Faial island, History

Faial Island also known in English as Fayal, is a Portuguese island of the Central Group of the Azores.

With its nearest neighbours, Pico (east across the channel) and São Jorge (northeast across the channel), it forms an area commonly known as the Trianglo (English:Triangle). The island has also referred to as the Ilha Azul (English: Blue Island), derived from the writings of Portuguese poet Raul Brandão, due to the large quantity of hydrangeas that bloom during the summer months:

“The man that had the idea to border the road with these plants should have a statue on the island. In no other place, do they prosper better: they need a covering of light, humidity and heat…they are in their place. Their blue, is the blue that adorns the Azores on lipid days…this is a blue that is even more blue, the bunches of flowers of a colour more intense and more fresh. They are in every direction: rising along the roads and the fields forming hedges; they serve to divide the parcels and to cover the peaceful animals.”

—Raul Brandão, As Ilhas Desconhecidas (1926), p.33
During a period of medieval legends and unsubstantiated stories of mystical lands,[1] the island of Faial first appeared on the 1375-1377 Atlas Catalão, as Ilha da Ventura or Insula de La Ventura (English: Venture Island). By 1427 they had discovered what most had suspected: islands in the middle of the Atlantic (specifically the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel). In subsequent years there would occur new discoveries until, during his first voyage of exploration (in 1451), the navigatorDiogo de Teive explored the coast of Faial.

It was the humanist friar Gaspar Frutuoso who recounted that the first explorers did not find a uninhabited island: a hermit, who had a small flock and lived in a cave in the interior, had occupied the land.[2]

By 1460, the nautical charts would refer to this island as Ilha de São Luis. It was at about this time that Valentim Fernandes da Morávia, a German intellectual and translator residing in Lisbon, recounted the first story related to the settlement of the island. As he wrote, Frair Pedro, the queen’s confessor, traveled with the Infanta D. Isabella of Portugal, Duchess of Burgundy, to Flanders, where he met and developed a friendship with the nobleman Josse van Huerter. During their conversations D. Pedro talked to van Huerter of the islands and that there existed deposits of silver and tin (which he assumed were the Ilhas Cassitérides, or in English, the Islands of Tin). Van Huerter convinced 15 other men of the profitability of a venture in the archipelago.

Around 1465, Huerter disembarked for the first time on Faial along the beach of Praia de Almofariz (now Praia de Almoxarife). The expedition remained in the area of Lomba dos Frades for about a year, until their supplies ran out. His compatriots were angered by the lack of the promised precious metals, and quickly van Huerter escaped to Flanders and the court of the Duchess of Burgundy.

In 1467, Huerter returned to Faial on a new expedition, supported by the Duchess, who “ordered men and women of all conditions, as well as priests to convey their religious orders, in addition to ships loaded with furniture and utensils necessary for the land and construction of houses, and she sent them for two years, everything they cared for subsistence” (as quoted by German geographer, Martin Behaim in his text Globo de Nuremberga). He also noted that Isabella had ordered that civil criminals should be sent to the island. Infante D. Fernando (Duke of Viseu and Master of the Order of Christ) gave Van Heutere the title of Captain-Major [3] of the island. Immediately, the new colonists had problems in their new colony, due to a lack of potable water. They moved their settlement to the adjacent valley (which continues to bear the name of Flamengos, the Portuguese term for Flemish or literally, Flemish people). Van Huerter constructed a small chapel, consecrated in the name of Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). He eventually returned temporarily to Lisbon, where he married D. Beatriz de Macedo, governess of the Duke of Viseu. Still an apt negotiator, he returned to Faial promoting the settlement of the colony and his holdings. He convinced a second group of settlers, under the Flemish nobleman Willelm van der Hagen (later known as Guilherme da Silveira) to bring his compatriots, their families and support staff to the island in 1467.

The settlers concentrated in the area of Conceição and Porto Pim, creating the nuclei of the Vila de Orta (later the Vila de Horta), a name transliterated from the surname ofJosse van Huerter. By 1490, this Flemish community numbered approximately 1500 people, and were joined by several families from the Alentejo, Moinho and other islands in the archipelago. The rapid growth of the island, in this phase, was the result of the cultivation of wheat, and the growth in the woad industry. It was some time later, when the island’s name changed to “Fayal”, due to the large number of Faya trees Myrica faya. With the island’s improving economy more Portuguese settled and rapidly the Flemish influence diminished.

In 1583, as part of the Spanish occupation of the Azores (which began with a landing party on Terceira), a Spanish fleet was sent to Faial. During the expeditionary assault, a body of armed men landed at Pasteleiro and engaged the defenders. Although reinforced by French troops, the garrison was unable to fend off the invaders. During the Iberian Union of Portugal and Spain, the island was frequently attacked by British and Frenchpirates. Raiding parties from the Earl of Cumberland (George Clifford) and Earl of Essex (Robert Devereaux) attacked the defenseless populations between 1589 and 1597. This was partly due to the influx of Spanish to the islands, as opportunities for Iberian businessmen improved. Unfortunately, the privateers robbed the inhabitants and burned what they left behind, non differentiating between Portuguese and Spanish. To protect themselves, the Faialense built a large number of fortresses; in the 18th century there were more than 20. Meantime offshore from Faial, on 22/23 June 1594, in what became known as The Battle of Faial Island or the Action of Faial, three ships of the Earl of Cumberland attacked the 2,000 ton Portuguese carrack Las Cinque Chagas, which historians believe to be the richest treasure ship ever to sail from the East Indies, firing and sinking the ship immediately off the island with all hands and all cargo lost.

The Cabeço Gordo Volcano erupted in 1672, leading to emigration to Brazil, but the economy was not significantly damaged.

In intervening years Horta became a stopover for Jesuit missionaries traveling to and from Brasil and Asia. The Jesuits constructed a college in Horta, as did the Carmelites and Franciscan Orders. The explorer James Cook also reached the islands before initiating his Pacific voyages of discovery, during the 18th century.

The people of Faial were active participants in the struggles between the Liberals and Absolutionists, finally deciding to favor the Liberals, welcoming the visit of King Pedro IV in 1832. For its loyalty, Horta was elevated to status of town.

In 1876 work started on the construction of a dock in the protected harbor of Horta. As time progressed, Faial’s importance expanded through this dock, as a way-point to trans-Atlantic traffic. Charles William Dabney, the American entrepreneur was responsible for the growth of the industry of the islands with whaling, wine and orange exports predominating. A philanthropic figure, Dabney was responsible for cultivating the economy of the island and supporting its population, aid to agriculture and generating markets abroad for their goods. The growth of industry and trans-Atlantic sail traffic also expanded Horta’s importance, as a safe harbor and coal storage base. In 1919, the first airplane to cross the Atlantic stopped at Horta. Horta’s exceptional situation also led to Pan American establishing a Clipper base there. Similarly, British, American, French, German and Italian intercontinental submarine cable stations were based in Horta. During World War Two, Horta was also an important naval base, giving shelter to some Allied ships that took part in the Normandy invasion.

The island, dependent on whaling and agriculture, remained prosperous until the eruption of Capelinhos volcano in 1957. Communities of the northern and western coast were harshly affected by the volcano’s eruption, as agricultural lands were untillable and covered with sand and ash. This led to the immigration of 4000 people to the United States, spearheaded by members of the Portuguese diaspora in New England and the influential Massachusetts Senator (John F. Kennedy). In addition, whaling, as a viable commercial enterprise was slowly curtailed with innovations in the chemical sector and animal-rights influence.

Economic and political changes since the 1980s have helped to revitalize the islands economy and development. After the Azores gained the status of an Autonomous Region within Portugal, Horta, the island’s only city, was allowed to host the Regional Parliament (Parlamento Regional) of the Azores.

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