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Faial Island History

The first Portuguese navigators called Faial “Sao Luiz”. According to legend, Faial’s first inhabitant was a hermit who sought refuge from the world. Later Josse van Huerter, a wealthy Flemish man accompanied by fifteen fellow-countrymen, landed in Faial which was already inhabited by settlers from Portugal. Van Huerter was searching for the tin and silver lodes that were said to exist in the island. The first prospection work proved that a mistake had been made which doomed the expedition. But Van Huerter, excited by the island and its fertility, did not give up. With the intercession of the Duchess of Burgundy, a daughter of King Joao I of Portugal, Van Huerter obtained a letter patent in 1468 naming him donee of the island and giving him the right to bring more settlers from Flanders (which had been recently scourged by the Hundred Years’ War). The Flemish settled in the parish of Flamengos – the very name of which recalls their origin – and later in the Horta area.

The island prospered due to agriculture and the export of a dye-yielding plant called “woad”. In 1583 a Spanish fleet sailed to Faial as part of the occupation of the Azores which had began with the landing on Terceira island. A body of armed men landed at “Pasteleiro” and engaged the defenders who had been reinforced by French troops. After a bloody battle, the Spaniards finally overcame the resistance and conquered the island. The presence and actions of the Spaniards were followed by attacks by English buccaneers which inflicted large-scale damage to Faial. Much later a destructive earthquake shook Faial in 1672 causing large scale damage.

In the 19th century Faial took an active part in the struggle between liberals and absolutists. In the end it was won over by the former thus culminating with a visit from King Pedro IV in 1832. The island contributed a group of brave combatants to the liberal cause and also an arsenal that was used to supply the fleet that landed at “Mindelo” in northern Portugal. Until about 1860, Faial’s position in the Atlantic and the existence of a sheltered port attracted cargo boats engaged in the orange trade and American whalers which stopped there to load up supplies.

In the first half of the 20th century Faial was an important communications center as underwater cable links connected Europe to North America via Faial. Faial was also a feature in the pioneering period of aviation: hydroplanes, most notably Pan Am airlines, made Horta the connecting refueling ports for their transatlantic voyages.

Today Faial is a developing island, with an economy based on agriculture, livestock raising, a dairy industry, fishing and trade. It is also the headquarters for the Tourism office.