Atlantic Islands, Migrants from

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Atlantic Islands, Migrants from

Migrants from Atlantic Islands. The Portuguese commonly moved inhabitants of Atlantic possessions (i.e., the Azores and Madeira) to distant portions of their realm. This was expedient for two reasons: it solved the problem of overcrowding in geographic locales already overburdened with growing populations and simultaneously provided stable settlers for the more remote regions of the Portuguese Empire. On occasion, Portuguese settlers in North Africa also were resettled when their communities were threatened by the Moors. Relocation reached its height in the eighteenth century when açorianos (Azoreans) were brought in large numbers to Brazil, but it continued into the early years of the nineteenth century.

After Brazil became independent in 1822, the Atlantic islanders fanned out through the English-speaking Caribbean, arriving in substantial numbers in British Guiana in the 1830s and 1840s and later on in Jamaica, Trinidad, Bermuda, and New England. Indeed, the exodus continues to the present; migration is an accepted pattern in the Azores, where limited economic opportunities foster it. Atlantic islanders' migration to Brazil in the eighteenth century, however, bears unique characteristics and deserves scrutiny. The distinguishing feature of this migration is that it was largely agricultural and voluntary. One might argue that the incentives were hard to refuse, but relocation to Brazil was a matter of choice for the most part.

The traditional immigrant from the ilhas (islands) was a farmer, content to remain on the soil. For eighteenth-century Brazilian administrators such an individual was deemed more desirable than local Brazilians, who were more likely to desert colonization schemes for the recently discovered gold fields. This was especially true in the Far South of Brazil, where efforts to secure the Platine area for the Portuguese had been tenuous since the founding in 1680 of Colônia Do Sacramento across the La Plata estuary from Spanish-held Buenos Aires. Between São Paulo and the fortress of Colônia one small community, Laguna, was the sole deterrent against Spanish aggression. Settlers had been enticed there by offers of free food before the first harvest and sufficient head of cattle to start a livestock business. While the Laguna experiment was successful, the program, initiated and supervised by engineer José da Silva Pais, was considered insufficient to secure the southern boundary. Moreover, it relied exclusively on Brazilian-born recruits. To keep control over the southern regions, therefore, the colonization plan was reformulated in the 1740s to include a massive resettlement of Azorian colonists, a move carefully detailed in a regimento (Royal Order) of 1747. The royal orders contained precise instructions on the physical layout of communities built for the Atlantic islanders; each new village was uniformly aligned, and building elements were spaced sufficiently distant from each other to allow for future growth while simultaneously preventing overcrowding. Atlantic volunteers, who were recruited as casais (married couples), were given a house as well as fresh fish each week, two cows, and a ewe.

By 1753 several Azorian communities had been established in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Although the numbers of settlers fell short of the anticipated 4,000 casais, at least 950 had settled by 1749, and in the following three years scattered groups continued to arrive. The settlers not only practiced agriculture but also played an important geopolitical role in securing the south for the Portuguese. After 1750, when the notion of uti possidetis dominated the boundary demarcations between the Spanish and the Portuguese, the Portuguese minister Alexandre de Gusmãao could point to settlement in these new southern communities as a clear example of "effective occupation."

Atlantic island resettlement proved to be attractive elsewhere in Brazil. Indeed, colonial administrators begged for Atlantic colonists, who would not only stabilize a region but also provide models of behavior for the local populace, which was consistently denigrated by officialdom. In the Comarca of Porto Seguro, for example, Indian townships were located next to European settlers' communities, with both groups living in the same type of housing. In the far north, in Amapá, Portuguese administrators created São José de Macapá and Nova Mazagão with immigrant casais in order to stabilize the northern borders of the mouth of the Amazon River. Everywhere the Azorian was exalted as the type of settler who would bring prosperity to Brazil. The Portuguese prime minister, the Marquês de Pombal, counted on such infusions of Europeans to make possible his scheme of transforming the wilds of Brazil into a European settlement. Clearly the Portuguese felt a need to "civilize" Brazil, and the sturdy, no-nonsense Atlantic islander was seen as the key to this policy.


Additional Bibliography

Ribeiro de Medeiros, Octavio H., Artur Boavida Madeira. Emigração e regresso no concelho da Povoação. Ponta Delgada [Azores]: Câmara Municipal da Povoação, 2003.

Da Rosa, Victor M.P., Salvato Trigo. Azorean Emigration: A Preliminary Overview. Porto, Portugal: Fernando Pessoa University Press, 1994.

                                      Roberta M. Delson

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Atlantic Islands, Migrants from

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