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The Portuguese Presbyterian Plight
Extracted primarily from "The Coming of the Portuguese" by George Rawlings Poage
and "The Wolf from Scotland" by William Forsyth.
In 1838 Dr. Robert Reid Kalley, a Scottish physician with a heart for Christian missions, took his wife to Madeira in hopes of restoring her health. Although his ultimate goal was to be a missionary to China, Dr. Kalley decided to begin his missionary and educational work in Funchal, which was initial embraced and encouraged by the local authorities. In all, some 2500 people were educated in Dr. Kalley's schools; the Bible being the preferred text. Dr. Kalley provided free medical services to the local residents and ran a hospital at his own expense. (To help offset costs, he charged outrageous prices to the wealthy inhabitants who sought his services.) In addition, Dr. Kalley held regular religious services, usually on the moutainsides of Madeira. Often there were 2000-3000, and once the crowd was estimated at 5000.
Beginning in 1840, the Catholic authorities began to question Dr. Kalley's teachings. In 1843, two Portuguese converts, Nicolao Tolentino Vieira and Francisco Pires Soares took communion at a Scottish church which existed for the worship of British residents on Madeira. Four days later they were charged with apostasy, and though dischared by the court, they were excommunicated. To avoid further persecution, they were hidden by their friends on the island for six months.
In 1843, the local newspaper ,"Imparcial," began openly recommending the cudgel, the gallows, and the stake as the best means of convincing the people of the truth of their religion and as the "only remaining cure for heresy." On May 2, 1844, Mrs. Maria Joaquina Alves was sentenced to death for blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy. Sympathetic British residents intervened and, on a technicality, the sentence was commuted to a three month imprisonment.
The first native church was organized on May 12, 1845, and is said to be the first Protestant church of Portuguese ever organized. The first Session was composed of Arsenio Nicos da Silva, Joao de Freitas, Joao Correa, Martinho Jose de Souza, Joao de Gouveia, and Manual J. de Andrade. The first Deacons were Antonio de Mattos, Antonio Correa, Jose Marques Joaquin Vieira, Manuel Pires, and Martinho Vieira. (Arsenio Nicos da Silva and Antonio de Mattos subsequently became ministers, and were pastors at Trinidad and Jacksonville, respectively.)
For the next year, persecution raged. English merchants were forbidden to allow Portuguese to meet in their homes. Various leaders worked under the daily expectation of arrest. Petitions were brought before the Queen of Portugal on behalf of the persecuted. Many converts were imprisoned, and contrary to custom, were forced to pay for their own prison expenses.
The first violent outburst occured on Sunday, August 2, 1846. A mob gathered outside the home of two British ladies, the Misses Rutherfords, who had lent their home to a gathering of 30-40 for a prayer meeting and reading of a letter from another dedicated Scottish missionary, Mr. Hewiston. The mob broke into the home (which was called the Quinta Angustias (see photo), and is now called the Quinta Vigia (see photo) -- the official residence of the governor of Madeira) and beat many of the "Calvinists". The police eventually arrived and prevented any deaths. In the days that followed, native homes were plundered, vineyards and gardens destroyed. By the following Sunday, many hundreds of Portuguese converts were hiding in the mountains.
On August 9, the great riot occurred. The native converts as well as Dr. Kalley were attacked. More fled to the mountains. Dr. Kalley's family eventually boarded a British ship lying in harbor; Dr. Kalley was carried on board disguised as a female invalid.
From August 9-23, 1846, two British warships kept firing their guns at intervals to show, as the captains remarked, "that afloat, at least, the English could and would protect themselves." The sound of the guns gave great encouragement to the fugitives in the mountains and many made their way on board. Most were unable to sell their land or possessions before fleeing.
On August 23, 1846, the "William of Glasgow" began her voyage to Trinidad. This ship had come by arrangement of planters, who greatly needed laborers. On board were 211 passengers. Soon afterwards, the "Lord Seaton" took another 200-500 exiles to the West Indies. In total, 600-700 went to Trinidad, while others landed at other islands. In all, approximately 2000 left for Trinidad, Antigua, St Kitts, Demerara and Jamaica.
Trinidad proved to be a disaster. The economy was very poor; the working conditions worse. In October 1848, Pastor Arsenio Da Silva wrote: "The sufferings in which this church is at present involved arise from the decaying state of this island. With difficulty do the people at all find labor so as to be able to support themselves and their families... In circumstances of extreme necessity, those of them who sicken, die as much in consequence of want as of the severity of their disease. Their little children are almost naked, and have only rags to sleep on. Such of them as are of age to be sent to school, are, as a matter ot necessity, put to service for food and clothing."
Reports of the persecution and exile received wide publicity in the religious press. Fortunately, the exiles were embraced by Americans, who considered their circumstances similiar to those of the original Pilgrim families. Their circumstances eventually came to the attention of the American Protestant Society, headquartered in New York. In the winter of 1847-48, the Society sent Rev Manoel. G. Goncalves (a Madeiran-born missionary who had been ministering to Portuguese settlers in New England), to Trinidad to investigate the situation of the exiles. He found a church of approximately 600 exiles who wished to move to the United States and settle near each other. More than 40 had already gone to the U.S. By December 1848, Rev Arsenio Da Silva, as well as a few others, had traveled to New York via Baltimore to investigate alternatives. Pastor Da Silva, his health ruined by the trials in Trinidad, died in NY on January 10, 1849.
Early in 1849, arrangements were made with the American Hemp Company for the settlement of the exiles in Illinois, approximately midway between Springfield and Jacksonville. They offered: "immediate employment and good wages on arrival there. They are also to furnish them with houses and every thing necessary for their comfort for one year without charge. Besides this, the company have engaged to give every family of the colony (in all 131 families) ten acres of land in fee and unincumbered, on which a house can be built... The writings have been drawn, sealed, and delivered, in which the parties are under bounds of $10,000 each to fulfill their engagements."
The exiles began to leave Trinidad. The Society collected funds to assist in transportation from NY to Illinois. In March 1849, the "Illinois State Journal" published and endorsed the work of the Society and explained the contract with the American Hemp Company. By April, the American Hemp Company renenged on their deal. The company had made no plans to receive the Portuguese in Illinois. The exiles were stranded in New York, entirely dependent upon others for survival as their future prospects were suspended.
In Illinois, people denounced the original Hemp Company plan as un-American. The principal Protestant churches of Jacksonville proposed that the exiles come at once where "there can be no doubt that all of them could find the means of living with comfort from the rewards of their industry."
Unfortunately, an outbreak of cholera amongst the beleaguered exiles in NY delayed their departure. At the same time, more of the desperate exiles were sailing from Trinidad to NY in July/August 1849. The American Protestant Society wrote to the "Illinois Journal" on September, 15, 1849: "We have now in this city and on Staten Island 470 of these exiles, natives of Maderia [sic], who have lost all their property and were obliged to flee from their country... The majority of them are Farmers, some are Mechanics, and others were Merchants. None were so poor as to be dependent. Some were persons of great wealth. Now all are equally destitute. They are an excellent industrious class of people... how many could be provided for?"
The people of Illinois welcomed them all.
On October 19, 1849, 280 exiles left NY. They stopped in Albany, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago -- each city made liberal contributions toward their expenses. The remaining 200 joined shortly thereafter. The residents of Illinois donated all manner of housing, food, furniture, etc. The first winter was cold and hard.
One of the original exiles, Antonio de Mattos had fled to Scotland after the original riots in 1846. There he was ordained and, eventually, sent to America take the place of Arsenio Da Silva after his death in NY. Pastor Antonio de Mattos' 1849 journey to Illinois took him first to Madeira (where he found 40 converts and left under threat of death) and then toTrinidad, where he found another 400+ additional exiles. He led them all, finally, to Illinois.
Back in Madeira, a few hidden Bibles escaped the bonfires. Newly converted friends and relatives, as well as other scattered exiles, continued to join the group in Illinois. 211 came directly from Madeira in 1851; 273 came in 1853. Dr. Kalley and friends in Scotland funded the immigration costs for many of those who followed the original exiles. By one account, over a thousand Portuguese had settled in the Jacksonville/Springfield area by 1854.