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Protestant Exiles from Madeira in Illinois

One of the most unusual Portuguese immigration stories involves a group of religious exiles from Madeira (Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco) who settled in Illinois in the 1850s. In 1838, a Scottish physician and Protestant minister on his way to China stopped on one of the islands to recover from a sudden illness. Upon recuperating, he stayed, converting hundreds of islanders to Protestantism. Having become alienated from the vast majority of the Catholics in the islands, these dedicated converts (numbering about 1,000) moved to the British island of Trinidad off the northern coast of South America in 1846. After three years in this new location, the exiles found that 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, Illinois, 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. Approximately 400 settled near Springfield, the capital of Illinois and the county seat of Sangamon County, while a similar-sized group settled near Jacksonville, the county seat of neighboring Morgan County. Although evidence of their Portuguese cultural heritage is not very strong today, there are still family names (Gonçalves, Fernandes, Gouveia) indicating Portuguese ancestry and geographical place names (Portuguese Hill, Trinidad School) commemorating this group's long and determined journey to find a permanent home.

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Portuguese Land Owners near Jacksonville, Illinois

Place Names Document 19th-Century Portuguese Settlement near Jacksonville

View of Portuguese-Owned Farm near Springfield, Illinois