Caribbean: Historical Overview of The Portuguese In St. Vincent and the Grenadines 

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Madeira Island – From Whence the Portuguese Came. 

Editor’s Note: from The Vincentian Publishing Company.

Friday 27th November, 2020 marked the 175th Anniversary of the arrival of the first the Madeiran Portuguese people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

We are pleased to commemorate this milestone with extracts from a soon to be published booklet entitled, ‘An Historical Overview of the Portuguese in St. Vincent and the Grenadines & the Bellevue Roman Catholic Church’, authored by Rev. Mark De Silva, to whom we are grateful for allowing the use his work.           

We have taken the liberty to concentrate on the first portion of the Rev De Silva’s booklet but will encourage all, especially students, to purchase the booklet to garner more detail on the topic.

FROM WHENCE THEY CAME

Situated in the eastern Atlantic Ocean off northern Africa, the Madeira islands are an Autonomous Region of Portugal and consist of the main island of Madeira plus the islands of Porto Santo and Desertas, and includes several uninhabited islets. 

Madeira is the largest island in this archipelago and is more than twice the size of St. Vincent, with a surface area of 741 km2 (286 sq. mi).

In the mid-1800s, poor Madeirans began migrating in answer to a call for sugar plantation workers. Many, in search of work and a better life, migrated westward to Venezuela, Brazil, British Guiana, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Antigua and the United States.

Between 1835 and 1846, over 12,000 Madeirans migrated to British Guiana.

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ARRIVAL IN SAINT VINCENT

A group of 249 Portuguese immigrants left the island of Madeira on the 6th November 1845 on the galley ‘Helen Thompson’, and landed in St. Vincent 21 days later on the 27th November 1845 – 175 years ago.

With the end of slavery in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (1834) and in the Americas, the planters lost their cheap, traditional labour force and were now seeking additional workers for their sugar cane plantations.

Between 1845 and 1850, about 2,100 of these Madeiran/Portuguese immigrants landed in St. Vincent as indentured and contract workers. They were initially allotted to ten estates throughout the island.

The Portuguese that came had their passage paid for them, and were indentured for only one or two years. They received a small parcel of land (yam piece) for cultivation, and their wages were eight-pence a day – less than the post-emancipation wage authorized for ‘infants and the infirm’. They were initially given free ‘housing’ and ‘medical attendance’ and provisions for the first six months, or until the ‘yam piece’ allotted to them was capable of producing food.

With the unaccustomed hot and humid tropical climate, and the poor hygienic living and working conditions, they found themselves in serious difficulties. For example, twenty-six out of the fifty-eight immigrants (45%) on one Estate (Cane Grove, Central Leeward) who arrived in January 1846, died within one year after their arrival. Many soon escaped the deplorable living conditions and fled to other islands, particularly St. Kitts.

The survivors, however, quickly acclimatized and by the end of their indenture period some settled on the eastern side of the island in an area that became known as ‘Madeira Valley’ (located on the southern end of the Massey Estate, at Bridgetown, Biabou), while many spread throughout St. Vincent.

By the late 1850’s there were family names like da Silva residing in Frenches, Dias in Belle Isle, Gomes in Queensbury, Marques in Spring, Gonsalves in South Union, de Jesus in Lodge Village, de Freitas in Chateaubelair, Ferreira in Mesopotamia, Sardinha in Fountain, Francisco in Calliaqua, Caldeira in Cumberland, Mendes in Buccament, Fernandes in Escape, de Nobriga in Kingstown, Rodrigues in Mt. Bentinck, Pereira in Waterloo, Viera in Belair.

NAME CHANGES 

The Portuguese progressed rapidly to become peasant farmers, shopkeepers, and eventually small traders and merchants. Over a period of time, some of the Portuguese anglicised many of their family names, e.g. Francisco became Francis; Marques was corrupted to Marks; Correira became Corea; Sardinha became Sardine; and Diaz was replaced by Daize.

After a relatively short time of indenture, the Portuguese quickly left the sugar belt of North Central Windward and the uneconomical cane-cutting work of the estates and literally ‘set-up-shop’ in Park Hill, South Rivers, the Marriaqua Valley, and places closer to Kingstown like Paul Over, Lodge Village and Murray Village. 

In St. Vincent, small scale anti-Portuguese riots occurred in the early post-emancipation era, and during the riots of 1862 there was heavy racial tension. The prime targets were the planters, but immigrants, both Portuguese and East Indians, were the other secondary targets.

POLITICS, BUSINESS AND MORE 

Today, Vincentians of Portuguese descent can be found throughout the business sector and hold their own in every single area of the professions and services. 

In the area of politics, the Portuguese were very present. H. Agostinho da Silva did a stint in the 1920s as representative for Kingstown on a Representative Government Association ticket as did Frederick Corea (later re-named Casson). ….. Alban Dos Santos was included in the conservative Peasant and Planter’s Party in the 1940s and went on to serve as nominated member from 1955-61.  Edmund Joachim was elected representative for the North Leeward area in 1954, and Sylvester De Freitas was elected to represent the Grenadines in the local legislature in 1950.In modern times: John Joachim was a Government Senator between 1972-1974; Marcus De Freitas was elected in 1984 and was a Cabinet Minister; Julian Francis, became a Government Senator, Cabinet Minister and General Secretary of the Unity Labour Party; and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, leader of the Unity Labour Party became Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2001. 

As early as 1932, Ulrick Da Costa won an Island Scholarship and became a medical doctor, while Marcelle De Freitas, a teacher all her life, was the first woman to win an Island Scholarship in 1938.

Jobe Fernandes became a Pointer of the Spiritual Baptist Church, Conrad De Freitas Superintendent of Agriculture and Ralph Rodriguez Superintendent of Police.

Portuguese businessmen have been very successful and very numerous over the many years. Dennis Da Silva made a lucrative business out of bottled water; wine merchant Frederick Gonsalves became famous for his ‘Black Wine’ fame; Hilary (Antonio Hilario) Da Silva bottled ‘O-So’ aerated drinks as well as the De Nobrigas with their bottled ‘Fruity’ beverages, are but a few.

They also brought with them their love of festivals, music, dress and dancing, as well as their deep-rooted Roman Catholic faith, expressed publicly with their numerous religious feast days and novenas.  

 

Their most famous celebration was the Christmas Novena that took place very early (often at 3am) in the nine mornings before Christmas. Its popularity continues today as a very secular but uniquely Vincentian festival called Nine Mornings.

The Vincentian Publishing Co. Ltd Tel: 784-456-1123 Fax: 784-457-2821
© Copyright 2012 The Vincentian Publishing Company.  All rights reserved.

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On 12/10/2020 at 2:57 am

    An interesting take on economic migration….
    My illiterate (in English) grandmother was our home grown philosopher/professor whose parents were from maderia and settled in BG.
    She mothered 14 siblings and 52 grandchildren who have re-migrated to almost every corner of the planet mostly in English speaking countries.
    Economic migrants certainly benefit their host countries.
    If you know where u from u should know where u wanna go…know ah weh u ah guh !
    Que sera sera

    Kamtan uk-ex-EU

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