Major US Destinations for Spanish and Portuguese Immigrants

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium
  1. Some 18th-century Portuguese colonized Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Fall River and New Bedford, Mass., were popular destinations. Most came for economic reasons or to escape mandatory military service.
  2. Portuguese sailors reputedly are among the forebears of the multiracial Melungeon group, which gradually migrated to their cultural home of today in the Cumberland Gap area of Appalachia.
  3. St. Augustine was settled (via Cuba) in 1565, and several Spanish missions followed. When the British gained Florida in 1763, the 3,000 resident Spaniards left quickly. Spain eventually regained control but didn’t repopulate, and Florida passed to the United States in 1819.
  4. Originally a French colony, Louisiana came under Spanish control in 1763. Thousands of Spanish settlers came from Cuba and elsewhere until the French regained the area by secret treaty in 1801 and sold it to the United States in 1803.
  5. Spain established Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico was established in 1598. Plagued by native resistance, Spanish occupation was intermittent, but Santa Fe remained the provincial capital until Mexico gained independence in 1821. The United States took New Mexico by force in 1846 to 1848.
  6. The Spanish began colonizing in the late 1600s, mostly to keep out the French. To build up residency, they encouraged white immigration from the United States. By 1834, white settlers outnumbered Spanish by more than three to one. Basques numbered among the early Spanish explorers and eventually settlers of this New Spain colony.
  7. Basques from the province of Viscaya made Boise home, as they migrated from California outward to lands suitable for sheepherding. A large cultural Basque presence remains.
  8. Many Basque sheepherders (mostly from Viscaya) migrated from California in the late 19th century to satisfy needs of miners.
  9. Between 1769 and 1820, Spain colonized missions, ranches and military outposts up the coast of California. They introduced natives (often forcibly) to Catholicism and European-style agriculture. About 10,000 Spanish settlers still lived there when the U.S. gained California in the Mexican War (1846 to 1848). In the mid-1800s, Portuguese immigrants farmed and fished all along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco (some found their way as far north as Seattle). Larger settlements included a fertile region known as “the Pocket” in Sacramento and the Santa Clara valley near San Jose. California attracted Basques after gold was discovered; they came straight from Spain and also from colonized areas of South America. Many arrivals hailed from the province of Navarre or from French Basque areas. A significant number of Basques remained to ranch and herd sheep in the Central Valley region, particularly in and around Bakersfield.
  10. Before it was a US state, the Kingdom of Hawaii recruited workers from Portugal for its sugar plantations. Early arrivals were sailors from the western Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. Most Portuguese workers arrived from the Azores and Madeira Islands with their families between 1877 and 1884, by which time they numbered nearly 10,000.

From the December 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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