Cape Verdean Maritime Exhibition - New Bedford Whaling Museum

Cape Verdean Maritime Exhibition

This exhibition explores the Republic of Cape Verde, its people, maritime history, connections to New England, and the legacies that continue to tie New Bedford and its culture to Cape Verde.

Cape Verdean Maritime Exhibition

Cape Verdean Gallery

Opened: July 5, 2011

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This exhibition explores the Republic of Cape Verde, its people, maritime history, connections to New England, and the legacies that continue to tie New Bedford and its culture to Cape Verde.

This exhibition captures the essence of the important connections between New Bedford and Cape Verde, the unique characteristics of Cape Verdean culture, and the special legacy of that culture and history here in New Bedford.

Trade between Cape Verde and New Bedford dates to the 1790s and earlier when New Bedford merchant vessels, bound for seal skins taken in the southern ocean, stopped in Cape Verde for supplies. From the middle of the 18th century the islands were also an important trade destination as the Isle of Sal provided salt, an important commodity, and American merchant vessels stopped there frequently to fill their holds with this valuable produce. Clothing and cloth were the most commonly traded American products.

Located off the westernmost cape of the continent of Africa, their geography also placed the islands in the direct path of whaling vessels sailing to the southern capes. As whalers and traders visited the islands for foodstuffs, water, and salt, the islanders themselves often joined the passing vessels. New Bedford whaling agents commonly instructed their masters to transship oil home from the “Cape de Verdes”. American whalers from New Bedford visited the islands beginning as early as the 1790s and began more regular trade in the early 19th century, mostly for fruit (principally oranges, bananas, coconuts, and watermelons) as well as hogs, chickens, and goats. Free Cape Verdean men sometimes joined the vessels as crew, often sought deliberately by whaling shipmasters eager to fill berths on their ships. The island men left their arid homeland; a homeland often plagued by disease and active volcanoes as well as a just horror of enforced military service, and “throwing themselves on the wings of fortune”, emigrated to New England on board the convenient vehicle of the passing whaler. As the men left, at the rate of as many as one hundred a year, the women were often left behind. The Secretary General of Cape Verde, reporting in 1874 on the status of women in the islands, noted that due to so many men leaving onboard visiting whalers, “there is a great disproportion between the male and female sexes”, and that many women sought passage to the U.S.A. on packet ships either in search of a husband or to join their husbands and family members.

This portrait of the last living New Bedford whaleman Antonio L. Lopes shows him at the age of 100. He is an elderly man, smiling, with receding gray hair, and wearing a striped short-sleeved shirt. He is seated in a brown overstuffed chair with a book in his lap.
Deborah Beth Macy, Portrait of Antonio L. Lopes. Oil on Canvas, 1997. 1998.2

Once landed in New Bedford opportunities opened up for people willing to work. The city by the middle of the 19th century was a dynamic industrial maritime center. Its burgeoning growth supported a diverse demographic with peoples from all over the Atlantic world building new communities in the old colonial whaling port. These opportunities included shoreside labor, textile and cordage factories, agricultural work in the nearby cranberry and blueberry fields, and the opportunity to join a deep-sea vessel and apply innate skills and talents to work up through the ranks. The whale fishery provided Cape Verdeans various means to not only make a living but to excel. Not only Cape Verdean men benefited from the fishery. Immigrant women as well worked in the sail lofts of the city. Cape Verdean harpooners, of course, were legendary in the fishery. Men like Jo‹o da Lomba and Bras Lopes, Theophilus Freitas and JosÂŽ Gomes were not only lead boatheaders, skilled whalemen, but officers onboard such famous vessels as the bark Sunbeam, the bark Wanderer, the brig Daisy and the bark Charles W. Morgan. These were the men who populated New BedfordÕs sperm whale fishery of the early 20th century.

Opportunity in New Bedford was certainly not limited to factories and whalers. As the 20th century went on and the ties between the islands and the port strengthened, entrepreneurs like Roy Teixeira, Henrique Mendes, Louis Lopes, Frank Lopes and Antonio Cardoza purchased, managed and owned packet ships like the Coriolanus, the Savoia, and the Arcturus.

These packet ships plied the Atlantic waters to and from the islands and New Bedford making the ports of Mindelo in S‹o Vicente and Furna in Brava important points of embarkation for thousands of Cape Verdean immigrants to the United States. The majority settled in New England. Importantly, not only did Cape Verdeans settle in New Bedford, but between 1860 and 1965 41% of the packets trading between New England and the Islands were owned by Cape Verdeans.