History

Penedia Sao Jorge AzoresThe history and settlement of the island is shrouded in mystery. The first reference to Sao Jorge dates from 1439 and it is known that in about 1470, when there were already small groups of settlers on the western and southern coasts and the settlement at Velas had already been founded, the Flemish nobleman, Wilhelm van der Haegen, came to the island where he established a settlement at Topo. And it was there that he was to die, famous for his virtues and with his name already translated as Guilherme da Silveira. The island must have been settled with people from the north of Portugal, and prosperity must have come quickly, too, since its captaincy was given to Joao Corte Real, donee of Angra on Terceira island, in 1483, while Velas had received its town charter by the end of the 15th century. Topo became the seat a municipality in 1510 and the same happened to Calheta in 1534, demonstrating the vitality of the economy, the mainstays of which were the production of grapes, wheat, woad and archil. The two latter products were exported to Flanders and other European countries where they were used in dyeing. The dynastic crisis brought about when Philip II of Spain took the Portuguese throne had its repercussions in Sao Jorge which, like Terceira, sided with the pretender Dom Antonio, Prior of Crato. In tact, Sao Jorge capitulated to the Spaniards only after the fall of Terceira in 1583. This was followed by a centuries-long period in which the island was almost isolated, which should be attributed to the precarious shelter that its ports offered to ships and to its limited economic importance. Even so it was subjected to attacks by English and French privateers during the 16th and 17th centuries and devastating raids by Turkish and Algerian corsairs. At the end of the 16th century, a part of the fleet commanded by the Earl of Essex landed at Calheta inlet. To repel the invaders, the inhabitants threw heavy stones – the only weapons they had -and a soldier called Simao Gato rushed at the commanding officer of the enemy force, knocked him down and seized the flag from his hands. In the 16th century the French privateer, Du-Guay-Trouin, pillaged Sao Jorge and in the year 1816 an algerian pirate, who was trying to take a merchant Ship, was driven off by shots fired from the fortress of Calheta. But other calamities also afflicted Sao Jorge. There were food shortages and hunger in bad crop years from the 16th to the 19th centuries, besides the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of 1580, 1757 and 1808. The past isolation of the island has been overcome by the works carried Out in the two main ports – Velas and Calheta – and by the building of an airport. These works have opened new horizons of prosperity and progress for Sao Jorge, which is counting, for this purpose, on the full use of its natural resources and the expansion of livestock raising, the dairy industry, fisheries and the canning industry.

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