Portuguese Immigrants

Painstaking efforts were made over the past 6 years to accurately compile a list of the Portuguese immigrants who traveled from the Açores, Madeira and mainland Portugal to the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1878 to 1913. The many sources that were employed and combined to produce the list of 20,000+ immigrants provided many challenges and hours of research. Our goal is to create a searchable database that will be available to everyone. Until then, we will be happy to search our database for you. Please complete the contact form and include as much information as possible so we can accurately find information about your ancestors.

Hawaiʻi’s first Portuguese. The first Portuguese to settle in Hawaiʻi were the sailors from Cape Verde who abandoned their ship just off the Kingdom’s shores. Soon after, Portuguese whalers (Baleeiros) and seamen who were involved in the fur and sandalwood trade stopped in Hawaiʻi to trade and buy food and supplies. Many found the hospitality of the Hawaiian natives and the warmth of the climate much more appealing than the hardships and bitter cold they experienced on the Arctic so they decided to stay. The decline of the whale industry which began in 1859 encouraged more Portuguese seamen to remain in Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiian census of 1878 showed that, out of a kingdom of 57,985 people, 438 residents were Portuguese.

Sugar is King. The first sugar mill was started on the island of Lānaʻi in 1802 by an unidentified Chinese man who returned to China in 1803. In 1825, the planting of sugarcane and extracting of sugar began, however, it failed two years later. The first commercially successful sugarcane plantation in Hawaiʻi was founded in Kōloa, Kauaʻi by Ladd & Company in 1835. This was the birth of what would become Hawaiʻi’s largest industry. As the demand for sugar increased, the need for laborers also increased. The Hawaiian population wasn’t large enough to meet the demand, so plantation owners looked beyond the borders of Hawaiʻi for suitable workers. Initially, most of these workers were from China and Japan.

Portuguese Migration to Hawaiʻi. In 1876, Jason Perry (Jacinto Pereira), a Portuguese citizen of Hawaiʻi and owner of a dry goods store in Honolulu, suggested that the Hawaiian government look for laborers in Madeira where farmers were succumbing to a severe economic depression brought on by a blight that destroyed vineyards and the wine industry. This led to political uproar, unemployment and hunger, which motivated many to seek refuge in other countries. A German botanist named Hildebrand toured Madeira in the late 1860s to survey its plant life. While there he discovered a hard-working people, who tilled island farmlands similar to Hawaiʻi. Hildebrand enthusiastically told his Hawaiian contacts that Madeira was a good source of plantation labor.

After many challenges, the first recruitment of Portuguese laborers traveled from Funchal aboard the German bark the Priscilla and arrived in Honolulu on September 30, 1878. The Priscilla sailed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and at the end of three months and 26 days it brought 120 Madeirans to settle in Hawaiʻi. This marked the beginning of a dramatic migration to provide the much-needed laborers for Hawaiʻi’s rapidly expanding sugar industry. The men were mechanics, masons, carpenters, plantation laborers and agriculturist. They were described by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser as being a “clean looking, well-behaved set, with the old-fashioned polite manners of the Portuguese and Spanish races. The more we have of this sort of immigration the better…”.

Between 1878 and 1913, twenty-six ships brought more than 20,000 immigrants across the treacherous Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Portuguese passengers must have experienced mixed feelings when they left their family, friends and beautiful motherland to make the 15,000-mile journey which took several months. It was probably easy for some to make the decision. Afterall, they were offered contracts for thirty-six months. The men would receive $10.00 a month and the women $6.50 a month to be paid in U.S. gold or silver. Lodging, daily food rations, medical care and free medicine would be provided by the employer. Their children would receive formal education.

On these ships, the immigrants endured overcrowding, lack of adequate facilities, poor sanitary conditions, sea sickness, illnesses, disease and unfamiliar food. There were many deaths and there were births. However, they took the time to sing, dance, play cards, make new friends and socialize.

Portuguese Praised. The Portuguese emigrants proved to be desirable citizens. They set up homes with the intent to stay, planted gardens, and found the islands to be a pleasant place to live. They were seen as very thrifty and they generally purchased land as soon as they were financially able. The qualities of sobriety and laboriousness attracted the attention of the labor employers and the government. The Portuguese also contributed to the rapid re-population of Hawaiʻi more than any class of immigrants. The usual proportion of their families varied from four to twelve or more children. Portuguese children were observed to be eager to learn the English language and costumes, which showed a willingness to assimilate into the culture. They were viewed as Catholics of a liberal, easy going and quiet nature. Many achieved the status of luna (foreman) on the plantations.

Always Remembered, Never Forgotten The following six volumes list the names of over 22,000 Portuguese Immigrants who migrated to Hawai‘i to work on the sugar plantations. The names are spelled as they appear on their baptism record and/or passport. The names of the ships are listed as well as the Passport Number, Portuguese Citizenship Number and Passenger List Number. These books are on display in February and September every year in Hilo, Hawaiʻi Island. Please contact PFHCH if you would like to have these books displayed at your organization.

Terra Nova Book Stack

They Came in Ships to Terra Nova: Portuguese Immigration to Hawai‘i, 1878-1913
Written by Kahealani Martins, Psy.D.

Capture the experiences of the Portuguese immigrants as they traveled across the long treacherous voyage from Madeira and São Miguel, Açores to the Hawaiian Kingdom. The 382 newspaper articles written from 1878 to 1913 reveal the primitive and unsanitary conditions they endured, illnesses, deaths and births. They also danced, played music, played games, and built friendships. This one-of-a-kind book with over 300 pages and 70 images, printed in color, provides the historical events that can be shared with family and friends.

Join us for our yearly events in February and September, sponsored by the “Hawai’i Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce”.

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