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The Madeiran Portuguese of SVG – Part 3


Fri, Mar 9. 2012

by Oswald Fereira
[email protected]

This segment explores the theories that the Madeiran Portuguese were either running away from compulsory army service or they were free migrants in search of a new life in a new land.{{more}}

Stories abound that the male Madeira migrants were running from being drafted into the army, they were fleeing from compulsory military service. Yet, in my family, there is a story of a male ancestor, a migrant from Madeira, who left his young wife (or perhaps fiancée, the date of marriage has yet to be ascertained) to become a soldier, and when he was not heard from and assumed dead, she had a child by another man. When he returned from service he got back with her and raised a family, including the aforementioned child. It is not certain which army he served in, whether Portuguese, British or otherwise, but it appears odd for folk to be running away from the draft and when they were safe they would enlist for army service anywhere. We may never know the entire story.

History indicates that at the time the Madeiran Portuguese came to St Vincent, Madeira was experiencing tough economic times. There may have been diseases of the grape crop similar to the potato blight problems in Ireland when many Irish fled to America. Wages in Madeira were stated as two pence per day, and that was assumed to be lower than the wages offered to work as indentured labourers in St. Vincent. Even so it still appears that the indentured wage may have been insufficient to allow the Portuguese migrants to amass such wealth and entrepreneurship in such quick times, especially when the East Indians did not appear to prosper comparatively. Some family stories indicate that the Portuguese ancestors had sold property in Portugal and Madeira and were on their way to settle in Brazil, but many stopped off in the British West Indies instead. Until we can prove for sure that the Madeira migrants to St Vincent all came as indentured labourers, it may be safe to assume that while many were indentured, other may have been free migrants looking for a place to settle for whatever reasons, and this latter group quickly became the businessmen and landed class. They may have capitalized on the indentured system to be allowed to settle in St Vincent, but they soon became independent businessmen and land owners.

I have also come across some postings on the Internet indicating that children of the Madeira migrants were born at sea while the parents were en route from Madeira to the West Indies. It seems odd that someone bound for an indentured service which was to be short lived and may have included a return passage to their homeland would put their pregnant wives at the great peril of a long journey by sea without the necessary medical services that a pregnancy and pending birth would require.