March 9, 2007 Protestant Portuguese Immigration Topic of Lecture on March 16

Press Contact: Erin Allen (202)707-7302
Contact: Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at (202) 707-6362

One of the most unusual immigration stories of the 19th century involves a group of Portuguese religious exiles from Madeira, islands off the coast of Morocco, who settled in Illinois in the 1850s. Having become alienated from the vast majority of the Catholics in the islands, the group of some 1,000 immigrants relocated near Springfield, Ill., with the blessings of the community’s citizens.

Katherine Vaz, Briggs-Copeland Fellow in Fiction at Harvard University, discusses this migration during her lecture titled “Confessions of an Historical Novelist: Writing Fact and Fiction” at noon on Friday, March 16, in the Mary Pickford Theater, third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by the Library’s Hispanic Division, the program is free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required.

In 1838, Scottish physician and Protestant minister Robert Reid Kalley spent time in Madeira on his way to missionary work in China. While there, he converted hundreds of islanders to Protestantism. These dedicated converts moved to the British island of Trinidad in 1846, after becoming estranged from their Catholic brethren. After three years in this new location, the exiles found they were unable to adjust to the tropical climate and the plantation working conditions.

When the plight of these Protestant exiles received wide publicity in the United States, people in the vicinity of Springfield, Ill., encouraged and assisted them in relocating to their Midwestern prairie community. The first of these immigrants arrived in 1849, and by 1855 the group was well-established in the area.

Vaz is the author of two novels: “Mariana,” published in six languages and selected by the Library of Congress as one of the Top Thirty International Books of 1998, and “Saudade,” a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Authors selection. Her collection “Fado & Other Stories” won the 1997 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and her fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Tin House, BOMB, the Antioch Review, the Iowa Review and Provincetown Arts Journal. She is currently working on her fourth book, “Below the Salt,” a novel based on the true story of a Portuguese Protestant seamstress who fled religious violence in Madeira and was granted refuge in the Lincoln household.

Vaz is the first Portuguese-American whose work has been recorded for the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress.

Established in 1939, the Hispanic Division is the Library’s center for the study of the cultures and societies of Latin America, the Caribbean and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as other areas where Spanish and Portuguese influences have been significant, including portions of the United States. For further information about the division and its resources, visit


PR 07-044
ISSN 0731-3527