Portuguese Immigrants in the United States
1492-1769 | 1770-1869 | 1870-1899 | 1900-1919 | 1920-1957 | 1958-present


A Portuguese man, whose name in Spanish was Juan Arias and who was said to have come from "Tavaria," was among Columbus' crew on his voyage of discovery. His name in Portuguese was most likely João Aires, and there is a town in Portugal called Tavira, located near Palos, out of which Columbus sailed in 1492. On the return trip in 1493 Columbus stopped in Santa Maria, Azores on February 13 and in Lisbon on March 4, and the Portuguese were thus the first Europeans to hear reports of the outcome of the journey. Columbus relied heavily on Portuguese expertise, including papers and charts of his Portuguese father-in-law.


The Treaty of Tordesilhas was signed on June 7. The previous year Pope Alexander VI had declared that Portugal was entitled to lands east of a line drawn 100 leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde and that Spain was entitled to the lands lying west of that line. The Portuguese were unwilling to accept this demarcation, and the treaty set the line at some 370 leagues from Cape Verde. Pope Julius II did not confirm the treaty until January 24, 1506.


The Portuguese fished heavily on the Grand Banks and the Newfoundland area throughout the first decades of the sixteenth century.


Pedro Álvares Cabral, attempting to reach India via the Cape of Good Hope, landed in present-day Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil and claimed the land for the Crown of Portugal.


Estêvão Gomes of Oporto, previously the chief pilot for Magalhães (commonly known as Magellan), set out from La Coruña in September, having been commissioned by Charles V, the emperor of Spain, the previous year to locate a northwest passage leading from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Reaching North America in February of 1525, he entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence despite the weather. Gomes sighted Prince Edward Island and discovered the Gut of Canso. He followed the Nova Scotia and Maine coasts and sailed the Penobscot in search of a strait that could lead him to the Moluccas. It is probable that he reached Cape Cod in July of 1525, and he was back in Spain in August.


Among the 600 men who landed near Tampa Bay, Florida with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto were at least 100 Portuguese. The expedition traversed a great deal of territory, seeing parts of present-day Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Just under three years after landing, on May 21, 1542, De Soto died on the banks of the Mississippi. The survivors continued on to present-day Texas. Among the explorers was a nobleman from Elvas, Portugal, André de Vasconcelos da Silva, who seems to have been the leader of the Elvas group. He never returned home. The oldest description of these lands is from this expedition. Written in Portuguese by an anonymous Fidalgo de Elvas, or Gentleman of Elvas, it was published in 1557.


While in the service of the King of Spain, João Rodrigues Cabrilho (also known by his name in Spanish, Cabrillo) led the first Europeans to enter California as he and his crew sailed into San Diego harbor. Cabrilho reached Drake's Bay on November 14, named Cape Mendocino after the Viceroy of Mexico, and died on January 3, 1543, on San Miguel Island, near Santa Barbara. A monument to Cabrilho was erected in Oakland, California in the 1920s, and on January 3, 1937, the anniversary of Cabrilho's death, another monument, this one erected on the island where he died, was unveiled by San Francisco's Cabrillo Civic Club. A statue of the explorer, sculpted by Álvaro de Bré, was on display in the Portuguese pavilion of the 1939 World's Fair in New York. The Portuguese minister of information, António Ferro, promised to donate it to California, and a controversy followed as to where it should be placed. It was eventually placed on Point Loma, located in San Diego, and it is owned and maintained by the National Park Service.


The first person to take tobacco to Europe from America was Luís Góis, a Portuguese man. Some was sent to France by Jean Nicot, ambassador to the Court of Lisbon. Catherine de Medici is said to have suffered from an acute addiction to the substance, and the word "nicotine" comes from the ambassador's name.


There are those who believe that João Caetano, a Portuguese in the service of Spain, came to the Hawaiian Islands. However, most historians record the official discovery of the islands to be the one by Captain John Cook in 1778.


Os Lusíadas, the epic poem by the great Portuguese writer Luís de Camões, first appeared in Lisbon. Camões is inscribed on a wall of the Hispanic Division Reading Room in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress and on the Boston Public Library's Dartmouth Street façade.


A native of the Azores, Simão Fernandes piloted the British colonies to America. In 1584 he went to Virginia as Sir Walter Raleigh's master pilot, and in 1585 he discovered Port Simon, in Virginia.


Portuguese soldiers, sent from Lisbon by order of Phillip II, composed the first garrison of the San Felipe del Morro fortress in Puerto Rico. Some brought their wives, while others married Puerto Rican women, and today there are many Puerto Rican families with Portuguese last names.


Portuguese navigator Pedro de Teixeira reached the coast of California north of Cape Mendocino.


The first documented Portuguese settler in the present-day United States, Mathias de Sousa, arrived in Maryland. Some believe that he was of Jewish descent.


On October 3, a Franciscan convent for men was founded in Puerto Rico by Portuguese friars who had come to the island in 1641.


On January 26, a group of 23 Portuguese Sephardic Jews, who had originally fled from Portugal to the Netherlands, left Recife in Pernambuco, Brazil for New Amsterdam (now Manhattan, New York City) in the wake of the collapse of the Dutch colony in that South American country. These refugees were the founders of the first American Jewish community. During its first decades, the Congregation Shearith Israel (since renamed the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) used the Portuguese language. By the middle of the 1700s, however, both Portuguese and Spanish had given way to English.


Groups of Portuguese and Spanish Jews from Barbados settled in Newport, Rhode Island. Other Jewish settlers arrived from Curaçao, Brazil, Portugal, and the Netherlands.


A group of Portuguese Jews founded the Sephardim Touro Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. Jewish Portuguese families introduced the Masonic order to Newport. The synagogue was dedicated five years later, making it the first synagogue in the United States.


The principal source of the wine drunk in the Thirteen Colonies and the West Indies was the archipelago of Madeira, which in turn received much Pennsylvania grain and New England cod.


The oath of allegiance to the British crown was administered in Pennsylvania to German, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and Swiss citizens.


Isaac Mendes Seixas arrived in New York from Portugal. His son, Benjamin Mendes Seixas of Newport and later New York, became one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange.


A group of Portuguese and Spanish Jews arrived in Savannah, Georgia via England.


Rabbi David Mendes Machado, originally from Lisbon, became the rabbi of the Spanish-Portuguese congregation Searith Israel in New York City.


Abraham de Lyon, a Jewish Portuguese winegrower, settled in Georgia and began planting vineyards. He is said to have introduced the process into Georgia.

c. 1750

Shipwrecked Portuguese sailors are said to have arrived on the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina and to have married into the Amerindian and Afro-American communities.


A group of Portuguese Jews arrived in Narragansett, Rhode Island from Lisbon after a devastating earthquake in the Portuguese capital. The earthquake destroyed a large portion of Portuguese official documents, including many related to the discoveries.


James Lucena received permission from the General Assembly of Rhode Island to manufacture Castile soap.


The Touro Synagogue in Newport (the first synagogue in the United States) was dedicated on December 2. Among the founders was Aaron Lopez (or Lopes) of Lisbon. He did not openly profess Judaism until arriving in Rhode Island, where he took the name Aaron. Besides participating in the founding of the synagogue, Lopez was instrumental in building up the whaling industry and he employed Azorean seamen on his approximately thirty ships.

1492-1769 1770-1869 1870-1899 1900-1919 1920-1957 1958-present

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Comments: Ask a Librarian (07/31/98)