Portuguese Empire

Azores Islands

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Azores Islands

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


The Azores Islands were known in the 14th century and even much earlier in history by more ancient societies. However, they were discovered during the Age of Empires by the Portuguese under a captain of Henry the Navigator named Gonçalo Velho in 1427. This is disputed as other historians and authors such as Thomas Ashe who wrote the A History of the Azores in 1813 claimed that the Fleming Joshua Vander Berg of Bruges landed at the Azores after being shipwrecked on his way to Lisbon.

Regardless none of these Europeans were the first humans to discover the islands so the ancient history of the Azores can be relegated to another time. The Portuguese began settling the Azores Islands throughout the 15th and 16th centuries as it provided an important stopover point in order to get to the Americas and south to Africa. In order to successfully settle the islands the Portuguese imported and released sheep because there were no large animals for food originally present.

Azores Islands - Azores Islands Map (1584)

Azores Islands Map (1584)

Portuguese settlement of the Azores really began under the leadership of Pedro Álvares Cabral between 1433 and 1436 who sailed to establish colonies on the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel. The settlers began the monumental task of clearing brush and rocks in order to build crop fields. They planted grain, grape vines, sugar cane and other cash crops that would allow them to sustain a growing population and become an economically viable colony as well. Building a successful colony on the Azores would allow easier transportation all throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

Next the Portuguese imported all sorts of animals such as chickens, rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs and built houses and eventually villages, towns and cities.

Portuguese Treasure Fleets

Golden Age of Piracy - Treasure Fleet Routes

Treasure Fleet Routes (White - Spain, Blue - Portugal)

The archipelago was settled over the centuries largely from mainland Portugal. Portuguese settlers came from the provinces of Algarve, Minho, Alentejo and Ribatejo as well as Madeira. São Miguel was first settled in 1444, the settlers – mainly from the Estremadura, Alto Alentejo and Algarve areas of continental Portugal, under the command of Gonçalo Velho Cabral – landing at the site of modern-day Povoação. Many of the early settlers were also Portuguese Sephardic Jews (New Christians - Jews who became Christian through forced conversion) who fled the pressures of inquisition in mainland Portugal. In 1522 Vila Franca do Campo, then the capital of the island, was devastated by a landslide caused by an earthquake that killed about 5,000 people, and the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. The town of Vila Franca do Campo was rebuilt on the original site and today is a thriving fishing and yachting port. Ponta Delgada received its city status in 1546. Since the first settlement, the pioneers applied themselves to the area of agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely because of the proximity of the island. During the 18th and 19th century, Graciosa was host to many prominent figures, including Chateaubriand, the French writer who passed through upon his escape to America during the French revolution; Almeida Garrett, the Portuguese poet who visited an uncle and wrote some poetry while there; and Prince Albert of Monaco, the 19th century oceanographer who led several expeditions in the waters of the Azores. He arrived on his yacht "Hirondelle", and visited the "furna da caldeira", the noted hot springs grotto. Author Mark Twain published in 1869, "The Innocents Abroad" a travel book, where he described his time in the Azores. The first reference to the island of São Jorge was made in 1439 but the actual date of discovery is unknown. In 1443 the island was already inhabited but active settlement only began with the arrival of the noble Flemish native Wilhelm Van der Haegen. Arriving at Topo, where he lived and died, he became known as Guilherme da Silveira to the islanders. João Vaz Corte-Real received the captaincy of the island in 1483. Velas became a town before the end of the 15th century. By 1490, there were 2,000 Flemings living in the islands of Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge and Flores. Because there was such a large Flemish settlement, the Azores became known as the Flemish Islands or the Isles of Flanders. Prince Henry the Navigator was responsible for this settlement. His sister, Isabel, was married to Duke Philip of Burgundy of which Flanders was a part. There was a revolt against Philip's rule and disease and hunger became rampant. Isabel appealed to Henry to allow some of the unruly Flemings to settle in the Azores. He granted this and supplied them with the necessary transportation and goods. The settlement of the then-unoccupied islands started in 1439 with people mainly from the continental provinces of Algarve and Alentejo. In 1583, Philip II of Spain, as king of Portugal, sent his fleet to clear the Azores of a combined multinational force of adventurers, mercenaries, volunteers and soldiers who were attempting to establish the Azores as a staging post for a rival pretender to the Portuguese throne. Following the success of his fleet at the Battle of Ponta Delgada, the captured enemies were hanged from yardarms, as they were considered pirates by Philip II. This was added to the "Black Legend" by his enemies.[citation needed] An English expedition against the Azores in 1597, the Islands Voyage, also failed. Spain held the Azores in what is called The Babylonian captivity of 1580–1642. Into the late 16th century, the Azores as well as Madeira began to face problems of overpopulation. Spawning from that particular economic problem, some of the people began to emigrate to Brazil.[12]Iberian Union

Azores Islands - A.M. Mallet (1683)

Following the death of Henry, the Cardinal-King of Portugal the nation fell into a dynastic crisis with various pretenders to the Crown of Portugal.[13] Following his proclamation in Santarém, António, Prior of Crato was acclaimed in the Azores in 1580 (through his envoy António da Costa), but was expelled from the continent following the Battle of Alcântara.[13] Yet, through the administration of Cipriano de Figueiredo, governor of Terceira (who continued to govern Terceira in the name of ill-fated, former-king Sebastian of Portugal), the Azoreans resisted attempts to conquer the islands (including specifically at the Battle of Salga).[14] It was Figueiredo and Violante do Canto who helped organize a resistance on Terceira that influenced some of the response of the other islands, even as internal politics and support for Philip's faction increased on the other islands (including specifically on São Miguel, where the Gonçalvez da Câmara family supported the Spanish pretender).[14] The Azores were the last part of the Portuguese Empire to resist Philip's reign over Portugal (Macau resisted any official recognition) and were returned to Portuguese control with the end of the Iberian Union in 1640, not by the professional military, who were used in the Restoration War in the mainland, but by local people attacking a fortified Castilian garrison.


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