A Way Station The Azores were uninhabited at the time of discovery and were settled shortly thereafter. The settlers were originally emigrants from Europe, as we have seen, primarily from Portugal and Flanders. These emigrants in turn would become emigrants again leaving those volcanic islands and heading to yet another homeland. In a sense, the Azores is really a temporary residence, a way station. Certainly parts of the population have always remained, but not one Azorean family hasn't seen the effect of emigration. Europe had its problems of plagues, war, starvation, crime, rebellion, and overpopulation. The new world, and the other parts of the world the European powers would claim, were places of refuge, places of relief, for the teeming thousands of tattered and struggling European peasants. The Azores provided Portugal with additional land where it could send a few criminals, a few rebels, a few adventurers, and a few capitalists to serve the motherland. Some of the Portuguese migrants stayed in the Azores and some continued on to new lands when opportunity called them or when conditions on the islands forced them off. Reasons to Leave The major reasons Azoreans left the archipelago are fairly consistent throughout its five hundred years of history and are similar to the reasons for European emigration at large. At first it was an adventuring spirit on the part of those who had wunderlust. Soon though there was overpopulation on the islands which caused starvation and lack of employment. The land tenure system on the islands allowed no opportunity to better oneself which led eventually to mass emigration. Beginning around 1800, the Portuguese government's mandatory military conscription for fourteen year olds, and later for sixteen year olds, convinced thousands of young men to illegally emigrate. The discovery of gold in California was the catalyst for thousands more to leave. And earlier emigrants returning to the Azores with talk and demonstration of success (money and material goods) in America enticed others to emigrate. Then there was always the fear of natural disasters which cause still others to leave.1 The first two hundred years of Azorean history saw the early settlers and subsequent generations struggle for a common good in making the economy of the islands successful. In 1640 there were 100,000 people in the Azores. Portugal had some of her colonial lands taken away by European nations, especially by the Dutch. The Azoreans joined Portuguese forces to retake these lands, but with this exposure to other colonies and seeing their wealth, the Azoreans now saw opportunities elsewhere. Towards the end of the 17th century, Azoreans left to mine recently found gold in Brazil.2 Hunger struck the Azores fiercely beginning in 1680 because of overpopulation and poor farming techniques. Brazil looked very good to the Azoreans. The Portuguese government offered incentives to entice settlers to Brazil by providing land, a cow, farm implements, seed, and transportation to anyone who wanted to permanently settle there. Many took this offer.3 Ships from the American colonies began to stop at the Azores. When the United States was an infant nation, contact with the Azores increased providing the Azoreans with a window to the land of opportunity which was just west of their doorstep.4 Mass emigration to the United States would take place without question. This emigration can be separated into three chronological units: 1800- 1870, 1870-1930, 1957 to the present.5 Starvation, not only being a physical problem, economically it ruin the local economy. Beginning in the 1830's, potato rot and grape fungus hit. Pico's famed wine was reduced to a trickle. Orange blight struck in 1877, and cut the production by two-thirds.6 Drought would occasionally occur further punishing a starving people. This short poem captures the feeling: The land is poor, the children swarm, our fields lack seed: Our cradles fill, -- a double harm: God sends drought upon the farm and a mouth to feed.7 Time to Leave Yankee whaling provided a means for the young Azorean male to leave the islands. He was seeking opportunity and a way to escape the yoke of mandatory military service and the trap of the peasant land tenure system. Whaling ships stopped at the Azores to take on supplies and also Portuguese sailors. The Azorean teenager would in some manner secretively board the ship and leave the islands fully expecting to return someday after he had accumulated some wealth.8 Overpopulation was a serious problem as can be seen in this table: Table 2 Azores Islands Population, Population Density, and Population Change 1864-1920 Island 1864 Persons per 1920 Persons per Population Sq. Mile Population Sq. Mile _____________________________________________________________ Santa Maria 5,863 158 6,457 174 Sao Miguel 105,404 366 111,745 388 Terceira 45,781 300 46,277 302 Graciosa 8,718 366 10,479 227 Sao Jorge 17,998 195 13,362 145 Pico 27,721 165 19,925 118 Faial 26,259 398 18,917 286 Flores 10,259 191 6,720 122 Corvo 888 131 661 98 Total 249,686 280 234,543 260 _____________________________________________________________ Source: Jerry R. Williams, And Yet They Come.9 The population density shown in Table 2 tells the story of overcrowding, but these figure are based on total square miles and not on "livable" square miles. Only 40% of the Azorean land is inhabitable because of its volcanic terrain.10 When reviewing the biographies of Azorean immigrants during the 19th century, one first notes that they are mostly teenagers and also male. Fleeing mandatory military service was a prime objective for most every Azorean family with teenage boys. An Azorean male at the age of 14, and later at the age of 16, had to several years in the military usually on the mainland (Portugal) and sometimes in the colonies. The wage was meager and the benefits nil. The Azorean had no love for Portugal because they had ignored the the islands' plight for centuries; consequently, there was no great desire to serve "motherland."11 In 1873, a Portuguese law abolished surrogates in military service. This meant that substitutes no longer could be paid to serve someone else's duty. This didn't affect the Azoreans too much as they didn't have money. In 1880, another law was instituted which required $300 to be deposited for any male of military age leaving the country legally. Again, the Azoreans couldn't afford this expenditure. Nevertheless, these laws further increased the Azoreans dislike of governmental interference.12 Illegal Azorean emigration was common, but if caught, one could be heavily fined so there were chances to take. It was typical to see a mother or father holding onto his teenage son in the midst of the night, on the cold and windy shore, waiting for a boat to pick him up. For many this would be the last time they would see each other. Routine to Emigrate It became routine for Azoreans to migrate to the United States. (134:95) During the period of 1899-1917, 73% of the Portuguese emigrants were 14-44 years of age and 20% were under 14. They left behind family, friends, and a familiar way of life to head to a new land with a different language and customs. It took courage even for a sturdy peasant boy.13 Stowing away on a whaling ship was common in the early years. Later in the 19th century, other types of ships would cruise the Azores to "steal Portuguese" as it was called; that is, looking for illegal emigrants to steal away to the United States.14 A traveler out of Boston, on the ship "Surprize," witnessed such activity in the early 1870's: About nine in the evening a brilliant light, the concerted signal, appeared, flashing at intervals on St. George [Sao Jorge island]. We stood in, and at about ten a light shone out suddenly close to the ship, and a boat was soon vaguely discerned. As they came up, "Is this an American ship?" was the hail. "Yes!" Then they pulled alongside and boarded us, bringing four passengers. At one o'clock A.M. another boat came up with four more passengers, and informed us that several were waiting for us on the other side of St. George . . . although they have slip down steep ledges and sometimes swim several yards through the surf to the boats, as the sea is often too high to allow a boat to land. An English brig had taken off eighty from that side a few days before our arrival.15 Another ship, "Jehu," would pick up Azoreans who lit fires on the shore: It was now calm, the moon near the full; and soon the expected beacon-flame was seen blazing at intervals at Calheta on St. George. We ran in and showed our light in the rigging, and about eleven a large launch appeared bringing thirteen passengers, including several women and children. This completed the number we could get from St. George, bull twenty less than promised. But the season was advanced, and the supply was running low, over one thousand having already left the islands during the summer, of whom the "Jehu" had taken one hundred and twenty on her previous trip.16 The American clipper ship could reach Boston in four days but not all could pay for this travel. Most went by slower ships that took weeks in the early years of emigration. Towards the end of the 19th century, steamships plied the routes and travel became systematic. English, German, and American steamers traveled between the Azores and New England five to six times a year and carried 170 passengers each.17 The passengers were put in steerage and in any open area on a ship's deck as related by this account: "They stayed on the bow of the ship next to the pilot house. All they had were the clothes on their backs and what small possessions they could carry."18 This the Azorean could endure having been tested with far worse conditions.19 In the early years, the young male Azorean worked his passage to the United States on a whaling ship, a voyage that sometimes could last two or three years. Later on though, he would be a passenger on a steamship with his family or some benefactor paying his way. Some emigrants would pay back their fare once they had worked and saved.20 Steerage passage on a steamship in 1900 cost $10-$15 which was 2-3 weeks wages in the United States. It took a week to travel to New England then.21 Emigration for the Azoreans was a family affair as we have seen. Once the emigrant saved up enough money, he would send for his family, usually one member at a time. Some emigrants would return and bring others back with them to the United States such as seen in this account: "My grandfather made several trips to the Azores and each time he would bring someone else back."22 Going Back Home The returning emigrant would impress his countrymen with his success influencing them to emigrate as witnessed by this Azorean who later became very wealthy in tuna fishing in San Diego, California: They were glad to show their wealth to us. They did no work. Their relatives waited on them hand and foot, as though they were royalty. This gave me the idea that people lived in America like they were kings and queens. Money just came to them -- they picked gold coins off a tree. I wasn't two weeks in the United States before I found out that this wasn't true.23 Some emigrants returned to stay especially if they were older as seen in this account: Many emigrants sail from Velas [Sao Jorge]. They are mostly cowherds on their way to California, and usually return from America with well-lined wallets and build themselves a white house up on the Serra, in the district where they were born. To encourage them, there is a memorial in the main square of the town erected to the memory of a certain Souza, who left Velas barefoot for America's ranches and became a public benefactor to the town when he returned.24 From 1908 to 1919, 20,751 Portuguese did emigrate from the United States returning to the Azores. This figure is misleading though because it includes those who just went for a visit, but it confirms that there was much contact by the emigrant with his land of embarkation. Azorean population went from 249,135 to 231,543 during the years of 1864 to 1920. (See Table 2) The islands of Pico, Sao Jorge, Faial, and Flores had very heavy reductions. These people went to the United States while the people from the islands of Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, and Terceira went to Brazil.25 Between 1890 to 1920, 84% of the Azorean emigrants went to the United States while 14% went to Brazil.26 In 1919, there approximately 300,000 people in the Azores while there were 100,000 Azoreans in the United States. Very few countries in history had had such a massive number of emigrants for such a brief period of time. Every Azorean family and village was affected by emigration.27 Unlike earlier American immigrants, the Azoreans didn't go to the United States seeking religious freedom, political liberty, or release from incarceration. They went for economic opportunity which was not available on the islands.They were willing to work hard in their new country which they did as we shall see.28 Lawrence Oliver was smuggled aboard a White Star steamer at the age of sixteen. All he had was a $5 gold piece his mother gave him and the clothes on his back. He couldn't speak a bit of English; however, as he reflected years later: "No one who had lived in a country as poor as my homeland can ever realize the feelings of joy and hope which filled the hearts of our little group." He was anticipating opportunities noted in letters and by returning Azorean emigrants.29 Those who did return to the Azores brought gifts for their friends and relatives, and also possessions for themselves if they were staying. The passage below takes place in 1881 and are emigrants returning to the island of Flores after a stay in the United States. The ship had to anchor out and the passengers were taken off by shore boats: As the boats drew near, the steerag passengers crowded to the ship's side. They were all in their "shore clothes" . . . As the oarsmen recognized old friends they became greatly excited. Clambering on board, they kissed and embraced, men and women indiscriminately, and such jabbering I never heard . . . the noisy crowd poured into the boats, each bearing some cherished article of household furniture, -- bedsteads, tin boilers, sewing-machines, stoves, lamps, and, dearer than all to the Portuguese soul, the Connecticut clock.30 More Recent Emigration Azorean emigration to the United States came almost to a complete stop during the 1920's because of new U.S. immigration laws. Then it increased dramatically in the 1960's after U.S. refugee laws were enacted for Azoreans. Violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions had hit the islands leaving many homeless. Canada drew a number of Azorean emigrants, as well, with a worker's program.31 Table 3 bears this out as it shows an increase in population in the Azores when U.S. immigration laws were restrictive, and then a decrease in population when U.S. refugee laws allowed greater numbers to immigrate: Table 3 Population of the Azores Islands 1920 to 1975 Islands 1920 1950 1960 1975 _____________________________________________________________ Santa Maria 6,457 11,844 13,180 7,784 Sao Miguel 111,745 164,167 169,170 136,972 Terceira 46,277 60,372 72,479 61,450 Graciosa 7,477 9,517 8,634 6,337 Sao Jorge 13,362 15,529 14,764 11,930 Pico 19,927 22,557 21,626 16,096 Faial 18,917 23,923 20,343 14,073 Flores 6,720 7,650 6,556 5,093 Corvo 661 728 669 355 Total 231,543 316,287 327,421 260,090 _____________________________________________________________ Source: Jerry R. Williams, And Yet They Come.32 Mass Azorean emigration of 1870-1920 relieved the pressure of overpopulation some, but the population built up again in the next 40 years. The average population density in the islands in 1960 was 376 persons per square mile; consequently, this overcrowding provided an internal stimulus to emigrate.33 From 1965 to 1983, 136,603 Azoreans emigrated with 77,897 seeking refuge in the United States and 55,744 went to Canada.34 In the recent past, nothing really has changed in the islands. The peasant society still exists, and Portugal still treats the Azores as a colony. Ties with Azoreans in North America is still very strong.35 A new phenomena has occurred though. Whole families have been emigrating especially to Canada. These families locate earlier Azorean emigrants for support and aid. Modern mass transportation has made emigration easier and quicker than ever before. Canada and New England are just hours away rather than a long sea voyage of weeks by sailing ship or 5 days by steamer.36 Today, Azorean emigrants returning to the islands, and Americans with Azorean heritage, who are essentially tourists and who are visiting the islands, show more wealth than ever before. They are members of the American middle class who are educated, and who are skilled or professional people. This obviously has great appeal to the islanders and causes them to want to emigrate. This isn't really new as we have seen, but with modern transportation being convenient, and examples of American success being readily displayed, the temptation to emigrate is stronger than ever.37 Portugal as a whole, which includes the Azores, from 1864 to 1973 had over 2 million emigrants. Its population in 1864 was 4,300,000 and 8,900,000 in 1973, again including the Azores. Next to Ireland, Portugal had the largest number of emigrants during that period of time per capita. Of the 2 million emigrants, 160,000 went to the United States and were almost exclusively Azoreans. For curosity sake, it is interesting to note that 800,000 Portuguese emigrated to France; 620,000 to Brazil; 140,000 to South Africa; and 110,000 to Canada.38 It has been said, "Portugal's principal export is its people."39 How true.
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