundland. With a grant from the king, the colonists settled on what is now Ingonish, on the coast of Cape Breton Island. They migrated to another location, but little is known about what became of it. Many believe that they abandoned the site and returned to Portugal. Although there were no permanent Portuguese settlements created during this time, Portuguese Jews, sailors, and whalers were documented in colonial New England.

          The earliest Portuguese settlers in New England were from the Azores. The Azores are an archipelago of nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,000 miles west of Portugal. They were uninhabited until the Portuguese colonized them in the 15th century, and the islands have been part of Portugal since then. The Cape Verde Islands, off of the west coast of Africa, were also colonized by the Portuguese. Black slaves were brought to the Cape Verde Islands to work on sugar plantations. The black African population (of which there were many ethnic groups) and the white Europeans intermarried and created a unique hybrid of Portuguese-African cultures. They speak a creolized Portuguese dialect, called Crioulo, as well as Portuguese. The Cape Verdean immigrants were much less numerous in America than their Azorean counterparts, but constitute an important part of New England's immigrant history that has oftentimes been overlooked. Mainland Portuguese immigrants became more numerous during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Azorean immigrants have always dominated Portuguese settlement in America.

(5)Portuguese Names
Americanization Version
Martino
Martin
Rosa
Rosa
Simoes
Simmons
Morais
Morris
Graca
Grace
Tavares
Travers
Pereira
Perry
Andrade
Andrews
Rodrigues
Rogers
Marques
Marks
Barros
Barrows
Oliveira
Oliver
Ferreira
Ferry, Smith
Cunha
Cooney
Camara
Chambers
Campos
Fields
Mattos
Woods
Cruz
Cross
Raposo
Fox
Silveira
Woods
Pinheiro
Pine
Reis
King



          The first documented Portuguese man in New England, Mathias de Sousa, arrived in Maryland in 1634. Many of the first Portuguese in America were Jewish refugees who fled because of the rampant anti-Semitism in Portugal during that time. These immigrants were scattered throughout the colonies in small numbers. Azorean immigrants began to arrive in America during the late 18th century. These Portuguese arrived via the fishing and whaling boats that docked in New England. The Azores became an important stop for whalers who would pick up extra crew members for their journey. At the end of the whaling trip, the boats docked in New England, and many of the Azoreans stayed. Young Azorean men saw the whaling ships as an opportunity to make money and leave the islands, which were suffering from a failing economy and high poverty rates during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was in this way that the first Azoreans came to New England. As the whalers settled, they often times sent for their families, and by the mid 19th century, strong Portuguese communities had been created in Martha's Vineyard, Fall River, and New Bedford, Massachusetts. A total of 855 Portuguese were living in Massachusetts in 1855. By 1865, that number had risen to 1,883. (6)

          Portuguese immigrants were visible in New England society in small numbers during the first half of the 19th century, but the first wave of mass Portuguese immigration didn't begin until the 1890s. The combination of the failing Portuguese and Azorean economy and the abundance of factory jobs in the United States created a wave of Portuguese, mainly Azorean, immigration that brought thousands of immigrants to New England. Between 1900 and 1921, over 180,000 Portuguese immigrated to America, and most settled in New England. (7)

Portuguese Population
by County
1885
1895
1905
1920
1940
Barnstable
848
1,318
1,801
1,147
1,009
Bristol
2,506
7,263
17,938
16,222
13,424
Essex
621
1,020
1,379
1,327
1,119
Middlesex
538
1,523
2,814
5,251
4,547
Suffolk
1150
1,226
1,289
1,007
907
Other Counties
420
852
2,651
3,361
3,176
Total Massachusetts
6118
13,298
27,937
28,315
24,182

          
There were two main reasons why the new Portuguese immigrants chose to settle more densely in New England; the abundance of factory work and the draw of the Portuguese community that had already been established. New Bedford, Fall River, and Boston, Massachusetts, as well as Providence, Rhode Island developed very strong Portuguese communities during the early 19th century that grew with the oncoming mass immigration during the end of the century. These communities, as well as others in southern New England, received another Portuguese population boost with the second wave of Portuguese immigration during the 1960s and 1970s. Fall River and New Bedford were able to retain their Portuguese populations initially because of the abundant factories in the area. Providence's Portuguese population remained because of the farming industry. As the Portuguese population grew, important institutions, such as churches and benevolent societies, were created and helped secure the Portuguese population and community.

(1) Marsha L. McCabe, Joseph D. Thomas, ed., Portuguese Spinner: An American Story, (New Bedford, Massachusetts: Spinner Publications, Inc., 1998), 73.
(2) Mamie Marcuss and Ricardo Borgos, "Who Are New England's Immigrants?" Communities and Banking, Fall (2004), 13.
(3) Leo Pap, The Portuguese Americans, (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981), 4.
(4) Pap, 5.
(5) Steven Samuel Ussach. "The New England Portuguese: A Plural Society Within A Plural Society," Plural Societies 6 (1975): 51. Some of the early Portuguese settlers Americanized their names in order to ease their assimilation into society.
(6) Pap, 22.
(7) Ussach, 48.

By Rickie Lazzerini
Historian

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

Comments or inquiries regarding this article may be sent To:
KTHistorian@GMail.com



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