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Articles and Postings on the Azores


(This article is mostly conjecture on the part of Eloise, what Margarida’s thoughts and feelings were during this time. It is based, though, on her extensive research and knowledge of this subject. It is hoped that you will find it interesting and that it will give us all a small window looking back in time where we might feel what Margarida could have felt.)

Contributed by Eloise Cadinha

More than 500 years have gone by and still very little is known of Willelm Van der Haegen and his wife, Margarida. It is difficult to visualize and humanize this man and woman who were of great importance in the colonization of the Azores.

Who was Willelm Van der Haegen, who later changed his name to Guilherme da Silveira According to Dr. Jose Cunha da Silveira, an Azorean genealogist and historian, and direct descendent of Van her Haegen, very little is known of him even today. All agree he was a Flemish nobleman of the family of Van der Haegen. Possibly his father was also Willelm Van de Haegen. It is unknown as to which branch of the Van der Haegens he is descended. Some writers say he was born in Bruges, others in Maestrict. The family home of the Van der Haegens was in Maestrict.

It is believe that Margarida was Flemish and her family name is unknown. The early Azorean writers mentioned the custom in Flanders that on marriage a woman took the husband’s name, which was not the custom in Portugal. Her name was usually written as Margarida Zambuyo or Sabuyo (and other ways). It is thought that this spelling was a typographical distortion of Silveira. For spelling distortions even in this century,

Van der Haegen is sometimes written as Vandraga or Vandaraga. Mr. Cunha writes that she was not Margarida Van Savoia, who never put her foot in the Azores. Margarida Van Savoia was married three times and is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross in Stuttgart, Germany. Surely Margarida was born to a family of some means, perhaps of the noble class, and certainly accustomed to the comforts of that time. She must have been a woman of great patience, great fortitude, and long-suffering. She was uprooted from all she had ever known to travel for months on a ship with little or no privacy, to settle on the recently discovered island of Faial in the middle of an ocean, and once there to move from island to island subject of the whims of her husband.

What were the reasons for Willelm Van der Haegen, a man of wealth, to sell what he had to move his family to the Azores? Was it a wish for adventure? Was it the offer of land Josse Van Huerter, Capitao-donatorio of Faial and Pico, was a friend and originally from Bruges. On a trip to Flanders, Van Huerter promised Willelm much of the island of Faial. Was it the political situation which was bad at the time and somehow a worry for him and his family Many Flemish people were suffering. Was it the desire to find valuable minerals in the Azores to acquire more wealth We will never know.

There was probably little discussion with Margarida about the move to the Azores. A wife’s duty was to follow her husband and do as he bid. The thought of moving to an island in the middle of the ocean must have been a tremendous shock to her and the shedding of many tears. Margarida was limited to what household and personal items she would be allowed to take for her family. The two ships were not large; space was precious as other families were sailing with them.

Furniture was not much of a problem. There wasn’t much furniture even in the houses of the wealthy. The most important pieces of furniture in those days were beds and chests. Clothes and household items were stored in chests. Planks of wood and trestles would go. The usual seating of that period was a bench, usually a plank of wood placed across two trestles on either end. Tables were also large boards mounted on trestles that could be moved from room to room. The wealthy had wool coverings for the walls; Margarida probably packed a few of the smaller ones.

Van der Haegen was not a man of the sea, and perhaps had never been aboard a ship, and the same could be said for most of the colonists accompanying him. Certainly he hired a broker to attend to the matter of finding worthy ships with dependable crews with knowledge of navigation and for the provisions for the long sea journey, though there would be ports of call on the voyage. There was farm equipment and other tools to purchase or have made, and men who know how to use and repair them. These groups of colonists had been carefully selected. There were people of all occupations including common laborers.

Finally the day of departure arrived. Sad, heartbreaking good-byes were said. Margarida knew in her heart she would never see her family again. As she and her small excited children boarded the ship she must have prayed that this ship would get them safely across the ocean.

Sea voyages often took months. Always, there was the fear of storms and even worse, pirates and privateers. Weeks and weeks of crowded conditions, little privacy, seasickness, and the fear of children falling overboard. Margarida had small children to watch and worry over, and perhaps she was pregnant. Pregnancy wasn’t considered of any importance when planning a sea voyage.

After months land was sighted and soon they landed on Faial. The houses in Porto Pim were simple almost primitive. The first thing Margarida noticed were the carpets on the floor, which in Portugal were a carry-over from the Moors. Carpets were few in Bruges. Here in Porto Pim were ladies of her class, delighting Margarida to converse with them, and perhaps to play cards and other games. Life on the ship had been lonely. The other women on the ship had not been of her class and she had not been at ease with them.

The joy of their arrival on Faial soon turned to bitter disappointment. The promises of land made by Josse Van Huerter were forgotten. An early writer (Fructuoso) cited jealousy as the reason because of the popularity of Van der Haegen. His personality must have been such that people liked and trusted him almost instantly. Seeing there was little to benefit his family on Faial, they sailed to Terceira.

They settled in a place called Quatro Ribeiras, already settled by Fernao Dulmo (or Van de Olm) either a Flemish or a French nobleman. Dulmo had established the first parish church on Terceira, Santa Beatris. Farming on Terceira was a success for Van der Haegen. Life became more comfortable for Margarida and her family with better housing. Wheat and pastel (used in dying) were soon exported to Europe. Here on Terceira the family was learning Portuguese; the children learned to speak it so quickly. The family increased as Margarida gave birth to more children.

Some years later, Van der Haegen returned to Flanders to settle his affairs. In all accounts no mention is made of Margarida or any of their children accompanying him It’s almost certain he was gone for more than a year. On returning to the Azores he stopped in Lisbon. It was here he met Dona Maria de Villena, the donatoria of Flores and Corvo. Some kind of an agreement was made between them, possibly the promise of minerals to be found. On his return to Terceira he told his family and the other colonists they would be moving to Flores. There must have been lots of complaints from his family, not only from Margarida but from his children. Perhaps some of the Flemish colonists now comfortable in Terceira refused to pull up stakes to move to Flores.

The Flores episode was not a good move. They settled on the western part of Flores near where is now Vila de Santa Cruz. First they lived in caves, and later houses were built. Life was hard for all of them. Flores was distant from the rest of the Azores, and was far from the route of ships. They were lucky if a ship visited once a year. Farming was not successful because of the rain and winds that constantly attacked the island. For Margarida life had gone from bad to worse. The children were fast approaching the time of marriage and there was no one on Flores suitable for them. Because of their primitive and secluded life, her older children were lacking in many of the social graces, and it was a great worry for her. How often Margarida must have told them how life had been for her in Bruges.

It is not known how many years they remained on Flores - anywhere from 6 to 10 years. Surely Van der Haegen did not want to admit defeat, and perhaps this is one reason they remained so many years. There came a time when he could no longer deny the suffering of his family and the other colonists. And so came their last move to Sao Jorge. They settled on the extreme end and least inhabitable part of the island where Topo is today. It was here some writers claim that Van der Haegen changed his name to Guilherme da Silveira.

Wheat and pastel were grown and cattle raised. Soon grain and pastel were exported to Europe. Life began to prosper for them and soon a large house was built. People of importance came to visit, and they, too, visited the other important families on Faial, Pico and Terceira. Margarida and her husband concentrated on finding suitable marriage partners for their children. Dowries were arranged for their daughters. Their children married into the principal families in the islands. Probably the greatest disappointment in Silveira’s life was that he was not granted the status of Capitao-donatorio.

3 sons and 5 daughters were born to Margarida. Possibly other children had died in infancy. One son went to Portugal and nothing more is known of him. Most of the Silveira descendents today are descended from their five daughters.

Many of us have Silveiras in our ancestry. But we must remember this: in the 1400s and 1500s it was the custom in Portugal and in the islands for servants, workers, and even slaves to take the name of their masters or landlords, or even assuming the name of their godfathers.

According to Dr. Jose Cunha da Silveira there are hundreds of people on the island of Sao Jorge who use the name "Silveira" but have no connection whatsoever with Guilherme da Silbeira. On the other hand there are hundreds of others not using the name"Silveira" who are his proved descendants


The Oranges of Sao Miguel

Contributed by Eloise Cadinha

Golden Age of the Orange on Sao Miguel.

Many of us have visited Sao Miguel, visited the villages in the district of Ponta Delgada where our ancestors were born. We no longer see the vast plantations of oranges that once covered this district. Other districts had their orange groves, but not like Ponta Delgada. The roads were poor and Ponta Delgada had the best. Transportation of oranges to the warehouses in the city was by mules and mostly in the winter months. I have always been interested in the orange plantations since reading that a Botelho ancestor of mine had one. Some of us have ancestors who were landowners, but most of our ancestors worked on these plantations.

Once oranges were so abundant, they were part of the diet of the poor people. Oranges grew so well on that green and humid island of Sao Miguel. There is a famous painting "Emigrantes" by Domingos Rebelo (Probably many of you saw it when it was pictured on Lusaweb.) In that painting of the emigrants on the old Custom House wharf in Ponta Delgada waiting for a launch to take them out to a ship, one can see a bag of oranges.

On Sao Miguel there was once a time that is known at the golden age of the orange. It brought much prosperity to the island. It was a time that will never be seen again. It is a remembrance of the days from November to May when hundreds of thousands of crates of oranges were shipped to London, St. Petersburg, New York, and the Baltic Ports. Not only were oranges shipped. Lemons and sour oranges were also crated an exported.

It all began when Joao Simas Camelo in 1751 sent 3 !/3 large crates of oranges to the port of Cork in Ireland. After that date regular shipments went to England. The growth of the orange industry was tremendous by the years 1820-1840, especially to the city of London. Mansions were built. The Palace Fonte Belo (now a school) was constructed in 1817 and was symbolic of the opulence from the profits of the orange.

The growing prosperity of the orange business had the effect of stopping the flow of emigration. There are statistics of emigration from Sao Miguel before 1870 that show the reduction in the decades of 1850 and 1860. It was a time of prosperity and many were employed on the orange plantations.

It was not long after the first shipments to London that British exporters arrived to set up business in Ponta Delgada. Only one local from Sao Miguel became involved in the export business. Some of these Englishmen married into the best families of Sao Miguel. There were only two exporters who were not English, one was the American, Thomas Hickling, and the other, Sholtze, a Prussian, who introduced many new plants to the Azores. He married into a morgada family, but his name is lost, having no male descendants By 1833 the exporting business was still in the hands of foreigners.

Most of the locals in the beginning did not want to take the risks of being an exporter. The risks were great, as the time for large shipments of oranges were in the winter months. The weather from January to March was often violent, and cargoes were sometimes lost. Often when the weather turned bad the ships would not remain for the loading of cargo. Many times fruit was spoiled. The loss was to the exporter.

Ponta Delgada did not have a port. There was no protection for the ships that called. So with the golden age of the orange in the years 1840-1875, a tax was paid on each crate for shipment. An artificial port was constructed, built on the plans of an English engineer. The building of this port provided many jobs for the population of Sao Miguel. The profits were immense for the landowners. The oranges and their cultivation provided jobs for the country population. Much of the economy of Sao Miguel, and apparently also on the other islands, was connected to the orange business.

The Crisis 1877-1890

Many of us had ancestors who emigrated in the decades of the 1880 and 1890 from the district of Ponta Delgada. Many of them, I am certain, had worked on the orange plantations, or in some other occupations connected to the orange business. Occupations such as carpenters who built the crates, and those who hauled the fruit on mules to warehouses in Ponta Delgada. Children, women, men, old women and old men were all employed in the orange business.

Beginning about 1860 in small way, a sickness known as the "lagrima" (tear) began to infect the oranges, destroying the quality of the fruit. By 1880 it was a crisis. Exports fell dramatically and the poor once again began to emigrate. In 1883, 6,080 Azoreans emigrated, and of that number, 4,157 were from the district of Ponta Delgada.

By the end of the century it was known that the orange industry could not be revived. Some tried to be optimistic and continued exporting, but the handwriting was on the wall. There would be no resurrection of the golden age of the oranges. England was importing oranges from Valencia and from Italy.

The last decade of the 18th century for many of the large and small landowners was a time of painful adjustment. Interest payments hung over them, interest on their opulent mansions and parks. These old landowners were not able to maintain their properties and were obligated to their creditors to hand them over or to sell them at a much lower price.

In the district of Ponta Delgada, even today one can see vestiges of old quintas. Thomas Hickling's enormous house in Livramento is in ruins.

Reference: _O Ciclo da Laranja e os "gentlemen farmers" da Ilha de S.Miguel, 1780-1880_, Sacuntala de Miranda. Insituto Cultural de Ponta Delgada.

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