Cape Verde Packet Trade
by Ray Almeida (

(Excerpted from Cape Verdeans in America: Our Story, ed. Raymond A. Almeida. Boston: Tchuba-American Committee for Cape Verde, Inc., 1978. Boston. Based on original research by Michael K. H. Platzer and Dr. Diedre Meintel, with additional information collected by Cape Verdean community scholars.)


By the early 1800s Cape Verdean seamen were settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts which had come to replace Nantucket Island as New England's foremost whaling port.(1) Crew lists(2) of the mid-nineteenth century reveal that they were coming from all over the Cape Verde Islands, notably from Sao Nicolau, Santo Antao, Maio, and Brava. Most were from the desperately poor, landless class.

Between stints at sea, the Cape Verdeans stayed in cheap lodging houses near the docks. Many eventually took shoreside jobs associated with shipping or shipbuilding. Cape Verdeans worked as riggers, dockworkers, and coopers, (3) among other things. In addition, they provided a large part of the work force in the New Bedford Rope Works.(4)

As steamships replaced sailing vessels, old schooners and whalers were plentiful and available for the asking. Cheap labor was in demand for the expanding textile mills and cranberry industry of southern New England. Cape Verdeans bought the windjammers in order to bring their countrymen to America to work in the cranberry bogs of Cape Cod and the mills of New Bedford. During the height of the packet trade years ("packet" refers to a regularly scheduled ship which carries cargo, mail, and passengers), ten or more ships made the annual trans- Atlantic voyage between southeastern New England and the Cape Verde Islands. They usually arrived in New Bedford or Providence the early summer before the cranberry season began and returned to Cape Verde after the harvest in the fall, carrying clothing, household goods, roof tiles, and other American-made products back to the Islands. Since most of these ships during this period left from the island of Brava, the trade became known as the "Brava Packet Trade."

Port of Furna, Brava at the height of the packet trade.

The importance of the packets was far more than commercial. These fragile vessels, above all else, nurtured a "Cape Verdean-American connection," making it possible for new immigrants to resolve the dilemma that deeply concerned many of them: how to make a new life for themselves in America without abandoning those left behind in the homeland. With the Packet Trade, Cape Verdeans owned and operated the very means of their conveyance to America. Without the assistance of American or Portuguese colonial government programs and institutions, they assumed the responsibility for maintaining viable contact with family and friends in the small villages of the Islands. The packets made visits home a possibility, and this kept alive the dream many held dear of returning one day to live in the Islands as a prosperous 'mercano (American). The "floating shipwrecks,"(5) as one Yankee observer called the packets, were a lifeline between the immigrants and those who remained in Cape Verde.

The Nellie May

Antonio Coelho was the first Cape Verdean American to purchase a vessel to begin regularly scheduled service between the United States and the Cape Verde Islands. He bought the Nellie May, a 64-ton fishing schooner, from John Waters of Newport, hired an old whaleman as captain, and sailed in 1892 from Providence for Brava. Fifty people paid fifteen dollars each for the passage. Only a few days out at sea the captain died of a heat seizure. The mate knew nothing about navigation but tried to steer a course in the general direction of Cape Verde.

After a month at sea, they encountered a steamer and learned that they had passed the islands by some 500 miles to the south. Finally, after forty-five days at sea, they reached the harbor of Furna in Brava. Coelho hired a new captain and sailed back with the Nellie May to Providence in the spring of the next year. With 117 passengers and crew aboard, the schooner arrived 28 days later. With his profit from the trip, Coelho became an important person in the Fox Point, R.I. Cape Verdean community.

In 1893 the Nellie May made another round trip, this time with Captain Jose Godinho in command. The passage to the Cape Verde Islands took ninety days -- one of the most terrible on record for its length and for the suffering endured by passengers and crew. Food and water ran out. Two of the crew went mad and jumped overboard. The captain felt that he had not been properly compensated for his troubles and is said to have beached the ship so that he could buy it at auction as an abandoned ship. Not to be outwitted, Coelho took his case to Presidents Cleveland and McKinley in an effort to secure the return of his ship. For two years the U.S. State Department attempted to clarify the situation.(6) Coelho died at age 92 in Providence without receiving any compensation.

Captain Henry Rose and the "Queen of the Cape Verde Packets."

One of the most colorful Cape Verdean captains was Henry Rose (Henrique da Rosa). Captain Rose made his first trip from Brava to America in 1911 at age thirteen as a messboy on the bark Charles G. Rice.(7) He made two more trips on the Rice and one on the Diane out of New Bedford. Captain Rose then sailed as mate under Captain Jose Silva on the Emma and Helen. At 21, he was made master of the Pythian and took her to Cape Verde. In 1922, he was master of the schooner Volante. In the middle of the Atlantic, while a young crewman on his first voyage was at the wheel, the boat suddenly jibed, and the swinging boom knocked Captain Rose overboard. No one on board knew what to do. For twenty minutes Rose hung onto the log-line and shouted instructions to the crew. Finally, after he had spent two hours swimming in the cold Atlantic, were the crew able to turn the schooner and pick up their captain. Nevertheless, the Volante reached S. Vicente in 19 days -- record time!

Henry Rose, however, had his best days aboard the Valkyria, a two-masted former whaler which he commanded from 1903 to 1936.(8) He made fourteen crossings in her, and claimed he made one voyage in twelve days. She was solidly built, as she proved in the 1923 crossing, when for ten days she successfully battled a hurricane. (Rose's cabin was flooded.) Rose threw 50 tons of cargo overboard but arrived safely in Brava with his 32 passengers-after forty-five days at sea. On April 9, 1924, the Valkyria and her rival the Yukon sailed from Brava together and arrived the same day, May 13, in Providence. Capt. Benjamin Costa, former master of the Valkyria, was captain of the Yukon. For the return voyage, a wager of $1,500 was arranged to determine who had the fastest vessel. The two vessels and the William A. Graber, under Capt. John Sousa, left Providence on October 19, 1924. The Valkyria carried seven passengers and seventeen seamen, while the Yukon had fifteen passengers and 26 crewmembers. The Valkyria, won arriving on November 13, and remained the undisputed "Queen of the Cape Verde Packets" until 1926.

During the night of November 1926, the Valkyria struck a derelict vessel. The collision brought down the foremast and eventually the main mast, and opened the stem. Capt. Rose tried to hack away the rigging and masts which were pounding against the sides of the boat and attempted to lighten the Valkyria in order to bring her three or four feet out of the water. Two seamen were swept overboard during the attempt. For two days, she drifted, a helpless wreck; but finally her crew of fifteen men along with two young girls were rescued by a passing British tanker. In 1926, Captain Rose took over the Manta, the last of the active whalers out of New Bedford. He made five trips with her, the worst of which was in January 1928, when she ran into such bad calms that it took 53 days to sail from Providence to Sao Vicente. (For days she could see the mountain peaks of Santo Antao but could only sail 50 miles in seven days.) In 1932 it took Rose seventy harrowing days to get to Cape Verde on the four-master Ellen S. Little. Three days out of Brava, desperately short of food and water, his passengers had to raise $700 cash before a passing steamer would tow them to port.(9)

In 1929, 17-year-old John J. Barros took the Manta back to Providence, but he ran her aground off the Nantucket Shoals. Four of the crew set out in a boat for help but, terrified of the breakers, turned back. Another party succeeded in summoning two fishing trawlers to pull the Manta off and tow her to Vineyard Haven. The Coast Guard, suspecting illegal immigrants might be aboard, sent several agents to investigate and discovered eleven unfortunate aliens hiding below decks in the bilges. Frank Silva, the owner of the Valkyria, bought her for $3,800 on August 6, 1929. She continued in the island packet trade for several years.

The Loss of the Manta and the Winnepesauke

Capt. Albertino de Senna brought the Manta to Providence in 1934. (64) After a summer spent in refitting and re-rigging the old ship, the Manta sailed from Providence for Brava on November 8, 1934, with a crew of nineteen, thirteen passengers, including three women and six children, and a Guernsey heifer. A week before Christmas, the newspapers noted that the Manta was 39 days out of Providence and still unreported "but supposedly winging her way to Brava." By mid- January, relatives and friends of passengers and crew began to worry since no word was received from Cape Verde that she had arrived. Severe storms had been reported in the Atlantic. Two packets, the Winnepesauke and the Trenton, had also sailed from New Bedford and had failed to reach Brava. The Trenton, an old New York pilot schooner, eventually made port, but the Winnepesauke was lost with all hands.(10) The last hope for the Manta and her passengers was abandoned on February 24, 1935, when the vessel had been missing for 107 days.(11)

Another tragedy still remembered today in Cape Verde is the loss of the Mathilde.(12) In 1943 a group of men in Brava - some born in America, others emigrants returned for a visit, and still others going to the United States for the first time - bought a fifty-five foot sloop, Mathilde, to sail to New England. In so doing they hoped both to escape the famine raging in the Islands and send relief to those left behind as well as to volunteer for military service in the war. By this time World War II had suspended the packet trade, given the danger of encountering German submarines on the high seas.

After only minimal repairs to the vessel, the men set sail from one of Brava's more secluded harbors on August 21, 1943. Their voyage was "unofficial," technically a clandestine one, because of wartime restrictions on maritime travel. The ship was also in substandard condition. To make matters worse, the voyage coincided with the beginning of the hurricane season in September.

Humberto Balla, then 12 years old, was aboard the Mathilde, accompanying his older brother. He could see that the boat was leaking even before she was far out of port. Frightened, the boy jumped overboard and swam thirty minutes until he reached shore. There he wept as he watched the sloop disappear over the horizon, carrying his compatriots to what he knew was certain death. It is believed that the Mathilde, with her twenty brave crewmen, went down in rough weather near Bermuda.

Captain John

One of the famous captains of the Brava Packet Trade was John Sousa of Brava. At age six he lost his father. His mother being poor, he went to live with his uncle Captain John Zurich of Sao Nicolau. Zurich taught him sailing and navigation, and by the age of twelve Sousa was running a small boat between the islands with his cousins. At eighteen he was made captain of one of Zurich's ships to America. For most of the next forty years, he made annual trips to New England and carried salt to the Gambia, wood and rice from Bissau to Cape Verde, and passengers to Dakar. In 1929 he took his whole family to the United States in the William Grabner and lived there for fourteen months before he was denounced by fellow Cape Verdeans for bringing in immigrants illegally. Sousa departed on the first ship available. Some time later, his family returned aboard the William Grabner on a long 46-day journey to Cape Verde.(13)

The family was finally reunited in Sao Vicente, but Captain John must have caused them many a worry thereafter. Once he was considered lost after three months at sea between America and Sao Nicolau. Another time, while sailing the Atlanta to the United States, he lost two masts and the rudder in a storm and made his way back to Cape Verde with a "jury-rigged" (14) sail and steering device. Yet another time, between Cape Verde and Bermuda, he had to abandon ship in a cyclone, but he was rescued by a passing boat. Sousa lost still another ship on her maiden voyage between Sao Vicente and Sao Nicolau. At fifty-six he retired from the sea and established a small farm in Fogo, where he also maintained his shipping business.

People who knew Captain John describe him as courageous yet calm in adversity. Even on his deathbed in 1958, at seventy- five years of age, he fought the wind and sea, calling out to his cousin to "pull in the sheets because the wind is picking up."

Roy Teixeira and the Coriolanus

Roy Teixeira, owner of the largest and finest Cape Verde packet ship, the Coriolanus, came to the United States at age sixteen.(15) He worked at low-paying jobs in the textile mills. After serving in the U.S. Army in France, Teixeira returned to America, determined to save his money and make his mark. In 1920 he bought the schooner Romance for a mere pittance. The schooner made three trips to the Cape Verde Islands bringing fifty cranberry pickers each April and returning them to the islands after the harvest. Teixeira's next ship was the Thomas Lawrence,(16) soon after traded for the three-masted schooner Fairhaven. In 1926 the Fairhaven came into New Bedford with twenty-two undocumented Cape Verdeans. The illegal aliens were ordered to remain aboard but during the night left the ship, so Teixeira was fined $22,000 for violating U.S. immigration laws. The government sold the ship at auction for $500, and she was scrapped.(17) In l929 Teixeira joined with Albio and Antonio Macedo in acquiring the 300-foot Coriolanus(18). She was a luxury ship by comparison with the other Cape Verde packets, carrying 200 passengers plus crew.(19) The ship had tiled bathrooms, electric lights, a radio, and a paid orchestra aboard, as well as a newspaper listing the daily activities. There were constant celebrations, such as the "christening" of the crew's pet monkey. (The ill-fated monkey perished when he fell from a yardarm in a storm.)

Teixeira decided to take his new bride to his homeland on the Coriolanus. What began as a pleasant voyage was not without a few challenges. Several days out they ran into a storm during the night. The cargo shifted, and the ship would not right itself. Captain Sena was afraid to jettison the trucks and crates on deck on his own authority and so awoke Teixeira who immediately ordered the vehicles and the cargo on the leeward side thrown over. Slowly the ship began to right herself, and all were saved. Just a few days out of Sao Vicente an old man, who was going back to retire in the islands, died. A brief ceremony was held for him, and he was buried at sea.(20)

Teixeira had the Coriolanus for several more years. Toward the end, she made a record passage from New Bedford to Santo Antao in seventeen and one-half days, in spite of being becalmed for three days in the doldrums. On the return trip from Fogo with eight passengers and a crew of 38 men, she was struck by a squall which brought down some of her upper rigging, leaving it in a tangled heap on deck. Her crew fought to save her, cutting away the broken spars as raging seas swept across her rails. The ex-clipper was still seaworthy, and she limped to New Bedford under shortened canvas. When she docked there on September 11, 1930, her sailing days were over.(21)

Teixeira owned one other large sailing vessel, the Augusta Hilton, which carried lumber from Florida to the Canaries and Cape Verde. She was a four-masted schooner but carried only a few passengers. In 1932 Teixeira took his family, including two young sons, to Cape Verde on the Augusta Hilton. Before leaving Florida they ran aground, but a tug working nearby was able to pull them off. The crew lassoed sharks to pass the time. Once the vessel ran into a calm, Teixeira, Sr. recalls that the dead sharks frightened Roy Junior. Carlos, the younger son, enjoyed the sea voyage and later became a seaman, carrying on the maritime tradition of the family.

For over half a century, Roy Teixeira and his family have figured prominently in Cape Verdean-American life. Besides being a ship owner, Teixeira was also legal counsel to Henrique Mendes, John Pontes, and most of the other Cape Verdean captains and ship owners. Known as "Lawyer Teixeira," he assisted them whenever they had difficulties with immigration officials and thereby became responsible for the entry of thousands of Cape Verdeans into the United States. Toward the end of his life Roy Teixeira joined with several other lawyers in establishing the Juridical Congress of World Cape Verdean Communities. In 1975, the group actively opposed the transfer of power by Portugal to the PAIGC, the poltical party which had waged the successful war of liberation.

John Costa

John Costa, like many other Cape Verdean mariners, followed in his father Benjamin's footsteps to work at sea.(22) Benjamin Costa owned and sailed many ships between the Cape Verde Islands and New England, including the Platina, the Mystic, the Frank Brainard, and the Yukon. When John was 14 years old, he joined his father on the Yukon. By 18 he already had his mate's license and took the Yukon, a fast ship and his favorite, to the West Coast of Africa.

In 1931, John Costa shipped out as first mate on the John Manta with Capt. Albertino Sena, but the Manta was a bad luck ship. On the return voyage from Providence, they encountered a storm, and Costa ordered the sails down. The captain, however, came on deck and ordered the sails back up. They raised the sails again only to see them shredded immediately. It took a week to repair them. Arriving in the islands, they were late casting off from Brava for Sao Vicente. The shore line was not released in time, and it snapped, cutting off Costa's hand. For twenty hours the man agonized. When the Manta arrived in Sao Vicente, his arm had to be amputated. The same year the Manta was lost at sea with its thirteen passengers and a crew of nineteen.

Costa did not give up his sea career but instead joined the Burkeland (23) as first mate under Capt. Julio Almada of Sao Nicolau, until taking over his father's shipping business. In 1939, he acquired the Corona, a beautiful steel sloop designed by the famous naval architect Herreshoff.(24) His return to the Islands was delayed by immigration authorities, because America was now preparing for war and would not allow U.S. citizens to ship out. Costa spent the war working on a WPA (Works Project Administration) project in New Bedford until he was sent to the Cape Verde Islands to buy tuna fish for the U.S. Government. After the war, moved by the plight of his countrymen, he decided to buy a schooner and reactivate the Cape Verdean packet trade in order to bring needed supplies, food, and clothing to the islands. To this end he purchased the Lucy Evelyn in partnership with Augusto Thesauri for $10,000 and another $5,000 in repairs. The Lucy Evelyn was the last commercially operated three-masted schooner in New England.(25)

He now set out to get cargo. This proved difficult, for many Cape Verdeans who wanted to send goods were skeptical that anyone would really make an ocean voyage in a sailing ship. He literally had to set his sails as if preparing to leave and allow the Cape Verdeans to place their bundles aboard the ship themselves. Soon the ship was full with 13,000 feet of pine lumber and twenty tons of cement for a new Nazarene church in Praia, a piano, household goods for the pastor, 200 hundred drums of kerosene, three automobiles, canned food, and bundles of clothing for relatives in Cape Verde.(26) Two paying passengers signed on along with a crew of twelve. One of the passengers, Mrs. Teresa Neves, 60 years old, has lost a sister on the Manta but decided to risk the voyage. None of the crew had ever served on a sailing vessel, so no one would go aloft to set the sails.(27) On May 9, 1946, the Evelyn was towed out of New Bedford harbor, but nonetheless arrived safely in Cape Verde thirty-four days later.

The return to the United States was a real test of Costa's ability and endurance.(28) He left Dakar on September 20, with twenty-one passengers, including ten women and five children, a "crew" of twenty-eight, and 250 tons of salt. When she was in the middle of the Atlantic, a heavy gale smashed the rudder and brought down the mizzenboom. Costa worked feverishly to improvise an apparatus of wires to repair the crippled rudder. The Evelyn was only 280 miles from Block Island, Rhode Island, when a second storm struck on November 5 and drove her back to a point 250 miles east of Currituck, North Carolina. Since she was unable to hold a course, the Coast Guard picked up the Evelyn and towed her into Norfolk, Virginia, on November 22, 63 days after her departure from Dakar, Senegal.

The Evelyn was repaired, and on February 15, 1947, she set out for New Bedford. On February 21, after the Vineyard Sound lightship had been sighted, a blinding blizzard hit. Visibility dropped to zero in minutes, and just as quickly the howling northeast wind shredded the mainsail and the jib. Captain Costa ran for deep water under the foresail alone, and before the winter gale was over the Evelyn found herself off the Georges Banks. On February 27, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Legare picked her up and started towing her back, but rough seas caused the towline to break several times. On March 2, the Legare was relieved by the larger cutter Algonquin, but, as they approached Gay Head, another winter gale struck. In the early morning hours of March 3, four miles west of Cuttyhunk, the tow line broke again, and the Algonquin lost the Evelyn in the blizzard. On her own in raging seas before 60-mile-an-hour winds, the Evelyn was drifting into shoal waters. Captain Costa ordered the anchor dropped, but the chain broke immediately. A second anchor held one-half mile from the beach of Mattapoisett, and the next morning, the storm over, a tug towed her to New Bedford City Pier.

In late June the Evelyn set out for Cape Verde again with ten passengers and a general cargo. The elements were kind to Captain Costa on that voyage, but the trip to the United States the next year was similar to the earlier ones. In March 1948 he left Praia for New Bedford via Dakar with seven paying passengers, but the winds prevented her eastward journey. Captain Costa discharged the passengers at Fogo and headed directly for America. Soon after leaving, a storm opened up a seam in her bow. With no gasoline aboard for the pump, the crew had to pump the bilges by hand the entire way across the Atlantic. A month out of Cape Verde, they ran out of flour and by the time they reached New Bedford on April 12, 1948, most of the other food was also gone. Upon arrival, the crew sued for wages. After evaluating the long history of the Evelyn's misfortunes, Costa and Teixeira decided to sell the schooner for as much as they could get -- $1550.

The Madalan

John B. Pontes, a Boston Cape Verdean businessman, and his business associate Fortunato Gomes da Pina, despite seeing the problems of Costa and Teixeira, decided that carrying cargo to Cape Verde could still be profitable. In November 1946, they bought for $35,000 the former luxury steel yacht Illyria, which had been used for Coast Guard service during World War II and was now considered surplus.(29) The Cape Verde Packet Trade had never seen such a fine vessel. She had been built of steel and teak wood in 1928 in Italy and boasted four double cabins, a library, and a sitting room, besides the captain's and crew's quarters. Pontes renamed her Madalan, had her rerigged and the partitions ripped out below decks for cargo space, and hired Captain Sebastian Cruz.(30)

The Madalan left Providence on June 8, 1947, with twenty passengers, among them one woman, Mrs. Minnie Coreira of California, who had come to the United States over thirty years before on a sailing ship. It was a calm crossing, and seventy- four days passed before the Madalan arrived in Cape Verde. She had a new engine, but Pontes would not allow it to be used because it was too expensive to operate! The return voyage to Providence was a good deal faster, taking only thirty-nine days from Dakar. After staying in New England for Christmas and New Year she attempted a winter crossing in January 1948. Five days out of port, the Madalan ran into the start of a week of gales that drove her 130 miles a day with no sails. Yet apart from the three kerosene drums and a barrel of beef that were washed overboard, the brigantine came through without damage. (31)

The Madalan was back in Providence on July 27, 1948, with forty-two passengers, after making a forty-eight-day crossing from Dakar despite seventeen days of calm. In order to have fresh meat during the voyage, a stock pen had been built under the forecastle to shelter hogs, cows, and sheep. The comfortable conditions aboard the Madalan had made her a popular ship, and so every year thereafter the Madalan returned to New England in July and left in autumn after the cranberry harvest, when many Cape Verdean cranberry pickers would book passage home to visit family and friends.(32) Second Mate John Baptiste, Jr., boasted, "She's the finest ship ever to sail in the trade."

She was also a lucky one. On a crossing to Cape Verde in January 1954, the mate John Brites was washed overboard by a wave; the next wave washed him back aboard, unhurt! Good fortune indeed smiled on the Madalan until she was sold to Antonio Bento of Maio, who neglected her. In 1955 she broke loose in the harbor of Praia and was driven against the rocks. The Providence Journal reported in 1957 that "Antonio Bento can't or won't spend money for necessary repairs on leaks in her steel hull and on her sprung topsail." Sometime later, unattended, she developed a leak and sank.

Henrique Mendes and the Ernestina

The rival of the Madalan was the Ernestina, a two-masted schooner owned and operated by Henrique Mendes. (33) At age 18, Mendes ran away from his home in Fogo and sailed for New Bedford on the schooner Serpa Pinto, arriving on May 2, 1898. In Providence he shoveled coal at twenty-six cents an hour for several, months then decided to ship out on a whaler. He was made a harpooner on his first voyage and brought in a sixty barrel whale. Thirteen dollars for six months' work proved to be too little money for Mendes. He left whaling and alternately worked as a deck hand aboard coastal schooners, took odd jobs ashore, kept a store in Wareham, and picked cranberries. It is said that "he lived to save his money." After five years in the United States he made an agreement with a cranberry bog owner to bring forty contract workers from Cape Verde and was advanced the rest of the money needed to purchase his first vessel. Mendes went on to own thirty different vessels in succession, all of them old and dilapidated. Several were lost in the Atlantic. Undaunted, Mendes went ashore following each calamity to work and to save money for another vessel. He once bought the old barkentine Savoya for $8,000. in Baltimore and sold her a few years later for $15,000. While he had her, he said, "She carry plenty passengers, make plenty money."

World War II halted the Cape Verde Packet trade, but, as soon as it was over, Henrique bought the famous Arctic exploration schooner Effie Morrisey, which had sunk in Flushing, New York.(34) The old schooner was raised and sold to Henrique's daughter-in-law, Louisa Mendes, for $7,000. (35) He repaired the ship in New Bedford and re-christened her Ernestina. For the next twenty years she sailed regularly between Providence and Cape Verde.(36) The seasonal arrival of the Madalan and Ernestina, timed to coincide with the cranberry harvest, was a joyous occasion for the Cape Verdeans of New England.(37) Hundreds would come to the dock to greet the vessels, hear the news about friends living in the islands, celebrate aboard the ship drinking sugar-cane grog and dance to the mornas played by the crew. The Ernestina would receive goods all summer for shipment to relatives in the islands. In the fall the community would come to the docks to bid a tearful farewell to these two brave ships which for so long served as the living link between their homeland and their newly adopted country.(38)

Henrique Mendes was almost killed by a falling spar on one voyage, another time the Ernestina ran into two hurricanes (39); once she limped into Providence with a broken engine and almost no fresh water or supplies left. Still, she remained a faithful commuter packet until 1965, and Mendes kept coming every year, despite his claims of impending retirement. In all he made fifty-five crossings of the Atlantic before finally retiring to his farm in Fogo.(40) In 1968 he wrote to a group interested in buying the vessel for the South Street Seaport Museum in New York, "I can not go to sea no more. I am 89 years of age, I have to stay home." He died at age ninety, having spent most of his life at sea.(41)

The Ernestina returned in 1964 and 1965 in unsuccessful efforts to revive the schooner trade with the islands.(42) While a few of the "old timers" preferred the leisurely trip aboard a sailing ship, steamer competition proved too stiff. Although sailing schooners were still used in inter-island trade, the attempt to bring the former Cape Eagle, a Canadian schooner which had not been used for five years, to Cape Verde in 1970 was the last daring effort to sail across the Atlantic in a battered 100-foot sailing ship.(43) She sank in rough seas 185 miles northwest of Bermuda; fortunately the crew members and a 78- year-old passenger were saved.(44)

The Maria Sony

Several other former Canadian fishing schooners finished their careers in the Cape Verde packet trade. One of the most famous was the Dorothy G. Snow, which had won the Newfoundland-Halifax races in 1912 and 1914 with Captain Ansel Snow.(45) (At one time he had also owned the Effie Morrissey.) In 1939 she was bought by a Cape Verdean and was used for almost twenty years in inter-island trade and trade between Cape Verde and Dakar. In 1957 the vessel was bought by Cecilio Andrade, who, after several mishaps with her, had her fitted out for a return voyage to the United States.(46) He renamed her the Maria Sony and on June 17, 1959 set out for Providence. She was still a racing schooner and reached Bermuda in twelve days. A hurricane struck, and she had to ride out the storm under bare poles. She finally reached Newport on July 25 and was towed to Providence by a tug. Ninety minutes after debarking, one of the passengers had a baby, which was named after the vessel.

After the usual festivities which greeted all the packet ships from Cape Verde, the Maria Sony was towed to New Bedford for an overhaul and installation of a new engine. Unfortunately, the engine broke down not a week after the departure on November 7 for Cape Verde. On November 20 rough seas broke the steering gear, leaving the schooner to drift helplessly in a gale. After four days of this a huge wave crashed over the deck and broke nine beams. Now the crew feared for the structural integrity of the vessel and used only a small triangular sail, throwing over barrels of fuel and other cargo to lighten the ship. For fifteen days she was buffeted about by the waves, her mechanical pump broken; she was slowly sinking as the crew prayed helplessly. Finally on December 11, a freighter spotted her and started towing the old schooner to Bermuda. She was finally taken by the U.S. Coast Guard to St. George's, Bermuda.

Cecilio Andrade's troubles had only begun. Penniless, with a derelict vessel and a crew which refused to continue, Andrade stayed on in Bermuda for ten months living on the generosity of local groups. Money was collected from Cape Verdean groups in the United States; and, through donated services and material in Bermuda, Andrade was able to put his boat back together again and sail for Cape Verde. On November 10, 1960 the Maria Sony arrived in Cape Verde, one year after her departure from New Bedford. Andrade never attempted another voyage to the United States.

Pedro Evora

The captain who skippered the Maria Sony on her last voyage and who brought the Ernestina for the last time to Providence was Pedro Evora. He had piloted other ships including the schooners Marion, Conrad, and Madalan. (47) He had made the trips in the Madalan in 1949, 1950, 1956, and 1957. He was captain of the Ernestina in 1951, when, in his own words, her masts "were cut down as if with a saw" off Fogo, and he jury-rigged two poles with sails and made his way to Brava safely. He also had command of the Madalan and Ernestina toward the end of their careers when, as he puts it, they "had lost their spirit," for they were not being properly cared for and no longer carried full cargoes.

Seafaring in the Cape Verdes

Although it is widely believed that a tradition of seafaring led Cape Verdeans to emigrate on the whalers and the packets, this is not the case. Actually most of the emigrants had never been off their own home island. (So, when a "greenhorn" spoke of "my land" [nha terra], he was referring to his island of birth.) For most people, travel even between the islands was too expensive. Moreover, there were many periods in which there were very few vessels making such trips, making each island a little world unto itself.

For most people the sea was not an avenue but a barrier. Fishing was the occupation of but a few; even these dared not go too far in their tiny boats. As recently as 1994 there were about 1,300 small wooden boats operating in Cape Verde and more than 3,500 fishermen. Seventy-five percent of the fish consumed in the Islands was produced by these men in these boats. Until recently, very few people knew how to swim, especially in the more mountainous islands devoted to agriculture from which most of the immigrants to the United States came. (During the early part of this century, many young men learned to swim with the express purpose of sneaking on to the whalers by night. This was sometimes necessary to avoid being drafted into the Portuguese army; they would not have been allowed to leave, if they had done so openly.) All this should heighten our admiration for this "pioneering" generation of Cape Verdean immigrants and their courage in an unknown world, that of the open sea.

Few of the men who sailed these vessels to America are still alive. Hopefully their daring and skill and the bravery of the men and women who sailed with them will be remembered by the younger generation of Cape Verdean Americans. After all, they owe their existence in the United States directly or indirectly to the successful voyage of someone in their family aboard one of the "Brava Packets."

A poem by Jorge Barbosa

You have crossed the seas in pursuit of whales on those trips to America from where ships sometimes never return

You have calloused hands from pulling in the sheets on those tiny sloops on the high seas; You have survived horrible hours of anxiety fighting against the storms; You are tired and weary of the sea Under the infernal heat of the furnaces you fed the boilers of the steamships with coal, in peacetime in wartime And you have loved with the sensual impulse of women in foreign lands!

On those poor islands of ours you the toiler of the soil digging furrows for the water of fertile streams; scraping at the dry earth in those barren regions where the rain seldom falls, where the drought is a terrible curse and a tragic scene of famine!

You bring to your dances your melancholy deep inside of your gaiety when you play the mornas with the sad tones of your guitar or when you embrace the loving women in your arms to the sound of the creole music... The morna... seems like the echo in your soul of the voice of the sea and of the nostalgia for faraway lands to which the sea is always inviting you, the echo of the sound of the long desired rain the echo of the voice deep within all of us of the voice of our silent tragedy!

The Morna... takes from you and from the things around us the expression of our humbleness the passive expression of our drama, of our revolt, of our silent melancholic revolt!

America... America is finished for you she closed her doors to your expansion! These adventures across the oceans no longer exist... they only live in the tales you recount of your past, with joyful laughter that will never hide your melancholy. . .

*This poem was written after the U.S. Government enacted the restrictive immigration laws of 1922. Translation by the author's son, Jorge Pedro Barbosa, and Dr. Michael K. H. Platzer.


Cruzaste Mares na aventura da pesca da baleia, nessas viagems para a America de onde as veses os navios nao voltam mais.

Tens as maos calosas de puxar as enxarcias dos barquinhos no mar alto; viveste horas de expectativas crueis na luta com as tempestades; ahorreceu-te esse tedio maritimo das longas calmarias interminaveis. Sob o calor infernal das fornalhas alimentaste de carvao as caldeiras dos vapores, em tempo de paz em tempo de guerra.

E amaste como imperto sensual da nossa gente as mulheres nos paises estrangeiros!

Em terra nestas pobres llhas nossas es o homem da enxada abrindo levada a agua das ribeiras ferteis, cavando a terra seca nas regioes ingratas onde as vezes a chuva mal chega onde as vezes a estiagem e uma aflicao e um cenario tragico de fome!

Levas aos teus bailes a tua melancolia no fundo da tua alegria, quando acompanhas as Mornas com posturas graves do violao ou apertas ao som da musica crioula as mulheres amoraveis contra o peito...

A Morna... parece que e o eco em tua alma da voz do Mar e da nostalgia das terras mais ao longe que o Mar te convida, o eco da voz da chuva desejada, o eco da voz interior de nos todos, da voz da nossa tragedia sem eco!

A Morna... tem de ti e das coisas que nos rodeiam a expressao da nossa humildade, a expressao passiva do nosso drama, da nossa revolta, da nossa silencio revolta melancolica!

A America... a America acabou-se para ti... Fechou as portas a tua expansao!

Essas Aventuras pelos Oceanos ja nao existem... Existem apenas nas historias que contas do passado. com o canhoto atravessado na boca e risos alegres quc nao chegam a esconder a tua melancolia . . .

O teu destino... o teu destino sei la!

Viver sempre vergado sobre a terra, a nossa terra, pobre ingrata querida !

Ser levado talvez um dia na onda alta de alguma estiagem! como um desses barquinhos nossos que andam pelas llhas e o Oceano acaba tambem por ]evar um dla!

Ou outro fim qualquer humilde anonimo. . . O Caboverdiando humilde anonimo --- meu irmao!

Immigrants everpresent.

In 1917, a new U.S. immigration regulation required that all immigrants be literate. Many prepared themselves for the literacy test before leaving the islands or on board ship during the ocean journey. Enrique Mendes taught the Pledge of Allegiance to his passengers on the Ernestina. Although some were denied entry for their poor reading ability, there were cases such as the woman who, when presented with the test in Portuguese, said aloud to herself in Crioulo, "Ai Nha Mai ["Oh, my mother!" - a common expletive in Brava], now they're going to send me back!" "Passed," said the Anglo-American inspector, evidently believing she was actually reading the Portuguese test!(48)

The restrictive immigration laws of 1921 spelled the beginning of the end of large scale immigration. Not only could far fewer Cape Verdeans enter the U.S. than before, but most of those already in the United States were afraid to return to the Islands unless their citizenship papers were in order. With America's "open door" closing on immigrants of color, the once busy harbor at Furna on Brava was empty. The small island became nearly as isolated from the outside world as she had been earlier in the nineteenth century.

Some of the Cape Verdeans who were already settled in Southeastern New England began to migrate to other areas of the United States and establish "colonies" of Cape Verdean Americans in such industrial cities in Connecticut as Waterbury, Bridgeport, and New Haven, in New York City, in New Jersey textile cities, in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania steel towns, and in Ohio rubber and steel and manufacturing centers. Cape Verdeans have gone to Providence to work in the paper, clothing, and jewelry factories and to work on the docks. Others have followed their predecessors who jumped ship in California to become longshoremen in San Francisco and Oakland or farmers in Alameda county.

Since the enactment of the new immigration laws of 1965 lifted the discriminatory restrictions of the 1920s, a new wave of Cape Verdeans are making their way to America. Today the fastest-growing centers of Cape Verdean migration in the United States are Boston and Brockton, Massachusetts; Pawtucket, Rhode Island; and the Waterbury-Bridgeport area in Connecticut.

Today's immigrants come to a land they have known since childhood, through the letters of relatives and the visits or returns of 'mercanos to Cape Verde. For those whose family and friends are already in the United States, going to America is something of a homecoming. At the same time they become part of a worldwide community of "hyphenated Cape Verdeans" who, whether in Lisbon, Paris, Rotterdam, Dakar, Buenos Aires, or other parts of the world, remain identified with the Cape Verde and involved in its future.

Throughout the twentieth century, whenever protracted domestic economic challenges have confronted Europe or the United States, demogogues have risen to wage political campaigns against immigrant workers. Sometimes these efforts have produced restrictive immigration and work policies. At other times and places rhetoric against immigrant workers has fomented violence. The historical record of Cape Verdean immigrant workers is replete with references to hard work, strong family values, and striving to participate in the political and economic life of the national culture of so many host countries. This notwithstanding, Cape Verdeans have not escaped victimization by racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

In this age of jet transportation and cyberspace, the era of sailing ships may conjure up only romanticized and heroic images of questionable accuracy. However, for Cape Verdeans scattered in countries around the world, the Brava Packet Trade remains a fitting metaphor for the vital economic and cultural role which hundreds of thousands of nameless Caboverdianos continue to play in the day-to-day struggle for survival and development in the Cape Verde Islands.


1.  Haywood, Carl Norman. American Whalers and
Africa. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Boston University,
1967, page 15.

2. Seamens' Bethel crew register kept by the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

3. Barrel maker

4. Antone Lopes (New Bedford), oral account.

5. "Cape Verdeans Expert Sailors," the Evening Bulletin (Providence), May 29, 1929.

6. National Archives Consular Record. Santiago. Letter to Josiah Quincy, June 17, 1893. Correspondence re: the packet ship Nellie May continues until 1915.

7. Hanks, op. cit. Yachting, May 1949 p. 48; Swan, Bradford, "A rolling down to Brava once more," Providence Sunday Journal, September 24, 1939.

8. Swan, op. cit.

9. Hanks, op cit. Yatching, p. 49.

10. Swan, Op. Cit.

11. Giles Todd, The last saildown east- The Cape Verde Packets, p.232.

12. Oral Account given by Jorge Pedro Barbosa.

13. Biographical data provided by son of H. Teixeira da Sousa.

14. "Jury rigged" - temporary replacement of essential equipment or parts of a vessel e.g. jury mast.

15. Information provided by Roy Teixera, Medford, Massachusetts. 1977.

16. Three-masted packet ship swept ashore at Ipswich beach (Massachusetts) in August 1939 before making a single passage across the ocean. Hanks Rudder, p. 21.

17. Ibid.

18. She was originally owned by Abilio Monteiro, mayor of Praia. However, eight Cape Verdeans from the vessel were caught in Wareham (Massachusetts) in 1926, and the ship was sold to pay the fine. Lucy M. Wallbank "50 years ago- Entering the Cape Verde Trade," Hanks, Rudder, p. 21.

19. Todd, op. cit., p. 232-236; Harry Neyland, "Bound for the Cape Verde Islands Aboard the Bark Coriolanus", New Bedford Standard Times , September 17, 1924.

21. Account of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Teixeira.

22. Todd. op. cit. p. 236.

23. Biographical information provided by John Costa in interview with Michael K.H. Platzer.

24. The four-master Burkeland built at Milton, Florida, in 1918, made several trips between New Bedford and Cape Verde. She sank within 50 miles of Brava. The crew took the yawl boat and rowed ashore to safety.

25. Todd, op. cit. pp. 242-243.

26. Robert L Wheeler, "Lucy, Costa, Teixeria and Uncle Aurelio," Providence Journal, April 14, 1946, p. 56.

27. Giles, M.S. Todd, "Lucy Evelyn-Brava Packet," Motor Boatings, November 1946, p. 102.

28. Todd, Last Sail, op. cit. p. 243.

29. Stuart Hale, "Former Luxury Yatch Prepares to Make First Cape Verde Journey," Providence Journal, March 2, 1947, p. 13.

30. Jeff Davis, "Briantine Due to Sail Tomorrow on Three Weeks Voyage to Cape Verde," Providence Journal, June 1, 1947, p. 13; "Brigantine Madalan to Set Sail Today on Voyage to Cape Verde," Providence Sunday Journal, June 8, 1947.

31. Todd, Last Sail, op. cit p. 248.

32. Walter Hird, "When the Madalan Sails for the Cape Verdes," Ships and the Sea, Summer 1954, p. 4.

33. Robert C. Frederiksen, "After 57 years seafaring, A Little Farm in Fogo," Providence Journal Bulletin. September 27, 1955.

34. Michael Platzer, "Saga of Effie Morrissey/Ernestina" in Tchuba Newsletter, November 1976; Gordon Thomas, Fast and Able.

35. lnformation provided by Louisa Mendes, February 24, 1977.

36. "Michael Platzer, "The Voyages of the Ernestina," Sea History, Spring 1977.

37. Robert Cool, "Brava Trade Takes on New Vigor," Providence Journal, November 6, 1949; "55 year-old Schooner in Harbor with Passengers from Cape Verde," Providence Journal, August 7, 1949, p. 7; Charles Spilman, "17 Men on Packet," Providence Journal, August 17, 1949.

38. "Brides Weep as Ernestina Sails for Cape Verdes," Providence Bulletin, December 3. 1953; George Popkin "Like a glimpse of the Isles," Providence Journal, September 12, 1953.

39. Nho Henrique Henry Mendes," Cape Verdean, January 1971.

40. Captain, 75, to make last packet trip," New Bedford Standard Times, September 23, 1955. Dale R. Taft, "Mariner, 76, Here Again on old schooner," Providence Journal, August 16, 1956.

41. Op. cit., Cape Verdean, January 1971.

42. "Cape Verde Vessel at Municipal Wharf," Providence Journal, September 4, 1964; "Old Cape Verdean Vessel Back in Familiar Waters," Providence Journal, August 31, 1965. Charles Buffum. "Ernestina, an old but gay deceiver, returns," New Bedford Standard Times.

43. Fred Hunt and Giles M. S. Todd, "70 Year old Ship Holds Own in Space Age," Patriot Ledger, November 13,,1964. p.4

44. "Ingham Searches for Tina Maria," Cape Verdean, 1970.

45. Todd, op. cit. p. 237-8.

46. Cecilio Andrade, the Story of the Maria Sony. Dakar.

47. Information provided by Pedro Evora. August 1977.

48. David B. Tyack, "Cape Verdeans in the United States." Unpublished Senior Honors Thesis, Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass. 1952.
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