Note: This entry has been updated and expanded.
Religious differences on the island of Madeira were the unlikely backdrop for an equally unlikely influx of immigrants — people of Portuguese descent — to Sangamon County in 1850.
Members of the group had been converted on Madeira from their traditional Catholic faith to Presbyterianism in the 1830s and ’40s. The conversion led to conflict with their Catholic neighbors.
According to a 2007 book review by Stuart Fliege:
(T)he Protestant movement on Madeira endured severe harassment. A series of attacks by rioting Catholic mobs were accompanied by beatings and there was torture and even one or two murders. Soldiers helped the mobs loot houses after hundreds of Presbyterians fled to the caves and ravines in the nearby hills. As a result, the bulk of the Portuguese Protestants left the island in a wave of immigration.
The Madeiran Protestants originally went to the West Indies island of Trinidad, but the oppressive climate and labor conditions forced them to look to America. A host of volunteer efforts and financial support helped pave the way and by 1849 they began arriving in Springfield, Jacksonville, and Waverly….
As a result of the Portuguese immigration, both Jacksonville and Springfield ended up with neighborhoods informally labeled “Madeira” — in Springfield’s case, the area was between Ninth and Tenth streets along Miller and Carpenter streets.
A Portuguese Presbyterian Church began operating at Seventh and Reynolds streets in the 1850s, but a dispute over baptism led to the founding of the Second Portuguese Presbyterian Church in 1858. The Second Portuguese Presbyterians built a church at Eighth and Miller streets in 1861; that building, now used by the Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois, might be the oldest church structure in Springfield.
The two congregations reunited in 1897 as First Portuguese Presbyterian Church; as non-Portuguese gradually made up a larger proportion of the membership, the name was changed to Fourth Presbyterian Church in 1908.
Illinois State Journal writer Beulah Gordon traced the history of the local Portuguese in a 1955 article on the centennial of Fourth Presbyterian Church.
Forced to flee Madeira leaving behind their lands, houses and possessions, the Portuguese were brought to America by church groups. They arrived penniless, strangers in a foreign land in which they could not speak the language. …
The Portuguese … quickly established themselves as frugal, hard working and intelligent citizens. Today, 100 years following their advent, they have contributed to almost every phase of community life.
Rev. Robert Kieser (1896-1959) probably is the best-known of Fourth Presbyterian’s ministers. Kieser, pastor of the church from 1948 until shortly before his death, was blind. His seeing-eye dog, Prue, accompanied him everywhere, even in the pulpit. Kieser, who became blind in his 40s, spoke around the U.S. about his condition; his talks were usually titled “Adventures in Darkness.”
Fourth Presbyterian Church eventually was merged into Clementine Memorial Presbyterian Church (now the non-denominational Clementine Memorial Church), 2075 N. 11th St. In 1979, the $50,000 proceeds of the sale of the Fourth Presbyterian building were spent to help build a new church, New Life United Presbyterian Church, at 2501 Sangamon Ave. That building now houses Springfield’s Korean Presbyterian Church.
Family names like Fernandes and Gouveia in central Illinois today indicate descent from some of the original Madeira islanders.
More information: Lincoln Library’s Sangamon Valley Collection has two useful references on Springfield’s Portuguese community: The Gathering of the Portuguese: Fourth Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, by Wanda Allers (1984); and Minutes of Fourth Presbyterian Church from Dec. 4, 1892, to April 17, 1933 (1934).
Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society.
My ancestors came from the island of Medeira.
Emanuel Vasconcellos my great grandfather left the island of Medeira for the island of Trinidad where he married Mary Fernandes. They settled in Springfield and are now buried in Oak Ridge cemetery.
My father changed the spelling of the name to Vasconcelles, he removed the “o”with an “e” to make it look like it was more American.
A lot of the Portuguese settled in Jacksonville Illinois in a location called Portuguese Hill.
Thanks for the additional info, Mr. Vasconcelles.
Emanuel Vasconcellos: Is your family related to James Vasconcellos married to Johanna Martin Vasconcellos who arrived in Springfield during the mid 1800’s? They were religious exiles from the Isle of Madeira. I am researching family history in the Jacksonville/Springfield area.
Very nice reading. Some Portuguese Presbyterian families remained in Trinidad and their descendants are around today. Most have re-converted to Catholicism. There were also a lot of Catholics migrating from Madeira to Trinidad between roughly the 1880’s and 1920’s, including my family. (de) Quintal; Correia; Da Costa; Sardinha; Teixeira. Thanks, Wayne Quintal, Trinidad
Thanks, Mr. Quintal.
Interesting read, thank you. Our histories are so similar it’s erie. My great grandfather Manoel left Funchal I believe not so much in the wake of the religious persecutions but as a result of the economic crash that occurred following the two agricultural crises of the mid-19th century. Firstly oidium (powdery mildew) in 1852 that destroyed some 40% of the vineyards of Madeira and followed by the Phylloxera pest of 1872 that ravaged much of what was left. The essentially agricultural economy collapsed and many left the island in search of better opportunities. Manoel arrived with his 2 children, my grandfather Joseph Gregorio and my great aunt Maria Marta. Joseph Bento, my father was the first born in Trinidad in 1903, my great aunt, known sometimes as Mary Martha married a João de Freitas and bore him 19 children. They moved to Texas when João enlisted in the US Army. There are countless de Freitas’ from Montreal to Texas (I’ve met a few) but it’s important to keep a family tree and to pass on the history if not the language.
Joseph E. Fernandes
This is a fascinating conversation. Thanks to both of you for commenting.
My grandfather was John Harold Fernandes, who was cousin to some DeFrates, and Mendes, in Springfield, Illnois. I think my great-grandfather or great-uncle may have been a Mauel Fernandes.
Kathy, my Mergil Family was related to Ferdandes and DeFrates people here in SPI. My Grandmother’s brother was Manuel Mergil, who lived on W. Maple N. St with DeFrates cousins nearby. In fact, I believe there are DeFrates’ buried by my Grandmother. When I was a little boy they would call me Little Buffa, which I was told means little fart. They were very hard working and nice folks. Manuel ran a delivery service, first with horses and wagons and later with trucks from his home. They delivered coal and ice for the most part. The Mergil Family morphed into the Williams Family by marriage and my Mergil Grandmother became a Best, by marriage. My sister and I are the only two Mergil-Best’s left, but there are 4 Mergil-Williams descendants left with three still in SPI., and they all had children as well.
My ancestors are Govia
What a great post – I love how you recognize that while the religious persecutions were an important factor, there were also likely economic factors at play in the emigration from Madeira.
My 3rd Great Grandfather, Joseph V. Baptist, b. 1823 on Madeira, left with his wife Lucretia where their son Jesse W was born in 1853 in Jacksonville, Ill. making it likely that they’d left before the odium struck the island. Joseph and Lucretia are buried in Jacksonville while Jesse moved to Oklahoma where his son, Elmer Sydney, married my dad’s grandmother, Pansy Elizabeth LaDotte Hofius in 1909.
Even prior to the Madeiran Exile of August 1846 political events in Portugal touched the island; struggles between absolutism and liberalism lead to revolts being suppressed in the Azores and Madera, not to mention the French/Spanish invasions of Portugal leading to the Royal family’s narrow escape in 1807 to Brazil.
While my ancestor Joseph V. was a boy, Portugal was living through a civil war between absolutists and liberals who eventually emerged victorious. As the Wikipedia article has it “The liberals occupied Portugal’s major cities, Lisbon and Porto, where they commanded a sizable following among the middle classes.” and “Meanwhile, the absolutists controlled the rural areas, where they were supported by the aristocracy and the peasantry”.
Wait…so the cities were where the liberals hung out and the rural areas was where the very wealthy and the very poor lived? But…that sounds just like…
I am a descendant of Grigorio Vieira and Maria DeFreitas who settled in Jacksonville and Manuel Rodrigues Baptista and Thomasia de Jesus who settled in Springfield. The Vieiras were from Santo Antonio da Serra while the Rodrigues’ were from Arco da Calheta. All spent time in Trinidad but we’re in Illinois by the fall of 1849. My three times great grandfather Jacinto Rodrigues Baptista, known as Jesse Rodgers in the United States, was born in Madeira in 1843. In August 1862, he enlisted in the 130th Illinois of the Union Army with several other Madeirans. The 130th and 77th Illinois units were at the point of Confederate attack at the Battle of Mansfield in Louisiana (AKA battle of Sabine Crossroads). Jesse was injured in the Union retreat but was not captured. The Illinois 77th and 130th were so decimated that the remnants of the two units were combined into the 77th Illinois. I visited Madeira a couple of years ago and went to several of the old churches were my ancestors were baptised and married. I would encourage other descendants to make the trip.
Brian: Thanks for the comment.
I am currently researching the Vieira and Lopez(s) families. I see your comments and I would like to know if you might be referring to Emanuel Vieira (Grocer) of Springfield who married Annie (?). He also had a sister Anna who married Joseph Lopez they had 8 children and she died very young and suddenly in 1870. Another sister married a Mr. DeFrates. I am hoping to find out if the same Vieira family is the one you are referring to from Santo Antonio da Serra and how you found this.
The Vieiras I mentioned were three brothers who settled in Jacksonville. One was named Manuel but I think he was a farmer in Jacksonville and your Emanuel is a different person. If your interested in tracing Emanuel back to Madeira i could suggest some approaches. Doris Sanford was a descendant of Marcos Vieira (a brother to the 3 Jacksonville brothers) who i understand researched all things Vieira. Her papers are at the Lincoln Presidential library. That might be a good place to start. Also, I traced the Santo Antonio Vieiras using publicly available records and would be willing to explain how I did that. However, too lengthy for this forum.
Thanks for providing the information on where the Rodrigues family came from on Madeira. I descend from Rodrigues (now Roderick) and Fernandes families in Springfield and Jacksonville and am planning a trip to Madeira next year. Now I can narrow some places to visit. My mom has done quite of bit of genealogy but thus far could not locate a home town on Madeira.
Family names also include DeFrates and Vasconselles.
In Springfield, my family and extended family lived in the area of Phillips and North 14th, near Pillsbury. I lived there as a small child and still had great-grandparents and some “cousins” there until the mid-90’s until that generation began to die off.
Have you done any research on the connection between the Springfield Portuguese and John Phillips Sousa, the composer. My great-grandfather used to tell stories of meeting him at his home on 14th St as a boy. My 2x great-grandfather (and many relatives) worked at the Illinois Watch factory and played in the watch factory band. Sousa was world famous by the time he visited Springfield and my family was not particularly wealthy or influential, yet he visited my family at their home. Wondering if there would be any Sousa connection with Madeira or merely a connection because of the watch factory band and his own Portuguese roots. My mom has found some DeSousa relatives but that is a pretty common name.
I noticed the photo of the DeFrates Market in this article. Does anyone know the first name of the DeFrates who owned the market? I might have a connection.
LB: Newspaper ads in 1919 and 1920 list the owner only by initials: A.J. DeFrates. However, the 1920 U.S. Census lists an Arthur De Frates (no middle initial given) as a grocer in Springfield. My guess is that’s him. You can check with the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library to confirm — they have city directories for the period. You can do that in person if you’re in central Illinois. Otherwise, call the library at (217) 753-4900. Thanks for reading.
My mother, Ruby Fernandes, is related to a Joe, and Ray DeFrates. Her father was John Fernandes who was born in 1865 or 66, in Springfield, and his parents came to Springfield in the 1800s from the Madeira Islands.
Thankyou!! We are planning a vacation and want to make a stop in Jacksonville/Springfield to research family history. We have several lines, Vasconcellos, DeFreitas, Govia, from the Isle of Madeira, religious exiles who settled in the area during the mid 1850’s. One of my ancestors first employment upon arrival was chopping wood for Abraham Lincoln.
My great grandmother Mae Agnes Whitmore Tuttle told me this when I was a little girl. She was a genealogist and had done our family tree all the way back to the Madeira Islands. There were 3 DeFrates brothers who came over together. Unfortunately their names were all recorded under different spellings. We are descendants of the Gomes and DeFrates lines. Our family moved to Jacksonville and worked on hemp farms.
This is all incredible reading. I’m originally from Springfield. A grandson of Mary Gouveia and Charlie Menzes (Menezes). My grandfather was an orphan who lived at Springfield’s Home for the Friendless. His wife Mary was from Jacksonville. So much of their history wasn’t written and is only childhood memories for me. It’s wonderful to see stories of other families from Madeira.
Thanks, Mr. Menzes.
I am a descendant of the Gouveia Family that settled in Jacksonville. My Great Grandfather was Emanuel and he married Justina Smith. Cannot find anything on her family. They changed their last name to smith, it was Ferriera. Thank you Jo Anne Govaia Major
My mother, Anna Refine Richards, was born 2-17-1918, the daughter of Daniel DeFrates Refine and Anna Vetter. Mom’s twin brother, Daniel Refine, died in 1966. Mom died in 1995. We attended Fourth Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois. The Pastor at that time was Rev. Robert (Elizabeth) Kieser. When he preached, his seeing-eye dog lay at his feet near the pulpit. After St. Johns Hospital purchased Fourth Pres., we attended Clementine Memorial Presbyterian church with Rev. Mosbacher as Pastor. All of this information is helpful (new to me) but so overwhelming right now. My hope is to discover more about my ancestors, particularly my great-grandfather (Daniel) and his wife (did they come to Springfield from Jacksonville? where they are buried? etc.) I have learned that my grandparents (Daniel and Anna) are buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Anna died in September 1918 of the Spanish flu pandemic. Grandpa owned and ran the tavern at the corner of 11th and Carpenter in Springfield. Grandpa’s sister, Laura Refine Leahey was born 11-11-1878 and died in 1958 and is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery. She is the only “grandmother” I ever knew. She and her husband (Andrew Leahey) lived with her brother (Daniel) on 11th and Miller in Springfield. “Uncle Andy” is buried in Calvary Cemetery. Grandma helped Grandpa raise his four children after his wife, Anna, died. Grandpa got married again in 1930 or 1931 to Chris Washbond. They had two children: Mary Jane (Red) Monahan and Mark. Mom said her ancestors came from the Maderia Islands just off Portugal. I remember Elsie Vasconcelles from Sunday School at the 4th Pres in Springfield.
From my dna/genealogy investigation, I found out that I am by DNA, a descendant of John Allmond-Day,MD from Jacksonville,Ill. He fathered my grandfather, born 3/6/1906 in Jacksonville,Il then taken to a private orphanage in White Hall, Ill. His paternal grandfather resided in White Hall,Il. also. His mother was Christine DeSouza, from the isle of Maderia. His adoptive parents named him Ordice Lufkin. Any information would be grately appreciated. Thank you for your time and consideration.
I went to Fourth Presbyterian Church until it was sold and was torn down after St John’s Hospital bought the property for their parking lot which is at 7th & Carpenter Street. I then started at Clementine Pres church until I married & moved to Ohio.
The manse was across from back door of the church & spent Sunday evenings there with youth group & Mrs Kieser & especially her making taffy & our taffy pulling parties, great times. Janice Guzzardo was my Sunday School teacher. Janice’s mom was my second mom.
Do remember him not very nice to his dog many times!
I have been researching my family tree. My mother was adopted in 1947 in Illinois. She had her records opened an her birth givers name was Elizabeth June DeFrates. Her father was Lawrence E DeFrates. After that it gets confusing beings everyone is passed on an there’s no one to ask for help. I know Lawrence’s mother was Caroline or Carrie the tricky part is i have read that his father was William DeFrates but she was with a Stephen Phillips. It says her father was Manuel Reis DeFrates. So I’m not sure if this was her father or father in law beings his father was supposed to be William. From what I found looks like Manuel had 2 brothers Joaquin DeFrates an Tony/Antonio DeFrates they would of came from Maderia Island Portugal. I have also found 2 wife’s for Manuel a Lucinda Lois Vieira an Teresa Dominga Nunes. I know they were in Springfield Illinois an most are buried there. All the names are so close it’s hard to understand. Anyone with info or knowledge of any of these people would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Omg I think I can help you. I know this was posted last year and hope you see this. My Grandfather is Melvin DeFrates. His Father was Manuel Reis DeFrates. My Grandfather had 8 Siblings. Including Lawrence DeFrates. My mother told me years ago there was a letter on Lawrence’s grave that said, “Dad. I finally found you”. I have more information on my family. I hope this reaches you.
Estou a procura de informações sobre meu trisavô Francisco de Souza Jardim e família em Illinois, antes deles seguirem o Rev. Robert Kalley para o Brasil. Onde posso procurar ou com quem posso falar? Grata
In English, Ms. Jardim is asking: “I am looking for information about my great-grandfather Francisco de Souza Jardim and family in Illinois, before they followed Rev. Robert Kalley to Brazil. Where can I look or who can I talk to? Thank you.” Can any SangamonLink readers help her?
(Wikipedia has more on Rev. Kalley here. He apparently visited Madeiran immigrants in Jacksonville and Springfield in the 1852-53 period.)
Hello. Jay Kitterman from Lincoln Land Community College here. This past summer we partnered with the Lincoln Home for a series of cooking programs. I understand that Mr. Lincon had Portuguese neighbors. I would like to have a cooking session devoted to Portuguese food. Any assistance from this site would be appreciated. Thank you. Jay Kitterman firstname.lastname@example.org