Portuguese immigrants Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Portuguese immigrants to the United States have tended to cluster in the New England and mid-Atlantic states, upper California, and Hawaii. Most came from Portugal’s Azores and Madeira island provinces in the Atlantic Ocean; only the most recent waves have come directly from the European mainland. A seafaring people, the earliest Portuguese in the United States engaged in the whaling and fishing industries, from which they progressively moved into manufacturing and agricultural work.

The Portuguese were among the earliest European explorers and settlers of the New World. A Portuguese expedition along the Atlantic coast of North America identified and named the island of Labrador in 1498. Two years later. Portuguese navigators explored the eastern coast of South America, where they settled Brazil and sent to it by far the largest numbers of Portuguese people in the Western Hemisphere. Portuguese immigrants to the United States originated not only from the Portuguese island provinces of the Azores and Madeira but also from continental Portugal itself. Portugal’s seafaring traditions prompted the Portuguese to navigate throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.Portuguese immigrantsPortuguese immigrants[cat]EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS;Portuguese immigrants[04240][cat]IMMIGRANT GROUPS;Portuguese immigrants[04240]

Early Portuguese in North America

Two small Portuguese communities appeared in the mid-seventeenth century British North American colonies–in New York State;Portuguese immigrantsNew York and Rhode Island;Portuguese immigrantsRhode Island. Portuguese immigrants to the latter colony were mostly Jewish immigrants;PortugueseSephardic Jews;PortugueseSephardic Jews. The earliest known documented reference to an immigrant of Portuguese descent was recorded in Maryland;Portuguese immigrantsMaryland in 1634. An eighteenth century descendant of a Portuguese immigrant was a founder of the New York Stock Exchange. During the early nineteenth century, the growing importance of whale oil as a fuel brought seamen from the Azores and Madeira, settling in Rhode Island and Massachusetts;Portuguese immigrantsMassachusetts. The abundance of cod fish in the North Atlantic also attracted them.

Two Portuguese girls working in the Royal Mill in Rhode Island, 1909.


Portuguese seamen sailing the Pacific during the nineteenth century established small settlements in Hawaii;Portuguese immigrantsHawaii, Alaska;Portuguese immigrantsAlaska, and California;Portuguese immigrantsCalifornia. The California gold rush;and Portuguese immigrants[Portuguese immigrants]gold rush in the latter state prompted a ten-fold increase in the Portuguese population of the state’s northern region between 1850 and 1860. California’s development of a fish-canning industry attracted more Portuguese. During the nineteenth century the number of immigrants from Portugal and its islands became sufficient to establish several Portuguese mutual benefit societies in various cities. In 1877, the Press;Portuguesefirst Portuguese newspaper, the Jornal de Notícias (News Journal), appeared in the United States, prompting the appearance of several other such publications in the next decade.

Fluctuating Immigration Rates

By the turn of the twentieth century, Portuguese immigrants were arriving in the United States by the tens of thousands, expanding the clusters already established in New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and California. Their numbers, however, have probably been underestimated because immigrants from the Azores and Madeira were not always counted as Portuguese by U.S. immigration officials. Indeed, Portuguese immigrants were often identified as Spanish. Moreover, many immigrants arrived clandestinely, declaring no nationality.

On the eve of World War I (1914-1918), New England had a population of Portuguese descent numbering approximately 150,000. Working mainly in Textile industry;Portuguese immigrantstextile mills, these people formed the second-largest Portuguese population in the Americas after Brazil. The Portuguese population in California;Portuguese immigrantsCalifornia expanded from the San Francisco Bay area into the San Joaquim Valley, aiding in the development of its Agriculture;Portuguese immigrantsagricultural abundance. Some Portuguese in Hawaii;Portuguese immigrantsHawaii moved to California although the number on the islands remained considerable and influential.

Postwar immigration restrictions reduced the number of Portuguese who could enter the country to only a few hundred per year. However, those who did succeed in immigrating now originated principally from mainland Portugal. During the decades after World War II, Portuguese immigration quotas were raised, and 100,000 immigrants entered the United States between 1950 and 1970. They left a country that had become one of the poorest in Europe, burdened with a Fascism;Portuguesefascist regime that had been in power for a half-century and mired in warfare to suppress the independence movements of its African colonies. By 1980, the U.S. Census registered more than one million Americans of Portuguese descent. Several American universities now had Portuguese studies centers, including Brown University, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Columbia University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara.Portuguese immigrants

Further Reading
  • Baganha, Maria Ioannis Benis. Portuguese Emigration to the United States, 1820-1930. New York: Garland, 1990. Examines the earliest waves of Portuguese immigrants and their settlement and occupation patterns along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
  • Higgs, David. Portuguese Migration in Global Perspective. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1990. Places the history of Portuguese immigrants to the United States in the context of their global diaspora after the fifteenth century, with attention to Brazil, Africa, and Asia.
  • Mira, Manuel. The Forgotten Portuguese. Franklin, N.C.: Portuguese American Historical Research Foundation, 1998. Offers a clearer role of the Portuguese in the United States as a minority ethnic group overshadowed by much larger groups such as the English, Germans, Irish, and Italians.
  • _______. The Portuguese Making of America. Franklin, N.C.: Portuguese American Historical Research Foundation, 2001. Highlights the contributions of Portuguese immigrants to American society.
  • Pap, Leo. The Portuguese-Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Defines the unique character and achievements of Portuguese immigrants in the United States in comparison with other immigrant groups.
  • Wiarda, Iêda Siquera, et al. Handbook of Portuguese Studies. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 1999. Annotated guide to works in the humanities and social sciences dealing with Portugal and the lusophone world, providing detailed background materials on immigration.
  • Williams, Jerry R. In Pursuit of Their Dreams: A History of Azorean Immigration to the United States. North Dartmouth: Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 2005. Traces the conditions in the Azores that prompted many islanders to immigrate to the United States and the factors determining their decisions regarding where to settle there.

Brazilian immigrants


California gold rush

Economic consequences of immigration

Economic opportunities

European immigrants


Push-pull factors

Rhode Island

Categories: History