A brief history of Fogo, Cape Verde and my family origins on the island

I can trace my Fogo family tree to the Canuto family of Sao Laurenco, Fogo of the late 1700’s. Fogo was one of the first islands populated by the Portuguese and was primarily used for plantations harvesting coffee beans and slave trading. Other than Santiago, Fogo had the largest number of slaves recorded in its census. There was also a fairly large number of Europeans there which included the Vasconcellos, Henriques, Roiz, Nozolini and Barbosa families that were heavily involved in politics and the slave trade.

One of the most interesting facts about Fogo is that it was the only island that did not
fly the Spanish Flag during the period of Spanish occupation of Portugal in the late 1500’s. That fighting spirit certainly lives strong in our Fogo genes today!

Some of the wealthiest Europeans lived in Fogo and during episodes of famine, drought or volcanic eruptions they would migrate to nearby Brava which up until the 1680’s had a population numbering in the hundreds. The initial inhabitants of Brava were Europeans, most probably of Jewish ancestry. The Fogo migrants brought some of their slaves with them. Some families returned to Fogo once conditions allowed while others stayed. We see evidence of this through records of even some families that split between Brava and Fogo; the Lopes, de Barros Abreu, Pires, Oliveira, and Barbosa families to name just a few.

Fogo also records some of the largest numbers of free blacks in Cape Verde. This is evidenced in records as late as the mid 1800’s where one’s free status was included in Baptismal and Marriage records. Only certain records contained this status clause leading one to conclude that this was to delineate certain people from others that were clearly identified as “escravos” or slaves of a particular person. The Europeans were either identified as “proprietors” or land owners or “trabalhadors”, workers.

My grandfather, Joao Antonio Lopes, was born in Relva, Mosteiro to Jose Antonio Lopes and Maria de Barros Abreu. Jose first emigrated to the States in the late 1890’s to New Bedford and to the Cape where he stayed with a cousin, Anibal Jose Lopes, and brother-in-law, Cristiano de Barros. Jose worked the railroads in the Cape as did many cape Verdean migrants who weren’t working the cranberry bogs.

Jose Antonio was the son of Roberto Jose Lopes and Caetana (Caterina) Lopes de Barros Abreu. Roberto was the son of Jose Antonio Canuto and Francesco Lobo of Sao Lourenco, Fogo. He also had a brother, Candido Jose Lopes.

Maria de Barros Abreu was the daughter of Pedro de Barros Abreu and Maria Michalina Lopes Friere. Pedro was the son of Andre de Barros Abreu and Joanna de Andrade. Andre was the son of Joao de Barros Abreu. Maria Michalina was the daughter of Joao Lopes Friere and Rosa Gonsalves.

My family had stopped using the Abreu and Friere surnames. I assume that the additional surname was to distinguish themselves from other lines of Barros and Lopes families. Abreu was sometimes used to identify people who came from Galician or northern/central region of Portugal, specifically Abreu in the Minho province. There was also a large presence of Abreu’s in Madeira. Fogo had many emigrants from Madeira.

The origin of Friere surname is a little more interesting. The Friere surname is most common in the Galician region, around Coimbra. It is said that when Charles V came to the throne, having been born in Germany, he moved to Spain bringing many of his friends including a Dutch Frie Herr family who settled in the Galicia/ Coimbra region. Another account tells of two brothers from the Bourbon Kingdom (border of France and Germany) who took up arms against the Ottoman empire in defense of Europe in the 1300’s. These brothers became known as Friere (brother) and many of the the men who fought with them took up this name as part of a fraternity. The Pope eventually gave them land in the Galicia region where you still have a very strong presence of Friere’s. It is also stated that a particular line of the Friere’s had a deep involvement in sea industry and exploration and eventually ended up in many parts of the world. The Friere’s were physicians, philosophers, farmers, priests and merchants. There is every reason to believe that they would have been a part of the new and growing industry of the Atlantic slave trade in Cape Verde. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Friere de Andrade family was one of Portugal’s most influential and important families. The Friere and Andrade families are very well documented in Mosteiro. Relva, in particular, seemed to exist primarily of Lopes, de Barros Abreu, de Andrade and da Cruz families with a few Fernandes marriages in the 1800’s.

It may have been important during Cape Verde’s heyday to self-identify according to specific family delineations especially in places like Fogo where racial separation was an unfortunate way of life. A de Barros Abreu would have had a completely different status than that of a de Barros who was someone’s slave. As Cape Verde’s influence declined in the 1800’s such concepts weren’t as necessary since everyone was in the same boat trying to survive many bouts of drought and famine without Portugal’s aide and comfort.

Fogo had many large and influential families which included the Nozolini and Roiz families which I want to mention briefly to illustrate the diversity of European ancestry which can be found in Fogo. The Nozolini’s of Italian origins and Roiz’ of Spanish origins were the ancestors of Brava’s most famous citizen, Eugenio Tavares, who’s mother was born on the island of Fogo and later went to Brava to stay with family after having to leave the Guinean Coast during some civil unrest. Eugenio was born in Brava shortly after she arrived. She, unfortunately, died during childbirth.

The histories of Fogo and Brava are deeply intermingled. Many, if not most, of the families in Brava originated in Fogo. I know this is true of my Barbosa and Rodrigues family, as well as, many other surnames in Brava today.

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3 Comments on “A brief history of Fogo, Cape Verde and my family origins on the island

  1. I enjoyed your report. My wife is a Abreu. Her Grandfather came to Cape Verde with wife and settled and had all their kids. They were and are white, now of course living in Cape Verde have inter-married, there for the reason my wife is mulatta.

  2. Thanks although I have more questions my Great Grand Ma Christina Gemar Lopes from Fogo told me of the old Country also mentioned Fonseca names a few others

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