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Eduardo captures history of Bermuda’s Portuguese

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Azorean historian Eduardo Medeiros (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

The temperature in the reading room of the Bermuda Archives is a chilly 62F.

Eduardo Medeiros throws on a jacket and heads there every day, full of purpose.

The 26-year-old from São Miguel, Azores, has been tasked with writing a book on the history of the Portuguese in Bermuda.

He is here until April 2 with the backing of the Azorean Emigrants Association, a charity linked to the Museum of Azorean Emigration in São Miguel.

“The association was in Bermuda last year and they thought it would be a good idea to write a book about the Portuguese in Bermuda,” he said.

The book will be published next year to correspond with the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Golden Rule from Madeira in November 1849. The brig, captained by Bermudian John Watlington, brought 58 Portuguese to the island, the first official group to arrive here from the Azores.

Patricia Marirea Mudd last wrote about the group in Portuguese Bermudians An Early History and Reference Guide.

“That is a very good book but it was more genealogy focused,” Mr Medeiros said.

Over the decades many Azoreans and Madeirans relocated, not only to Bermuda but also to Canada and the United States, to farm and work on the railroads and in factories.

Although there were sometimes catalysts for the move, such as military conscription in the 1960s and 1970s, it was most often driven by the opportunity people saw elsewhere.

“They left for a better life, for themselves and their children,” he said. “People in the Azores used to live in a very poor way. Many people did not have shoes or only used them to go to church and Sunday school. The only suit they bought was the one they had to get married in.”

His own father moved to Bermuda in 2016, just as Mr Medeiros started university. At the time, his mother had a back problem and could not work.

“I was happy for my father when he got a job in Bermuda,” he said. “I knew he would get a way better salary here than what he was getting in the Azores.”

As a mason, his father earned about $761 a month in the Azores; his mother only made $32 a day as a cleaner.

When he is not writing, Mr Medeiros works for a company called Into the Wild Tours.

The book gives him the opportunity to spend time with his father, who lives in Southampton.

“I was last here in August 2021,” he said. “I think Bermuda is a beautiful place and the people are very nice. There is a completely different architecture here.”

He fell in love with history while in middle school.

“Starting from when I was ten, I always loved history class,” he said. “It was always the connection with the United States that fascinated me.”

Later, doing a history degree at the University of the Azores in Ponta Delgada, many of the papers he wrote tackled Portuguese emigration.

In August 2020, he was hired part-time by the association to research for an exhibition about the Portuguese in Hanford, King’s County, California.

“That took me three months and I was left with a 200-page Word document,” he said.

The association suggested he turn his research into a book.

“I started to improve on it and soon I had about 350 pages,” he said. “So they said I should write two books.”

Açores – EUA: De Colombo à I Guerra Mundial (Azores to USA: From Columbus to the First World War), was published last year.

He plans to write a sequel to that one taking the history up to the Iraq war.

A second book, Azores-Canada: From the Navigators to the Azorean Communities, was a challenge because he wrote it while completing his master’s dissertation.

“That one was written in Portuguese and English,” he said. “It will be published in May. The book about Bermuda will also be in Portuguese and English. We are thinking about going back and doing the one about the United States also in English but it depends on how well the Canada book does.”

His research has found that although many more Azoreans went to the US and Canada, the Portuguese make up a much larger portion of the population in Bermuda. About 25 per cent of Bermuda’s population has Portuguese heritage, compared to 0.24 per cent in the United States.

“One thing that surprised me was how the Portuguese were treated as a separate race in Bermuda,” he said. “Although there was some discrimination in the US and Canada they were not considered a third race. But in Bermuda even census records listed the Portuguese as separate.”

Mr Medeiros has spent time at the Emmanuel Methodist Church on Middle Road in Southampton. It was built in 1869 and many of its early members were Portuguese farmers from the surrounding neighbourhood.

Eduardo Medeiros at the Emmanuel Methodist Church in Southampton, near the grave of Clarence Terceira, a champion of Portuguese-Bermudian culture and history (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Aside from that, he has really enjoyed speaking with people.

“I have been amazed with the amount of stories,” he said. “Second and third generations are still very connected to their Azorean Portuguese heritage. Some people worked their whole lives, or started businesses. I have heard stories of life and different ideas and different ways of living.”

Before coming here he spent a great deal of time in the Ponta Delgada Public Library and Regional Archive where he found files and photographs of people who came to Bermuda, mostly in the 1920s and 1930s.

His book will include a list of the people he has found in passport records who came to Bermuda between the 1890s and the 1970s.

“It took a long time to compile that,” he said.

He hopes his books bring about greater knowledge and appreciation of Azorean/Portuguese people and their history.

“Many times people talk about the nature of the Azores, how unique it is and beautiful it is,” he said. “All of that is true, but we also have brave, entrepreneurial and hard-working people. Just look at Azoreans and Portuguese in Bermuda or in the USA, for example.”

Mr Medeiros’ books are available here: //bit.ly/3RfHRgM. For more information: www.intothewildazorestours.com/; aeazores@gmail.com.

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Published January 31, 2023 at 7:53 am (Updated January 31, 2023 at 5:18 pm)

Eduardo captures history of Bermuda’s Portuguese

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