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.
Two small Portuguese communities appeared in the mid-seventeenth century British North American colonies–in
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
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
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
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.
California gold rush
Economic consequences of immigration