Portugal’s Age of Discovery: The Azores Islands

Map Of The Discoveries Routes In Lisbon, PortugalThe discovery of the 9 islands which became known as the Acores or Azores was not accomplished all at once with many legends behind their existence before they were colonized by the Portuguese in the 1430’s. The first island to be discovered was the small island of Santa Maria on the southernmost tip of the Azores in 1432. It is said that here, on the island of Santa Maria the crew landed after a horrible storm that had been beating and battering their boat all day and into the evening. It was later that evening that land was seen and the crew yelled to the captain of the ship Goncalo Velho Cabral “Land in sight, Land in sight”. It is here they found refuge and docked; taking shelter in a small bay. It was here the crew all took mass and in thanks for their survival named the island after the patron saint and mother of Jesus, Mary calling it Santa Maria.Azores_old_map

In 1435 the first families began to arrive in Santa Maria and began populating the island thanks to the release of hundreds of herd animals years earlier in 1432; which allowed the island to flourish. This was a process that was subsequently followed in all discovered islands in the Azores. In 1439 the island of Sao Miguel which is directly north of Santa Maria became the 2nd island in the region to began colonization, with the clearing and burning of the heavily forested interior of the island. It was in 1444 that the first families were sent to live on the island of Sao Miguel arriving in Villa Franca in the county of Povoacao. The control and governorship of the islands was given to Goncalo Velho Cabral as the “Commander of the Azores”. Since Goncalo had no descendants and he was a very religious monk at the time devoting his life to the church and state, he passed on the his wealth and the governing control as Donatary Captain to his nephew Dr. João Soares De Albergaria.

It was in the subsequent years that the remaining 7 islands all to the north of Santa Maria and Sao Miguel were all discovered. As Portugal was soon becoming a much larger more powerful nation with all its wealth and new discoveries the King needed to associate his control over his new territories and appointed Donatary Captains on the islands; a total of 13 captancies in total for 13 families. This system of governorship on the Atlantic islands remained until the 18th century when the Donatary Captain system was abolished by the Marquee de Pombal. It is said the Marquee was obsessed with the influence and power that certain noble families were accumulating in the Azores and he had a desire to be the most powerful noble in the region. It was with great cunning and manipulation that he began petitioning the King to end this system of rule in which the King finally agreed too. It was after the “Tavora incident” in which a plot to murder the King and take control of the crown was made public which eventually was proven to be a deliberate ploy by the Marquee to cause paranoia and suspicion in the Kings mind so he would end the hold on power some of these Atlantic families had.

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